Gacaca is being willfully misunderstood

The curse of innovation is upon us once more. Gacaca is in the news again and is being looked at negatively. This time however, I was really bemused by the source of the story; it came all the way from New Zealand.

Now I know that they Kiwi’s are known for all sorts of things-great rugby teams, sheep and Sir Edmund Hillary. However, they are not known for being experts in Central African issues and why would they? they live on the ends of the earth.

Sadly, Daniel Howden bite off a bit more than he could chew when he penned an article titled ‘Genocide courts have failed, says aid donor’ in the New Zealand Herald.

But I guess it wasn’t his fault, he had an ‘impeccable’ source; Jica, the Japanese aid donor.

A researcher working for Jica, Shinichi Takeuch, wrote in a report titled The disputable record of state-building in Rwanda’ that the Gacaca Courts were handing out “victor’s justice”, and “have done nothing to ease underlying ethnic tensions in the country”.

I can honestly say that I believe that Gacaca is being unfairly maligned. Gacaca was instituted for two main reasons: to punish the perpetrators of genocide and crimes committed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and to help the healing process.

Now, these two goals were not, and are not expected to be accomplished at the same period of time. The court cases, which ended in December last year, took care of the culture of impunity by trying up to 1.2million cases. But that was, and would always be the easy part.

The most complex bit of the Gacaca innovation was whether it would start helping the healing process. Certainly I believe that the process was helped by seeing justice done; however the Minister of Justice himself would tell you that the process of reconciliation is an ongoing exercise.

So, when, less than a year after the Gacaca courts wound up, people start  attempting to assess its impact in terms of lowering ‘tensions’ I think it’s unfortunate.

Looking at the report that Shinichi Takeuch penned, I came to realize that he was simply mirroring Human Rights Watch and its own assessment of Gacaca.

An assessment that was torn apart by none other than the Dutch Ambassador to Rwanda.

The process of reconciliation cannot be measured in months but rather years, decades and generations. But even if it can’t be measured in months, it’s simply ridiculous to believe that the “tensions” in the country haven’t decreased.

Are people living side by side? Are they sharing beer and goat brochette? Are they working side by side during Umuganda?

To look at Gacaca alone without looking at the other efforts is wrong and outright buffoonery. Gacaca is simply a part of the overall reconciliation strategy. How can you ignore TIG, Ingando and Itorero?

How can you ignore what is happening in the classrooms, where students from diverse backgrounds are coming together to learn?

I hate to summarily dismiss things; after all, Jica and Shinichi Takeuch sacrificed time and money to study the Gacaca. However, I think that I wouldn’t have done so if this report was written thirty years from now.

Maybe the report would say exactly the same thing, but it would be a lot more credible. I understand just how complex the issue of restorative justice is, but there is no need to be lazy. Take your time Mr. Takeuch. Don’t be contrary just because it’s the ‘done’ thing.


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