This week, Rwanda commemorates a quarter century after the end of the fastest genocide in living memory and the worst human inflicted scar of the 20th century; where human beings, once again, showed their propensity for evil.
Twenty-five years ago, on the evening of April 6, 1994, the Genocide against the Tutsis, which would last for 100 days, began after the plane that was carrying former Rwanda President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundi’s Cyprien Ntaryamira from Arusha was brought down in Kigali by Hutu extremists in government.
By the time the genocide was stopped in July 1994, over one million people had been brutally killed and the future looked bleak not only for survivors but also the very survival of the nation called Rwanda was in doubt.
As we remember our loved ones, there are many things to recall, especially the resilience of survivors and the spirit of Never Again being sired in the younger generation.
But for me, the greatest achievement of President Paul Kagame’s government in the past 25 years is the twin-feat of rescuing the nation from the claws of a “failed state” and keeping it united under a single state with citizens sharing a common destiny despite initial doubts by some.
For without this, it wouldn’t have been possible to embark on the nation’s reconstruction, remembrance, reconciliation and development that many hail today.
Yet, looking back, it was never a given or self-evident that the nation would be reunited as a single entity. For, in the aftermath of the genocide, there was no consensus that Rwanda would remain united under one leadership and a common destiny of Hutus, TWA, and Tutsis as Rwandans.
At the time, some observers, including respected individuals like former Presidents Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya and Godfrey Binaisa of Uganda were advancing the idea of creating two separate nations; one for Hutus the “Hutuland” and “Tutsiland” for Tutsis.
Renowned Tanzanian writer Godfrey Mwakikagile quotes Moi as saying in April 1998 that: “The Hutu should have their country and the Tutsi should also have their own in order to end conflicts between them.” In the book titled, Peace and Stability in Rwanda and Burundi, Mwakikagile also supported dividing Rwanda into a “Hutuland” and “Tutsiland.”
While probably advanced with good intentions, this idea isn’t different from the beliefs of genocide masterminds who, in conceiving the genocide, wanted not only to eliminate all Tutsi from Rwanda, but to also create an exclusively Hutu nation.
Promoting this idea, hate media magazine known as Kangura of now ICTR-jailed Hassan Ngeze wrote similar sentiments in March 1993.
That genocide planners failed in their mission and the nation reconstructed is a noble achievement of high proportion. So, how did the Rwandese Patriotic Army/Front (RPA/F) manage to reunite the country and embark on the reconciliation path despite insurmountable challenges?
Seven policy decisions and actions explain the Rwanda of today. The first is the undisputable defeat of the genocidal regime and dismantling its hideout in the then Zaire now the DR Congo.
The second is the return of refugees who were being held hostage by genocidaires as a way of denying the RPF a population to govern. The third is instituting restorative justice under Gacaca to try ordinary participants in the genocide.
The success of this policy undermined the genocide ideologues belief that if they forced as many Hutus to kill, even if they were militarily defeated, the new government wouldn’t try them due to their large number.
The fourth is reintegrating some members of Habyarimana’s army (FAR) into the national army (RDF) and demobilising others with a package to ensure they would have a decent life in civilian life. The fifth is pursuing a multipronged foreign policy that took on enemies like France that still supported genocidaires while at the same time courting new powerful friends like the US and the UK to back the new government.
The sixth is embarking on the reconciliation and rewarding Rwandanness at the expense of ethnic identification. Finally, ensuring fair access to opportunities like education regardless of ethnicity is consolidating achievements.
Moving forward, the challenge lies in how to consolidate “consensual democracy” where all political actors freely participate; forever banish the genocide ideology to the footnote of history and defeat poverty within an environment of free debate.
The greatest lesson though is that ideas matter. While genociadires sought to wipe out Tutsi, Kagame’s RPF has united all around a common identity and destiny.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, e-mail: ckayumba@ yahoo.com; twitter account: @Ckayumba