How Rwanda was rebuilt on unique difficult choices of its people

Suspects during a Gacaca court session. This kind of justice system is one of the home grown solutions that has helped Rwanda heal from the genocide against the Tutsi. / File

Every year, July 4 marks the National Liberation Day, a time for Rwandans to reflect on the start of a new journey of collectively rebuilding their nation after the horrible 100-day1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was stopped.

It is also a time to celebrate the milestones achieved, which most of the times are earned as a result of Rwanda’s unique ability to make difficult choices against all odds.

Some of these choices, have at first been frowned upon by critics but Rwandans has prevailed and we have been vindicated.

As the country celebrated 25 years of liberation on July 4, we take this opportunity to highlight 5 key points that have contributed to Rwanda’s dignity as a nation: 

Consensual politics

Considering Rwanda’s post-independence politics which was marked by divisionism and exclusion of some groups of society, the post-liberation politics needed to adopt a new of type of re-engineered governance, rooted in fair and equitable power-sharing mechanisms.

Therefore, Rwanda adopted consensual politics, an unusual approach that involves a particular legalised arrangement to distribute power within different parts of the national society, on the basis of democratic principles.

This choice for consensual politics has been chosen over the confrontational approach. The setting up of a Forum for Political Parties is today proven to be a critical element that underpins Rwanda’s choice of Democracy; despite the fact that so many people across our borders did not get to understand this immediately.

Consensual Politics is simply not a familiar governance approach to many, but it has proved to work very well for us as Rwandans.

Gacaca courts – Reinventing a community-based judicial system

After the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi where over one million people were killed and many other unhuman crimes had been committed, Rwanda had to handle hundreds of thousands of genocide crimes, a process which would take about over 200 years using the normal justice system and this, in the eyes of many, seemed to be an unresolvable challenge for a country with very limited resources.

However, Rwanda adopted Gacaca courts, a system of community justice inspired by Rwandan tradition, where genocide perpetrators were tried by “Inyangamugayo” community judges within the community where they committed the crimes.

This judicial system was criticized by some Western scholars and countries at first before it could be recognized as one important contribution to Rwanda’s post-genocide justice system.

Through Gacaca Courts, Rwandans proved the capacity to solve their own problems, to mend the social fabric, revealed the truth about the Genocide; which had been prepared for a long-time ago and finally put in action by its perpetrators.

The capacity of Gacaca Courts to speed up cases of Genocide allowed Rwandans to remedy the slowness of the legal proceedings.

Moreover, Gacaca Courts were used as one of the ways to eradicate the culture of impunity and a lesson to respect human rights, especially the right to life and equality of all Rwandans before the law.

Gacaca Courts constitute finally, a way of re-invention of cultural values that had been ignored because of colonial inventions that sometimes did not fit the realities of the present. Gacaca Courts ended their activities successfully and Rwandans are proud of the giant step made.

High-end infrastructure

With Rwanda’s determination toward accelerated economic development through being a top destination for international events, meetings and conferences; the Government and the people have chosen to invest in high end infrastructure including 5-star hotels.

However, it is no surprise that many developing nations especially in Africa are still dictated upon by developed countries mainly the big donors on what their Government should do or shouldn’t.

In this regard, the construction of Serena Hotel and later the Kigali Convention Center first attracted huge criticism from giant nations and prominent people saying that it was not the country’s priority.

Today, Rwanda attracts regional; continental and world class conferences and events thanks to the unique choice to invest in such high-end infrastructure.

This year, Kigali, the Capital City of our nation, has been ranked the second most popular destination in Africa for international meetings and events by International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) after Cape Town in South Africa.

Visibility through branding and marketing

As a landlocked country with few mineral resources, but rich in natural beauty as well as in the culture and hospitality of people; Rwanda has decided to position its global image as Africa’s top tourist destination and has been investing in its visibility through realizing projects that advance the country’s branding and marketing, a pursuit that has many times been contested.

Many of the country’s strategic investments in this area have been globally criticized, though they end up producing spectacular results. For example, the recent case of Rwanda investing in Premier league football club Arsenal FC that couldn’t be understood by the rest of the world is now contributing massively in attracting tourists to visit Rwanda.

Today Rwanda receives 1.3million Tourists per annum. Rwanda is also a good example worth mentioning. It has connected Rwanda to the World despite the fact that people tend or want to focus on its perceived losses but ignoring the need to pay attention to what it helps to achieve both in terms of marketing and branding.

International relations and trade

When it comes to the international relations, Rwanda’s choice is solely the pursuit of what benefits its citizens’ welfare while also leveraging global opportunities.

The country has opened up to the World for development partnership based on a Win-Win principle and has chosen to oppose itself from Zero Sum diplomatic and trade relations.

Recent criticism of Rwanda’s decision to ban second-hand clothes boosted the promotion of Made in Rwanda clothes.

The above points are only representatives of many other areas including unusual ones. For example, the decision to integrating soldiers of the regime that had committed the genocide into the post-liberation Rwanda Defense Forces has never been seen elsewhere in Africa before.

In addition, Rwandans are currently known for finding homegrown-solutions to their challenges; this is rooted in our self-reliance values.

While it was resolved that Rwanda was not ready for organizing its own presidential elections in 2003 and none could finance them, Rwandans joined hands to fully finance this endeavor; and until today, we remain the main funder of our own elections; just to mention but a few.

In a nutshell, the choices we have made as Rwandans over the years have gotten us where we are now; making Rwanda to emerge as model for socio-economic development globally.

After Rwandans celebrated Liberation Day on July 4, it is worth thanking all fellow citizens for continued unified efforts and determination to overcome the fear and pressure and pursue those difficult choices that will continue to take our nation to even greater heights.

Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi is a Political Science Expert while Patrice Habinshuti is an International Development Expert.

The views expressed in this article are of the authors.