An hour ago, I landed in Kigali, Rwanda.
Over a decade ago, I spent six weeks here with a research team from college. We were all under twenty and had little idea what we were in for.
We studied a grassroots court system called Gacaca, set up to try perpetrators of the genocide and bring justice and reconciliation to the population. We interviewed dozens of victims, prisoners, and justice officials, traveled all over the country to watch the courts unfold, and wrote about our work for a journal.
This is my first time back since that trip. It was hard to imagine then, and harder still now, to imagine that this picturesque African capital was the seat of such terror. Perhaps the only lesson to be learned from genocide is that humans are equally susceptible to generosity, hopefulness and compassion as they are to violence and greed.
Watching Rwandans rebuild their country as a 19-year-old in 2002 was deeply moving, and it taught me much about development and poverty. I remember a common thread across our interviews — nearly everyone we spoke with said that the key to justice was economic agency.
In other words, the key to justice is a job that pays a decent wage. Relatively wealthy, empowered people believe justice lies in legal systems, courts, and prisons. But poor and marginalized people see justice differently. Justice is being able to afford food, healthcare, and decent schools.
I hope on this trip to be able to find partners in Rwanda for our work with Sama, to provide more jobs to the people who need them most. And I hope to repay, someday, all the people we interviewed that summer for what they taught me: that justice is so much more nuanced and complicated than we in the West imagine.