The Bishop of Rwanda: Finding Forgiveness Amid a Pile of Bones
If you had mentioned the African nation of Rwanda in conversation several years ago, chances are you'd have received a vacant stare in return. While some people could summon up the memory of some kind of conflict there, not so many could have described the conflict in any detail. Thanks to the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, people are a bit more likely to recall the genocide that started in 1994 and claimed the lives of more than a million people. The film, however, is just one part of the story.
THE BISHOP OF RWANDA tells the rest of the story, and it's one that needs to be read and heard and digested and repeated over and over again. Because it's not "just" a story of one nation's experience with inhumanity and brutality and unimaginable horror. It's also a story of widespread political ruthlessness and machinations --- and of personal forgiveness and reconciliation.
Here's a brief refresher. In the spring of 1994, the world began to pay attention to a conflict in Rwanda that had been brewing for some time. In April of that year, the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were killed in a suspicious plane crash near the airport in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Fighting between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda escalated, but as far as the world was concerned, this was a civil war between rival tribes. (In the interest of full disclosure, I helped cover the aftermath of the conflict for Charisma magazine, and today I blanch at how little we understood the real reasons behind the war --- even though we received the best information available to us at the time, from people on the ground in Rwanda.)
Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana tells a far different story from what we were told in 1994 and the years that followed. The true story is one that began many decades earlier and over the years directly involved Belgium, France, several African nations and the United Nations, and, indirectly, the United States. (President Clinton cited his failure to act on the genocide in Rwanda as his greatest mistake.) Repeated warnings, alarms and cries for help coming out of Rwanda prior to 1994 were routinely --- and worse, flagrantly --- ignored by the world community. When the genocide began, some of the people who had been sounding those alarms were the first to be killed.
On a political level alone, THE BISHOP OF RWANDA is a must-read. The behind-the-scenes but direct involvement of European and African nations in the genocide makes for a compelling lesson in global politics, one that we would all be wise to pay close attention to. Things are not always as they seem; sometimes, they are far worse, as this book reveals.
After reading about the horrors of the killings, which were more brutal, cruel, sadistic and horrific than even Hollywood could portray, and the evil of wanton political corruption --- just when overwhelming despair begins to overtake you, when you're ashamed to be a member of the human race --- Bishop Rucyahana begins painting a picture of Rwanda today. It's a picture of forgiveness and reconciliation that is guaranteed to give you the chills and cause you to blink back the tears. A former refugee who led the protest against the genocide now serves as Rwanda's president and has been instrumental in promoting forgiveness through conferences and government-supported programs. One effort toward fostering reconciliation between Hutus and Tutsis is a truly remarkable program in which perpetrators of the genocide are building houses for the survivors. It's enough to make you want to be a member of the human race once again.
Please don't dismiss this book because you're not necessarily interested in the topic. It's important on so many levels that there's bound to be one that resonates with you. And it's so well-written that you may find it more captivating than you anticipate. Yes, it may break your heart, but it may also restore it.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on March 6, 2007