Right now, Rwanda is best known for the genocide of the Tutsi ethnic group in 1994. I don’t understand the irrational hatred that goes into genocide, and maybe no one does. The killings took place in the context of a civil war in Rwanda and have had implications for Rwanda and neighboring nations. The genocide generated refugees, both Tutsi and Hutu, who continued the conflict as they fled to Congo or Uganda.
Munyrangabo is set a few years after the genocide. Two young men, the Hutu Sangwa and the Tutsi Ngabo, become friends while working together in Kigali. Ngabo steals a machete and wants to go back to his hometown and seek revenge on the people who killed his parents in the genocide. Sangwa joins him, and they stop to visit Sangwa’s family along the way.
The movie moves slowly and shows a lot about the daily life of people in rural Rwanda. It involves a lot of hard work. At one point, Sangwa’s mother tells the two that there is no food that day, in the same matter-of-fact way that I might tell the my family that. The difference is that Sangwa’s family literally has no food; my family will have to fend for themselves with leftovers, Kraft Mac, or sandwiches. There is no drama to her statement because it is just something that happens, and that in itself is tragic. Per-capita GDP is just $1700.
Sangwa’s family does not accept Ngabo because he is Tutsi. Ngabo is angry that Sangwa does not stand up to him. And both the see the very real effect of AIDS on the Rwandan population, made worse by the rapes that took place as part of the genocide.
The genocide destroyed about 20% of Rwanda’s population. It also did serious damage to the nation’s economy. It killed off workers, left children orphaned, and scared off foreign investors. The economy has improved in the last decade – GDP is now at about 2004 levels – but that’s not saying much. This is still a very poor country, dependent on subsistence agriculture.