The Rwandan genocide has long held a morbid fascination for me. It’s one of the few places I would qualify as a “dark tourist” meaning that I would tour sites of the genocide such as the churches where the bones of those killed while they sought sanctuary still lie, or the schools where the dead have been fossilised by lime where they were struck down.
I recently finished reading fellow journalist Jacques Pauws book on the subject, Rat Roads. I would consider him one of the foremost experts of the genocide. While the world was watching South Africa peacefully coming out of years of racial oppression in 1994, Pauw was traversing the Virungas where he smelled the death first-hand.
The book is a profile of Kennedy Gihana, a rebel soldier in the genocide who later walked (Pauw estimates it was 17 million steps) to South Africa. This is a gripping, moving, horrifying, tear-jerking story that just makes you realise how privileged you really are. Kennedy endured things beyond the human imagination, and is now a lawyer in South Africa and a member of the Rwandan National Congress (a political party based in South Africa, seeking to bring an end to the rule of incumbent Rwandan president Kagame)
Pauw makes the very true point that studies on genocides and the nature of evil across the world show us that we can’t judge the perpetrators in these situations, because put in the same conditions we all have the potential to do the same.
The book is long and the first half is rather gory, but it will shock and open your eyes, make you feel compassion and destroy any prejudice and preconceived ideas you may hold.
Pair it with something strong (I’m thinking double Jack on the rocks) or the Arabella Merlot, strong enough to get you through.