The multiple benefits of testimony for local reconciliation in Rwanda

  • Charles Mulinda Kabwete


The genocide against the Tutsi raises huge challenges about post-genocide reconciliation. One of the principal practices used in Rwanda to promote reconciliation was testimony about past violence. When the justice process known as Gacaca opened in Rwanda, one of its chief activities was a nationwide collection of testimonies from witnesses of genocide. This article results from a microlevel analysis of reconciliation practices in Rwanda. It addresses the following question: How have testimonies of perpetrators and survivors promoted reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda? It argues that perpetrators and survivors‟ testimonies led to their reconciliation in three ways: through the acquisition of information about what happened during the genocide, through healing and through social interaction. Perpetrators‟ testimonies provided information about the unfolding of the genocide, the perpetrators‟ responsibility and about the fate of survivors „lost parents and friends. They appeared as both testimony and apology. On the other hand, survivors‟ testimonies constituted a response to perpetrators‟ testimonies. Both paved a way for a dialogue in which apology and forgiveness led to what I call here proclamation of reconciliation. From the multiple uses of these testimonies in Rwanda, I conclude that they contain not just cognitive aspects about the past, but also the potential to manage emotions, both at individual level through healing processes, as well as at social level through interaction. This study is empirical. It uses a semi-structured interview method, analysing 80 testimonies from survivors and perpetrators from five districts of Rwanda. It also relies on the existing literature on testimony, on emotions and on reconciliation in other post-conflict situations. Its major contribution is the way it highlights how international and national policies of reconciliation work at local levels, between two persons, one survivor and one perpetrator through their encounter or distance, dialogue or avoidance, then proclamation of reconciliation and its outcomes.


Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 2346-7126