Left to Tell
The Misinformed Consciences in the Rwandan Genocide
For roughly one hundred days in 1994, brutal killings took place in Rwanda by the hand of morally corrupted Hutu soldiers. An estimated one million lives were lost, almost wiping out the Tutsi race. The stories told by survivors like Immaculée Ilibagiza elicit heart-wrenching emotions in the reader. When people read her story, the same word comes up over and over again: How. How were so many lives lost in such a short time? How could more than one hundred thousand peoples’ consciences have been corrupt to point that, were they isolated incidents, we might have been forced to assume that the murderer simply didn’t have the capacity to see right from wrong? It doesn’t seem possible. When we look further into what lead up to the killings, it becomes clear that, whatever the initial factors (whether political, social, or both) the Rwandan holocaust was inevitable due to the spread of misinformation. The Interahamwe and other Hutus taking part in the horrific acts had misinformed consciences and the result was the slaying of more than one million people in one hundred days.Though it can’t be proven, it is often said that a small percentage of people “have no conscience”. When we say this, we are referring to a person’s capacity for moral decision making. It is easier to say that a person who has performed acts that many would believe go against our inherent ethical foundation is simply incapable of discerning good from evil, than to find an explanation for their behaviour. In the case of the Rwandan genocide, we can’t rationally say that there is any probable chance that nearly an entire generation of a race was born without the capacity to make moral decisions. Indeed, components of Immaculée’s story do indicate that some of the killers, at least, had a conscience.According to Emmanuel Levinas, the face (especially the eyes) is a window to the soul, and a face to face encounter with another human being has the highest ethical meaning. His philosophy claims that this face to face encounter calls one forth to be ethical. In Immaculée’s encounter with the band of killers she tells her story: “We stared into each other’s eyes for what seemed like a lifetime. Finally, the killer broke my gaze and looked away. He turned his back to me and dropped his machete, as if the devil had left his body,” (Ilibagiza, 172). This is a clear example of the face as a representation of the Good, and the killer was called forth to be ethical. He proved his capacity for conscience when he saw the Good in Immaculée’s eyes. Likewise, when Damascene’s murderer, Semahe, realized what he had done, he broke down and cried for days. He saw the flaw in his moral judgment. He cried, “It was a sin to kill such a boy – it was a sin.” (Ilibagiza, 155). Semahe had the capacity for conscience, which was proven when he repeated his conscience process to analyze his judgment. He was able to reform his conscience through a process or reflection and personal analysis, making a moral truth his own again. The Hutus possessed the inherent sense that there is a right and wrong, and had the capacity for a good conscience and to make moral decisions. Though the Interahamwe Hutus had the capacity to develop a good set of morals, they were surrounded by influences that relayed immoral lies. Therein lies the problem. Hate, repetition, and lies fueled the RTLM radio station’s broadcasts. The speaker yelled, “These Tutsi cockroaches are out to kill us. Do not trust them… Every Hutu must join together to rid Rwanda of these Tutsi cockroaches! Hutu Power! Hutu Power!” (Ilibagiza, 37). The spread of this misinformation grew exponentially as the RTLM became the most popular radio station, and every Hutu that believed the propaganda spread it to every Hutu they knew. The power, conviction, and extensiveness with which this misinformation was spread transformed an idea into an ideology powerful enough to affect the processes of the consciences of tens of thousands of Hutus. Every corner of every province was rife with the hateful messages so none could escape the propaganda. The conscience is formed with knowledge from society and any information a person takes in, will affect the conscience. In Immaculée’s case, the broadcasts strengthened her conscience when she saw how evil lies can be. When in school, “Young Hutus were taught from an early age that Tutsis were inferior and not to be trusted, and they didn’t belong in Rwanda,” (Ilibagiza, 86). Immaculée saw that dishonesty, a venial sin, often of little harm, had led the Interahamwe to terrifying mortal sins, strengthening her convictions. As the killers took in the misinformation as “moral truth”, they were allowing it to form their conscience, creating their moral belief that killing a Tutsi is no more wrong than killing a snake. The Hutus consciences were misshapen by the information they took in, and it was this misinformation that ultimately led to their immoral judgments.Immaculée’s faith strengthened her conscience, as did her moral upbringing and learning of truth. We all have some inherent sense of what is right and true, but our conscience is strongly built on what we take in. It is with the information we receive throughout our lives that we form our ethical foundation, and in turn, decide what is right or wrong for us. Immaculée and her brothers were raised in a loving environment, and their parents only taught them of kindness, respect, and tolerance; values that shape a good conscience. Immaculée recalls, “Everyone was welcome in our home, regardless of race, religion, or tribe. To my parents, being Hutu or Tutsi had nothing to do with the kind of person you were. If you were of good character and a kind human being, they greeted you with open arms,” (Ilibagiza, 15). Once away from her parents, she looked to God, her new Father, to strengthen her conscience, and reflected, “I knew that I couldn’t ask God to love me if I were unwilling to love His children… I asked God to forgive [the killers’] sins and turn their souls toward His beautiful light. That night I prayed with a clear conscience and a clean heart,” (Ilibagiza, 94). Immaculée knew what was right, and that she had to forgive the people who had so badly wronged her, to forgive those who trespassed against her. She was only able to do this with the strength she drew from her conscience and God. Unlike Immaculée, the killers didn’t have so strong a conscience, and it was easily changed by the misinformation. We decide what is right and true by the moral wisdom we take in. For a healthy conscience, the information taken in promotes showing love to everyone, and bringing good to the community. The process of the Hutus’ conscience being formed was filled with messages of discrimination and hatred. This led to their wrongful moral judgments, and the murder of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The spread of lies is a sin, and these sins will lead to greater and greater sins if it isn’t stopped. Everyone has the capacity for conscience, and if we form these consciences in a community with moral wisdom and love, our society will form a strong ethical foundation on which morality will flourish.
Brutes, Demons, and Ominous Imagery: The Prevalence of Evil in Left to Tell
The autobiographic novel, Left to Tell composed by Immaculée Ilibagiza, is punctuated by legions of demonic allusions and enveloped in an almost impenetrable shroud of evil. Although Immaculée’s halcyon childhood days appear untarnished and completely innocent, she recalls “the forces of evil that would give birth to a holocaust that set my beloved country awash in a sea of blood were hidden from me as a child” (Ilibagiza 3). The shelter of her Catholic home and pious upbringing for a period keep her in blissful ignorance until the moment when darkness becomes unleashed and anarchy reigns. She depicts the massacre of hundreds of thousands closely resembling a cataclysmic plague of the transformation of the sea waters into blood. An unredeemed Rwanda degrades into a land ‘awash in a sea of blood.’ Evil omens, animalised demons, dehumanised victims, devilish torment and mysterious presences emerge in her account attesting to the prevalence of evil as a macabre and mammoth holocaust sweeps Rwanda in April 1994.
Prior to the outbreak of the genocide, eerie omens point towards a lurking destruction. A psychic augurs, “I see thunderstorms around us now … The mother storm is coming. When she arrives, her lightning will scorch the land and her thunder will deafen us and her heavy rain will drown us all. The storm will last for three months and many will die” (Ilibagiza 29). True to her ill-fated prediction, the virulent and relentless mother storm ravages the land and devours her sons and daughters. Ironically, many of the signs pointing towards the approaching storm go unheeded as tensions escalate, parties are envenomed as victims perish in its fury. The stalwart structures of family, religion, community and government crumble and are engulfed in the currents of destabilising chaos, warped prejudice and raw hatred. The inhuman genocide swallows whole multitudes in a tsunamic tide of tyranny, malice and hellish hostility.
Another evil harbinger announces an approaching genocide when peace-talks collapses, further inflaming the already brewing storm. Immaculée observes that “one of Rwanda’s most powerful military officers, a scary-looking [Hutu] colonel … who was also the chief leader of the Interahamwe stormed out of the talks and promised to return to Rwanda to prepare an apocalypse” (Ilibagiza 36). The chiefs of both ethnicities and political parties, Tutsis and Hutus, are hellbent on keeping the fires of strife burning and retaining the reins of power. The Hutu colonel’s vehemence and his awful resolution for revenge are fulfilled in the eruption of the apocalyptic mother storm.
Black, threatening clouds gather around Rwanda as Immaculée also realises that no one stands up for truth, liberty and justice. After witnessing a terrible robbery on the city streets by a young Interahamwe gang, Immaculée ponders that, “if we let devils like these control our streets, we’re in deep trouble” (Ilibagiza 34). Precociously wise in her youth, she discerns the danger of volatility, uncontrolled delinquency as violence transforms to a normal affair. As a matter of fact, rebel groups mushroom under the auspices of a weak and corrupt government. The spirits of hatred and bloodlust demonise the cities and towns in human garb. Numberless, unnerving rumours circulate about the proliferation of evil and daily life becomes harrowing to the residents.
While at university, far away from home, a traumatic experience presages Immaculée’s encounter with the Holocaust. Crazed and agitated by rumours of a looming army, a screaming girl provokes the school’s emergency response: “the school’s biggest security guard was charging toward me in the dark, holding a spear levelled directly at my heart” (Ilibagiza 25). This occurrence sheds light on an impending terror in which her life would again be endangered and almost sacrificed due to misplaced fears. This situation forecasts the brutal Hutu powers she must face as they hunt her for the kill and the miraculous providence of her spared life. It succinctly explains the vulnerability of the Tutsi tribe and, under a dark cover, the cruel intent to exterminate.
Immaculée permeates the entire narrative in animalising metaphor as men become more brutish, demonic and inhuman(e). The heinous descriptions of the bloodthirsty extremist soldiers rumoured around the towns also stress the bestial natures of the murderers. It is alleged that “the rebel soldiers lived in the forest like animals, ate human flesh, consorted with monkeys. They said that the rebels had become so evil that horns sprouted from their heads” (Ilibagiza 25). Conditioned by the forest environment, governed by animals and dictated by animal passions contribute to the degeneracy of the killers to heartless cannibals. These stories of blood-drinking rites, goat-horned gangs and vicious killings, typify the call of the wild and the Hobbesian state of nature in which the only law is survival and the sole action is war. Her animalisation technique proves effective as Rwanda’s local terrorists dehumanise themselves and intimidate their fellow citizens.
In the midst of the genocide, Immaculée observes clouds of animalisation befogging Rwanda, robbing the killers and victims of every ounce of human quality. She sees the murderers, “dressed like devils, wearing skirts of tree bark and shirts of dried banana leaves, and some even had goat horns strapped onto their heads … and murder in their eyes” (Ilibagiza 77). The anarchic law of the wild governs the land for the three-month period as vile instinct directs a senseless carnage. Even the victims of the genocide are portrayed as animals. From the beginning to the end of the novel, radio propaganda saturates the airwaves, labelling the Tutsis as cockroaches and snakes and other beasts. She concludes later that “they were taught to dehumanize us [the Tutsis] by calling us snakes and cockroaches. No wonder it was so easy for them to kill us” (Ilibagiza 86). Hence, animalisation justifies the genocide before the eyes of the killers. It equates their homicidal acts to a simple hunt and the three months of the genocide, a hunting season.
An invasive presence of darkness also cloaks Immaculée and the entire land in the narrative of Left to Tell. She has “never been so keenly aware of the presence of darkness … and had felt evil around me” (Ilibagiza 68). Without the family haven, she is disarmed and exposed to direct malevolent attack. In the bathroom, which serves as her sanctuary of refuge, she feels a palpable “negative energy (that) wreaked by my spirit. The voice of doubt was in my ear again as surely as if Satan himself were sitting on my shoulder” (Ilibagiza 78). She employs all her energies to pray and focus on God during this time of immense turmoil. Prayer sustains Immaculée’s faith, giving her courage and inspiring her with hope. However, her peace is broken as her ardent prayers are chequered with dark voices howling doubt and despair.
The aftermath of the genocide supremely horrifies Immaculée as she witnesses the baneful effects of the Rwandan storm. Her colleague leads her “behind the church. It was an image from hell: row upon row of corpses, hundreds and hundreds of them stacked up like firewood. A black carpet of flies hovered about them …” (Ilibagiza 179). Every sacred institution, family, church and even school is sacrilegiously overthrown as millions of innocents are mercilessly slaughtered. Their bodies are amassed on a church’s compound as a bizarre altar of sacrifice.
Undoubtedly, the prevalence of evil wreaks an unnatural havoc that not only devastates an entire country, but also impacts the world. Despite the harsh realities of evil, Immaculee manages to light a candle of hope and healing for her deceased family and other sufferers of the genocide. By God’s help, she is empowered to forgive her enemies and move forward in life.
Ilibagiza, Immaculee. Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust with Steve Erwin, Hay House Publishers, 2006.
Religious Symbolism in Left to Tell
Impregnating her narrative with rich symbolism, Immaculée Ilibagiza gives birth to the Left to Tell novel. She employs prolific imagery to clarify on the tenor of events during the Rwandan genocide. Descended from an inveterate Catholic home, Immaculée liberally infuses sacred symbolism from Catholic theology, Biblical references and death imagery in her autobiography, painting in vivid colour intertribal relations, collective suffering and a miraculous deliverance.
According to the Catholic belief system, the rosary represents peace, comfort and divine protection especially for Immaculée and several victims of the genocide. She remembers reaching “into her pocket for her father’s red and white rosary and asked God to give her strength” (Ilibagiza 144). Her times of spiritual torment in the bathroom and even at the refugee camp are occupied in fervent prayer and deep meditation on God’s love and grace. During one of her episodes of intense anguish, she clings to “the rosary as though it were a lifeline to God” (Ilibagiza 78). These instances underline the critical significance of the rosary, functioning as a symbol and source of life support to Immaculée.
Catholic theology in symbolism continues to abound in the Left to Tell novel as Immaculée utilises Marian paragons of virtue to mold her story. Immaculée’s French first name, translated immaculate, flawless or unspotted, directly derives from the catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception and the veneration of the virgin Mary. Catholicism teaches that the virgin Mary is conceived sinless and stands as a heavenly mediatrix as she petitions God for her people on earth. Deified as a holy maiden, Immaculée and many other Catholics devotedly magnify the virgin Mary with prayer. Immaculée even references to her as her favorite saint. She “especially loved the virgin Mary believing that she was (her) second mom, watching out for (her) from heaven” (Ilibagiza 6). In parallel, throughout the harrowing holocaust, Immaculée ends up feverishly praying for the life and peace of her people including her family and fellow citizens. Here she too portrays herself as a Marian representative interceding for her people.
Equally, Immaculée’s last name, Ilibagiza in her native Rwandan tongue signifies “shining and beautiful in body and soul” (Ilibagiza 5). A prominent Bible character is also called “the shining one.” Esther or ‘bright and shining star’ intercedes for her Jewish people also facing a genocidal decree. As queen, she resolutely determines to do in her all her power, to save them and if she must perish, she must perish (Esther 4:16). Although the enemies of the Jews are poised to annihilate them, Esther approaches the King to beg for her life and the life of her people. Likewise, Immaculée easily twins her narrative with the Biblical account of this Jewish queen as she stands in the gap for her people doomed to extinction by their wicked enemies.
Recorded in the Bible, the murder of Abel at the hands of Cain crowns the first sibling rivalry. This story also symbolizes the enmity between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. Brother tribes, cohabiting the same territory, speaking the same language and sharing the same culture, jealously competing against one another for favours. The fraternal strife spills the blood of an innocent on the ground to the point that the blood cries out to God. Immaculée captures this brotherly relationship between both tribes when she states that “Hutus and Tutsis spoke the same language … We had virtually the same culture: we sang the same songs, farmed the same land, attended the same churches, and worshiped the same God. We lived in the same villages, on the same streets, and often in the same houses” (Ilibagiza 17). Yet, envy intercepts any harmony until one brother opposes and kills the other.
Immaculée also utilizes the betrayal, isolation, crucifixion and forgiveness of Jesus Christ as a mirror to explain the trauma of the Tutsis, thus underscoring the redemption theme. In the hour of adversity, Damascene, Rose [Immaculée’s mother] and thousands of Tutsis are betrayed by their friends into the hands of their murderers, just as Judas betrays his Friend Jesus into the hands of his Jewish enemies for thirty pieces of silver. As Jesus faces universal scorn, derision and isolation during His Passion, similarly, Tutsis face universal execration and neglect from their families, friends and even the international community. This lack of support mirrors the Gethsemane experience of Christ in which his own disciples scatter and disown him. In Rwanda, this astonishing lack of solidarity causes the Tutsis to despond as they bear a symbolic cross of shame. Nevertheless, in their death throes, many of them, especially Damascene, forgive and pray for their enemies. His last resonating words: “But I am praying for you … I pray that you see the evil you’re doing and ask for God’s forgiveness before it is too late” (Ilibagiza 154).
The symbolism surrounding the deliverance of the Messiah, Jesus Christ frequently recurs in Left to Tell. Captain Paul Kagame, leader of the Tutsi-led RPF, embodies a savior, emancipating Immaculée and thousands of surviving Tutsis. Kagame and his army tears through multiple defences to repel massacring Hutus to deliver their tribesmen from certain extermination. The unravelling of the story occurs with the reestablishment of order and new government in Kigali. This religious imagery enlivens survivors with precious hope that a godsent savior can always deliver his faithful people. The reinstatement of a new ‘kingdom’ of truth and justice appears at the end, as hiding and distraught Tutsis are finally liberated and an international tribunal incorporated to judge the crimes against humanity.
The storm illustrates the catastrophic period of upheaval as the winds of strife are unleashed against Rwanda. The irony of the storm symbolism lies in the fact that Rwanda means ‘land of eternal spring,’ (Ilibagiza 3); however, it is during the springtime of April 1994 that the genocide befalls the nation. In the beginning, Rwanda is described as an idyllic, pastoral paradise but the ravages of the holocaust alter it to a land beaten by a violent, tempestuous sea, inciting a conflict that results in the self-destruction of a nation. In the springtime of her life, Immaculée has nothing about which to worry. In counterpoint, as war emerges, a psychic forecasts: “I see thunderstorms around us now, but these are just baby storms … The mother storm is coming. When she arrives, her lightning will scorch the land and her thunder will deafen us and her heavy rain will drown us all.” (Ilibagiza 29). The evening before the genocide bursts on them, Immaculée discerns that even the sky wears a sickly yellow haze beclouding her entire village.
At the end of the genocide, a symbolic transformation occurs in Immaculée and her other fellow surviving Tutsis which palpably communicates the effects of the plague on people and landscape. As the storm blows over and they reappear from their sanctuary in the bathroom, Immaculée and her colleagues stare into the mirror. With one penetrating gaze, she comments that they “looked like the living dead, our cheeks had collapsed … our heads looked like empty skulls, our ribcages jutted out and our clothes hung on us as though they’d been draped over a broomstick” (Ilibagiza 133). As they are transported from the Pastor’s house to the camp, thousands of dead and rotting corpses littering the land greet them.
During the genocide, the machete, an agricultural tool to cultivate and clear the land devolves into a primitive weapon, slaughtering millions. This symbol is full of irony as Rwanda is literally cleared of Tutsis in a merciless decimation. Also, the machete serves as an implement to butcher animals. In the same way, the Tutsis, who are animalized as ‘snakes’ and ‘cockroaches’ are brutally slaughtered. Myriads of gangs, armies and crazed citizens kill their families, friends and neighbors in the name of politics. Time and again, the mobocracy brandish the machete as a symbol of conquest, accomplishing the subjugation of the masses. Iconic of Hutu dominance, the machete may be equated with the sword or even the modern guillotine as cold-hearted beheadings, dismemberment and mutilations are executed.
In all, Immaculee intricately weaves a poetic and eloquent symbolism into her work to elucidate on events of the Rwandan genocide. Catholic, biblical and death imagery permeates the story to articulate the experience of the Rwandans as in that unforgettable day in April 1994, they all walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Ilibagiza, Immaculee. Left to Tell: Discovering God amidst the Rwandan Holocaust with Steve Erwin, Hay House Publishers, 2006.
Holocaust as the Result of Colonial Racism in Left to Tell
History and individual testament as narrated in the novel Left to Tell, authored by Immaculée Ilibagiza clearly defines the trajectory of holocaust as springing up as a natural consequence of an established racism. In its embryonic stages, the story unfolds under a climate of almost inbuilt prejudice. The colonial history of Rwanda engrains tribalism and polarizes both indigenous ethnicities, Hutu and Tutsi, to the point of bitter and endemic intolerance. Later in life, Immaculée understands that “the German colonists and the Belgian ones that followed, converted Rwanda’s existing social structure … into a discriminatory, race-based class system” (Ilibagiza 14). For Rwanda, the formal introduction of colonialism in The Conference of Brussels 1890 has been instrumental in dividing territory and people to initiate rule and consolidate power. Unsurprisingly, Germany imperiously instills values of ethnic superiority in Rwanda to establish a colonial administration of government, alienating Hutus and Tutsis in the process. Historic documents such as Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf or My Struggle (1923) and Jacob Graf’s Heredity and Racial Biology for Students (1935) legitimise social darwinism, a so-called natural order of ethnic supremacy, specifically advantaging Aryan Germans, while denigrating and purging out ‘inferior classes.’ These ill-conceived ideologies give birth to World War I, World War II and a series of civil wars climaxing in the Rwandan Genocide in April 1994.
In Europe, as dogma on racial superiority forms the base of the Jewish holocaust, so in Rwanda, doctrines of an ethnic hierarchy create the groundwork for the Rwandan genocide. Immaculée relates that “the Belgians favored the minority Tutsi aristocracy and promoted its status as the ruling class” (Ilibagiza 14). In both holocausts, individual and collective trauma and mass desolation result. In both regions, estrangement and fiery antagonism between ethnicities forge deep cleavages between Jew and German in Europe and Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda. Both examples prove that social ostracism through negative labeling, propaganda and legal segregation often provoke violent skirmishes that culminate in civil wars and widespread bloodbaths. Steered by the divide and rule policy, colonialism traditionally transplants and embeds racism in both German and Rwandan cultures. These seeds sprout, blossom and bear fruit during the holocausts as brother take up arms against brother.
The divide and rule policy dictate the system of government since the turn of the 19th century that strengthens colonial rule and embeds racism in Rwandan culture. Immaculée’s parents can recall the civil wars of 1959 and 1973, grim precursors to the 1994 genocide. In these wars, the opposing tribes fight one another, exile one another and almost extinguish one another. In these coups d’état, power transfers occur, so that more opportunities, rights and benefits may be enjoyed at the expense of harmony. Sadly, efforts striving at a balance of power prove futile. Generally, division and discrimination advantage some and disadvantage many.
As competition in the survival of the fittest rages, administrative measures to identify and discriminate are implemented in both countries, ultimately leading to denying minorities the right to freedom and life. In Hitler’s Germany (1933-1945), Jews are subjected to wearing yellow badges of identification and relegated to the ghettos. These emblems effectively stigmatize Jews as they are shamed and shunned – evidencing a systematized segregation. Similarly, Immaculée, her parents and several Tutsi citizens of Rwanda are forced to carry identification cards betraying their tribe, issued to disadvantage them. “The ethnic identity cards the Hutu government adopted from the days of Belgian rule made the discrimination more blatant, and much easier” (Ilibagiza 15). In time of civil unrest, armed gunmen compel them to display these cards as a condition for survival.
As segregation becomes entrenched in German society, the government primarily classifies and targets Jewish, Slavic, African and other ‘inferior’ ethnicities, while privileging Aryans. Consequently in a few years, the holocaust against minorities flares up as their enemies decide to ‘purge’ the land of weak undesirables. Several young Jews in Germany undergoing the WWII Holocaust (1939-1945) encounter an experience in which they are labelled and shunned even in the classroom.
Likewise, even in the classroom, Immaculée’s teacher demands her to reveal her ethnicity for the roll call. This incident in her childhood gives her a rude awakening to the reality of ethnic distinctions. Her consequent separation from her classmates compounds in her mind the significance of racial identity and its divisive effect. She discovers later that the “weekly roll calls served a sinister purpose: to segregate Tutsi children as part of a master plan of discrimination known as the “ethnic balance” (Ilibagiza 18). This savage situation points to the fact that racial discrimination and ethnic division are indoctrinated characteristics, rather than a quality innate in children.
Government-run media also unashamedly propagates hate-speech as the majority regimes support racism and render inevitable the prospect of an ethnic cleansing in both Germany and Rwanda. Hitler understands the efficiency of controlled journalism as he monopolizes his hold on television, radio, and newspapers, employing them as tools of influence. German media houses blare poisonous information that stimulate strife among citizens thirsty for more opportunity and power. In parallel, Hutu announcers misuse the media to broadcast prejudice as the ethnic minorities are slandered as “Tutsi snakes and cockroaches.” Immaculée hears “little more than a radical hate machine spewing out anti-Tutsi venom … always some disembodied, malevolent voice calling for ‘Hutu Power’” (Ilibagiza 37). Indeed, the public airwaves only worsen the racial divide as announcers and callers spew prejudice and stoke hatred to such a point that Immaculée is forbidden to listen to the radio, both at home and at school.
Perceived unequal opportunity end up fueling the people for genocide. In Rwanda, Immaculée and the Tutsi minority are seriously challenged in their education and career pursuits owing to government’s attempt to strike an ‘ethnic balance.’ “The Hutu president who seized power in the 1973 coup proclaimed that the government must balance the number of … placements” (Ilibagiza 18). Her father affirms that it is harder for a Tutsi to achieve success than for the Hutu in a Rwanda redolent with resentment and institutionalized racial bias. Keen competition for scholarships and select coveted positions kindle a sense of injustice on both sides of the fence as both tribes are enmeshed in political stratagems to rival and exclude one another. The undeniable outcome, the holocaust, imperils liberty and life.
In addition to social violence, aggression aggravates already frail race relations and therefore kindles the brewing holocaust in both Germany and Rwanda. In Rwanda, urban crime and gang warfare spiral out of control, afflicting the country like a pestilent storm, as tyranny and chaos precipitate ruin. Strange accounts of murders in nearby provinces unnerve the citizens as they realize that more and more a day of reckoning is fast approaching. Interahamwe, untouchable by both government and police, wield machetes while checking identity cards in several regions and terrorize a largely subdued, intimidated population. Finally, the conflict intensifies as the Tutsi-based Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) Army clashes with the Hutu-controlled Interahamwe (government soldiers) on several demarcation points.
Nevertheless, within the sacred precincts of the home, Immaculée’s parents and several moderate Rwandans encourage tolerance, ethnic equality and mutual respect. Although both Tutsis and moderate Hutus are slain during the genocide, Immaculée grows to accept these principles. Her nurturing and religious faith invest her with the sterling values to navigate through the personal and political upheavals. She states that “everyone was welcome in our home, regardless of race, religion or tribe. To my parents, being Hutu or Tutsi had nothing to do with the kind of person you were” (Ilibagiza 15). This conservative mindset delays the genocidal storm. She reminisces that her parents were not prejudiced; rather, they believed that evil drove people to do evil things regardless of tribe or race. In the past, many Rwandans endorse these virtues, intermarry and get along well; however, the tide turns. When racial propaganda goes viral, their fragile unity totally evaporates and an apocalypse arises.
Redemption in Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza
Left to Tell by Immaculée Ilibagiza narrates her painful autobiographical account of the Rwandan Genocide in April 1994. She gives a personal testimony of her traumatic confrontation with a national carnage and the hurt of losing her entire family to the reign of terror. During this entire ordeal, prayer becomes her divine nourishment and spiritual support. Her agonies in the bathroom of a Pastor Murinzi causes her to discover God amidst the Rwandan holocaust. Immaculée realizes that she can never achieve true peace and freedom, without forgiving her enemies as the oft-repeated proverb maintains, To err is human, (but) to forgive is divine. As a devout Catholic, she prays her rosary, for her family and their protection but one unavoidable hurdle protrudes in her own life – the necessity to forgive. In her own life experience, the forgiveness, redemption and restoration themes stand out as God directs her to peace, personal freedom and new purpose.
Torn by anguish and tormented by fear, Immaculée awakens to her need for freedom from retaliatory rage and victimhood. In the bathroom, as she utters the Lord’s Prayer “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” she can distinctly hear God’s voice gently alerting her of her need to forgive her enemies on the murderous rampage (Ilibagiza 91). As chaos unleashes havoc in the outside world, in the same way, she senses an inner chaos and weighty burden from which she needed to be delivered. However, as she reads her Bible, she rediscovers that Jesus Christ forgives his own accusers and murderers, praying: Father forgive them for they know not what they do. God’s infinite love and mercy work like medicine on her crippled heart and she utters the first prayer for her enemies.
Immaculée sustains deep wounds and griefs from the first day of the genocide as her friends, relatives, neighbors and countrymen spew hate and decimate their loved ones. Their conspiracy and surprising duplicity enrage her to the point that she feels as if it lies beyond her power to even pray for them, far less to forgive them. To worsen matters, the one hiding her, Pastor Murinzi keeps updating her on new developments on the hundreds of thousands of Tutsis gunned down in churches and stadiums. She becomes “angry at the government for unleashing this holocaust. (She) was angry at the rich countries for not stopping the slaughter. But most of all, (She) was angry at the Hutus … (her) anger grew into a deep, burning hatred” (Ilibagiza 88). After toiling in supplication and prayer, the Holy Spirit whispers that unless she forgives, her lot would be to sink to the same level as the aggressors. Her own heart would remain imprisoned in pain and polluted in vindictive resentment.
Left to Tell declares the efficiency of prayer as time and again, God preserves Immaculée and providentially saves her from her killers. They besiege the house in which she hides, hurl invectives, search out the house and overturn furniture but God miraculously shields her and her colleagues. As her trust in God builds, she realizes her helplessness to change her own heart and to heal her own pain. As a result, she surrenders her heart to God.
Confirmed reports of Immaculee’s dead family and the large-scale devastation whip up her passions for immediate vengeance against the killers. “The heartrending memories and the gory, gruesome details were all too much for me. I’d just begun to heal, and now I felt my wounds forced open again” (Ilibagiza 196). For a moment, her peace seems broken and her capacity to forgive withdrawn. As she confronts other victims with similar heartrending stories, her wrath stirs to the extent that she wants to exact justice by incinerating her entire village on whose hands her family’s blood remain. However, God reminds her of her resolution to retain her spiritual freedom and to follow a life of peace and forgiveness. With time, she obtains the liberty of the spirit and begins to experience a personal transformation on the inside. The entire ordeal changes her from a poor, unstable and dependent youth set on revenge to an emancipated, self-aware young lady who is mistress over herself.
The universal destruction that waste Rwanda, and most importantly, the lives sacrificed at the altar of blind prejudice and ambition inflict wounds point Immaculée to her new mission. Walking with a renewed sense of peace and even pity for the massacring multitude, Immaculée enjoys healing as God endues her with power to dissolve the bondage of fear, anger, doubt and enmity. Strengthened by her own conflict and armed with a healed and forgiving heart, Immaculée can now share her experience with others, enabling helpless and hurting people to forgive and triumph over their brokenness and losses.
Underlining the redemption and restoration themes, Immaculée ministers to the many Rwandans, she becomes instrumental in igniting a fire of hope for the despairing and ministering to the wounded among her people. She instructs others, “We have to stop killing and learn to forgive” (Ilibagiza 178). Her new purpose catalyses her to spread God’s redeeming love to millions. As the international tribunal convenes at Rwanda to try the murderers, she asks some poignant questions: How many years – how many generations – would it take before Rwanda could recover from such horror? How long for our wounded hearts to heal, for our hardened hearts to soften? (Ilibagiza 179).