Friday, February 04, 2011

Rwanda / Media and Genocide

One Man's Rwanda: Philip Gourevitch Softens Some Hard Truths
By Tristan McConnell
"There had been ethnic massacres in Rwanda before, but nothing on the scale of the genocide that began in April 1994. The killing had been over for nearly a year when a young American reporter, Philip Gourevitch, set foot in Rwanda for the first time the following May. The bodies of the dead were reverting to bone but memories were still raw. Gourevitch wrote of accidentally crushing a skull beneath his foot, so thick were the dead at a massacre site, and of the eerie emptiness of a country where so many had died so violently and so recently. In his first dispatch from Rwanda for The New Yorker, seven months after arriving, he wrote, 'It almost seemed as if, with the machete, the nail-studded club, a few well-placed grenades, and a few bursts of automatic rifle fire, the quiet orders of Hutu Power had made the neutron bomb obsolete.' Over three years, Gourevitch spent months at a time in the Great Lakes region of Central Africa, committing himself more wholly to the story of the genocide's aftermath than perhaps any other foreign journalist. The New Yorker ran eight of his lengthy articles during this period as he travelled tirelessly across Rwanda, to remote villages and regional towns as well as the capital. He met ordinary Tutsi survivors, imprisoned Hutu perpetrators, and the leaders of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, the rebel army that had ended the genocide and taken control of the country. Gourevitch developed enduring contacts within the upper echelons of the RPF. He often interviewed Major General Paul Kagame, the head of the army, who would, years later, become president. From his first New Yorker article about Rwanda, Gourevitch portrayed Kagame as calm, intelligent, thoughtful, and questioning -- a man who, having stopped a great evil, was working against immense odds and in difficult circumstances to fix his broken country. That portrayal has remained fixed over the years. ...
Gourevitch's early articles formed the basis of a book that won a clutch of awards and became a best seller. The compassion and clarity of writing, the attention to detail and in-depth interviews, and the freshness of his outsider’s eye meant that after it was published in 1998, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda became required reading for anyone interested in Rwanda, Africa, genocide, or journalism. He defined an image of Rwanda and Kagame that has held firm for more than a decade. ... Gourevitch's writing 'was extremely influential in helping Kagame establish a degree of international traction,” says [David] Anderson. 'It gave Kagame a credibility and a profile, portraying him as a force for good.' Indeed, the success story of Kagame's post-genocide Rwanda has served as a foil to the seemingly relentless gloom reported from elsewhere on the continent. It is backed by a genuinely felt desire to fight the image of a basket-case continent. But as the chief chronicler of Rwanda's post-genocide era, Gourevitch's writing has proved as polarizing as the country and its leader, attracting huge praise for what it reveals and damning criticism for what it omits. [...]"
[n.b. Thanks to Alex Zucker for bringing this source to my attention.]

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:09 PM

    I can understand in one sense McConnell's query. Gourevitch has presented a sympathetic portrait of Kagame so it's not out of place to wonder what he makes of growing list of criticisms of Kagame. But McConnell is doing what he accuses Gourevitch - gliding over inconvenient truths and spinning a partisan angle.

    With Ed Herman putting denialism front and center, are we witnessing something more than an ugliness at the margins?


Please be constructive in your comments. - AJ