Charles Sekano: The geometry of fate
Posted on 22nd April, 2014 in RAS News
African Literary Accounts of the Genocide in Rwanda
April marks 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda, and since then the horrific events of 1994 there have been an array of literary and factual accounts. In Writing and Filming the Genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda: Dismembering and Remembering Traumatic History, Alexandre Dauge-Roth divides these narratives bearing witness to the Rwandan genocide fall, usually, into four main categories.
First, there are testimonies written by survivors, such as Eric Irivuzumugabe (My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide, 2008). Annick Kayitesi (Nouse existons encore – We still exist, 2004) or Reverien Rurangwa (Génocidé, 2006).
Second, edited compilations of collected testimonies that sometimes bring together survivors’ and killers’ accounts, including Jean Hatzfeld’s trilogy (A Time for Machetes, 2008; Into the Quick Life, 2008; The Strategy of Antelopes, 2009).
Third, works of fiction, such as Uwem Akpan’s short story ‘My Parent’s Bedroom’ in his collection Say You’re One of Them (2008) and Naomi Benaron (Runing the Rift, 2012).
Finally, there have also been several comics focusing on the genocide including Willy Inongo and Senga Kibwanga (Couple modèle, couple maudit, 2001), Pat Masioni, Cécile Grenier and Ralph (Rwanda 1994. Tome 1: Descente en enfer, 2005) and Jean-Phillipe Stassen (Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda, 2000).
While these categories reveal the wealth of literary accounts on the Rwandan genocide, here I consider three novels by African authors that address this somewhat hard-to-read subject.
The first book, Murambi, The Book of Bones (2006) by Boubacar Boris Diop comes from Rwanda: Writing As a Duty of Memory (‘Rwanda: écrire par devoir de mémoire’) a literary project as part of Fest Africa initiated in 1998, which challenged ten African writers to reflect, analyse and publish works about the Rwandan genocide. The Francophone writers who collaborated in this undertaking were Diop (Senegal), Maïmouna Coulibaly (Ivory Coast), Nocky Djedanoum (Chad), Monique Ilboudou (Burkina Faso), Vénuste Kayimahé (Rwanda), Koulsy Lamko (Chad), Tierno Monénembo (Guinea), Meja Mwangi (Kenya), Jean-Luc Raharimamana (Madagascar), Jean-Marie Vianney Rurangwa (Rwanda), Véronique Tadjo (Ivory Coast) and Abdourahman Ali Waberi (Djibouti). Nine published texts emerged as a result of the project: four novels, two travel narratives, two essays and a collection of poetry.
In Murambi, Diop recounts the story of a Rwandan history teacher, Cornelius Uvimana, who was living and working in Djibouti at the time of the massacre. He returns to Rwanda to try to comprehend the death of his family and to write a play about the events that took place there. As the novel unfolds, Cornelius begins to understand that it is only our humanity that will save us, and that as a writer, he must bear witness to the atrocities of the genocide. The Zimbabwe International Book Fair also named Murambi one of Africa’s Best Books of the 20th Century.
The second book The Past Ahead (2012) (in French, Le passé devant soi) by Rwandan, Gilbert Gatore is the story of the destinies of two people after their experiences of the genocide in Rwanda. Isaro is orphaned, exiled, and now returned to her native country. Niko is a character in a novel that Isaro writes to help her understand her country’s recent horrific past. Isaro’s quest to recover the memory of the life she has lost is haunted by her nightmare imaginings, whose horror is given expression through Niko, a mute social outcast. When an army intent on massacre reaches his village, the once gentle young man is forced to become a killer. After the fighting ends, Niko retreats to a cave that he shares with a family of gorillas to try to escape the burden of his guilt. In his solitude, he is plagued with painful memories that will not leave him. As Isaro writes Niko’s story, she succumbs to the sadness of death, violence, and the dreadful reminders of her terrible past.
The third, Smile Through the Tears: The Story of the Rwandan Genocide (2005) by Rupert Bazambanza, is a graphic novel, which tells the story of his friend and long-time neighbour Rose Rwanga – the only member of her family to survive the genocide in Rwanda. Smile Through Tears relies on the powerful interplay of image and text to capture and involve the reader through a creative interplay of images and words and has been used an example of comic media in conflict resolution in trying to educate the youth and prevent such an atrocity from occurring again.
Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is the founder of bookshy – a literary blog dedicated solely to the celebration and promotion of African literature.