Event ReportsPublished on May 22, 2015
As Rwanda commemorates 1994 genocide, now it has become a global example of successful post-conflict reconstruction. A talk at ORF by Rwandan High Commissioner Ernest Rwamucyo focussed on post-genocide Rwanda's unique story where ownership and innovative "home-grown solutions" helped re-construct the nation.
Post-Genocide Rwanda's dramatic transition

In weeks after April 7, 1994, the world witnessed tragic events unfolding in Rwanda where in less than 100 days, 800, 000 men, women, and children lost their lives to the genocide. In the 21 years since the tragedy, as Rwanda commemorates and remembers the past, it is looking at a strong future and has become a global example of successful post-conflict reconstruction.

ORF organised a talk by Mr. Ernest Rwamucyo, High Commissioner of Rwanda, on "Ownership, Leadership and State-Citizen Relationship: Insights from Post - Genocide Rwanda" on May 13, 2015. The talk was chaired by Ambassador H H S Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF. The talk focussed on post-genocide Rwanda’s unique story where ownership and innovative "home-grown solutions" helped re-construct the nation from the ground up.

In his welcome address, Amb. Viswanathan noted that Rwanda has come a long way since 1994. The world stood by while the tragedy took place in Rwanda but the manner in which the nation had re-built itself, without much involvement from the international community, is exemplary. Highlighting the important role played by Rwanda in the African Union, he added that India and Rwanda could explore many opportunities for cooperation in the forthcoming India-Africa Summit in October.

The Ambassador observed that today Rwanda is considered a success story "not because of where it has reached, but because of where it started".

The High Commissioner commenced the talk by acknowledging that the strong level of engagement in the India-Africa relationship is enriching to both regions. The entire African continent has progressed in the last two decades. It has experienced economic growth, the number of conflicts has decreased and many nations are now active democracies. The region has also witnessed unprecedented amounts of Foreign Direct Investment and mobile phone penetration. Rwanda, His Excellency added, is not an isolated community anymore. It had experienced renewed hope and is hoping to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend.

After the genocide, Rwanda was a failed state. The Economy had been destroyed and there was a total breakdown of governance. The International community had written off the possibility of a unified Rwanda with Hutus and Tutsis amidst suggestions for the creation of two separate states.

But Rwanda survived. The High Commissioner stated that "ownership and responsibility" played a significant role in the nation’s painful healing process. The divisive identity politics between Hutus and Tutsis may have had roots in the country’s colonial past, however, it was established that "Rwandans had killed Rwandans and therefore, Rwandans must take responsibility of the devastation". Consequently, deliberate efforts were made to re-forge a unifying identity as opposed to institutionalising the difference.

The High Commissioner highlighted that the model of ’classical justice’ with legal trial courts wasn’t employed in Rwanda. Instead, ’Gacaca Courts’ were set up. These courts brought the victims and the perpetrators face to face. Victims could voice their pain while perpetrators had to take ownership. This community level, transitional justice was crucial in promoting communal healing.

Further, the devastation had left almost half of the Rwandan population displaced. With a total population of 7 million people in 1994, Rwanda was faced by the tremendous challenge of re-habilitating almost 3.2 million refugees and thousands Internally Displaced Persons. Today, most of these refugees have returned. Many households were also categorised as ’child-headed households’. In light of these unique problems and the lack of sufficient resources, "home-grown solutions" were devised. Economic and efficient governance, high accountability, and transparent democratic reforms were brought forward. In 2003, the new constitution mandated citizens’ participation in a competitive democracy. Simultaneously, market-oriented reforms, judicial reforms, women’s empowerment, and de-centralisation were made key themes in governance.

Additionally, The High Commissioner noted that Rwanda did not rely heavily on international aid as it needed to set an independent agenda; aid could mean aligning priorities with those of the donors. Further, he added that "zero-tolerance for corruption" and a "visionary, charismatic leadership" were critical in the success of these strategies. Rwanda set clear, short-term, measurable targets and held accountability to deliver on them.

Citizen’s engagement was also made an important priority. While Rwanda’s de-centralisation process has been inspired from a host of other countries - it mainly banks on active citizenship. For instance, ’Umuganda’ is a monthly, mandatory community service day where citizens contribute towards nation-building. Hence, post-genocide Rwanda has concentrated on innovative home=grown solutions that consume minimum resources but create high impact.

Highlighting the under-utilised potential of women in societies, His Excellency cited the 64 per cent representation of women in the Rwandan parliament - highest in the world. Gender-based violence is also recognised as a security threat in Rwanda. The power of Information-technology must be harnessed to build capabilities. Social media can now play a huge role in post-conflict reconstruction. Further, the potential of Diasporas is often under-utilised and mechanisms can be devised to harness their contributions. The need of the hour is for nations to open up, pool best practices and make sure they’re executed, His Excellency observed.

The Ethiopian Ambassador to India, Dr. Genet Zewide, lauded Rwanda’s strategy of inclusive citizen participation where women, elderly, children, all contributed towards nation-building. The Ambassador noted that women in Africa and elsewhere are not fully utilised in the economy. Further, Ambassador Zewide emphasised that sometimes western models do not work in the global south due to differences in cultures and economic situations. Therefore, looking inwards for solution is important.

The talk was followed by an enlightening question and answer session. It was established that in post-genocide Rwanda, national reconciliation was an existential issue and therefore, all barriers of discrimination such as ethnicity, region, religion and gender had to be broken down through effective policy measures. The state’s efforts to build trust within communities were also critical. The government made it a point to ensure ease of access to education, irrespective of the background of the pupil. Today, Rwandans are entitled to up to 9 years of basic education and the government is aiming to enhance the quality and include education for children with special needs. It was further established that economic development is the glue that brings everything together and therefore, delivering results for the populations is significant.

(This report is prepared by Vidisha Mishra, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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