Rwandans mind that their history is told correctly

Rwandans mind that their history is told correctly
Rwandans mind that their history is told correctly

Africa-Press – Rwanda. The launch of a book used to be a rare event in Kigali. That is changing and becoming fairly frequent. Perhaps I exaggerate. There aren’t that many, but still, enough to be noticed. Which means Rwandans are writing and reading contrary to the perception that we are more orate than literate.

I have been to many such book launch events in this and other countries, and they are generally similar. They are usually a sort of social gathering – of course, around a book – of diverse groups, each with specific interests. There are book enthusiasts, media, those from the publishing business, a few critics, and depending on the type of book, professionals and academics.

The purpose is generally the same: to raise publicity for the book, its author, and the publishing house. And so as an occasion for marketing, book launches tend to be fairly friendly affairs, without much controversy (just enough to show it is a serious work worth your attention) and. where a lot of nice things are said about the book.

A typical book launch goes something like this. Someone, usually the publisher, presents the book and its author and says some nice things about both, often employing a lot of superlatives. He will say what a great work of singular quality and deep insight it is, how it is an invaluable addition to existing knowledge of a particular subject, and how the world will benefit immensely from its publication, and so on.

Then the author is invited to make some general remarks about the work– what it is about, what inspired or motivated its writing, what it seeks to achieve, and so on. Sometimes he may be asked to read an excerpt from it.

A question and answer and comments session normally follows. Most of is congratulatory, hailing the author for a sterling effort, for illuminating a subject that has been left largely unexamined, exploring an area long neglected, unearthing things some sought to keep buried, or revealing some hitherto hidden but profound truth. That sort of thing.

The author answers some of the questions, acknowledges the positive reviews and takes note of any shortcomings that may have been identified, and generally basks in an atmosphere of praise.

The book is then officially launched.

This good feeling carries into the next phase – the inevitable cocktail. People mingle and there is more general talk about the book. Many mill around the author, some to have him sign their copy of the book, others to get a useful quote for their story, or take a photo with him.

That is usually it. The book has been launched. Some will go home with a copy to add to their collection of unread titles. A few will take one to go and read. Many more will forget the book the moment they leave the venue.

On Friday, May 7, I attended another book launch at the Kigali Public Library. Professor Philippe Denis and Fountain Publishers launched his book, The Genocide Against the Tutsi, and the Rwandan Churches; Between Grief and Denial. It was different from the typical event described above.

I thought I was at an academic seminar in one of the universities. Perhaps not surprising since the author is a university professor and the book a product of extensive research. The audience too had a large number of academics, researchers and journalists.

The author laid out the subject of his research, the methodology used and findings like he was presenting a seminar paper. Then reactions to his presentation followed and this is where the difference was.

Comments were generous with the usual appreciation of the effort put into the work, and in this particular case, the new sources especially from church organisations that he had access to that many others don’t, which will add to greater understanding of the history of Rwanda and the genocide against the Tutsi in particular.

But they were also unsparing in their criticism of inadequacies, gaps and even inaccuracies in the book. They took issue, for instance, with the number of those killed in the genocide, and a certain level of ambiguity regarding the responsibility of the church

Even so, they also offered advice about what he should correct or state more clearly before the book could be considered a true history of the subject and period of its study. In effect what was a book launch turned into a sort of validation session.

This aspect of last Friday’s book launch is particularly instructive. It confirms what we now know. There has been a shift in how Rwandans see themselves, their history and country.

They take their history seriously and mind how it is told. It must be told as it is, fully, clearly and without ambiguity, placing responsibility where it falls. It will not be told any other way. They will not permit incomplete representation, however unintentional or made in ignorance or even in good faith.

They realise this country is their own and its history theirs and will protect the integrity of both.

I suppose this is what liberation means.

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