100 Days: The Rwandan Genocide

Cover for 100 Days

In honour of Poetry Month 2024 and because of our grief regarding continuing global genocides, it seems appropriate to talk about Juliane Okot Bitek‘s debut poetry collection 100 Days, published in 2016. The 100 days references the Rwandan genocide (April 7 to July 15, 1994).

100 Days won the Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry and an INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award and was shortlisted for numerous awards in Canada.

Below, we share reviewers’ powerful responses to the book.

About the Collection

100 days… 100 days that should not have been… 100 days the world could have stopped. But did not.

For 100 days, Juliane Okot Bitek recorded the lingering nightmare of the Rwandan genocide in a poem—each poem recalling the senseless loss of life and of innocence. Okot Bitek draws on her own family’s experience of displacement under the regime of Idi Amin, pulling in fragments of the poetic traditions she encounters along the way: the Ugandan Acholi oral tradition of her father—the poet Okot p’Bitek; Anglican hymns; the rhythms and sounds of the African American Spiritual tradition; and the beat of spoken word and hip-hop.

It was the earth that betrayed us first

it was the earth that held onto its beauty
compelling us to return

it was the breezes that were there
& then not there

it was the sun that rose & fell
rose & fell

as if there was nothing different
as if nothing changed


“The ‘Hundred Days’ from April to July 1994 witnessed one of the great genocides of the twentieth century and all while the world looked on and did nothing….. The poetry of Juliane Okot Bitek takes you through its villages and churches and lost innocence, relationships where time was measured out in machete strokes and words that made light of indifference and nothing to tie it to but days and the chattering of birds and bayonet sticks and the awful brutality of it all.” The Tara Poetry Blog [Full post]

“Bitek’s ability to connect with the beauty and pain of human suffering seems supernatural, this ability to give voice to those who seem to have no voices.” Ikhide R. Ikheloa, Reading and Writing… Loudly [Full post]

“Bitek’s poems are fierce, directly straightforward and unrelenting, composing her poems in an unadorned manner that increase in tension through the accumulation…..exploring through the lyric a human tragedy so brutal and extensive that it becomes unfathomable.” rob mclennan [Full post]

“[H]ow could an event so terrible birth a myriad of powerful words so beautiful in their execution… 100 Days is a deserving tribute to a time when humanity forgot what it meant to be human. Reading the poetry collection is a humbling experience.” Sydney Mugerwa, Writivism [Full post]

“Juliane Okot Bitek is a memory keeper, and the memories she wishes to preserve in her majestic collection of poetry, 100 Days, are of the collapse of the imagination that was the 1994 Rwandan genocide…. 100 Days is a masterpiece of uncommon splendour and Juliane Okot Bitek is a virtuoso performing at the height of her powers.” Diriye Osman, Huffington Post [Full post]

“Juliane Okot Bitek’s poetry tells it like it is no matter how difficult these truths may be to absorb. In 100 Days Bitek holds you in place by the shoulders and paints a vivid picture of genocide, terror, and yet does so through hymn, music, and rhythm.” Chelene Knight, Room Magazine, October 13, 2016 [Full post]

“Bitek’s absolutely-must-read 100 Days [is] an astonishing debut poetry collection…. Pieces are stark and plangent with simple concrete imagery and sensory detail…. The book furthers the sense of relentlessness never-ending, one day as horror-filled as the one before or the next…. The simple image of the cut flowers at commemoration, ‘all dead from the moment they were cut . . . just like the children,’ haunts.” Crystal Hurdle, Canadian Literature [Full post]

“In 100 Days, poet Juliane Okot Bitek set out to memorialize the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide, but the witnessing force of these brief, incantatory poems ripples outward to figuratively encompass multiple histories of violence and brutality, including the terror her own family and countless others faced under Idi Amin’s regime in Uganda. The lyric beauty, intertextual depth, and metonymic power of Okot Bitek’s poetry underscores the capacities of of art and language to cast light into the darkest corners of our human experience, and bridge the gulfs that lie between us.” John Keene, Award-winning writer and scholar [Full post]

“…Okot Bitek explores the stakes of storytelling, witnessing, and claims of innocence. Memory elaborates its own confusion, weaving among the personal past, the intimate present, collective recollection, and human responsibility.” Jami Macarty & Nicholas Hauck, The Maynard [Full post]

“Speaking of and to humanity in raw, beautiful, moving words and rhythms about immense pain, the tragedy of what can be lost, including humanity itself, 100 Days appeals to the sapient, sentient, social side of human nature…. [I]f you want to be more human in the best sense, read this book. Think about it. Feel it. As a matter of urgency.” Julie Wark, Counterpunch, May 8, 2018 [Full post]

“The poems…engage traumatised personal memory, suspect the objectivity of official discourse and explore the complications involved in forging a new future. This collection, therefore, does not only add to the ever-growing library of contemporary African poetry, but it does so in ways that will further the postcolonial conversations around nationhood, security and interethnic conflicts as they cross paths with ideas of autochthony, place, displacement and ecological interests in twenty-first century Africa.” Douglas E. Kazé, Transnational Literature