The New Times (Kigali)

22 March 2014

Rwanda: Mugiraneza's Mission to Preserve Rwanda's Good, Bad History

In 2010, Assumpta Mugiraneza and filmmaker Anne Aghion visited the famous BOPHANA Audiovisual Resource Center in Cambodia, established by renowned Franco-Cambodian filmmaker, Rithy Pahn.

Upon their return to Rwanda, the two started to search for key material for a similar center for multimedia heritage. Prior to the trip to Cambodia, the two women had collaborated in several films that Aghion shot in Rwanda in over ten years. Most of her works were about the emotional impact of the post-genocide justice and social reconstruction process.

One of her feature films, My Neighbor, My Killer, screened in the official selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and continues to be shown around the world.

This decade-long collaboration and the experience of the Cambodia trip eventually gave rise to the IRIBA Centre for Multimedia Heritage, in Kigali.

In that regard, Aghion has since remitted over 350 hours of her video footage, accumulated during her ten year tenure in Rwanda, to the IRIBA project.

In 2011, the project obtained legal status after a successful internet-based fundraising campaign, coupled with support from Oxfam-Novib.

In January 2012, the IRIBA Centre became a legal and administrative structure recognised under Rwandan law as a non-profit organisation. Assumpta Mugiraneza assumed headship of the legal structure, while Anne Aghion assumed a supporting role without legal status.

"The IRIBA Centre, whose name means "the source" in Kinyarwanda, will gather together films, photographs, and audio documents dating from the beginning of the colonial period right up to today," says Mugiraneza, the lead architect of the project. "IRIBA will equally organize mobile projects in rural areas where the majority of Rwandans live," she adds.

A France-trained psychologist and political scientist, Mugiraneza is the Director of the center:

"The purpose of IRIBA Center is to be a place that contains audio-visual archives about more than a century of the history of Rwanda, to allow their access to every Rwandan, with no exception, so they can own their history. IRIBA Centre aspires to occupy the space that is available for freedom of opinion, to occupy it with intelligence and professionalism, and to enlarge," she explains.

Over the last ten years, Mugiraneza has done extensive work in Rwanda on history, memory and hate speech. Last year, she created a pilot program for screenings and group discussions of MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER across the country.

"It was at these events that we discovered an enormous demand among all segments of the population, and especially the youth, for historical milestones. This was the seed of the idea for IRIBA CENTER," she said.

The project seeks to seize this opportunity and take advantage of it in order to negotiate a different relationship with the past, to transmit history and, in this way, to participate in conflict transformation and its prevention, first in Rwanda and then in the region.

Genesis of a dream:

Mugiraneza explains that the idea for the project was born out of the country's shared heritage of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

"The begetting of genocide is a long process that, over time, tears apart the values of a society, its points of reference and its identity, for entire generations. The coming of the 1994 genocide sowed the destruction of beings and goods -material, cultural, symbolic ... The genocide destroyed the relationship between the individual and the community, between the past, the present, and the future," she laments.

She adds: "Since 1994, all Rwandans now live with a heritage of genocide. Their efforts to reconstruct durable peace can no longer afford not to include a discovery or a re-discovery of their common history and their shared identity."

However, some of the problems the project seeks to address predate the 1994 genocide, according to Mugiraneza. She specifically singles out the issue of the country's colonial past

"Rwanda, like many countries in Africa, is an oral tradition, long derided by the West where writing and the existence of national archives allow for a different relationship with the past. Colonization at the end of the 19th century introduced into Rwanda a hierarchy of races and the denial of the self as an indigenous being or pagan in order to hope to access the modern, Christianized world. The indigenous person possesses neither writing nor written archive; colonial thinking decrees him as someone without history whose past does not merit further consideration or reflection. Colonization marked a profound epistemological rupture, a break in cultural transmission."

She adds that the importance of the audio-visual medium in post-conflict Rwanda cannot be over stated. "Audiovisual archives are an essential element of the cultural and historical heritage of any country. However in Rwanda where few people read, and less than a generation after one of the worst genocides of the 20th century, these resources will be called upon to play a crucial role for future generations. Knowledge of the past will be essential for constructing a future without conflict."

Free for all:

All the documents at the IRIBA Center are accessible and free for every person. According to Mugiraneza, the Rwandan population has little access to sources of information in general and to historical cultural knowledge in particular. "We know that the relationship with the past remains problematic for the majority of the population, especially for those who are traumatised. We plan to create a living, welcoming space that will not be intimidating, so that all Rwandans will be in the position to visit it without apprehension and to learn many things about their history."

The project will also be available online, with an extensive database adapted to the Rwandan context.

"All our resources will be online and consultable by the means of this platform; in French, English, but also in Kinyarwanda, which is the language accessible to those who have not studied."

The audiovisual content, she says, will be accessible through individual viewing posts, while another specific space will be dedicated for group viewings.

"At the start, librarians will guide visitors through the database. Support is also planned for those who are not familiar with modern technological tools," she adds.

Since 2012, the center has been organising the World Day of Audiovisual Archives with the support of organisations such as the Goethe Institute, the French Institute, the Institute for Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), the Umusanzu Centre of ICTR, and the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

In the same year, the center established contact with INA (Institut National de l'Audiovisuel, France) on saving some Rwandan audiovisual archives that will be part of the database.

The center further shares a platform, Never Lost images, that are designed to identify, collect, and share audiovisual heritage in collaboration with organizations like Bophana in Cambodia, and the IMAGINE Institute of Burkina Faso.

Tried and tested model:

The IRIBA Center takes its inspiration from the Bophana Center in Cambodia. It was founded in 2007 by the filmmaker Rithy Pahn, to address similar post-genocide issues in Cambodia. To date, Bophana has gathered over 6,000 documents from foreign and Cambodian institutions and individuals, and has served over 100,000 visitors ranging from academics and journalists to street kids who come to watch films every day. It is also part of an informal international network of like-minded institutions, to which IRIBA CENTER will have access.

On where the IRIBA Center intends to source its audio-visual materials from, Mugiraneza explains: "To begin with, we will solicit materials from international institutions such as the Tervuren Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and the Institut National de L'audiovisuel in France. We will also seek out material held by private individuals and institutions in Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa."

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