In the seventh episode of of Black Earth Rising, Kate Ashby (Michaela Coel) learns that the story of her life wasn't the right story. Here's the narrative Kate's adoptive mother, Eve (Harriet Walker), had told her: During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which was carried out by the country's Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority and resulted in 800,000 deaths, a young Kate was rescued by an aid worker. She was the sole survivor of her Tutsi village.
Naturally, Kate grew up identifying as Tutsi, and was thus furious when her mother, an international barrister, decided to prosecute Tutsi General Simon Nyamoya (Danny Spiani), for war crimes. What war crimes? Kate thought. Nyamoya was the hero of the Tutsi resistance; there were other people involved in the genocide worth going after. Then, Kate learns who she really is – and her opinion on Simon Nyamoya changes.
In Black Earth Rising, Kate is surrounded by adults who know something she does not about her identity — from her mother to her boss, Michael (John Goodman). It's Michael who eventually comes clean. After the Tutsi army took the Rwandan capital and put a stop to the genocide, many Hutus took refuge in Zaire, a country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nestled among the innocent Hutu refugees were perpetrators of the genocide, like the show's Patrice Ganimana (Tyrone Huggins).
Back in Rwanda, an ethnic Tutsi army formed and headed towards the camps with the intention of wiping out the Hutu population, and any former perpetrators who may be hiding out among them. In 1997, the Tutsi army wiped out some 50,000 women, children, and sickly Hutus at a refugee camp. That is where Kate was rescued by the aid worker Ed Holt. Kate was so sickly she nearly died, but recovered. When she moved to England, her mother, Eve, changed her identity to Tutsi to ease her transition to England easier.
For years, the massacre at the camp remained ignored by the international community. The massacre complicated the narrative of the genocide — as it turns out, the "good guys" also perpetrated violence. Also, in comparison to the 800,000 Tutsis slaughtered, 50,000 refugees wasn't enough for the community to be riled up (crazy, we know).
At this point in Black Earth Rising, Rwandan national hero Alice Munezaro (Noma Dumezweni), and Eunice Clayton (Tamara Tunie) of the U.S. State Department decide to make that wrong right. They've been harboring the truth of the camp for too long. Their decision has major repercussions for everyone in the show. Alice returns to Rwanda and gives a publicized speech ousting the cover-up — but at the moment when she's supposed to play the tapes with proof of the massacre, her plan is foiled. The tapes had been stolen (more on that later). Left without tangible evidence, Alice is arrested. Further, Eunice is fired from her position at the State Department for testifying about what she saw while working for an NGO at the camps.
Only Kate can find proof of the massacre — especially since the Americans, in a scene of harrowing indifference, pointedly refused to search for the graves. Kate travels to Congo to search for the mass graves of her family and former Hutus. But there is a party of people — actually, many people – who don't want her to find the graves. Because that would mean a loss of profit and an unraveling of a massive conspiracy between the Rwandan government, a mining company, and the perpetrator of the massacre.
Yep, the finale has one more conspiracy. The graves happen to be located near Kromin's mines. Kromin, a mining company working in the region, has been paying off Patrice Ganimana and his army $23 million annually to not interfere with its mining endeavors, and to keep peace in the region so Krmin's coltan could be called "conflict free." David Runihura (Lucian Msamati), the special advisor to Rwanda's president, is also involved with the scheme. As Michael summarizes, a leading member of the government "is paying millions in protection to a many his government regarded as the very Devil" in order to make sure its mining endeavors remain conflict free and profitable.
So, at the order of Ganimana's army, exiled Hutu Florence (Emmanuel Imani) is ordered to show Kate the grave — and then kill her — in exchange for a Rwandan passport. Instead, he lets her free. A group of villagers carrying shovels meet her at the site. Together, they dig up the graves. In this awful yet cathartic moment, Kate is able to reclaim her identity and face her past. Afterwards, Kate moves to Rwanda, a country she left as a child and may one day become her home again.
This isn't necessarily a happy ending – but it's an ending that shows things can change for Kate, and for Rwanda. In a deal forged with Britain, which had found out about the Kromin-Ganimana conspiracy, Alice Munezaro is released from prison and can join the government, chipping away at the president's near impenetrable hold on the country. As for the conspiracists? David Runihura quits the government (and is later bitten by a snake), eliminating the possibility with future deals with genocidaires. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ganimana throws himself in front of a bus.
With Alice back in the government, the people of Rwanda can further reckon with their past. "My claims about our past had to be investigated. The truth established. And those claims vindicated, "Alice says upon leaving prison. "I believe that acknowledging our whole past allows us to move forward together, stronger than before. There is much work to do Hurt and divisions to be healed. Justice to pursue. Yet, I foresee only a brighter future."
It should come as no surprise that a show this dire and harrowing could also end on a positive note. It's also a show about remarkably resilient and moral people. When they're in charge — and they are in charge, at the end — hope for a better future is not unfounded.