Empty Days

Wednesday, April 07, 2004



Rwanda and why we can't care

There were many programs on tv this week about Rwanda's genocide of 1994. Most of them I found disappointing. Being a pessimist or a realist, it is too hard for me to believe that after all the butchering and the consequent exile and more butchering of the Hutus by the Tootsie liberation front or else - that after all this this country is in any way back to normal. All this cute stuff about crime-tribunals and prison for killers and confessional reintegration and how the new gov is being so fair-handed and nice. There must be a dark side to all this and I am seeing nothing of this dark side being reported. The explanation for this absurdly one-sided view of things is probably very simple: the West has not much interest in that corner of the world, journalists making investigative forrays in there are rare, they're not in sync with the local culture so they get their stuff from whoever gets their attention first (and that would be gov officials), plus the whole concept of Rwanda in the western mind turns around non-intervention by the West - which is arguably only a small fraction of the bigger picture.

The Frontline feature I found completely inane. It wasn't so much about Rwanda as about western powers, especially Clinton's WH not acting etc. Big news. No critical angle beyond that. Old tired pictures of the massacre. Yeah, we've been seeing those live when and as it were happening and nothing gave. So I guess it's not enough to show pictures - providing some perspective is more important. These sorts of documentaries (Frontline is frequently inane in that way, unfortunately) are a rehash of the most superficial stuff, and it's as if this event happened ages ago and became a mask of superficial notions, like the Holocaust or the WWII - while in fact it's quite fresh, it's still with us and everything is still ungoing.

One breach of this universal protocol on Rwanda was a BBCnews report about a woman who's been used as a sex-slave by the Hutu-militia. She's still alive - dying of AIDS, bleeding, they never kill themselves in Africa, do they. Other small documentaries told the story of ongoing hate in Rwanda. And frankly this gotta be closer to truth than the presented image of peace and quiet and good progress.

Basically what this absence of critical angle means is that, no matter all the public outcry once upon a time, we really don't care outta here. We can't be bothered to take a fresh and deeper look - it's not our story, not worth investigating. It's some african shit that happened. All we care about is whether we feel good about ourselves or not - and that's the same perspective we're being given on Iraq right now: it's all about our precious goodness, never about those other folks.

But anyway. What else is new.

One tremendous documentary I've seen recently though was not about Rwanda - it was about the "Little Angels" of Colombia: a group of 8-10 year old kids in a dirt-poor slum in some colombian town who decided to care for the old folks abandonned by their families and the government. It was on Mountain Lake PBS station. I think this documentary was done by a small French crew - the French are much better at documentaries than americans, it's a whole art with them and it's so subtle I am not sure how they even do it. It's think it's the lack of moralizing angle: cinema-verite style, where you look at reality without judging it, without editing out the odd stuff - for example, a victim may look ridiculous and pathetic, and it won't be skipped over. Or maybe it's the attention to detail. I just don't know. But this was one powerful experience - I can safely say I've never seen such obscene poverty displayed so directly. And the life of this "little angel" who decided to live for the poor like some sort of a natural saint at age 9 is really a whole Gospel come alive - it just happened.





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