By Ryan Topper (University of Leeds)
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 79 (Winter 2017/18), p.157]
In March-April of 2017, I completed a two-month internship at the the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG) in Kigali, Rwanda.
As a doctoral student of postcolonial literature and cultural theory based in the School of English at University of Leeds, I studied trauma in African literature. I defended my thesis, “Ancestral Trauma, Animist Poetics: African Literature’s Regenerative Death Drive,” in December, 2017. This internship thus provided me with a fascinating, practical experience to go alongside my thesis research and writing.
The CNLG’s mission is to prevent and fight against genocide, its ideology and denial, and overcome its consequences. To do so, the organisation manages genocide memorial sites throughout the country; oversees research on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and its aftermath in contemporary culture; fact-checks independent publications on the genocide; hosts public events at schools and universities on topics such as Rwandan history and the danger of genocide ideology; preserves genocide artifacts and corpses; and many other related activities.
As a research assistant, I helped the CNLG with English language writing and editing and learned much about the country along the way. My jobs varied from week to week and often day to day. They included participating in an international conference on digital archive preservation; editing articles on the legalisation of violence against the Tutsi prior to the genocide, denial laws after the genocide, and the persistence of trauma in contemporary Rwanda; and writing speeches for the UN and the US embassies. As the beginning of April is the national week of mourning, the timing of his internship was perfect. After many discussions with co-workers and strangers on the bus, in restaurants, and on the street, I came back to Leeds inspired by stories of survival.
Ryan Topper recently completed his PhD at Leeds on the relationship between trauma theory and animism in Sub-Saharan African literature.