August 2007

The Bishop of Rwanda
By John Rucyahana with James Riordan (Thomas Nelson Inc.,231 pages, $24.99 )

Although the subtitle to the book indicates that the main theme is “finding forgiveness amidst a pile of bones,” The Bishop of Rwanda devotes most of its pages to details about the lead-up to, and events of, the 1994 genocide that exterminated more than 1.1 million Rwandans (not 800,000 as commonly cited) in barely three months.

As an account composed by a native of Rwanda who had relationships and connections with a number of people who perished, the book stands as a good supplement to the testimony of outsider General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian who documented his traumatic experience as the commander of the ill-fated United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda at the time in his book, Shake Hands With the Devil.

As with Dallaire, Rucyahana finds few heroes and many guilty parties. Foremost among the latter is the international community, particularly the regime of then-U.S. president Bill Clinton, which dithered, dodged and avoided even acknowledging that a genocide was going on and skirted sending any significant aid.

The churches also come out less than squeaky clean, as a number of clergy and religious are cited for co-operating with the genocide perpetrators, freely turning their congregations over to killers and, in some cases, actively participating themselves in killing. Finally, colonial powers, particularly France and Belgium, are indicted for creating a witch’s brew of conditions that allowed genocide to foment.

Perhaps the only figure who emerges with some degree of integrity in Rucyahana’s view is the current Rwandan president, Paul Kagame, who was leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and whose forces ultimately defeated the Hutu Power government to effectively end the genocide.

Rucyahana credits Kagame especially with preventing a retaliatory bloodbath in the wake of the genocide and also with what he sees as a “miracle” of restoration and recovery that has taken place in subsequent years.

On the other hand, not mentioned by Rucyahana is the Wikipedia report that Kagame’s Rwanda, along with Uganda, invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998, resulting in an estimated 3.8 million deaths, a toll not seen in wartime since World War II. Perspective, as they say, is everything, and readers must keep this in mind as they take in Rucyahana’s version of events.

Rucyahana concludes the book with a recitation of the steps taken to turn “machetes into plowshares,” uncover the truths of what happened, change hearts, bring about forgiveness and ensure a brighter future for his country.