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A preview of NPR's reporting from Rwanda as it nears 30 years since genocide


For 100 days in 1994, the small Central African nation of Rwanda experienced one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. Nearly 1 million people were killed when members of the country's Hutu ethnic majority unleashed violence on the Tutsi minority. In the years since, Rwanda has been seen by some as a model of nation rebuilding and reconciliation, a place where perpetrators of the genocide and victims now live side by side. At the same time, the country and its leader have been criticized for outlawing political opposition and stifling dissent. Our co-host Juana Summers is traveling in Rwanda ahead of the 30th anniversary of the genocide, and she joins us now. Hi, Juana.


Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I know that you've spent a lot of time speaking with a number of people who have clear recollections of what happened during the genocide. What have you been hearing from them?

SUMMERS: That's right. We have heard firsthand accounts from survivors of the genocide, from perpetrators but also from people who risked their own lives to save others. And also, I want to introduce you to one woman I met who did exactly that. Her name is Josephine Dusabimana, and she told me that she was able to save 12 lives. She sheltered Tutsis in her home and then help them flee the country to what was then Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC. And Josephine either bartered or begged, even stole small boats to help these people row across Lake Kivu to safety. And we sat by the shore of that same lake recently as she told me her story. At one point, she was sheltering a woman and her five children inside her two-room house. And then patrols came.

JOSEPHINE DUSABIMANA: (Non-English language spoken).

SUMMERS: She told me they went house by house, looking for Tutsis hiding. And then the village chief said, who is the owner of this house? Josephine then said, I am. And she told me she thought, this is the end. They're going to kill us. But, Ailsa, as she went on to tell me, the village chief saw the woman and her children hiding inside the house. But he pretended that he didn't see anything. He left, and they lived. And that's a story we'll bring you more of in the coming weeks.

CHANG: I'm very eager to hear that story. Well, if you can, can you just take us along with you on this trip you've been having so far? Like, what have you and your team been seeing and hearing?

SUMMERS: Our colleagues and I were just near Rwanda's border with eastern Congo, and I should just say that eastern Congo has been conflict-plagued for years. And today, aid organizations say that there is a severe humanitarian crisis there with the advance of an armed rebel group that's operated in the region for more than a decade. And tensions between the DRC and Rwanda - they are just so high right now. We all went to this refugee camp, which is about a half hour's drive from the border, and it is full of people who have been displaced from the eastern DRC. And I have to tell you we walked into this camp, and the first thing I noticed is there were just children everywhere. And later on we were told that two-thirds of the more than 6,000 people who were currently at that camp - they are kids. They are under the age of 17 years old. This is David Rusajanga (ph). He's the manager at Nkamira Transit Center.

DAVID RUSAJANGA: There are so many challenges. Many of the people here lost their relatives, their parents. Many of the people - their houses back in DRC were burnt, were destroyed. Even if it ends today, they have nowhere to go back.

SUMMERS: And, Ailsa, we also spoke to a number of women who just arrived at this transit center. We talked to them about their journey there and why they felt that they, along with their families - they just had to flee their homes.

CHANG: Well, Juana, do you think it's fair to say that a lot of people know very little about Rwanda? I mean, other than the horrors of the genocide, as we've been talking about, and, I suppose, the mountain gorillas, what else has your reporting covered so far on this trip to illuminate this country?

SUMMERS: Ailsa, we've covered a lot of ground. We spoke to some innovative young musicians who are blending languages and styles, including invoking traditional Rwandan music. We've also explored the rise of basketball in a country and a continent that is better known, of course, for soccer. And we spoke to these three young people that are all under the age of 25, so they have no memory of the genocide that many people know their country for. And we talked to them about what it's like to live in Rwanda today as well as what they want for themselves and their country in the future.

CHANG: So looking forward to hearing more of your reporting in the coming days. Thank you so much, Juana.

SUMMERS: Thanks, Ailsa.

CHANG: That is our co-host Juana Summers, who, along with her team is on the ground for us in Rwanda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Tinbete Ermyas
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Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.