Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for God Sleeps in Rwanda includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Joseph Sebarenzi. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Joseph Sebarenzi’s first encounter with the horrors of ethnic violence was as a young boy growing up in Rwanda, hiding under his neighbor’s bed from Hutu men who were trying to force their way in to kill him and his family. As years of uneasy peace passed, Joseph became witness to escalating animosity and unrest in his homeland. Living in
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. God Sleeps in
2. During one of the early outbreaks of violence in
3. Sebarenzi’s parents both feel certain that violence will return to
4. Sebarenzi’s father is wary of the seemingly peaceful climate of President Habyarimani’s regime, calling it a “negative peace.” In what ways is the peace of this period illusory? In what ways is it more dangerous than an openly communicated hostility? How is Sebarenzi later able to identify these same flaws within the post-genocide government in which he serves?
5. “Fear is in the anticipation of danger, not in danger itself.” (Pg. 45) Sebarenzi repeatedly returns to this concept, in part to explain the extraordinary courage he demonstrates in multiple harrowing circumstances. Do you think that this statement is true for everyone? How does Sebarenzi’s ability to look at fear objectively enable him to act courageously in a time when all others around him act out of fear?
7. Sebarenzi states that “all human beings, regardless of the evil they commit, deserve dignity and respect, and it is a disservice to humanity when either is denied.” (Pg. 53) Discuss the moments of compassion and forgiveness in God Sleeps in Rwanda. For example, were you surprised by the way Sebarenzi reacts to the mayor who had facilitated the death of his family? How does this extraordinary empathy help Sebarenzi envision a unified
8. During the genocide of 1994, Sebarenzi was living in
9. How does Sebarenzi’s great optimism help to drive his work towards reconciliation and rule of law for
10. Discuss the elements of reconciliation that Sebarenzi outlines in his conclusion. Which aspects particularly resonate for you in terms of conflicts in your own life? Do you agree with Sebarenzi that small human steps towards forgiveness can change human relations globally?
11. Sebarenzi and Paul Kagame both experienced suffering as children as a result of their Tutsi identity. Yet their lives took very divergent paths, as did their views of the world. What factors in Sebarenzi’s life do you think led him to embrace forgiveness and reconciliation? What factors in Kagame’s life do you think made him become the type of leader he is today?
Enhancing Your Book Club
1. For more information on the School for International Training, visit its website at www.sit.edu
2. For more information on the UN’s response to the genocide, visit http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/rwanda/sega1.html to find an interview with Romeo Dallaire.
3. In the afterword, Sebarenzi concludes with suggestions that each of us can make to increase compassion in our own lives. Be sure to discuss what you take away from this book personally—and share other books on connectedness and forgiveness that have changed your lives.
A Conversation with Joseph Sebarenzi
1. Your father was firm in his insistence that you pursue the education that was available to you, no matter the personal cost. What has education meant to you in your life? How has it helped you to make a difference for
I am extremely grateful that my father insisted I get education, despite how difficult it was for me as a young boy to be sent away from my family and, no doubt, how hard it was on my family, particularly my mother and sister Beatrice, for me to be gone. Education opens one’s world. In
2. You said that it is impossible for those from affluent countries to understand the pain that refugees suffer in being torn from their homes. Do you think you first learned how important
Refugees leave behind their homes, their belongings, their jobs, and their friends to start over again. Anyone who has had to move to a
3. Although you were hampered and endangered by the realities of the political situation in
The most rewarding achievement during my time as Speaker was being able to establish parliamentary oversight of the government. Signing the Oversight Bill into law and implementing it despite the resistance of the executive branch allowed
4. Do you think that the political situation will ever be such that you’ll be able to return to
Yes, I believe that, sooner or later, I will be able to return to
5. How have you adjusted to your life and work in the
My adjustment to life in the
6. How do your studies and the relationships that you have built at the School for International Training (SIT) and elsewhere throughout the world enable you to continue your work towards the goal of reconciliation for
The SIT/Graduate Institute has been important to me, not only because of the education I have received in conflict transformation, but also because of how much I have learned from my colleagues and my students, most of whom are from conflict-torn countries themselves. I use the lessons I’ve learned from SIT and my doctoral studies to advocate further reconciliation in Rwanda—mostly through my writings and contributions to BBC and Voice Of America broadcasting in my native language Kinyarwanda. And because Rwandans are always among my students, my hope is that they apply what they learn to promote reconciliation in Rwanda. My SIT and professional networks and my connections in the United States and throughout the world help me encourage various individuals and organizations to help Rwanda advance along the path of reconciliation. I am pleased that SIT is now working with Rwandan authorities to offer graduate-level training through a local university. My overall hope is that all Rwandans, Tutsi and Hutu, embrace and internalize the moral obligation of our generation to spare future generations the evil of violence we have endured.
7. Do you think that the international community has done enough to acknowledge their culpability in the events that led to the tragedies in Rwanda? What steps do you hope the current US administration will take in helping Rwanda to become a truly democratic nation?
Unfortunately, leaders in the international community, in my view, still do not take full responsibility for having chosen not to intervene and stop the genocide. Instead, they insinuate their innocence and push the responsibility onto others. Yet I am pleased that some acknowledgment has occurred. With regards to the United States, and as I mention in my book, President Bill Clinton noted that the failure to try to stop Rwanda’s tragedies became one of the greatest regrets of his presidency. Madeleine Albright, then U.S. Secretary of State, wrote that she deeply regretted not advocating action to stop the genocide.
As for what the current U.S. administration can do to help Rwanda become a truly democratic nation, I want to note that Rwanda is a small country with hardworking people and I feel confident that nation-building in Rwanda would be a success. I would be thrilled to see the United States help Rwanda to achieve this goal. Under the current situation, where the Rwandan regime is an autocracy, the United States can pressure President Kagame by offering incentives to initiate a dialogue with regards to the best way for Hutu and Tutsi to share power and promote individual rights and liberties. The United States can also spearhead economic development to sustain reconciliation efforts.
8. You discuss the important role faith plays in your life, including your realization that “mystery is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can comprehend.” Do you think that the trials of your life and your crisis of faith have ultimately helped you find a truer and deeper connection to God?
Yes. Human beings are naturally—and rightfully—saddened by the suffering and death of loved ones. But for God, these events may have a different interpretation and meaning. Little children don’t always understand why their parents’ make the decisions regarding what they can and can’t do—yet a wise parent knows what’s right for his or her child. Likewise, God knows what each of us needs to become fuller, more complete human beings. I am often struck by the fact that seeds must decay before they grow and produce fruit. Similarly, humans generally don’t grow until faced with adversity. I believe that without the extreme suffering I have endured, I would not have become the person I am. And I strongly believe that no hardship should derail us from doing what is right; instead we should strive to get light out of our darkness.
9. Throughout your life, you have demonstrated incredible compassion for individuals on all sides of the Rwandan conflict. Do you think that everyone is equally capable of the forgiveness that you have found within yourself?
I believe that everyone has the potential to find the same [levels of] forgiveness I have found in myself. It’s an ongoing process. This may be extremely hard for some people, especially those with distressing backgrounds. But I am convinced that if we are taught through words and deeds—beginning as children—that compassion and forgiveness should be part of our lives, that even those who have endured terrible hardships can find it within themselves to forgive. The key is to understand that it’s in our best interests – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and for lasting peace – to nurture compassion and forgiveness. Peace for our families and communities—and even our minds—greatly depends on it. Durable reconciliation is not possible without the first steps of compassion and forgiveness.
10. What led you to write God Sleeps in Rwanda? What is the most important message that you hope a reader will take away from your story?
Whenever I would speak about my experience—either to my students in the classroom or to the public when I give speeches—I would always be asked more questions than I had the time to answer. This is one thing that prompted me to write the book. But more than that, I hoped that in writing my life story, I could shed light on the current political situation in Rwanda, and, I hope, inspire political leaders in both Rwanda and other countries to facilitate positive change. And although Rwanda is a unique experience, sadly it is not alone in facing extreme ethnic divisiveness. I hope people from other nations that suffer similar problems can read this book and learn from Rwanda’s experiences. But mostly, I hope readers will walk away believing that suffering no matter how severe, empathy, kindness, and forgiveness are possible and necessary for healing.
11. Do you think there is a way for the Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda to undo the damage of colonial-imposed discrimination and rebuild a strong national identity?
Yes, I absolutely believe that it is possible—though painstakingly difficult for both ethnic parties—to rebuild a strong national identity. This belief is what motivated me as Speaker of Parliament to fight for the rule of law, checks and balances, and reconciliation. And this belief drives my continued advocacy for reconciliation in Rwanda. Building a strong national identity in Rwanda requires establishing sound and democratic institutions and devising a power-sharing mechanism between Hutu and Tutsi to end the cyclical violent competition for power. It also requires that justice be brought not only to extremist Hutu who perpetuated the genocide, but also to those in the Tutsi-dominated ruling party who have committed human rights abuses.