If you want to write about Rwanda

Lake Kivu and the hills of Kibuye, Rwanda


If you want to write about Rwanda,

You should probably start with the title.

Make sure it includes something about genocide –

Words like “machete” will also suffice.

How else will you get people to read it?


And on that note – it is okay to write about something other than genocide,

But make sure that it takes place during the genocide

Or that you refence the unignorable impacts of the genocide.

A good rule of thumb: at least one genocide reference per page.

(Feel free to get a little creative here.)


Before you begin writing the piece

You need to do some research.

So get yourself on a plane, book yourself a room in Kigali,

And begin setting up your interviews.

Or, just show up and start asking questions – that works too.


Now, there are really only 3 people you need to talk to for a successful book:

A Catholic priest, someone who worked for the UN,

And that guy from the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Anyone else is a bonus, but these guys are essential.

And if you decide to interview a woman, make sure to spend just as many lines

describing what she is wearing and how she looks now

as you do telling us about her experience.


Don’t waste your time traveling to distant villages,

Or if you do, don’t spend too much time in any one place.

How important could building trust with these people be?

You are only asking them to talk about death and rape and loss.

It’s pretty straightforward.


Okay, you will probably want to take a picture or two

So make sure that you stand behind a tree so the people can’t see you.

Put that thousand-dollar lens to good use and zoom on in!

If you are lucky, some children might even pose for you in a field.

And when they ask you for a coin, make sure to refuse.


(Oh, and when someone tries to take a picture of you tonight

when you are eating dinner, or having a drink, or walking to the bus station

be sure to call them out – loudly – and ask them

why on earth they have the right to take your picture without your consent.)


At this point you are probably wondering: should I study Kinyarwanda?

And my response to you is: why would you need to know a language

Spoken by 99% of the population of Rwanda (20 million people world-wide)

When you are perfectly capable pantomime?

If all else fails, just speak English more loudly and slowly than usual.


If you want to write about Rwanda,

You’ll want to make sure that you have the “real story.”

So, take the time to have all your connections check your facts:

Peace Corps volunteers, NGO workers, missionaries – They’ll be all too happy to set the record straight.

After all, they have been living in-country for a year or two.


And, finally, when you are choosing a publisher,

Don’t you worry about the ethical implications of choosing one in the U.S. or U.K.

Don’t stop to think for one second about who will profit from your book.

You just flew to Africa! You’ve done the world a great service!

(Hate to break it to you, but if you wanted a Pulitzer,

you really should have chosen a more recent conflict – South Sudan, perhaps?)


Inspired by Binyavanga Wainaina’s piece, “How to Write About Africa,” published in Granta Magazine. (click on the link to read the full text)


One thought on “If you want to write about Rwanda

  1. Preach. I remember reading the original piece in college and watching my classmates take copious notes while the sarcasm flew right over their heads. Thanks for the reminder that stories–and how we choose to tell them– matter.


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