Stephen Kinzer, Washington Post
“Joseph Sebarenzi presents a thoughtful critique of Kagame’s regime. His tale is a provocative warning to the many outsiders who are ready to canonize Kagame.”
Herb Boyd, author of Baldwin’s Harlem
“A passionate, heartfelt perspective about the tragedy, and his personal ordeal and survival. Sebarenzi writes with a concise, authoritative voice, and with exceptional clarity of Rwanda’s complicated past and present.” — Herb Boyd, author of Baldwin’s Harlem
Dr. Paula Green
In this compelling and heartrending memoir, Sebarenzi weaves together his devastating experiences of exile and loss as a Tutsi in Rwanda, his spiritual journey toward a life of reconciliation and forgiveness, and his sharp critique of current Rwandan politics and policies.
Sebarenzi, a prophetic name given by his father that means “chief shepherd,” or good leader, begins his narrative with a moving portrait of his youthful life in rural Rwanda. Materially poor, his childhood was rich in family relations and traditions, with connections to Tutsi and Hutu alike. This seemingly benign environment, however, was repeatedly shattered by ethnic violence, and Sebarenzi remembers several life-threatening experiences and narrow escapes from ethnic murder that foreshadowed the 1994 genocide. As the years passed, Sebarenzi temporarily relocated to neighboring countries, struggling to complete high school and university, marrying and starting a family, and experiencing periodic assault based on his ethnic identity.
Subsequent chapters of the book recount Sebarenzi’s political career, with his meteoric rise to Speaker of Parliament and his escalating conflict with Kagame, the Tutsi rebel leader who, by defeating the Hutu militias, ended the genocide and became Rwanda’s president. As Speaker, Sebarenzi endured heavy-handed intimidation from Kagame and the coterie of followers who supported his leadership. Due to his open opposition to some of Kagame’s behaviors and decisions, Sebarenzi’s own life was threatened, eventually leading him to escape and seek asylum in the US, where he is now a citizen.
The final chapter of this memoir is a teaching on reconciliation and forgiveness after genocide or mass violence, with Sebarenzi using his own transformational journey of resisting revenge and relinquishing hatred. Over the years, he has come to embrace and espouse a life-giving, future-oriented process of spiritual healing that includes forgiveness of those who destroyed his family and his country.
Readers will be swept up by this powerful narrative, with the remarkable arc of Sebarenzi’s life, and especially by his capacity to transform violence and embrace love. Rwanda-watchers may have different lenses for evaluating Rwanda’s fifteen years of post-genocide progress and current political, social, and economic realities. In the attempt to understand Rwanda, we will have to consider Sebarenzi’s insider status and stark portrait of Rwanda, and his exhortation to his fellow countrymen to increase their commitment to build a just, peaceful, tolerant, democratic, and more transparent society. Of Sebarenzi’s personal journey, one can only stand in awe, with gratitude that he has survived and that we are able to share in his journey.
“Can you forgive the people who killed your parents?” That is the most searching question in former Rwandan legislator Sebarenzi’s memoir. As a boy growing up on the shores of Lake Kivu, the author had no conception of Hutu or Tutsi. Only as a teenager in the early 1970s, as a fresh spasm of ethnic violence swept across Rwanda, did he learn those ethnic distinctions and the history of colonial division that underlay them. Oppressed under Belgian rule, when the Tutsi were given preferred positions, the Hutus had attacked their compatriots many times before. It will be news to many Western readers that the genocide that finally settled on the nation in 1994—when Hutus killed some 800,000 Tutsi (and perhaps many more)-had already been experienced several times, albeit on a less comprehensive scale. Sebarenzi fled to Congo in 1974—”If you get an education, you can escape. If we are killed, you will survive,” his father told him—then traveled abroad before returning to Rwanda following the genocide. On the strength of his education, he was elected to Parliament in 1997, then quickly elevated to speaker, only to encounter the chaos and corruption of the federal government, whose every member, it seemed, opposed Sebarenzi’s efforts to impose a system of checks and balances. As the Parliament’s powers grew under his guidance, Sebarenzi was increasingly threatened and was finally forced to flee the country. His account—assisted by freelance writer Mullane—is valuable to readers seeking to understand the mechanics of ethnic violence, but also the difficulty of securing justice following so enormous a crime. As to the answer to that initial question, Sebarenzi answers, “It is the genocide that is unforgivable, not those who perpetrated it.”A worthy contribution to the literature of both genocide and conflict resolution. Jean Hatzfeld’s The Antelope’s Strategy (2009) and Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains (2009).