Journey to Rwanda
Sunday, Nov. 6: I am on a flight from Los Angeles to Washington, the first stage of a very long journey to Kigali, Rwanda. For the last several weeks I've been reading extensively in preparation for a trip sponsored by the International Reporting Project, which is taking a dozen journalists on a "fact-finding" mission to the central African country. I'll be writing as we go, and posting to the Opinion blog whenever possible.
It's often the unexpected things -- in both travel and reporting -- that end up being the most compelling. That said, here are three of the things I know we will be exploring on the trip.
The genocide's aftermath
Rwanda is a country so tiny, it's difficult to even locate on a world map-- close to the equator, tucked in among the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi. But the outsized horror of its genocide during the mid-1990s thrust the mountainous nation into the spotlight. Over the course of 100 days, as many as 1 million people were massacred, most of them members of the Tutsi ethnic minority killed at the hands of the Hutu majority. In the years since, Rwandans have tried to come to terms with what happened, and impose justice, through local tribunals called gacacas. Because today's world is full of places that will need to reconcile people who were once on opposite sides of a conflict -- Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few -- Rwanda's example is important.
Since shortly after the genocide was stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a Tutsi rebel force, the country has been led by the leader of that army, Paul Kagame. Under his rule, Rwanda has made huge economic strides, and it is now widely regarded as the safest and cleanest country in Africa. But Kagame has been sharply criticized for his authoritarian style and lack of tolerance for opposing views. We are hoping to meet with the president during the visit.
There are serious policy issues involved with Rwanda's mountain gorillas. Preserving their habitat is complicated in a country like Rwanda -- the most densely populated in Africa -- where it's hard to strike a balance between the immediate needs of people and the long-term needs of the planet. Rwanda, like much of the continent, has lost forest to agriculture at an alarming rate, and this has threatened the gorillas. But gorilla tourism is an important part of Rwanda's economy.
Sue Horton is Op-Ed and Sunday Opinion editor of The Times.
Photo: Rwandan children seen in the documentary movie "Shake Hands with the Devil." Credit: Peter Bregg / California Newsreel Release