Walking through the genocide memorial at the church in Nyemata I am dull, disgusted by the broken skulls and bones of people murdered without mercy–babies and their mothers, toddlers, adolescents, and elders, 50,000. Trudging inert after the tour guide, so distant from the frenzy of violence that raced to outdo every act of humiliation, rape and torture. I descend steps into the mass grave behind the church where shelves of skulls are neatly arranged in rows and columns, rescued from jumbled tangles where they lay dead, pulled from rivers and latrines. I question my reason for looking at these horrors. Am I learning something that will save a life or stop a hand from violence? Or do I indulge ghoulish curiosity like the creative fiends with their long knives?
Signs in Kisoro pointed toward the parks and gift shops advertised trekking services. Lunch was delayed as restaurant staff worked to accommodate a group of several hundred Ugandans in matching polo shirts gathered to celebrate the launch of a local credit association. Waiting for my fried chicken, I walked back to the main road to explore where the students might spend their remaining Ugandan shillings on souvenirs. A coffee shop promised free wifi, but had no airtime. A ragtag gathering was loitering in front of a store with wooden carvings, assorted sizes of identical mountain gorillas and a selection of masks. A man out front began to play the drum and another danced in rhythm. Was that young guy sniffing glue? As I retreated from the shop one of the crew reached out to shake my hand. His bleary eyes gleamed and he showed his teeth in a manic smile. His jacket and pants were stained and dark with dirt. I noticed how small his hand was in mine and, though he looked to be more than thirty, he stood only to my chest. It hit me that these were what we once called a Pygmies, however remote from what National Geographic and the movies portrayed. The man’s face is one of the images that my camera missed, but my memory engraved.
Cerian Gibbes, member of the teaching team for Community Development in Eastern Africa, was recently selected for a prestigious Fulbright research program. Dr. Gibbes has taught and conducted research in Africa, including a 2010 article in Geography Compass, entitled “The Illusion of equity: Community based natural resource management in Southern Africa.”
Sampson’s review of The Shackled Continent suggests that the book offers worthwhile insights, but that Robert Guests places too much faith in the powers of global capitalism to bring prosperity.