(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Security and Genocide

I receive a couple of security reports per day. In the past I received more information than I do now but the security situation has in fact improved. We used to hear gunfire regularly from our house and now it is rather rare. We’re certainly not out of the woods yet but it there are indications that things are currently improving. In fact a recent report that I received put it this way:

BURUNDI: Travel Risk Rating for Bujumbura Rural Province Reduced to HIGH

In case you think this is a typo, in fact this area surrounding the capital was previously rated as EXTREME. HIGH is an improvement. It’s all relative I guess. 

In 2015, the next elections are scheduled. This is generally not good news for sub-Saharan African countries from a security standpoint. Pursuit of power drives this continent and an election is considered power for the taking.  There is no question that the security situation will decline. Last elections, just prior to our arrival in the country, all expat staff families were evacuated for their protection. We’ll be keeping an eye on things but all indication is that our positive trend is on borrowed time. Burundians have a fairly recently developed saying, “Old demons are not dead, but they are at least asleep.” We may be once again reminiscing about the good ol’ days when the travel risk around the capital was only high.

I’m in Kigali as I type this. On Monday I had a meeting with the son of one of our long-standing board members who is also one of the directors of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. He’s going to be leading a group of people affiliated with the museum on a visit next year for the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. It will be a time to commemorate the occasion and raise awareness in general to the issue of genocide which unfortunately still plagues our world. They have come to talk to various people and do some planning for the visit next April. The evening was quite a who’s who of the issue (I tend to avoid last names, including my own, in case people for whatever reason don’t want their activities readily searched on the web. Not that I hang out with people that have things to hide.):

  • Michael – the guy I mentioned above, a former White House correspondent and editor for the Washington Post.
  • Nadia – head of special events for the museum.
  • Bill – former Clinton administration director of the Office of Consumer Affairs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture; current PR guy for big NGOs and I think he does a few other things as well.
  • Josh – owner of one of the nicest restaurants in Rwanda, current Asst. Clinical Prof. of Public Health for Columbia Univ.; Founder and Director of Access Project; in previous life ran a PR firm that consulted for “stray cat” governments (govts. with image problems, particularly in South America but also Rwanda in the late 90’s); just coming out with a book about his experiences in Rwanda.
  • Pastor Antoine, the famous (at least in Rwanda) former Vice-Chairperson of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission; one of the biggest shapers of reconciliation policy in Rwanda; amazing testimony of his Christian faith and of his genocide survival.
  • Freddie – Rwandan director of the Kigali genocide memorial.
  • Nancy – a Dutch-New Yorker who’s the head of genocide studies at a university in Amsterdam, accompanied by a couple colleagues.

I suppose this is one of the great things about my job. I frequently get to meet some pretty fascinating people. I was quite possibly the least interesting person at the table and, as is often the case, people seemed more fascinated by the fact that I’m from Idaho and doing what I do rather than specifically what I do. When Pastor Antoine was asked if he’d had a chance to visit the US, he said yes. In fact, he said, he’d had a chance to go to all the corners of the country. I knew what was coming next. “Even Idaho?” Nancy asked, smiling at me. Since the pastor had arrived after the where-are-you-originally-from conversations, he was a bit puzzled by her question. I actually get that a lot when I’m in NY as well. It doesn’t seem to be a negative or a positive thing. Just a thing. Like having a third nipple.

The conversation was mostly about the Rwandan context, factors that lead to genocide, comparisons between the Rwandan genocide and the holocaust, reconciliation vs. peaceful coexistence, and so forth. While I enjoyed conversing with the whole group, I have to say Pastor Antoine (as he is called) did stand out. He has a frankness and wisdom about him that you rarely see in people. 

The evening slipped by quickly and soon we were shaking hands and getting in our respective cars. The earlier discussion about Rwanda’s current sense of order and discipline quickly became apparent for our American visitors. After only a block they were stopped by a policeman for an accidental but nonetheless illegal left turn. No bribe. Here’s your ticket. Welcome to Rwanda.

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