Kwibuka25: Overcoming the challenges of reconciliation

Sunday April 7 2019

 Genocide against the Tutsi

A picture taken on April 29, 2018 shows the flame of Remembrance under a full moon at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. The country on Sunday commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP 

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I approached the Kigali Genocide Memorial with trepidation.

I had a clue of what to expect, having read about the history of horrors housed here.

Walking through the past, reading through the testimonies of children who were affected, seeing the skulls and skeletons of those who were killed and standing on the mass grave of 259,000 people buried beneath was emotionally wrenching.

In between, however, was the heart-warming record of how the country dealt with its past and moved forward, winning global acclaim along the way.

“The Rwanda story is extra-ordinary and I hear it on all my travels. It’s an example for everybody across the world that stability and security are key to prosperity evident in the good business environment, steady economic growth above seven per cent and low unemployment at 16 per cent,” said Emma-Wade Smith, the UK trade commissioner for Africa.

Before the colonialists introduced the divide and rule policies, Rwanda was the most unlikely place to sow ethnic hatred, with its three communities—Hutu, Tutsi and Twa—who nevertheless spoke the same language.


The colonialists resorted to the most dubious of classifications—the length of the nose and the number of cattle owned—to divide and rule the country.

The monarchy was deposed and over time liberation movements were demonised. The progressive build-up of ethnic grievances eventually led to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Johnston Busingye, the Minister for Justice and Attorney General, says the government tried to make sense of what had happened on four fronts—delivering justice; rebuilding the economy, streamlining politics and resettling the displaced, including refugees.

“We addressed the genocide ideology by going back to the roots, using the facts of history, culture and traditions. We encouraged the youth to get together and practised unity in all spheres of governance,” said Mr Busingye.

He pointed to the age and gender mix in parliament as evidence that all Rwandans can contribute to the country’s transformation and everyone had been given space to be “leaders now.”

Genocide denial

However, genocide denial—a narrative that the macabre killings of 1994 were a result of civil war and that the Rwandan Patriotic Front, the ruling political party also committed atrocities against the Hutu—is one of the challenges the government is facing in sustaining the unity in the country.

Mr Busingye said the ideology was being perpetrated by genocide fugitives, most of them hiding in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“We take it as a matter of infiltration. For the region to address insecurity and other dynamics, it should focus on ideology,” he said.

The international community is increasingly supporting action on genocide fugitives by signing extradition and prisoner exchange programmes, the latest being with Malawi.

Other countries in the region that have signed extradition treaties with Rwanda include Kenya, Congo Brazzaville, Zambia, Ethiopia and Morocco.

An extradition treaty had been signed with Uganda but has stalled while being taken through amendments by the two countries.

Three months ago, senior leaders of the armed rebel group the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), were tracked by DR Congo forces on their way to Uganda. They were arrested on the way back and handed over to Rwanda.

There have also been signs of thawing relations between France and Rwanda, which have been icy since France accused RPF of shooting down the aircraft carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994.

The assassinations left a vacuum that was exploited by the Interahamwe militia to execute the genocide.

France has the highest indictment requests among European countries related to genocide.

“The body language of leaders shows there is a window to review these kind of issues and we hope this warming of relations will continue. We do not want to entangle the future with the past because the two countries also have strategic interests,” said Mr Busingye.

'Victor’s justice'

Transitional justice experts, however, argue that the reconciliation and unity amounts to what one called “victor’s justice,” because the atrocities against the Hutu, despite their being the main targets of the killings, needed to be recognised and closure sought.

“The Gacaca courts tried mostly Hutus. One imagines there were revenge attacks by Tutsis but these have not been assessed and acted on,” said Allan Ngari, a senior researcher on transnational threats and international crime with the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria.

Rwanda Co-operation Initiative CEO Louis-Antoine Muhire, said reconciliation was now faced with the challenges of a widening income gap, lack of traction of the unity message among the youth and technology that has seen ethnic hatred fuelled from outside the country.

Despite the country adopting e-recruitment in the public sector, the reconciliation commission on which Mr Muhire sits, has found that jobs are going to Rwandans in the diaspora or those who have attended good schools locally, read children of the rich.

“We are establishing public schools in selected areas to address this. On the question of apathy among the youth and technology, we find ourselves not having the tools to deal with it yet,” said Mr Muhire.

Yet the threat to the unity from these factors is real. During the recent Miss Rwanda beauty pageant, two contestants who did not make the cut said that they were discriminated against because of who they were, provoking a divisive debate on social media.

Joseph Nkurunziza, the founder of the peace building organisation Never Again, said the country was not safe from the genocide ideology instilled by successive governments from 1959.

“More time and resources are required to educate people to respect others and the rule of law. A firm, independent judiciary, other institutions and political will are required to enhance and safeguard social cohesion,” said Dr Nkurunziza.

A big elephant in the Rwanda space is whether the country would remain as cohesive and progressive when the charismatic Paul Kagame leaves the political scene.