On July 4, the country celebrated 25 years after the Rwandan Patriotic Army (now RDF) liberated the country from the genocide regime and stopped the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The core problems the country faces today are different from those it faced 25 years ago just as the critical problems the country faced when the war of liberation was launched on October 1, 1990 are different from those of today.
When the war of liberation was launched on October 1, 1990, the country faced two critical problems: The first was ideological and the second developmental or crippling poverty.
Ideologically, former president Juvenal Habyarimana’s ruling party, MRND not only believed in the exclusion of Tutsi from all spaces of power but also denied Tutsi refugees the right to return to their country; a factor that justified the war besides dictatorship and mass human rights violations.
At the time of liberation on July 4, 1994, the RPF-led government inherited an even worse environment.
This environment was characterised by six key problems. These include: How to put in place a judicial system to punish thousands of genocide perpetrators; how to reunite the country and uproot the genocide ideology as well as how to return and resettle refugees while democratising power and putting the country back on the development course after destruction.
Twenty-five years after liberation, we can say that while some of the problems still persist in different shapes and sizes, most have been dealt with.
For instance, while UNHCR says that 244,786 Rwandan “asylum seekers” remain in different countries, over three million Rwandans have been returned and resettled since the day of liberation on July 4, 1994. Plus, the government encourages all Rwandans to return home.
Secondly, the country is united under one leadership and, thanks to liberators, a system of restorative justice was put in place to punish perpetrators of genocide while advancing the cause of reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
Thirdly, a political settlement based on consensual power-sharing was put in place and is undermining ethnic claims to power, regionalism and the role of religion in our politics.
Fourth, 25 years after liberation, the country has been put back on the development course and is scoring highly in the ease of doing business as well as on economic growth.
That said, however, as a country we are yet to defeat the logic of armed violence as a method of seeking to settle political disagreements as evidence by the persistence of FDLR and the birth of a new rebel group known “P5” as the UN Group of Experts report showed in December 2018.
Defeating these rebel groups is as important as defeating the persistence in the minds of some of our elites that armed rebellion is a choice to fight government where there is no just cause.
The bigger enemy of our time however is poverty.
In 2016, a National Institute of Statistics survey showed that Rwandans living under the poverty line had declined to 39.1 per cent in 2014 down from 46 per cent in 2010 and 57 per cent in 2005 respectively.
While many at time hailed the improvement, these poverty levels are still high considering that a minimalist “basic needs” understanding of poverty was taken when taking these measures and the costing of living has been rising since.
With the increasing cost of living and doubling food prices in the past one year, there is reason to believe that poverty levels especially in urban centres might be increasing today.
This is due to the fact that while unemployment seemed low at about 17 per cent in 2017, a survey by the National Institute of statistics showed that 91 per cent of the employed are in the informal sector and that 30 per cent of them are “underemployed.”
In addition, food prices, as media reports show have more than doubled in the past year or so.
What these figures tell us is that real poverty is higher considering that there are many in the informal sector with no real and dependable income.
In view of the fact that poverty has been our nation’s enduring problem that has always risen to the surface whenever political violence has erupted from 1959 when houses belonging to Tutsis were burnt, many killed and others forced into exile to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, everything must be done to fight and end poverty.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter account: @Ckayumba