By Abel Bunungu:
April 7 this year marked exactly 25 years since the commencement of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda. With a theme ‘Remember- Unite-Renew’, Rwandans and the United Nations (UN) fraternity commemorated the genocide that brought the country to its knees.
The High Commission—which is resident in Lusaka, Zambia, but is also accredited to the Republic of Malawi—held the same commemoration on April 8 2019 in Zambia and will be holding another in Lilongwe, Malawi, on April 12.
The UN General Assembly (UNGA) and the African Union (AU) Summit, in Decisions 72/550 and 695, respectively, designated April 7 as the International day of Reflection and day of Commemoration of the Genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda.
This commemoration raises awareness to all humanity on the value of life. It helps us reflect, as well as reaffirm, the collective responsibility of preventing genocide on the continent and beyond.
On this day of remembrance, we pay homage to the victims as well as reflect on the transformational journey that Rwanda has travelled in the last 25 years.
Undeniably, Rwanda’s history is often seen through the unfortunate prism of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis which involved gruesome mass killing of the Tutsi population and moderate Hutus; killings planned, instigated and mercilessly carried out by the brutal regime of that time.
This climax of the senseless killings was preceded by unrestrained proliferation of ethnic-oriented politics that targeted the Tutsis. This has historical roots in the divide-and-rule policy by Rwanda’s colonial masters, which got entrenched by post-independence republics until 1994.
Indeed, a contrast of Rwanda’s pre-July 1994 and post-July 1994 is a living testimony of what both bad and good governance do represent to a country and people.
During the 100 apocalyptic days at the near-close of the 20th Century, that ran from April 7 to the liberation of Rwanda on July 4 1994, over a million innocent men, women and children were mercilessly butchered, making it the fastest genocide in history, with an average of over 10,000 deaths per day.
The genocidal government led a well-orchestrated propaganda campaign of hate, disseminated through both public and private extremist media outlets, both voice and print. The most notorious killing machinery during the genocide involved government-recruited, trained and resourced youth militia known as the Interahamwe (meaning ‘those who attack together’), the National Army and the National Police.
With government sensitisation, some ordinary extremist citizens joined the slaughter against their Tutsi neighbours and, in some cases of intermarriage, even their own family members. Evil collaboration as well as financing and direction by government explain the speedy execution of this carnage.
Military, police and militia roadblocks were mounted across the country to hunt down Tutsis. Because all Rwandese share one language and culture, individual national identity (ID) cards, which at the time, identified Rwandese by their ethnic groups (Hutus, Tutsis and Twas), were used in identifying those to be killed.
The brutal attacks did not spare churches as some members of the clergy, especially within the Catholic Church, partook in the killing spree. Some of the notorious churches, where Tutsis were hoodwinked into taking refuge only to be butchered there in their thousands, have been turned into genocide memorial sites.
To compound this human catastrophe, Rwanda’s greatest hour of need was met with inaction from the international community. This is despite all the warning, including by the Commander of the UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda, Gen Romeo Dallaire.
A force that was deployed in Rwanda at the time, unfortunately, ran for dear life once the genocide begun on April 7 1994.
It was the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), now the ruling party, that heroically and, against many odds, moved quickly to stop the genocide. The genocide was thus stopped and the entire country liberated by July 4 1994.
We cannot thank them enough for their heroic intervention. We owe a lot to this liberation force for the sanity brought in a country that had been turned into a slaughter house for a part of her population merely because of how they were born.
Given the extreme low base that Rwanda started from as an aftermath of the genocide, it is no overstatement to see the socio-economic progress in the last 25 years as a miracle. It is thanks to the resilience of Rwandans and many home-grown pro-people policies that we now have a reconciled and united people and an impressive economic growth that has averaged between 7 and 8 percent in the last 15 years.
The country is among the most secure, not only on the continent, but beyond too. We are a country that, given her history, has come to value security and safety so much that it now has also made a mark in her contribution towards global peace and security. Rwanda now ranks fifth among largest Troupe Contributing Countries for Peacekeeping operations.
Rwanda’s commitment to economic and regional integration within the East African Community, Comesa and the AU is exemplary. Government has, since 2000, put private-sector development at the forefront of her economic transformation.
Diversification of the economy has been at the centre of the country’s transformation agenda where priorities include the service industry; modernisation of agriculture and manufacturing. As an enabler for the economic transformation desired, infrastructure has seen a real facelift across the country.
Other big regional infrastructural projects, which include the SGR line from Isaka, Tanzania, through to the Rwandan border, are in the offing. Many poverty-reduction strategies and initiatives have been prioritised and all this aims at attaining middle-income status and a knowledge-driven economy.
Rwanda now ranks 29th easiest place to do business globally and it is 2nd on the continent (World Bank Doing Business Report, 2019). Since 2005, Rwanda’s consistent focus on business climate reform has produced the biggest cumulative improvement of all countries measured by the World Bank, rising from a ranking of 150th globally in 2005, to 29th in 2019.
Transparency International ranks Rwanda as the least corrupt in East Africa, 4th in Africa and 48th globally out of 180 countries (Corruption Perception Index of 2018). In 2018, Rwanda’s economy grew at 8.6 percent contrary to the initial projection by the International Monetary Fund. This elevates the current Gross Domestic Product per capita to $787, up from a meagre $216 in 2000. The economy is projected to grow by 7.8 percent in 2019.
In addition to economic progress, notable strides have been made in government’s pursuit of a values-based society that is devoid of ethnic discrimination. Guided by the leadership, Rwandese, after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, chose to build unity of purpose, be accountable and think big.
The notorious national IDs that identified Rwandese by their so-called ethnic groups were immediately abolished after liberation by the RPF and replaced by those that identify one as Rwandan.
Through many home – grown initiatives and pro-poor socioeconomic policies, Rwandese are continually benefiting from growing equitable grassroots development, more delivery of previously non-existent or decimated essential services, restoration of vital infrastructure and improved access to basic health coverage and education.
About 90 percent of Rwandan citizens currently enjoy basic medical health cover with the resultant lifespan raised to 67 years.
Typical to countries that undergo post-conflict reconstruction, justice and reconciliation have been at the centre of Rwanda’s post-genocide transformation.
From inception of the reconstruction process, Rwanda’s leadership implemented a conscious strategy of transitional justice in the form of Gacaca courts as an alternative for conventional judicial review.
This enabled a rapid restorative justice process which, consequently, contributed to the reconciliation process as well as peace, law and order. Presently, Rwanda ranks 2nd in Africa and 40th globally in the Global Law and Order report (2018).
On another note, however, and as genocide scholars would attest, Rwanda is still faced with genocide-related challenges.
According to Gregory H. Stanton, founder and president of Genocide Watch, genocide is split into eight distinct phases which are classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, extermination and denial.
To date, Rwanda is still confronted by the 8th phase of the genocide which is denial or revisionism. The ongoing denial is propagated by remnants among perpetrators of the 1994 massacre along with their support networks across the globe.
It is thus vital that the international community plays its part in decisively defeating this last phase of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis.
This can be done by fighting genocide-related impunity by acting on indictments issued by Rwanda Government against genocide suspects that still roam freely both on the continent and beyond.
On another note, it is encouraging that we have recently seen an increase in extraditions of genocide suspects. Countries that have recently proactively either extradited to Rwanda or successfully tried suspects for the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in their own jurisdictions include the US (four), Canada (four), the Netherlands (five), Sweden (two), Norway (two), Finland (one), France (one), Belgium (one), Germany (one) and Malawi (one).
Within the immediate region, Malawi extradited genocide convict Vincent Murekezi in January this year. Murekezi, who fled to Malawi in 2003, was tried in absentia and handed a life sentence by a Gacaca court in Rwanda.
This extradition came after Malawi and Rwanda had signed an Extradition Treaty as well as a Memorandum of Understanding on exchange of prisoners, earlier in February 2017. We cannot thank the government and people of Malawi enough for this noble act of fighting genocide-related impunity.
In conclusion, despite continued proliferation of genocide denial/ revisionism by some genocide suspects and their adherents across the globe, the growing fight of members of the international community against genocide-related impunity is evidence that genocide fugitives no longer have an indefinite safe haven.
Otherwise, as said by Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame during the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, we, as Rwandans, “made three fundamental choices: (i) We chose to stay together; (ii) we chose to be accountable to ourselves; and (iii) we chose to think big”.
With the assured resilience of Rwandans, continued unity of purpose and a stewardship that thinks big and delivers, we have all the faith in achieving the very future we yearn and deserve.
The author is counsellor at the Rwanda High Commission in Zambia which is also accredited to Malawi.
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