It’s been 20 years of unimaginable success; more needs to be done

Saturday March 29 2014

Christopher Kayumba

Christopher Kayumba 

By Christopher Kayumba

It is 20 years next week since the 1994 Genocide against Tutsis and 16 years since the end of Ex-FAR insurgence. This also means there has been peace throughout Rwanda’s territory since 1998 — something few imagined could happen 20 years ago.

Indeed, at the end of the genocide, some expected Rwanda to fail; reasoning that genocide had made it impossible for Hutus and Tutsis to ever live together in harmony.

Even in conflict management thinking, more than one-and-a-half decades of peace after a violent conflict is a positive sign that the wounds are healing. Societies that experience violence normally relapse into renewed violence within a decade if root causes of the violence are not addressed.

That Rwanda is still here, breathing the breath of nations 20 years after it was visited by lords of destruction, on its own is an achievement. This also makes it necessary to reflect on whether one can now safely say that the nation has moved beyond violent conflict to sustainable peace.

While there is peace throughout our land, sustainable peace also includes mitigating deeper causes of war—such as unbearable poverty, exclusion from the political realm or opportunities, lack of freedom, etc.

Broadly, post-genocide Rwanda is understood in two ways: An authoritarian state waiting to collapse propagated by scholars such as Filip Reyntjens and a post-conflict reconstruction model on a developmental course to be emulated (argued by researchers like David Booth and world personalities like former US president Bill Clinton and former British premier Tony Blair).

None of these standpoints properly describe or truthfully represent post-genocide Rwanda in its diversity. While the authoritarian school largely emphasises political factors such as civil and political rights, the success story model emphasises structural and social factors like poverty reduction, sustained economic growth, access to education and health etc.

At the core of the authoritarian view is the belief that Rwanda can never be democratic unless a Hutu is at the helm. They go further: How many Hutu and Tutsis are in government? In what positions?

One could argue that such researchers also hold that democracy in Rwanda must be equal to ethnic majority —as MRND party of former President Juvenal Habyarimana or MDR of Rwanda’s first post-independence president Grégoire Kayibanda once believed.

By delivering public good and ensuring equal opportunities alongside non-adversarial competition for power, promoters of the success model say, legitimacy will be secured and with it democracy.  

 Neither of these help us fully comprehend post-genocide Rwanda, which has made progress in both the political and social realms, though much still remains to be done or achieved. The country’s leadership has achieved a lot, which has surprised many as it has annoyed detractors.

Stated thus, Rwanda’s leaders would be better off devising a strategy that does four things: First, strengthen and consolidate the delivery of quality public goods while ensuring that equal access to opportunities in the public realm becomes a cultural.

This will bolster legitimacy and nurture national identity of Rwandanness (Ubunyarwanda).

Secondly, reinforce its mobilisation of elites, who might still believe in adversarial politics and the idea that ethnic majority equals democratic majority to accept and buy into the nobility of a politics based on programmatic appeals, consensus building and power-sharing.

Thirdly, bolster the deployment of soft forms of power—such as ideas through debate and public engagement in dealing with the political opposition; this also means launching a long-term nationwide campaign explaining why consensual democracy and power-sharing is superior to adversarial and exclusionist politics.

Finally, work on a formula that will, at some point, ensure and entrench peaceful transfer of power. This is critical not only because it demobilises thoughts of violent change of government but also ensures sustainable predictability while nurturing the culture of peaceful change of government. 

Dr Christopher Kayumba, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the University of Rwanda and Managing Consultant at MGC Consult Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @ckayumba