Rwandans: a reeducation in how to live together
The effort plays out in local courts as well as camps that teach the culture of a 'new' Rwanda.
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They're taken to Mutobo, an ingando near the valley town of Ruhengeri, in the country's northwest. They come with whatever they can easily carry; they leave with 60,000 Rwandan francs, a "reinsertion allowance" of about $110, in their pockets, and fresh, presumably purer ideas about Rwanda in their minds.Skip to next paragraph
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Most of the ex-militiamen here say they were only foot soldiers in a force Rwanda says is led by men who planned the genocide. Former FDLR members, they were recruited from Congo and elsewhere, indoctrinated in ethnic hatred, and pressed into service as lifelong soldiers. If they are caught trying to desert, "they get a bullet between the eyes," as one Rwandan official puts it.
Together, the United Nations and Rwanda have mounted a years-long public information campaign, running radio programs and dropping leaflets from helicopters, to counter the myth that returnees will be jailed or killed. Since 2002, more than 6,000 militia members, roughly half the fighting force, have given up their guns and fled back to Rwanda.
Kinzer says that reintegrating the FDLR, who are so closely associated in most Rwandans' mind with the genocide, could risk exacerbating tensions and, in fact, hinder reconciliation. It also strains Rwanda's already limited resources.
"These people need houses, and there aren't enough houses. They need land, and there isn't enough land," Kinzer says. "The government weighs all this and concludes it's better to have the people in the country ... because they don't want to be attacked by [the FDLR], but also because this is way to try to integrate all Rwandans into a single project for the future, and educate them about new approaches to daily life and what it means to be Rwandan."
Though the government has called the FDLR a militia full of genocidaires, its deserters insist they weren't involved in the genocide. Some ex-combatants in the Mutobo ingando were only 8 or 9 when they left, so young even Rwanda offers them automatic amnesty. Others say they simply followed the massive crowd to Congo. Not a single ex-FDLR combatant this reporter talked to on multiple trips to Rwanda admits any complicity in the genocide.
Most, in fact, insist their communities have put the genocide behind them. "I have no fear because I committed no crime," says Emmanuel Hitimana, who returned in January. "The group who came before me have settled without trouble, so why should [genocide trials] start with me?"
Most point out that simply getting to Rwanda is a life-threatening journey that can involve weeks of walking through the jungle and dodging their former comrades. The only people unwilling to weather that risk, they say, are the guilty.
"Some in Congo will never leave. Ever. If they left [Rwanda] after committing genocide, there's no way they're coming back."
But genocide survivors like Uwimana have to learn how to live with those who do come home, and with the thousands of confessed genocidaire who have returned to their villages. Whatever reconciliation looks like, at the end of the day, is up to them.
"There are one-on-one reconciliation efforts going on in many parts of the country," says Kinzer. "Each time one of those efforts is successful, it has an impact on a whole village or hill. Individual perpetrators are reconciling with survivors, the people they killed.... It tells you something about the human spirit."
• Tomorrow: An entrepreneur embodies the spirit of the new Rwanda – a can-do country skyrocketing from regional backwater to a hub for technology and trade.