Soap Operas & Reconciliation

“Musekeweya” means “New Dawn,” but in Rwanda it means a lot more than just those two simple words. Begun in 2003, Musekeweya stands as a symbol of new birth, of regrowth, of healing, of a way for a nation still reeling and still suspicious and still literally littered with the skeletons of the past to begin to bridge its divides. And it’s not exactly what you might think — Musekeweya is a soap opera on the radio.

Supported by Oxfam and run through Radio Benevolencija, the program reaches almost 85% of the Rwandan population, and is providing an outlet for a population struggling to deal with not only the ghosts of the genocide, but what Oxfam calls the “re-traumatization” of the reconciliation process. The new Rwandan government has chosen to address the ideas of culpability and healing through the Gacaca court system, a community justice system that focuses on admission of guilt, requesting forgiveness, and the action of forgiveness by the victim. Because of the overload of the prison system, thousands of perpetrators of the genocide have and are being released into the population — on the condition that they participate in these court systems.

So how to address something so painful? The use of soap opera, in which there are situations that mirror those of everyday Rwanda, allows listeners to view with a different perspective, with a certain amount of distance that isn’t present in their personal interactions with their victims or victimizers.

If you’re interested, you can check out an example of Musekeweya here (subtitled for those of you who don’t speak French).