‘We cannot turn the clock back nor can we undo the harm caused, but we have the power to determine the future and to ensure that what happened never happens again.’ Paul Kagame, Rwandan President.
Exceptionally, allow me to use this weekly column to promote an initiative which I am affiliated to for it vindicates my beliefs about this country and what we try to do here; namely: the launch of the Humanitarium in Rwanda.
First, the background story. Last year, I learned with delight that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) considered scaling down its activities in Rwanda.
Growing up in the Great-Lakes region, the ICRC evoked three memories: armed conflicts, prisoners’ support and ugly but robust Toyota Land Cruisers with writings: ‘Uyu mwana uramuzi’ (Do you know this child); memories indeed, that I had not had for a while in Rwanda. ‘If the ICRC isn’t busy, I thought to myself, then our country is at peace – and will be for a long time…’
But on second thought, was it a reason to scale down; phase out? When was the last time that Switzerland, a known neutral country, was at war?
Why hasn’t the ICRC phased out in Geneva? Indeed as I learned more, I realised our country could even go beyond peace; our country could embody the capital of global principles – as it has already begun.
I learned that the humanitarian agency evokes other memories on other continents. In Dubai, Moscow and Geneva for instance, the ICRC is known as a Think-tank and a fundraiser on peace, international law, war, prisoners and humanitarian response; whereas in Japan it is known as a most precious client.
So, I was doubly pleased, when the ICRC expressed to me their need to launch the Humanitarium in Rwanda. I thought it was significant, twenty-five years after the war has ended.
What is the Humanitarium?
The Humanitarium is the ICRC Center for exchange and debate on humanitarian law, policy and action. Started in Geneva, Switzerland at the ICRC Headquarters, the Humanitarium has spread to Dubai, UAE; Moscow, Russia and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
‘The purpose of the Humanitarium is to facilitate dialogue, understanding and cooperation among the humanitarian, diplomatic, academic, media, civil society and military communities, both locally and globally, and so contribute to finding solutions to today’s humanitarian challenges.’
By African standards, the Humanitarium is a Baobab Tree and for Rwandans, a Gacaca, under which persons, young and old, experts and students, sit, talk and ask questions.
Why Kigali, Rwanda?
The Rwandan Constitution, Art. 10 (6) enshrines the foundational value of: ‘The constant quest for solutions, through dialogue and consensus.’
This leitmotiv has been at the core of the post-conflict political trajectory, the value has also been the broker and guarantor of peace, and a reason of this significant recalibration.
It is very fitting, as a true measure of peace and stability for the city of Kigali to host the ICRC in different terms: Terms of dialogue on peace.
The ICRC envisions continuing its prison support work too, however, it is an encouraging testimony, 25 years after the Genocide against the Tutsi, that an iconic international agency would reimagine its action and identity in the said country to keep at par with the newly found peace and normalcy.
I would like to confess another reason why I am using my column to endorse this initiative; when he announced it to me, the leader of the ICRC in Rwanda did not sound anxious and bitter due to looming obsolescence, instead he was full of ideas and perspectives on how to tailor his organisation’s vision to such a conducive context: I must say it was refreshing.
All visitors who come to Africa with philanthropic, at times godsend missions, at our invitation, soon adopt descriptive, normative and before we know it civilizing missions – against our will.
In Rwanda where such metamorphosis isn’t so smooth, given our bitter experience, visitors feel rather melancholic, when the time comes to adapt or say goodbye. And in their break-up letters, it seems, we are always at fault.
The Humanitarium arrangement is a relationship that is meant to last for it is based on the truth. When partners are able to embrace change, even though it requires a bit more efforts than the usual, their relationship grows and that prevents bitter break-ups.
If Kigali is as safe as Geneva, there is no reason why an agency would apply different standards to one, and not the other city. This is vindicating to me as a local activist, and I suspect it is vindicating to the City Council and to security organs too, both of whom do not sleep, so that peace experts from across the globe can frequently convene in Kigali to deliberate on peace principles and make planet-saving treaty amendments.
The Humanitarium will be an innovative and dynamic space, organized at different, convenient locations in the vibrant city of Kigali, the place of birth for the ‘Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians’
Who is invited: All are invited: (Students, Academics, politicians, Activists and Diplomats)
Theme: “Kigali Principles: Challenges and perspectives on Protection of civilians”
When: Friday, October 19 2018, from 2-5pm.
Where: Kigali Convention Centre
Panel: Top Experts and Government Official.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.