Heart of Darkness

By Spindler, William | The Spectator, March 13, 1999 | Go to article overview

Heart of Darkness


Spindler, William, The Spectator


VISITING RWANDA

by Dervla Murphy

Lilliput Press, L15.99, pp. 246

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES

by Philip Gourevitch

Picador, L16.99, pp. 356

The Tutsi of Rwanda have been called `the Jews of East Africa', a characterisation which, on the whole, they approve of. Like the Jews, they were a people without a country, discriminated against and persecuted. Also, like the Jews, they suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of a regime embarked on their systematic destruction. Both peoples share a strong sense of betrayal, of having been abandoned by the rest of the world in the hour of their greatest need. As a consequence, they feel they can rely only on themselves to ensure their own survival.

There is, however, a crucial difference between the Jewish and the Rwandan experiences of genocide: today in Rwanda perpetrators and victims have to live side by side, as part of the same society. This is perhaps the most intractable problem faced by the present authorities: reconciliation between Hutu and Tutsi is at present both inconceivable because of the recent legacy of hatred and indispensable if the country, and indeed the region, are to have a future. For it is precisely the failure of the `international community' to deal with the genocide and its aftermath which gave rise to the complex regional conflict which now pits the governments and rebel groups of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, the two Congos and Angola, as well as troops from several other countries, in an ever more convoluted and bizarre set of alliances and counter-alliances that have resulted in mass killings and the displacement of populations on an unprecedented scale.

To write meaningfully about these problems is a formidable challenge. Dervla Murphy, a confirmed Irish travel writer with several books to her credit, does not shy away from it. After spending only four weeks in Rwanda in 1997 she has produced an opinionated book on the problems confronting that unhappy country. The result is a mixture of travelogue and heartfelt polemic. She is at her best when describing the human and physical territory through which she wanders. She succeeds in conveying Rwanda's eerie atmosphere: the serene beauty of the land, the fear and mistrust of the population, the overpowering sense of a great lurking evil. She finds boundless beauty and horror, sometimes intertwined, as when she dips for a placid swim in beautiful Lake Kivu only to discover two human corpses rotting on the shore.

Her excursion through Rwanda's recent history is equally infelicitous, however. …

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