Current Affairs

News Round-up: Reports Indicating Rwanda is Backing Atrocities in Congo

June 08, 2012
By Catherine Larson

DR Congo: Rwanda Should Stop Aiding War Crimes Suspects via Human Rights Watch

Rwanda Army Officials Supporting Congo Rebels via Reuters

U-turn: Time for U.S., U.K. to Change Rwanda Policy via Enough

Rwanda is Backing Atrocities in the Congo via Falling Whistles


Love is a Weapon that Destroys All Evil

November 07, 2011
By Catherine Larson

If you happened to be on CNN's homepage today, you got a glimps of a photo essay by the very talented celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, who traveled to Rwanda this summer with filmmaker Laura Waters Hinson to photograph some of the faces of forgiveness and reconciliation. Among these faces, you will see John and Chantal, whose stories are told in both the film and in my book. I also spotted a few backdrops I recognized as well as a few other people who I interviewed for the book, but whose stories did not get included. You can check out the moving photo essay here and Jeremy's own thoughts on the radical power of forgiveness in this article also posted on CNN today.

Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Sierra Leone

October 28, 2011
By Catherine Larson

Mark Moring in Christianity Today has an insightful piece which recently hit the web about a new film documenting the work of one man, John Caulkner and his grassroots efforts at forgiveness and reconciliation in the wake of Sierra Leone's civil war. The film entitled Fambul Tok, or literally family talk, takes its name from the bonfire discussions between perpetrators and victims. Moring points out some of the salient pieces of reconciliation missing from this process: restitution, time, and the element of faith. Moring also touches on the issue of forgetting, and whether or not it has a place in the forgiveness process. The best work I've seen on this subject is by far, The End of Memory by Miroslav Volf. You'll find a link to it and of course, to my book in the Amazon links on this page.

As We Forgive Goes to Italy

May 19, 2011
By Catherine Larson

Well, my husband and I, and our 14-month old son are off to Italy where I'll be speaking about forgiveness and reconciliation at a conference on war. The eStoria Conference will take place in Gorizia, Italy, site of much blood-shed during both World Wars. I'll be speaking with several other experts on a panel about conflicts in East Africa. I'm eager to share the message of hope that I've encountered first-hand through the stories I shared in As We Forgive.

It Happened in Italy

January 28, 2010
By Catherine Larson

You are probably familiar with the film Schindler's List, but the name Giovanni Palatucci is one you've probably never heard. Read more about this amazing story in a recent BreakPoint that I researched and contributed to:

In evil times, the choice to defend life can come at a high price. But it is always worth paying.

In 2005, the United Nations designated January 27 as an annual day of commemoration for the victims of the Nazi regime. They chose the 27th because on this day in 1945, the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz. Most know the grim tales of what happened in Nazi death camps only too well—six million Jews killed, the gas chambers, the crematoriums, forced labor.

But while the horrors of concentration camps in Nazi Germany may be familiar, what happened to Jews in concentration camps at the same time in Mussolini’s Italy is not.

For Elizabeth Bettina, the story also would have been unknown had it not been for one intriguing photograph of her grandparents’ wedding in the early ‘40s in the tiny village of Campagna, Italy. There in the photo of her Catholic grandparents amidst a priest, some police officers, and other smiling wedding guests, stood an Orthodox Jewish Rabbi.

Bettina couldn’t stop wondering about it. How could it be that a rabbi would be standing near smiling people, including police officers, during World War II in Mussolini’s Italy? That photo launched her on a journey that would be life changing, which she recounts in her new book, It Happened in Italy.

Bettina soon learned that one of several Italian concentration camps was located in Campagna. But this concentration camp was so different to those of Nazi Germany that the resemblance stopped at the name.

In her book, Bettina interviews several survivors. They each say they were treated humanely in the Italian camps. They were well-fed and well-dressed. In Campagna, for instance, they were free to come and go, so long as they were present for roll call in the morning and in the evening when the doors of the camp closed.

When Italy surrendered to the Allies, the Germans acted quickly to deport Italian Jews to death camps in Germany. But many Italians rose up to protect the Jews from that horrible fate.

In fact, one man, an Italian police official, Giovanni Palatucci—known as the Italian Schindler—played a major role in saving thousands of Jews. When the Germans tried to deport the Jews in Italy, Palatucci hid the list of names from the Nazis. He supplied false documents to help many leave Italy, and others he hid with his uncle, a bishop.

When the Nazis figured out what Palatucci had done, they sent him to Dachau, where on February 10, 1945, he died the death he had saved so many Jews from. “Greater love hath no man than this...” Israel has acknowledged Palatucci as one the “Righteous among the Nations” for his deeds.

Bettina writes, “This story of goodness in a time of evil must be told.” She’s right. It Happened in Italy is a great reminder that the kind of evil we saw happen in Nazi Germany only happens when individuals participate, or choose to turn a blind eye.

What happened in Italy, however, reminds us that in evil times, those who serve the cause of life can write a different kind of story. If the phrase “Never again” is to be true, that’s a lesson each of us needs to learn and re-learn.

The Economics of Reconciliation

April 02, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Last night I had the privilege to speak on a panel at the Center for American Progress. The event entitled 15 Years Later: The State of Rwandan Reconciliation was sponsored by Indego Africa and the Rwanda International Network Association, a group of Rwandans living in the United States. Its intent was to mark the 15th anniversary of the genocide and to present an in-depth look at the state of political and ethnic reconciliation in Rwanda. Jackson Mvunganyi, co-host of Up Front on Voice of America radio moderated the panel which aside from me included:

  • Matthew Mitro, Founder and CEO of Indego Africa
  • Karol Boudreaux, Professor of Law at George Mason University; Lead Researcher at Enterprise Africa! a project of the Mercatus Center
  • Augustin Mutemberize, International Trade Specialist, Africa Trade Office; formerly of the Rwandan Ministry of Finance
  • Andrew Jones, Director of Policy Analysis, CARE USA; former Program Director, CARE Rwanda.

When I wasn't speaking, I was listening intently! There's a lot of fascinating research happening today in the intersection of social entrepreneurship, economics and reconciliation.

In Rwanda, for example, the research done by Karol Boudrequx of Enterprise Africa! has shown two positive results occuring as a result of Rwandan coffee production:

1) Liberalization strategies alleviate poverty and develop human capital. By removing pervasive and oppressive government controls over coffee production and sale, the Rwandan government has created space for smallholder farmers to be entrepreneurial, create new ties with foreign buyers, develop valuable skills, and increase their incomes.
2) Liberalization has had the unanticipated benefit of reconciliation. Liberalization in the coffee sector creates new incentives for smallholder farmers in Rwanda to work together for a common goal: improving their lives through the production of high quality specialty coffee. Working together toward this common goal has helped Rwandans to reconcile with each other in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

These positive outcomes suggest that a focus on economic liberalization in post-conflict environments may pay large dividends in terms of both economic development and peace.

You can read the full report here. And you can support the reconciliation that is happening through coffee collectives by buying Rwandan coffee at your local Costco, Starbucks, or even better through the faith-based Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee. I've not only had Land of a Thousand Hills coffee, but also given it as gifts and can highly recommend the product and the organization. And for other upcoming speaking engagements related to my book As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda,  please visit my website calendar.

"A Dangerous Gamble"

January 20, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Rwandan troops have moved into the Democratic Republic of Congo today to hunt down members of the FDLR, remnants of the Hutu militia who fled across the border during the 1994 genocide and who were responsible for much of the killing then, as well as current-day raids on Congolese Tutsi.

According to the Telegraph the operation " had been jointly planned with Congo's army and would last 10 to 15 days." Rebel leader General Laurent Nkunda says he has been fighting to rid the country of the FDLR because he believes DR Congo is unable to do the job. Theoretically, if the FDLR is disbanded, Nkunda's military mission will be gone as well. indicates that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 FDLR troops in DR Congo.

The Telegraph calls this a "dangerous gamble that could help solve one of the world's worst conflicts, but risks plunging Central Africa back into a period of intense and bloody violence." Time is even less optimistic in its assessment, "The Rwandan mission may be aimed at bringing peace. But they are not coming in peace, and in Congo that has always led to more war."

Links of Note

January 03, 2009
By Catherine Larson