Forgiveness After Genocide

by Chris Lautsbaugh on April 20, 2015

“Ongoing Forgiveness is key to the Development of a Nation, Overcoming Horrors of the Past.”

I recently spent some time in Rwanda. Both Rwanda and my home nation of South Africa had history altering events happen twenty years ago.

The Rwandan genocide saw two tribes kill over one million people in just a few short months.

South Africa saw Nelson Mandela released, the end of apartheid, and a new democracy established. The media predicted a war which never came.

  • Both nations experienced historical events.
  • Both nations used forgiveness as a tool to move forward.

Rwanda enacted many laws and engaged in forgiveness-based exercises. They outlawed the use of any “tribe” or “ethnicity” on public documents. Many of the genocide participants reconciled through revealing the location of bodies of their victims to the surviving family members.

South Africa, led by Bishop Desmond Tutu, embarked on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which provided forgiveness and amnesty to anyone bringing full disclosure of crimes to their victims families.

Both used forgiveness. There is one difference in my observation.

Rwanda’s efforts have been ongoing while South Africa’s have been largely a thing of the past.


A quick Google search shows many events and organizations in Rwanda which are still promoting the message of forgiveness and reconciliation twenty years on.

South Africa has buried their pain under the surface of hosting a World Cup and a more modern infrastructure.

The “New South Africa” has begun, but is still yet to emerge fully for the world to see.

While being more developed than Rwanda to begin with twenty years ago, South Africa may have fallen behind the East African nation in many ways.

  • Rwanda has the fastest growing economy in Africa.
  • The nation is largely crime and corruption free.
  • Even down to the cleanliness, you can see the transformation forgiveness has brought.

These are merely my observations, and I am no expert.

But as I compared these two nations who had significant events happen literally weeks apart twenty years ago, the comparison proved interesting.

What stories do you have from your nations which demonstrate the power of forgiveness, or lack of it, in moving a nation towards transformation?


Photo credit: Dwelling via photopin (license)

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Thanks for this, Chris. It’s really helpful to hear your perspective. It seems to me that in the States, we have just ignored the genocides of the past. We didn’t even try to do peace and reconciliation. We just said, “In the past. Get over it.” There’s no honest examination of moral failure with appropriate amends being made. We are such a polarized society in the US these days, almost no nuance to any public conversation, the presentation of “we’re the best” as the highest form of patriotism. As a therapist, it reminds me so much of a family with unresolved secrets, where perfectionism and performance become the only way to relate to the outside world, lest anyone discover the buried truth. Just like a family with addiction, the problems get put into the “too hard” box to fester in the dark.

  • Jessica W

    Really interesting reading this, given the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Turkey denies such a thing happened. This has led to strained relations between the people groups – even between ordinary people. I’ve been watching a Dutch show called “Bloedbroeders” (Blood brothers) where a Turkish guy and Armenian guy go to check out all the evidence to make their own conclusions. It’s intense.
    So, what about forgiveness when one side denies it ever happened??

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