In November 2009 at Muhoza II sector in Musanze District, I got my first and probably the most important lesson regarding Rwanda’s post-Genocide reconstruction efforts. I was there to teach but ended up learning.
On the surface, the story of Rwanda’s resurgence after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi sounds like a mystery to most foreigners but when they get in, they are able to draw lessons from Rwandans who have lived and experienced it.
It was out of pure adventure on my part that I ended up at Muhoza II sector in the first place.
While on leave from my radio job in Uganda, I read in the papers a Rwanda Education Board (Reb) advert seeking teachers of English to train Rwandan teachers how to use English as a language of instruction in schools.
I am not a teacher but I have long regarded teaching as a form of communication where a teacher passes on knowledge to learners and just the previous year-2008, I had been awarded a degree in mass communication so I drafted an application letter in which I claimed to be the best person for the job.
Well, I got the job and along with thousands of other successful applicants, I travelled from Kampala on my first trip to Rwanda. After a week of briefing in Kigali, I was posted to Musanze District in Rwanda’s Northern Province and my training centre would be at Muhoza II primary school not far from the town centre.
That’s how I ended up standing before a group of 46 teachers, many of them old enough to be my parents. But it never mattered, they were humble and eager to hear from me.
The first session was a get-to-know each other and since I was the stranger in the room, I introduced myself first.
“My name is Kenneth Agutamba, a Ugandan and Munyoro by tribe from the great Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom…,” I bawled.
Later, it was their turn. What tripped off my curiosity was that none of them ever identified themselves by tribe like I had done. Among other details, they all mentioned their names, subject and class they taught, and ended with the proclamation; “I am a Rwandan.”
When I expressed my curiosity, one middle-aged male teacher, only identified as Theoneste offered to explain on behalf of the group.
“No, sir; we are all Rwandans.”
He went on to educate me that as a way of rebuilding the country based on a strong foundation of unity, post-Genocide leaders thought it wise to do away with divisive tribal classifications which were at the core of ethnic tension that culminated into an ugly climax-the 1994 Genocide.
I envied the group for their strong sense patriotism that has seen Rwandans conquer their petty pre-Genocide differences to build a model state.
Today, the tribal classifications of Twa, Tutsi and Hutu are insignificant to Rwanda’s post-Genocide national development agenda whose purpose is providing opportunity for all.
As we mark 20 years since the Genocide this month, many have talked of a need for African countries to draw lessons from Rwanda on nation-building; one such message should be the need to deracinate tribalism from national politics which is still a leading cause of civil unrest on the continent.
Ironically, in 2009, as my students explained their ‘Rwandanness’, Uganda was experiencing bloody clashes between the Buganda royalists and security forces after their Kabaka was barred from touring some part of the country. During the clashes, gangs targeted non-Baganda. Tribal tests were administered on Ugandans and a long nose automatically meant failure of the test and consequent torture of the victim; the ensuing clashes that left dozens dead stressed the danger posed by tribal divisions to Uganda’s post-independence politics.
In Kenya’s post-election violence of 2007, again, tribal politics was at the fore front of the deadly clashes that left thousands dead threatening an outbreak of a full scale civil war.
In South Sudan, tribal divisions between the Neur and Dinka have dashed the hopes of Africa’s youngest nation with tens of thousands of lives already claimed in the violent clashes.
In Central African Republic, clashes between the seleka and Balaka are already being likened to scenes in Rwanda’s 1994 Genocide. Unfortunately, politics Africa is still influenced by tribal and religious factions, a model left behind by colonialists who thrived on divide and rule.
Therefore, the real test for countries seeking to emulate Rwanda’s post-Genocide exploits is in how much they can do to uproot tribalism and sectarianism from national politics and work towards formulating inclusive policies that promote unbiased distribution of national resources for all nationals.
Kenneth Agutamba is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China.