The Criminal Justice System In Rwanda

19 07 2011

This summer, I’ve spent just about all my time at work doing research on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which is located in Arusha, Tanzania and is charged with the duty of bringing genocidaires to justice. In recent years, there has been some tension between Rwanda and the ICTR because Rwanda has wanted to hear some of the high-profile case on the ICTR docket, but not a single one had been transferred.

However, just recently, on June 28, 2011, the Trial Chamber of the ICTR agreed to transfer the first case to the Rwandan judiciary — which before, the ICTR had deemed inadequate to hear such important cases.

Now that there is a chance that the Rwandan judiciary receive a case from the ICTR, it made me want to investigate just what the Rwandan Criminal Justice System is like. Here are my findings:

While the United States and ICTR function on a common law system, in Rwanda, the Romano-Germanic, or civil law, system prevails. The country is trying to turn over to a common law system, but until the reform is consummated, several differences remain:

  1. There is no jury system
  2. Defense lawyers do not prepare an investigation — only the prosecution does.

Although there are many similarities between the two systems, such as the accused being presumed innocent until proven guilty. The accused also has rights to legal representation, an interpreter, a fair trial, and an appeal.

The US Embassy also warns that if ever arrested, you should never sign anything, as it might be a confession.


A Season of Good-Byes

14 07 2011

As surely as the geese migrate West each winter, so do university-age students flock to Rwanda from all corners of the world to carry out what is known as the “summer internship ritual.” Two months ago, we began arriving at the Kigali airport, learned our way about the city, and bonded during our time here.

Two months later, it is the season of departures. The hostel is emptying out. Four interns flew home on Tuesday, two more will leave in just a few days. So too shall  Ibe leaving in less than two weeks’ time.

I usually have an aversion to the term “bittersweet” for its cliche connotation. But, in this case, I find myself making an exception. There simply is not a term more apt to describe the feelings I am now experiencing.

The bitter feeling stems from all the things I will miss about Kigali…the friends I’ve mad, life at the hostel, how clean and safe it feels here, African tea (fresh black tea leaves, au lait, with ginger), having random children high five me when I go for runs, going to the open markets and seeing the fresh fruits and reams of fabric, picking up bits and pieces of Kinyarwanda, and being able to walk everywhere — or take a five minute moto rid.

Yet, there also is that distinct sweet feeling, as there’s plenty I’m looking forward to back in the states. Small creature comforts like hot showers and reliable toilets. Fresh milk (versus powdered) and sushi (not much of that in a landlocked country).

I have a bit less than two weeks left. It’ll be over before I know it.


Memorial for a Sunday School Massacre

13 07 2011

There is a small Sunday School at Ntarama. It is unassuming. When you walk in, there are about ten rows of tiny benches where children once sat to learn their weekly lessons. At the front wall, just off-center to the left, is a large smear. The house is built of brick and mortar, but this smear has discolored the light gray to near black, and the red-orange bricks now have a foreboding burgundy color.


I heard stories about this spot before having even arrived. The site here is a memorial center for the Rwandan genocide.


“The soldiers killed the children here,” the guide said. “They lined them up and swung them by their feet against the wall. This spot on the wall is from their blood.”


That is one story. Another story is that the militia barged into the school house where the children were hiding and threw a grenade into the back. A boy caught it as it burst, and the smear on the wall is from him.


There is a shroud of mystery as to what actually happened at many of the memorial cites. Though the stories may not be exact, they are true, in the sense that every travesty most certainly occurred, even if not at a particular spot or a particular day, as a given story might describe.


After we visited the cites, we meandered back into the town where we would catch the bus to take us back to Kigali. Only a few moments earlier, we had been immersed in the sorrow of the sites, but it didn’t take long for us to be re-consumed  in the details of our own lives as we waited for the bus to take us back home.


But, that visit isn’t one that will ever wash away from my memory. I doubt that I will remember every day trip that I took while in Kigail, to the various crafts cooperatives or eateries. That visit, on the other hand, is one that will stay with me for years to come .

I Hiked A Volcano

8 07 2011

You don’t hike a volcano on the average day. But today was not an average day. It was the day I would hike a volcano.

Whether the altitude left my brain with the same number of cells it had when I was back at the base is a different story. I’m not gonna lie. It took a lot out of me.

When we began, I was intimidated looking up at the slope we were going to scale.

Our trek was a cross between hiking and rock-climbing. It had rained only a few days earlier so the mud was an extra challenge. After three and a half hours, we reached the top and were rewarded with this view:

Years of rain had filled the coldero with a beautiful lake, and being so up high, we had a nice breeze wafting through.

Once all together, we had a picnic lunch before beginning our descent down.

If you’re ever in Rwanda, you should give it a try. It’s a challenge, though. Check it out: the Rwanda National Volcano Park.

Where we stayed:

Kinigi Guesthouse (  10,000 RWF per person for the 4 person rooms. Cute, clean, has a good restaurant and cozy fireplace.

Cost: The hike with the park entrance, permit, and guide is $75 per person.



The Food in Africa is… Normal

8 07 2011

Coming to Africa, I expected the food to be different. It was no surprise that fast-food chains like McDonalds and KFC were missing, or that the country, being landlocked, was bereft of sushi. I knew that beans, rice and matoke were staple foods, and was anticipating having that as part of a meal around once a day.

But there were other things… I tried to make devilled eggs for the Fourth of July, but there wasn’t enough egg-white to hold the yolk filling. For the chicken, the ratio of bone to meat was much higher than I was used to. And…the oranges had seeds. How strange, I thought, at first blush. But then I thought again…how normal.

I guess that’s what happens when your food comes from a traditional field instead of the lab. Here, I get my groceries from an open air market, not a distribution chain.

I’m so used to eating genetically modified food back home in the States, that for me, they have set the standard for what is normal. According to National Geographic, back in 2002, 60% of food on the shelves of a supermarket had been genetically modified in some way.

Almost ten years later, I wonder how high that statistic has climbed.

Walking though any supermarket in the USA, it’s hard to ballpark. According to the USDA, genetically modified food is prohibited from being labeled for fear that it will cause consumers to believe that it is “different.” For more, see:

But, come now. I’m in Africa eating food whose genes have not been tampered with. It takes twice as long to eat an orange with all the seeds, my appetizers for Fourth of July were an impossibility, and I just don’t have the dexterity to eat chicken with a knife and fork.

Let me tell you. Genetically modified food…it’s “different.”

American Independence Day vs. Rwandan Liberation Day

30 06 2011

My answer to the question, “What does the Fourth of July mean to me?” would gravely displease any history teacher:

Hotdogs, watermelon, fireworks, hearing “Sweet Home Alabama,” on constant replay, and configuring some sort of red, white and blue ensemble to wear to the bbq.

To me, Independence Day is first and foremost the story of how Will Smith and Jeff Goldbloom saved the Earth from alien invasion, and secondly, the day that marks the birth of our nation.

Please forgive me. I’m the child of pop-culture. Media has mothered my sense of culture, and “history” has been an absentee father at best. I know what the Fourth of July stands for, but I can’t feel it. Our independence was proclaimed well over two hundred years ago… I can’t help but take for granted that the United States is no longer subservient to English rule.

For Rwanda, the Fourth of July is different. Not so light-hearted. July 4, 1994 marked the day that the Rwanda Patriotic Front defeated the regime that had organized the Rwandan genocide. That day marked the moment in time when mass murder and chaos was brought to an end, and a new age was truly able to begin. This day, known as Liberation Day in Rwanda, isn’t so much a historical marker as it is a present day reminder of what happened not so long ago.

I Think I Like Idle Time

28 06 2011

Are idle hands really the devil’s playthings? Maybe that’s why I’m always giving myself manicures. (To keep busy, not as a pledge to satanic vanity.) I’m always trying to stay in motion, be productive, often times failing. Like many, I find boredom to be utterly intolerable.

This has been a long Tuesday afternoon. It’s been rainy, which makes people sleepy and huddle up in bed. As an avid coffee drinker, I’m too caffeinated for that, so I have to find other alternatives…

And here I am on my laptop, typing this blog. Before I was journaling, then writing off a few emails, and now…well, here we are.

This isn’t the first time this has happened — just me, hanging out, typing random messages, stories or posts just to pass the time. At first it was something that bothered me about being in Kigali. “If I had my car,” I often mused, “then I could do something.” But, if I followed that train of thought further as to what that something would be, it always turns out to be …nothing.

When boredom strikes, I don’t jump in my car and seek out something to do. I duddle around thinking of what to do next, and in the end, I don’t really do anything. At least here, I can embrace the boredom. There really is nothing else for me to do than this. I have no car. I can’t just go somewhere. There are no alternatives to the one thing I’ve got left to do…just type and write. It’s something I love to do but never make time for. Tonight, it seems, the rain made that time for me.

Kigali. It’s a Small Town.

28 06 2011

“Let me tell you something about Kigali,” Joe says with a stern tone and certain hardness in his eyes. “It’s a small town.”

At the time, I dismissed such a silly thought. Kigali? A small town? Preposterous. It’s a capital city. When you look at the atlas, there’s not just a normal dot for Kigali. No, no. There’s an asterisk. Because it’s just that important.


Well, that’s what I thought my fourth day here. I’m into my fifth week now, and my oh my. What a month will do for ya.

It all started on one nondescript Sunday. One of the girls at the hostel introduced me to a coworker of hers, but in fact… we had already met at lunch one day through another friend.

I went to do some tutoring down the street, but when I went to meet the director of the program… I found that I wasn’t really meeting him at all. He was the trivia master from last week.

It’s the first telltale sign of being in a small town. . .all of the sudden you start running out of people to meet.

Think of the Simpsons. Week in and week out, it’s the same cast of characters. Nelson gets gum in Lisa’s hair. Milhouse gets a crush on Lisa. Nelson and Milhouse join a boyband. Why do these people constantly collide? Small town syndrome.

And now I have to ask myself… is Kigali afflicted with such a condition?


Once upon a time, I thought that small towns were suffocating, but truth be told, I find it kind of cozy to walk into a coffee shop and see two or three familiar faces. It’s not too bad. In fact, I kind of like it.

Art and Reconciliation

24 06 2011

The year is 2002. I’m in tenth grade.

“What the point of art?” My English teacher asks. “Music, paintings, poetry — what’s the point?”

I think to myself for a moment. “Well, either it sounds pretty, looks pretty or reads pretty. There can’t be much more to it than that.” The class echoes my internalized thoughts. A shadow of disappointment falls over my teacher’s face.

“No, you guys. The point of art is to take what’s here,” he says, placing his hand over his heart, “and releasing it so it doesn’t have to stay bottled up inside.”

He told us about how his mother had died when he was barely a young man, and how he had carried that sadness around with him for years. Then one day while he was driving, the song “Tears in Heaven,” came on the radio.

“When I heard that song, I felt it expressed exactly what I was feeling. I remember, I pulled over on the side of the road, and just cried, and let all that sadness go.”

There is something quite profound about art that can help people truly channel their emotions. During my time here, I met an girl from the UK doing her dissertation on art and reconciliation. She had come to visit the Rwanda Genocide Memorial to do research.

When I went to the Memorial, I paid special attention to the artwork there. A survivor of the Holocaust had created a startling stained glass window depicting the genocide, but with rays of light shining down as hope. It was atop a staircase– symbolizing the steps that had to been taken — and could have been interrupted– leading to the genocide.

What really move me were a series of sculptures, crafted by Laurent Hategekimana, a local artist, depicting the phases of the genocide.

First, figures were depicted in harmony, with arms around each other, helping each other carrying water jugs, and working together.

Second, imbalance set in. One figure was being forced to work, another forced into submission.

Third, was a depiction of the genocide, with the figures attacking each other.

Finally, was the fourth stage of reconciliation. The figures were returning to a state of balance, but still struggling to find harmony and return to the peaceful stage in which they began.

The gradual progression of the series was terrifying in that it reflected how gradually and swiftly the violence had progressed, and how before the outbreak, there were clear warning signs. Yet, at the same time, there was something organic and beautiful about the sculptures. They symbolize Rwanda’s hope — that it will become restored to its natural state of harmony.

The Moto Market and Econ 101

24 06 2011

“400 franc to UTC,” I say. That’s the fair price for a moto (moto = motorcycle taxi) ride to the Union Trade Center—better known as simply “UTC”.

“No, no, no,” says the moto driver, “You pay 1,000 franc.”

“No,” I say, “400.” That’s the fair price – 400 francs. FYI – that’s 66 cents in American dollars.

“800,” he says.

“400,” I say.

“Ok, 600.”

“No, 400.”

“Ok, 500.”

“No, 400.”

Then the moto-driver looks down at the ground, and without meeting my eyes, says, “No profit if you pay 400. You pay 500.”

When it comes to this point, the bargain turns into a game of chicken…who will cave first?

“Fine,” I say, “I find other driver because I want fair price.” Then, I walk away. I don’t take five steps before the driver pulls up next to me and says, “Fine, I take you for 400.”

Some of the ex-pats I’ve met here complain that having the drivers attempt to charge them a higher price is “discrimination.” It’s funny to me how outraged some people get here over a 20 cent overcharge, when that kind of thing happens all the time at home – people have just come to accept it.

Microsoft sells Word to students for a fraction of the cost than it does to the rest of the population. Senior citizens get discounts at movies and restaurants. I’ve noticed that Ginger Yogi tea at Trader Joe’s is half the price that Whole Foods charges. Suppliers charge consumers a higher price when they can, and Muzungus tend to have more spare cash than the rest of Rwanda’s population. So should we be expected to pay just a little more — should we be subjected to a differentiated pricing system, if you will?

“Hell no!” says an American attorney. “It’ll throw off the entire market. Muzungus that cave and pay a higher price are artificially inflating the prices and throwing off the supply and demand balance.”

Could it be true — Muzungus that think they’re being nice by paying a higher price are really doing a great disservice? I suppose… if moto drivers think that muzungus will always pay higher prices, they could start passing by Rwandans on the street to give a ride to someone they think has deeper pockets.

We’re like an invasive species, us muzungus. Like bullfrogs in Australia.