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How Rwanda is creating hope from horror

UEL electrical engineering

New book about Rwandan genocide explores interplay between law and theatre


Can theatre help heal a country torn apart by mass slaughter? That’s the question at the heart of a new book about Rwanda by Dr Ananda Breed, Reader in Performing Arts at UEL. 

“I was interested in how a nation devastated by the 1994 genocide in which over one million Tutsi and Hutu moderates were killed, might use performance to literally re-imagine and perform a newly constructed identity,” she explained.

Her book, Performing the Nation: Genocide, Justice, Reconciliation, explores the interplay between how justice and reconciliation is rehearsed and performed on local, national, and international levels in post-genocide Rwanda. It was launched at the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict at UEL’s School of Business and Law in conjunction with the University’s Centre for Performing Arts Development.

 “When I first went to Rwanda in 2004, there wasn't much theatre in a traditional sense, but there was an abundance of alternative performances from grassroots associations to the use of the indigenous Gacaca courts used to try the perpetrators of the genocide,” said Dr Breed. “I was interested in how individuals, communities, and governments navigated between collective or governmental narratives and individual narratives”.

Gacaca, which means ‘Judgment in the Grass’ in the Rwandan language of Kinyarwanda, was a reinvented mediation system used to try genocidal crimes committed between 1990 and 1994. It was implemented in pilot courts in 2004, then on a national level from 2005 to 2012.

“Over 1,958,634 cases were tried in over 14,000 local community courts,” Dr Breed told the audience.  “Gacaca was the Rwandan solution to the fact that following the genocide, there were only five judges and 50 lawyers countrywide and that it would take over 200 years to try the 120,000 prisoners held in the teeming prisons through the ordinary court system.”

John Strawson, Reader in Law and Middle East Studies and Co-director of UEL’s Centre on Human Rights in Conflict, was delighted to host Dr Breed’s book launch.

“It was very important to have Ananda speaking about her book as she comes to human rights with artistic perspective,” said Professor Strawson. “This underlines that human rights cannot be left to lawyers or human rights specialists, human rights have to be owned by everyone.”


Notes to Editors

The University of East London (UEL) is a global learning community with students from over 120 countries world-wide. Our vision is to achieve recognition, both nationally and internationally, as a successful and inclusive regional university proud of its diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focus on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, especially through our research and scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry.