Saturday, March 29, 2008


A wreath on one of the mass graves at the Genocide Memorial, Kigali

Albert Nzamukwereka, Program Coordinator for Radio La Benevolencija

At the conference/planning room, Radio La Benevolencija - the reconcilation radio of Rwanda

Johan Deflander, Head of  Mission, La Benevolencija

Albert Nzamukwereka speaks to Honoré Gatera, the Head Guide at the memorial, and sets up a tour for us

One of the mass graves

Some of the murdered

The wall of names

Two men outside the Genocide Memorial asked me to take their photograph

Our home away from home in Kigali - the Bourbon Café

The effervescent Hope Azeda - playwright / director / casting director - joins us for a coffee

Binyavanga and Hope at Bourbon Café

Elissa from NYC shows us the restaurant she is opening in Kigali

"Heaven" - her Kigali restaurant-in-progress

Elissa's husband, Josh Ruxin, head of the Millenium Village development project in Rwanda

Toute le Gang at the Ruxins' WONDERFUL dinner

The Republika Lounge, Kigali

Inside Republika - a most excellent establishment

Pretty much how we all feel...

March 28, 2008

1) Musa Keweya

This means New Dawn in Kinyarwanda. It is also a radio soap opera produced in Kigali. This is an amazing project. Here's how it came to be:

During the ethnic purges in the ex-Yugoslavia, the Jewish community of Sarajevo was - perhaps for the first time in history - NOT targeted. 

Some of this community watched what was happening around them, and began to see a pattern. It was their conviction that genocides follow certain rules which repeat from one genocide to another, simple steps that, if they were identified early, could be thwarted.

Fast forward to an NGO in the Netherlands that took this idea, and began the work of disseminating such anti-hatred information to a mass market. Their particular challenge was to find a way to do this that WASN'T "thou shalt", but was, instead, extremely popular. They wanted people to WANT to engage with this kind of teaching. The answer was soap opera.

In Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, this NGO - called La Benevolencija - develops and airs soap operas on radio, in partnership with journalists, academics and artists from those countries. The programs are among the most popular in these countries, with enormous listening audiences. The actors are national heros. We met with the man who heads all three projects, a Belgian named Johan Deflander, and with the Program Coordinator for Rwanda, Albert Nzamukwereka.

Here's what they do:

- there are three script writers
- 10 to 15 people make up a think tank to develop story ideas. These people are involved in development work, drama, and local affairs on the ground.
- the synopses/ideas are given to the writers, who then write scripts.
- each script is translated into English and French, and disseminated to academics and development types for notes towards implementing the priority messages properly and effectively. it's a propaganda method, but ANTI-hate.
- the notes are incorporated.
- once a month, four to six episodes are recorded.
- the shows are aired in partnership with four different broadcasters across Rwanda (similar partnerships are in place in Burundi and DRC).
- every Wednesday and Friday at 8:45pm, the episodes air

A team from Yale University has been studying the efficacy of this ENE enterprise (Entertainment and Education, or "Edutainment"). They did pre-tests in communities before the program aired, and have done follow-up studies with controls. Albert called their testing "sly", with a smile.

For example, a radio is given to to villages, and they are told "here is a radio, you are free to share it on your own terms.". In the community that didn't listen to the radio show, arguments ensued. In the community that listened to the show, the radio was shared effectively. Conclusion: the radio show had taught mediation skills to the community.

La Benevolencija allows targets elites with a different kind of programing: debate shows. Intellectuals and politicians are invited to discuss topics related to Rwanda's situation. These debates are popular among the educated, political class, and are also aired on the radio.

The whole enterprise employs a strategy of transparency - and they partner with government. This is unusual for an NGO, and is part of their project (there is much resentment in Afirca of the NGO culture - too often a kind of neo-colonialism). Transparency and engagement seem key. As Albert said to us, "If we don't involve someone, it means we don't want them to change." 

And change is the necessity for Rwanda.

The show is so popular that live broadcasts can fill football stadiums.

2) The Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum

After our meeting, Albert drove us to the Genocide Museum, and we were given a tour of the grounds by Honoré Gatera, the Head Guide at the Centre.

Outside, there are simple mass graves, covered in concrete slabs. A wall is slowly having the names of the victims attached to in in simple plates.

Honoré left us to wander through the museum on our own, to read the history, to see the footage of victims, of killings, of victim testimonies, of the gacaca courts, and of the indifference of the West. Particularly upsetting is the collusion of France (French soldiers protecting the génocidaires), and the historical instigation of ethic rivalry by Belgium (before the Belgians taught otherwise, Hutu and Tutsi were plastic, socio-economic groups. The Belgians made it racial, beginning with identity cards, and nazi-like measurements of facial features. Only AFTER Belgian colonisation did violence occur between these groups).

3) A meeting with Hope Azeda

At the very popular Bourbon Café in the centre of Kigali, we met with Hope Azeda, a Rwandan playwright, director, actor and one of the main casting directors for East Africa.

Hope was wonderful, and we began to talk about the notion of bringing a show or two to Rwanda. Hope will also be working in New York with Liesl (one of the Africa Trilogy directors) in an East Africa project there in July, 2008.

Hope set up a meeting for tomorrow - our last day - with Odille Kantesi from Butare, the Director of the new Festival Arts Azimuts, and a professor at the National University of Rwanda.

4) Josh Ruxin and Elissa

We had dinner at the house of a couple of ex-pat friends of Anurita, New Yorkers, Josh and Elissa.

Lovely people!

Elissa has designed and built a restaurant that will open in the centre of Kigali in the next few months. It is gorgeous - a large, lovely patio with a stupendous view. They have poured their life savings into this, and Elissa has a new baby, Maja, who will grow up speaking three languages.

Josh is with Columbia University, and is the head of Access Project and the Millenium VIllages, Rwanda. He has been partnering with the Rwandan government and local villagers in resuscitating some of the areas most destroyed by the genocide.

They are impressive people. And the food was amazing!

5) A Drink at La Republica

A nightcap was enjoyed by all at a very cool bar called La Republica.

It was an enormous day.

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