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Into Tanzania

November 15, 2009

What a difference a border makes. We cross over to Tanzania leaving behind Kenya, guns and tribal conflict. Here, the people are Tanzanian first and tribal second – many have no idea to which of the more than 100 tribes they belong, and it’s an uninteresting question anyway because there are no significant social or class divisions based on tribe. Tanzania has its own problems, of course, including a heavy dependency on aid and a national debt burden that costs it annually four times what it spends on education and health.

We catch glimpses of the world’s highest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro, through the clouds, its glaciers shimmering unexpectedly above the tropical heat below. On tarmacked roads that feel incredibly luxurious after the bumpy dirt-track of Kenya, we arrive by matatu at the town of Moshi, where, in the maelstrom that greets our every arrival, I find a hand in my bag. Quick as a flash, I grab the man by the wrist and yell out, checking frantically that nothing is missing. Luckily I was fast enough to thwart him, and all is there. But my yelling has generated a vengeful crowd who attack the would-be thief, hitting him until I feel almost sorry for them and beg them to stop. He runs off.

The next day we meet my lovely brother and his girlfriend, David and Emily at Kilimanjaro airport and we all travel to Arusha, where we stay with a friend, a prosecution lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Rwanda, which has been running since the genocide in 1994. In one of humanity’s darkest hours, the Hutu tribe led a goevrnment sanctioned massacre of thousands of minority tribe Tutsis, aiming to slaughter them all. They succeeded in wiping out three-quarters of the Tutsi population in horrific acts of violence, rape and murder, the perpetrators of which are slowly facing trial.

These trials, on behalf of the United nations Security Council, were supposed to have been wrapped up by 2008. But, with many still unheard, the ICT applied to the Security Council for more money to the end of this year. It is about to apply again. Two new top-echelon arrests were made in recent months, who will be tried, and attempts to refer some of the trials to other countries, including the Netherlands and Rwanda, have so far failed because the countries don’t have ICT-compliant laws or are unsuitable. For example, trials in Rwanda of these top government officials, those who led the genocide, have not been okayed because of the risk of witness intimidation there.

We go to a bizarrely ‘white’ festival in Arusha, the annual Christmas fair, at which some of the few Africans we spoke to turned out also to be lawyers at the ICT. There’s an English-speakers v. French-speakers social split among the lawyers here – everyone involved in the trial is supposed to be bilingual, but in fact, apart from the Canadians, few are. It feels a bit like a war-correspondents’ club for lawyers here. Our friend tells us that most people here are escaping something in their lives. They come here to work, immersed for years in the most horrific genocide trial, the details of which produce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in even the hardest court staff. their marriages fall apart, they become alcoholics and depressives. Our friend, who is likely leaving in December after two years here, says she has seen colleagues change and crumble out here – nobody can stay untouched, she says.

And the controversial question remains: is it worth it; is this international trial process going to help anyone in Rwanda. Without doubt, it is worth it and vitally important, our friend says, passionately. “After the big guys go down, we get call after call on our mobile phones from grateful, tearful people in Rwanda thanking us.” Even if the dead and their living survivors can never be recompensed, it is important to show the world that the international community will punish those who commit such terrible crimes – that they are not immune. With this and the Yugoslavian trial underway in the Hague, the phrase “never again” is surely hollow. Our friend says that none of the big criminals convicted in the trials have ever shown any remorse – “they don’t even blink when they are convicted” – but for Tutsis Rwandans who were so bitterly betrayed by the international community 15 years ago, each conviction must be some apology.

We are heading off on a safari (‘journey’ in Swahili) for a few days.

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