GYC Village

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Responding to the New York Times

Responding to the New York Times

by Jesse Hawkes, Kigali, GYC Rwanda Program Director, Interim GYC Executive Director

Josh Kron of the New York Times published the following article on May 16, 2010: “For Rwandan Students, Ethnic Tensions Lurk”. Given that GYC has worked with so many students in Rwanda, I thought it would be good to record some of my thoughts about this issue and to see what the GYC alumni of Learning Communities in Rwanda think about this issue, and whether the alumni from other countries in the GYC network also have thoughts about these issues based on their experiences.

There are a number of places that I feel this most recent Josh Kron article has some problems, so I wrote a couple “letters to the editor” related to the article. Feel free to disagree with my points, or add something new about the article (there are many other issues that he brings up, like the issue of Anglophone vs. Francophone students) and record your thoughts in the discussion group. And don’t forget to read the NYTIMES article first.


Letter #1

To the Editor:

This article verges on irresponsible, sensational journalism. To my eye, the question of hormones and families in Rwanda is not that much different than it would be anywhere else in the world where familial heritage and allegiances get in the way of marriages all the time. Let’s not automatically jump to conclusions and mix this age-old, human condition with the idea that political tension is on the rise in Rwanda today. Certainly, in my work with youth on human rights issues in Rwanda, I have found that some young couples have indeed been asked by their families not to marry because of their differing backgrounds. Sometimes, however, a Hutu and a Tutsi do convince their families to let them marry, and it is even celebrated, albeit often in smaller numbers at the weddings. Not every tension after the genocide will disappear without some intervention and mediation, but some tensions like those related to intermarriage may always be there, no matter what interventions and mediations take place.


Letter #2

To the Editor:

In this article about “ethnic” tensions, the Rwandan government is labeled “Tutsi-dominated,” implying that the government speaks with a monolithic Tutsi voice. This is an oversimplification of the situation, on par with the kind of stereotyping and hyping of “ethnicities” that led to the Rwandan genocide. Numerous positions in the Rwandan government are indeed held by people whose family members identify as Tutsi in private, but (a) there are many positions that are held by people whose families identify as Hutu and (b) the current government is certainly not speaking with one, cohesive “Tutsi” voice. Even the same Times reporter himself says in “Grenade Attacks Shake Capital of Rwanda” that there are rumors of a coup attempt by a general Nyamwasa, whose family history is also Tutsi. The situation in Rwanda is much more complex than just saying Hutu-this and Tutsi-that. We must carefully check our tendency to stereotype.


One comment on “Responding to the New York Times

  1. Anonymous
    June 4, 2010

    I suggest that the word “ethnic” in this article’s title be reviewed. “Hutu/Tutsi” were originally amalgams of not just origin but also class (if a Hutu gained enough cows he could become a Tutsi). The complex social system was erroneously racialized by Belgian colonists, and manipulated negatively ever since, leading to the Genocide in 1994. While it is true that Rwandans feel deeply connected to their past social groupings, Rwandans have shared the same language and traditions for hundreds of years, and most have decided to stop referring to these social identities publicly without context and nuance. Why not try for a title, “For Rwandan Students, Tensions Exist,” and follow with specifics?

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This entry was posted on June 4, 2010 by in GYC Board and Staff Blog Posts, Human Rights, Rwanda, Rwanda Program Posts.

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