NYAMYUMBA, RWANDA — A convoy begins its tortuous climb toward Nyamyumba, a tiny village in northwestern Rwanda. Women in the fields pause to watch as 15 vehicles rumble past. Soldiers carrying guns, grenades, and rocket-launchers stare down at them from the back of pick-up trucks.
The convoy stops at the entrance of Nyamyumba, where a crowd of more than 1,000 people has been waiting since noon. Rwanda's minister of internal affairs, Abdul Karim Harelimana, steps out of his four-wheel-drive. He is followed by the prefect of Gisenyi, Jean-Baptiste Muhirwa, and an unsmiling host of civilian and military advisers.
As they take their place under a canopy of blue plastic sheeting, the chief of the village introduces his counselors - men with broken shoes, frayed shirts, and an expression of distinct discomfort. The prefect informs Nyamyumba's inhabitants that the minister has come to deliver his message of national reconciliation. Dozens of soldiers raise guns, bringing them inches away from people's faces.
The minister, a Hutu member of the Tutsi-dominated government, tells the peasants he is here to bridge the gap between the government in Kigali and the people of Nyamyumba, a hotbed of Hutu rebel activity in a region where thousands have died.
"Do Hutus speak a different language," he asks. "Do they worship a different God?" The crowd murmurs in dissent. Do Tutsis not marry Hutus, and don't Hutus and Tutsis live together on the same hills? Yes, the crowd whispers. Then why, he asks, do the people of Nyamyumba collaborate with rebels?
As he speaks, an old woman tries to keep herself from falling asleep. Standing at the back, a group of young men with burning eyes cross their arms in defiance.
Finally, Mr. Harelimana takes questions from the crowd. A peasant wants to know who is going to compensate him and others for the banana plantations they have had to cut down to deny the rebels cover. The minister promises two tons of rice.
A woman wants to know where her husband is: He's been arrested by the Army, but she doesn't know where they have taken him. The minister jots down her name.
Then, with the flair of a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he tells the crowd a father has just turned in his rebel son. Will the model citizen please come forward?
A farmer steps out of the crowd. His skin is drawn tight against his cheekbones and he is barefoot. He reaches for the microphone. "My name is Karumuhimzi," he says. He stands still for a moment. Then he drops the microphone and walks away.
On the way out, Nyamyumba's inhabitants can be heard whispering. As the minister is whisked away, they are wondering aloud whether the father who betrayed his son will survive the night.