With Bad News, Last Journalists in a Dictatorship, Anjan Sundaram has written a book that everyone involved with Rwanda should read. While there are other works of recent history that are very valuable, many of them are quite technical and I am afraid they lose your average American reader. Sundaram’s book is very well-written and avoids technical details. For example, he calls the RPF, “the President’s party.”
The book is chilling, horrifying and depressing, as well as accurate. Sundaram worked in Kigali for a few years, trying to train journalists on how to report effectively. Unfortunately, because Rwanda is a police state that functions like a cult, it has become an open-air prison and so his students either gave in and became lap-dogs for the government, or they were tortured, detained, killed and harassed into submission. The book reminded me of 1984 if it was played out in the real world. Everywhere that Sundaram goes, plainclothes spies are watching. Their presence ensures that anyone who talks to him only repeats the script that he or she knows they are to recite. Everything is under surveillance and the government controls society down to the household level, there is no escape from its watchful eye.1
The Rwanda that Sundaram reveals is one where one genocide survivor tells him, “…the government mocks the genocide, uses it to get pity from the world, to get money, and at the same time to keep us in a state of fear” (23). It is a nation where unquestioning obedience is required, which is exactly what enabled the genocide in 1994. If Paul Kagame says to do something, you do it or you suffer terrible consequences. One day, Sundaram travels south and visits villages where huts have been destroyed. It looks like an act of war, but the people are lethargic and quiet. All of the grass roofs have been removed from the huts, and so Sundaram’s friend asks what has happened? Who did this?
“We did” is the reply they receive. “The man said the local authorities had come to the village and told the people to destroy their roofs. It was an order. “And you obeyed?” I said. “At once.” He was grim, as though this should not be questioned. Had the authorities explained their order? “They said the president had felt the grass roofs were too primitive.” And what did this man think? “They are too primitive,” he said. “Our country is modern now.”
The people in these huts now shiver in the rain. Their elderly were sick and some died. Many lived in the forest for some shelter. They destroyed their own homes without any protest because of a Presidential whim. This is the kind of blind following that goes on in Rwanda in every sector, in every field, all the time. As Sundaram says in an interview:
It was a world in which they could trust almost no one, where people performed a kind of theater in order to please the government. They would disown friends, disown family, isolate themselves. And the power of the system was that people did these things to themselves.
As an Anglican, reading this book brought home to me the utter futility of what I have been doing. The Anglican Church in Rwanda will never speak up about the wickedness happening there. In fact, it helps further this wickedness. Expecting it to speak up is expecting it to want to die, and while this is what should happen for Christians, given that we are commanded to go to the cross with Christ, to suffer and die and to speak out against evil states like this, I don’t see it happening in Rwanda. The culture of obedience is absolute there. People betray their own families in Rwanda to curry favor with the State. Someone there might hate Kagame in his heart, and yet he will outwardly sing his praises in order to stay alive and stay in the good graces of the Party. Bishops praise this wicked man openly. Our American bishops are fooled by the phony show that is played out in this prison, and don’t talk to those who could open their eyes, namely the Rwandans who have fled for their lives and can speak freely. It would upset the apple cart and the politics of the Anglican Communion to actually look into things beyond a surface level.
And so this tragedy will play itself out. In the same way that the church prior to the genocide said nothing and followed blindly in obedience, the church of today repeats the pattern. This sick nation will stay sick, telling lies to the West to keep its budget going, bragging about development while the West is happy to ignore the mountains of evidence that show how deeply evil this regime is. The Anglican Church has utterly failed to be a witness, and is content with projects that ignore the real sources of pain in the nation. You might even be a missionary in Rwanda and have your security guard go missing, “disappeared” like so many others, but will it wake you up? Unfortunately no.
While there desperately needs to be a change and a realization of what we are dealing with in the Anglican Church of Rwanda, I see no signs of that happening.