Devoir de Mémoire (Rwanda)

In 1998, a group of ten African writers from eight different nations visited the Rwandan capital, Kigali, as part of the commemorative Fest’Africa project, “Rwanda: écrire par devoir de mémoire”. While they were there, the authors were invited to reflect upon, and write about, the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Nine published texts emerged as a result of the project: four novels, two travel narratives, two essays and a collection of poetry.

The project was posited from the outset as a specifically African response, setting this in the context of older problems of voice, self-representation and the renegotiation of miswritten histories in the postcolonial context.

2008 marks 10 years since the Rwanda residencies. This provides an opportunity to revisit the project and to connect it to the larger movement of reconciliation literature and theater over the last decade – “the connection with the memory stuff flooding SA shelves, the Jewish template on how to deal with pain etc”.

Brief: The Chronicle invites selected writers who participated in the project to revisit it.

All of the participants published a book except the only English-writing author, Meja Mwangi. Four chose the novel as their medium, namely Boris Boubacar Diop with Murambi – le livre des ossements, Monique Ilboudou with Murekatete, Tierno Monénembo with L’ainé des orphelins, and Koulsy Lamko with La phalène des collines.

Véronique Tadjo and Abdourahman Waberi took to more fragmentary, semi-fictional forms, L’ombre d’Imana being a sort of travel diary, a collage of impressions, reflections and stories, and Moisson de crânes a volume of essays.

The two Rwandan participants, Jean-Marie Vianney Rurangwa and Venuste Kayimahe, were opposed to the idea of writing fictional literature about the genocide. But still Rurangwa, who explicitly refused a fictionalizing approach, introduced a fictional element into his text. The text Le génocide des Tutsi expliqué à un étranger, where the author expresses his view of the genocide and the reasons that led to it, is written in the form of a fictional interview.  Kayimahe was the only participant who had been to Rwanda when the genocide of the Tutsis started.  Kayimahe published his testimony in France-Rwanda – Les coulisses du génocide. Témoignage d’un rescapé. He especially explored the role France played by supporting the dictatorship, which made the genocide possible and prepared the
ground for it.

Nocky Djedanoum who, together with the journalist Maïmouna Coulibaly, initiated and organized the project published a volume of poetry with the title Nyamirambo!, which is also the name of a neighbourhood of Rwanda’s capital Kigali.”

Excerpt from ‘Creative writing in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda: The project Rwanda – Ecrire par devoir de mémoire

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