conflicting emotions

Susan Vincent.
Kigali, Rwanda.

I’ve never liked horror movies. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one. But as much as I avoid subjecting myself to the artificial fears of the theater, I seem to have ended up in parts of the world where the most horrific, large-scale, genocidal crimes have taken place. My first trip to Europe included a visit to Auschwitz immediately after a viewing of Schindler’s List (which, while terrible, I don’t count as a horror film). Standing in the gas chambers where so many were murdered, then walking through the crematorium where the killers completed their work of destruction, was one of the most painful and surreal things I’ve ever done.

According to Dictionary.com, “horror” is defined as “an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear.” The World English Dictionary adds “intense loathing; hatred” to the definition, and I think that adds a bit to the sense. Horror, with or without actual danger, prompts a swift and instinctive distancing: a desire to be removed, both in the physical and associational sense, from the thing causing such revulsion.

Today, I’m in Rwanda, where one of the most rapid–and yes, horrific–genocides in history took place a mere 18 years ago. Sarah and I got a chance to visit the Kigali genocide memorial which, while “sterile” in comparison to other graphic sites, recounts events and actions which shock the conscience and stretch the limits of credulity. While the passage of time has been sufficient to put some distance between today’s entrepreneurs and the not-so-distant past, it will likely be a generation or more before the pain and wariness fades. Some hope it will be sooner: economic reforms, enticing tourism campaigns, and environmental awareness programs have been implemented with hopes of changing Rwanda’s image and reputation. Others point to political patterns and see the same old problems thinly veiled in a new form.

Whether you see Rwanda’s trajectory as improving, stalling, regressing, or something less definable, there is one thing that has become clear to us as we have been working here: the Rwandan government, specifically the judiciary, is suffering from a widespread lack of trust. I’d be willing to bet that this problem extends far beyond the government and affects many areas of interaction and life, whether family, business, or social. The problem is, trust and horror/fear are fundamentally at odds. So long as we are recoiling, distancing, building barriers, we are not coming close, inviting in, sharing power and control. Self-help, avoidance, and non-participation make sense were trust has been breached, but it is only through engagement, awareness, and cooperation that any long-term successes will be built.

Hopefully our work here will contribute to that in some way. I am looking at ways for the judiciary to be more effective and efficient; consistent delivery of promised justice seems like a good place to begin the rebuilding of trust. However, the more deeply I read, the more it seems that efficiency can really only come with trust; bureaucracy is often an indication of trust’s absence, and streamlining procedures requires enough trust to warrant some delegation of authority (i.e. relinquishment of power). The age-old “which comes first?” dilemma is fully present here, with crippling effects.

It will be interesting to see what Rwanda looks like after another 18 years. Will the hopes and investments of recent years have been repaid with transparency and justice, or will trust still be an absent commodity? It seems to me that all we can do now is refuse to allow the horrors of the past or the uncertainties of the present destroy our hope for the future. And who knows? Perhaps that is enough to stand in the gap while trust is gradually being built.

 

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