TIG is a Rwandan program allowing people found guilty of participating in the genocide to serve all or part of their sentences doing community service. TIG, “Travail d’Intérêt Général,” is a French acronym that means “works of general service.” The program is normally referred to as community service, but it is not the same kind of community service we see in the United States.
The program allows eligible prisoners to complete their sentences through participation in activities such as clearing ground, road building, construction of houses for genocide survivors, clay mining, and brick and tile manufacturing. Participants are referred to as tigistes and they engage in hard physical labor: breaking and hauling rocks, digging with picks and shovels, and manually moving earth by hand, sack, or wheel barrel. Many of the workers do not wear shoes.
The Rwandan government hails TIG as the best way to blend justice and reconciliation, helping to ease confessed killers back into Rwandan society. Reintegration, skill training, re-education and sensitization are part of the TIG design.
A million people were killed in the genocide; millions more were implicated, both directly and indirectly, as participants in the killings. Supporters of the program reason that all who participated cannot possibly be imprisoned, and TIG administers appropriate justice while serving to reconcile the Rwandan population. However, the program is not without its controversy. Some victims’ groups believe that consequences for the guilty are too lenient for the crimes they committed.
A day spent touring the TIG work sites was not about testimonials from the prisoners, evaluating philosophical approaches, punitive effectiveness, or rehabilitative results. It was centered around operational functions and the people carrying them out.
I toured three primary sites in eight hours, as well as a camp compound where large orange tents provide living quarters for the tigistes. By the end of the day I had seen every aspect of housing construction for genocide survivors. The tigistes mined raw materials – from dirt for bricks, to clay for molding roofing tiles, to earthen materials used to make the hard concrete pads that serve as foundations for the houses, and the smooth adobe that covers and seals the brick walls. Each process began with digging earth.
Homes are built from the ground up, starting with excavation – not of a basement, but a thirty meter rectangularpit – the toilet.
Bricks that make the core walls of houses also begin with excavation. Red dirt, the hallmark of African soil, is dug from a hillside, sifted, sorted and carried off.
A hundred meters uphill from the quarry are two hydraulic compressors designed for molding bricks. Each machine, the size of a refrigerator, is run by a small kerosene generator. Other than the car we drove in on, they are the only machinery on site
Forty minutes by car, nestled at the head of an open valley with terraced hills rising from three sides, is a tile and brick factory. Clay mined from a river bed is used for construction of rounded roof tiles and other types of brick and building materials.
Again, the first step begins with excavation. Clay is carried and piled inside open buildings where it’s processed for tile and brick molding. Processing consists of stomping and beating the clay with Neanderthal sized wooden clubs.
When ready, it’s taken to other areas for tile and brick fashioning.
Later that afternoon we ate lunch with administrators at a camp where large orange tents had been erected for shelter and sleeping quarters while these tigistes finish their time in the program.
All photography copyright 2009 Adam Bacher. Absolutely no use without prior authorization.