The ICTR library: An unlikely social spot

As part of its mission, the ICTR runs a fairly well equipped and well managed library with internet connection and variety of regional newspapers and news magazines.

As part of its mission, the ICTR runs a fairly well equipped and well managed library with internet connection and variety of regional newspapers and news magazines.

The lawyers, judges, interns and administrators have access to borrowing books; unfortunately that privilege is not extended to others outside the UN realm. Students from Tanzanian universities and visiting interns also use the library.

The library however provides other valuable privileges for common folk. Today, for example, like so many days since I reached Arusha, I got to hang out with one of Rwanda’s former ministers who was standing trial and was acquitted.

That does not mean that we go for drinks or watch movies, however the genial ex minister reports to the library everyday, checks his email, reads a couple of things on Google, flirts with the library lady managers and leaves for lunch to return later and carry on the same activities in no particular order.

The ex minister was brought to Arusha in 1996 after his arrest in Cameroon, he was charged for genocide related crimes, stood for trial and the ICTR acquitted him of charges in 2004.

The ICTR since that judgment in 2004 and the appeal in 2006 is still locating another country in which to resettle the minister.

While waiting for the UN to get him new nationality he lives in a suburb in Arusha. If he is not at his house we hang out in the library and share a few jokes once in a while, (as I write this he is chatting away with another dark coloured man who also reports in the library everyday as a visitor, we have waved hands too.)

For journalists, if its not a courtroom, our choice of places to hang out are very limited; it’s either the library, press room or your house.

Today there’s a man is appearing as a prosecution witness in the case against another minister in the Habyarimana regime.

The witness today was asked if he ever met the ex minister in question, he answered back in very cold clear terms.

"The minister came to our road block and recognised one of us never had a gun. He slapped him in the face and had the poor guy arrested."

Back in the library, a certain Rwandan lady walks in, I gesture in her direction to get her attention she does not acknowledge me.

It is strange here, there is none of the camaraderie between foreigners that you see in other places. Here the corporate Rwandan community is just that, corporate!

With a few exceptions there is little interaction between people here, be they from the same country or otherwise.

Everyone is dressed in business suits and as a way of greeting they make comical facial expressions to each other and maybe a nod of the head.

You never get to meet the beautifully endowed girl/woman who sits in the office next door.

It is hard finding three people for example talking about Rwanda whipping Morocco by the magical score line of 3.1.

In the lift, which is one the few places you come into close contact with someone, it’s a mini nightmare, you are stuck with this guy or chick in one little box for close to two minutes, doing nothing but stealthily trying not to look at each other. Sometimes, I hang out in the lifts so I can meet someone strange on a particular day.

It is not surprising that there is no room for people to exchange unnecessary niceties or pleasantries. Here life moves faster.

People are always on the move; a Belgian former army colonel will be in town for three days to testify, as a Canadian lawyer is here only for two days to provide expert blah blah.

Add a Senegalese student that is here doing research for only two weeks and you have a community of constant strangers, outsiders on the streets.

On a good day, there are more tourists on the pavements than locals in the town city centre.

People always on the run don’t have time for Friday movies or drinks! Like American journalist Josh Kron wrote in The New Times recently; "After only seven months, you are already a veteran."

With such background for a workplace, the library is a temple for many lonely people working for the ICTR. This is why I ended up hanging out with ex minister.