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The Antelope’s Strategy

After the genocide, ordinary Rwandans wonder: Can survivors and killers share hilltops again?

By Jina Moore / April 20, 2009



 There’s a shorthand in journalism for the difficult work of covering foreign communities – of landing on a dusty airstrip in some remote region barely on the map, knowing no one, and yet somehow leaving a week later with a half-dozen stories full of illuminating quotations and details.

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Reporters and editors call it “parachuting in,” and the cliché could only be more accurate if the pilot actually pushed the reporter out of the plane. After a few jumps, most journalists figure out how to make it work, and the most ambitious of those make books out of their experiences, lingering for six weeks at a time to do intensive reporting, and then withdrawing again to the comforts of home.

Jean Hatzfeld is not one of those guys. The Antelope’s Strategy, third in a series of books the French journalist has written on the Rwandan genocide, is born of seven years of sustained conversation with survivors and perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, men and women who populate the hilltops around Nyamata, roughly 20 miles from the capital city of Kigali.

The world is awash with stories about Rwanda. Most of them are frozen in time, commemorating the genocide and castigating the international community for its failure to intervene. In these stories, the legacy of the genocide is fixed, always reflecting backwards.

Hatzfeld’s books acknowledge something that those by parachuters cannot: the passage of time.

When Hatzfeld began his trilogy, writing about survivors in “Life Laid Bare,” Nyamata was a full day’s drive from Kigali, down a dusty, potholed road. Today, smooth blacktop cuts the trip to an hour. In “Machete Season,” Hatzfeld interviews imprisoned perpetrators, some of them on death row; last year, Rwanda abolished capital punishment.

The Rwanda of “The Antelope’s Strategy,” Hatzfeld’s third book, is not the country we usually get – neither the mournful, traumatized society of memorial stories, nor the slick regional business hub of glowing media profiles. Hatzfeld has cultivated relationships with ordinary Rwandans who, in the 15 years since the genocide destroyed both family structures and trust between neighbors, have had to renegotiate their everyday lives.

Among them is Mediatrice who, as an 8-year-old girl, survived the genocide by accident. She was paralyzed by fear during an ambush but simply passed over by killers. A Hutu woman then hid her and fed her sweet potatoes; when the genocide ended, Mediatrice had to flee with the Hutus, lest her Tutsi identity be uncovered and she fall in the final days of the killing. “We were zeroes in rags,” she tells Hatzfeld, describing what the journey had reduced them to.

Mediatrice lived in Congo for eight years, always concealing her identity. “There were days I felt so abandoned that I tried to talk to myself,” she says. “I would search for a first word ... but I had nothing to say to myself.”

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