Historical Trauma and Memory: Living with the Haunting Power of the Past (An Interdisciplinary Symposium, Kigali, Rwanda)



I was pleased to present research, participate, and help organize this Interdisciplinary Symposium with esteemed scholars from South Africa, Zimbabwe, DRC, Germany, Slovakia, and Rwanda, which took place from 4-6 April in Kigali, Rwanda. It was hosted by the Research Chair in Historical Trauma and Transformation (Stellenbosch University), in Collaboration with the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP; Rwanda), the Centre for Ethics (University of Zürich), and the Violence, Injury and Peace Research Unit (University of South Africa; South African Medical Research Council), hosted an Interdisciplinary Conference in Rwanda.

Healing the traumatic wounds and divisions of societies in the aftermath of mass violence and conflict, and the problem of the transmission of historical trauma across generations—these are probably the most urgent questions of the 21st century. Few topics stake a more compelling claim on Humanities and Social Sciences research than the legacies of tragic historical pasts—the impact of genocide, colonial oppression and other mass atrocities not only on individuals and groups that experienced the traumas directly, but also on their descendants, and the descendants of perpetrators and implicated others under oppressive regimes. This international symposium brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars and young researchers working in the area of historical trauma, and aims to promote comparative and transnational research on the transgenerational hauntings of historical trauma. Scholars will examine the connection between historical trauma and memory, and illuminate how this relationship has been represented in different cultural contexts, and how it plays out in the lives of descendants of victims of genocide and other forms of political violence in societies that have a history of gross human rights violations. Taking a multidisciplinary approach (including film and literature), the symposium aims to set an agenda for exploring new intellectual frontiers within the buzzing hub of scholarly debates on historical trauma. Its objective is to deepen understanding of the transgenerational repercussions of traumatic pasts in a range of cultural contexts, to explore how different disciplines represent this transgenerational phenomenon, and through a comparative lens, to contribute to new knowledge production in this area of research. Our starting point is that engaging in this comparative reflection is more essential than ever, to advance scholarship and to create a new archive in an area dominated for far too long by the Holocaust as a reference point for understanding the long-term impact of genocide and other forms of gross human rights violations.

Survivors Fund Women Genocide Survivors Retreat 2017

Liliane Pari Umuhoza, a university student at Juniata College in Huntingdon, PA, and Rwandan genocide survivor, channeled her energy as an intern at Survivors Fund (SURF) last summer (2017) to work with women who were raped during the genocide. Please read the article below, watch the 5-minute video, and share with all who are interested. I’m proud to call Liliane my sister and friend. Komeza cyane, Lili! WGSR2.jpg

Women Genocide Survivors Retreat- Article and Video

Transitional Justice Lecture and UNMICT visit in Arusha, Tumaini University Makumira (Fulbright Rwanda, 2017-2018)

It has been an exciting start to 2018 as a Fulbright Scholar in Rwanda (2017-2018). Here is the first update.

I was pleased to be hosted by the Honorable Judge Vagn Joensen, former President of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and Judge at the UN-MICT in Arusha. He joined me for my lecture at Tumaini University Makumira, Arusha, Faculty of Law, where I spoke to 200 engaged and excited law students and their esteemed faculty. The lecture, titled, Practical Implications of the Holistic Nexus between Juridical and Non-Juridical Transitional Justice Measures: The Case of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, provided a framework for discussing legal and symbolic measures to address mass atrocities and genocide, using examples from my extended research in Rwanda.

2017 Fellowship Concludes at the Ife Institute of Advanced Studies- Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria…but it’s not the end!

At the Mythological Center of the World, A Unique Pedagogical Initiative Launches in Nigeria

Today is the last day of the Ife Institute of Advanced Studies at Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria. I am proud to have been a part of the first cohort of Fellows to participate in the IAS Summer Seminar, the first initiative of the Institute. I would like to thank Professor Jacob K. Olupona from Harvard University and all of my Nigerian colleagues and friends for welcoming me to their country, for teaching me invaluable lessons about interdisciplinary research, rethinking mentorship and communities of thinkers, and renewing my dedication to research that will not just “sit on a shelf,” but will impact the world. Please see the article above, published in the Huffington Post with my colleague, teacher, and friend Dr. Laura Grillo from Georgetown University. Enjoy!

Meeting the courageous women of Rwanda who testified at the trial featured in THE UNCONDEMNED

THE UNCONDEMNED, a film by Michele Mitchell and Nick Louvel

I had the pleasure of participating in the international launch of the feature documentary “The Uncondemned,” a film by my friend and colleague Michele Mitchell, and Nick Louvel. In New York, I met witnesses JJ, NN, and OO, who are rape survivors and who testified at the ICTR in 1997 in the landmark case Prosper v. Akayesu. This was the first case to try an individual for genocide, including acts of rape and sexual violence.

In basic Kinyarwanda and lengthy French, I got to know these wonderful women, Serafina, Victoire, Cecile, and Godelieve, founder of SEVOTA, an organization dedicated to supporting widows and survivors of rape after the genocide. These women traveled from their small town of Taba, Rwanda, to New York City, for the film launch.

On Wednesday, October 19, we joined over 700 people in screening the film at the United Nations, with remarks by Mr. Adama Dieng, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura of the United Nations, Amb. Pierre Prosper, Michele Mitchell, Godelieve, and others.

On Sunday October 23, I had the privilege of moderating a panel with these phenomenal women and the film director Michele, at Eileen Fisher in SoHo. Eileen Fisher is a corporate sponsor of the film.

Please enjoy the photos below, and go see the film! Click here for screenings!

News and Updates! Op-Eds, Meetings, Lectures!

This has been a very exciting few months! Here are a few updates.

World Policy Institute Blog, July 22, 2016screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-11-28-pm

September 17-19 The Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) hosted a three-day international conference “After Genocide: From Trauma to Rebirth, a Gendered Perspective” at AGBU Armenia Hall in Yerevan. I contributed an Op-Ed about gender and genocide.


I also met Maggy Barankitse, founder of Maison Shalom in Burundi, and Aurora Prize Laureate, who was awarded $1.1 million last April for her humanitarian work.


Thanks to Google Cambridge for inviting me to give a Talk@Google at the Google office on September 20, 2016! Stay tuned for the YouTube video coming soon.


New Article: Where is the Hope for Burundi?


Where is the Hope for Burundi?

About a month before returning to Rwanda, I was contacted by members of the Burundian diaspora community in NYC and Washington, DC, who were very concerned about the atrocities taking place in Burundi. With the hashtag #BurundiCrisis and #Burundi1YearofCrimes trending, I was also concerned about the increasing deadly violence in Burundi, closely linked to the country of Rwanda, which I care about so much. Upon returning to Rwanda in mid-May, I realized that the Burundian community in Kigali also needed help and representation, and so I wrote the following policy article on the commemoration of one year of preventable atrocities in Burundi. Thanks to Andrew Mwenda and The Independent Magazine in Uganda and Rwanda for publishing it. Please read, share, and reflect. I hope to write an update to this article soon, now that the peace negotiations in Arusha have begun and will continue.


Amahoro to all.