IRDP LAUNCHES A GROUNDBREAKING STUDY ON ETHNIC IDENTITY AND SOCIAL COHESION IN RWANDA

By Godfrey Ntagungira The National Group Meeting of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace attracted over 150 representatives from across Rwanda and from the Diaspora that gathered at Hotel des Mille Collines to discuss obstacles to lasting peace related to the two research themes that were presented this year: “Ethnic Identity and Social Cohesion: Critical analysis of social, political and economic challenges” and “Citizen Participation in Democratic Governance”.

By Godfrey Ntagungira

The National Group Meeting of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace attracted over 150 representatives from across Rwanda and from the Diaspora that gathered at Hotel des Mille Collines to discuss obstacles to lasting peace related to the two research themes that were presented this year: “Ethnic Identity and Social Cohesion: Critical analysis of social, political and economic challenges” and “Citizen Participation in Democratic Governance”. The National Group is the ultimate validation authority of IRDP research results, which also gives the Institute its future mandate. 

Several distinguished personalities attended the meeting:
Former President of Ghana John Kufuor as Chairman of the Interpeace Governing Council, an international peace building organization, opened the National Group Meeting of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), a local partner organization on Friday 15th .

During the launch, the former president also launched a study on Ethnic Identity and Social Cohesion in Rwanda. The study was done through IRDP in partnership with Interpeace.

In his keynote address the former President Kufuor, said that Rwanda is fully involved in the global and African transformation. “Your re-building efforts are bearing fruits based on Rwandan people’s dedication to reconciliation and reconstruction.

“Like much of our continent, we are well on the way to recovery, thanks to economic progress and social transformation achieved through good, responsive and participatory governance” Kufuor said

"I have always wanted an opportunity to come to Rwanda and fortunately I was invited by IRDP to participate in the peace conference," he said.

Kufuor said that a society is viable and peaceful when it is equipped with the institutions, mechanisms, processes, legitimate governance and collective political identity that permit the diverse and often contradictory interests of its population to be managed openly and non-violently and where the basic human rights of every citizen are protected.

Speaking about how the world perceives Rwanda in terms of security, the former President said that the country is considered as very secure, peaceful and stable.

"In my opinion I believe Rwanda is perceived, around the world, as a country that pulled itself from the ashes of conflict to stability, peace and progress. This should serve as an object lesson for all other countries torn by conflicts," he said.

Kufuor's schedule also included a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali and a tour of the newly opened IRDP Peace Centre, where the public has free access to documentation related to Peace building, internet and IRDP documentary films. Minister for Cabinet Affairs Mr. Protais Musoni noted that IRDP\Interpeace program has built an open, neutral space, uruvugiro - permanent debate platforms - locally, provincially, nationally, and amongst the diaspora.

“You’re playing a big role in overcoming Rwandans' reluctance to confront their past, to reinforce democracy and the rule of law, to combat poverty and to eliminate genocidal ideology and its origins. You’re doing a great work in improving our collective ability to promote sustainable peace. “he said.

Musoni said that with an increasing base of support from governments and private individuals, IRDP\Interpeace partnership is making important progress in demonstrating that sustainable peace is achievable and that we are right to be hopeful for the future.

“And lastly, I would like to thank the members of the governing council of IRDP and Interpeace, who provided such strong backing and wise guidance to the challenging work”

During the launch the Director of IRDP, Prof. Pierre Rwanyindo took the opportunity to thank Interpeace leadership for the dedication that make them true partners for Rwandan society in the peace building process.

Prof. Rwanyindo reminded the participants that IRDP conducts research on issues ranging from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, unity, understanding democracy and the rule of law. Its findings and recommendations are normally handed over to the government and members of the civil society.

The following day Saturday , the Institute also inaugurated another new study on "Citizen’s Participation for Democracy  in Rwanda ," a year-long project that looks at critical issues of participation and democracy concepts related to analyses how efficient are representatives and accountability through the relation between the elected representatives and the voters on the one hand and the governance institutions.

The overall goal of the study is to establish a culture of dialogue and debate which the Institute believes will cement trust within the Rwandan population.

Interpeace and the IRDP began work in 2001 by conducting a broad consultation exercise with Rwandans from all sectors of society and regions of the country, and with members of the diaspora on the priority issues to ensure lasting peace.

In 2004-2005, the IRDP led a dialogue and research process on these priority issues and on possible solutions to the peace building challenges facing Rwanda. Programme staff are now working to implement the findings and recommendations that emerged from the research and dialogue process and to reinforce the culture of dialogue that IRDP has contributed to establish in the Rwandan society over the past years.

The IRDP has also created a number of dialogue forums in secondary schools to raise youth awareness of democratic principles and tolerance. The forums are a continuation of IRDP's involvement in developing new teaching material on Rwandan history, as this subject had not been taught since 1994, with textbook material being believed to promote division;

“We have conducted participatory research on controversial issues affecting national stability; ensuring the policy recommendations that emerged from public consultations are integrated into national policies and programmes” he said,

Prof. Rwanyindo said 16 years after the genocide, tremendous efforts have been made by the government to develop the country and foster reconciliation but according to research there is still a certain level of mistrust prevails.

Yet, a long-term engagement is still needed to address issues, such as dealing with the past, strengthening the rule of law, and democracy, if Rwanda is to move forward in its socio-economic development and to consolidate peace.

With IRDP the process of ongoing analysis became its own guarantor: because it was an open, inclusive process of discussion, followed by research which was seen as objective, with careful and visible documentation, the results as well as the process were accepted as trustworthy.

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Study REVIEW: Inside "Ethnic identity and social cohesion in Rwanda"

The study carries a critical analysis, on political, social and economic challenges in the country related on ethnic identities and their management. Since its creation in 2001, the Institute for Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), engaged Rwandans in a collective reflection on the challenges to consolidating peace in Rwanda.

Among the themes that were repeatedly mentioned by Rwandans as major obstacles to social cohesion is particularly the question of ethnic identity.

As you read the following sections of this report, you will see that IRDP has made groundbreaking impact by addressing an issue that is considered taboo in the Rwandan society.

In the past, Rwanda experienced a zero rule of law when genocide was implemented. The country which was in an apocalyptic situation where any observer could doubt that any hope for the reconstruction was possible. Now days, citizens are working, they undertake various activities and the country is well managed.

The report also states in its findings that over a half of the total population respondents considers that social relationships are good but it it’s a matter of comparing the current situation with other one in 1994.

During the research, focus groups revealed that remembering the beloved is one the sources of conflict and is not inclusive because since the independence the perception of remembering the beloved without organizing any debate in the society as if they were imposing their own perception to everyone.

It is difficult for the Rwandan society to fuel within itself effective mechanisms to address ethnic cleavage and restore lasting social cohesion. The killings of genocide survivors due to Gacaca trials and the recent grenade attacks hark back the fragility of the socio-political context of Rwanda. Without the strong hand of the regime that keeps up certain stability, it is very likely that violence would be used as a mean of resolving conflicts.

RESEARCH PURPOSE
The objective of this research paper is to contribute to the discussion aimed at strengthening social cohesion by identifying institutions and mechanisms to establish an effective strategy for conflict management at the individual and society level. It was deemed important to understand the magnitude of ethnic cleavage and its consequences in the management of the country.

More specifically, this research aims at measuring the weight of ethnic perceptions in social relations, analyze public perceptions about socio-political challenges related to ethnicity and study political choices made to manage the issue of ethnicity

FACTORS OF SOCIAL COHESION IN RWANDA

According to the researchers, ethnic conflict is seen by the Rwandans as a key factor to the cleavage that had its climax with the 1994 Tutsi genocide. The construction of that ethnic cleavage is the result of a historical process in which the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa were induced to internalize their ethnicity with confrontation logic around the management of power.

Exclusion and discrimination of the other have been turned into a system of governance soon after the independence.
16 years after the genocide, although efforts have been made to rehabilitate the country, Rwanda is still marked by the legacy of a long period of ethnic cleavage.

The genocide and its consequences still haunt the society and significantly influence every Rwandan’s daily life. The wounds have not completely healed.

Jean Paul Mugiraneza, a researcher at IRDP said that debating ethnic issues is not easy because ethnic identity conveys painful memories and violence which does not facilitate objective debates. He also said that social cohesion requires necessarily special efforts to establish efficient strategies aiming at solving ethnic conflicts starting with demystifying false theories and .stereotypes.

This starts with a culture of dialogue on important issues even the most controversial. 

For the Rwandan society in particular, the genocide remains a breaking point but also a starting point which can hardly be forgotten in order to build the nation, to develop it and to ensure its long lasting peace.

After the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis, survivors and perpetrators had no other choice but live together, side by side in the villages.  That forced proximity brought them to forge strategies to live together in harmony.

BRIEF PRESENTATION OF RESULTS

Regarding the general assessment of relations between Rwandans, 796, or 53% said they were good while 600 said they were good enough, and 103 people, or 6.9%, considered them to be bad.

The study states that 53.4% of their respondents believe that ethnicity is a problem, the following points emerge: Asked whether the ethnic group constitutes a major source of conflicts in Rwanda 53.4% answered “yes” and 46.6 responded “no”.

The instrumentalization of ethnic groups that formed the basis of genocide, Indeed, Rwandans believe that extremism thrives on ethnicity.

Extremists minimize other problems in the society and focus attention on ethnicity to justify all the ills plaguing their community. According to Rwandans, this easy way of presenting things remains in the Rwandan society and it manifests itself through what is now commonly called "genocide ideology." Other facts have been revealed to highlight this statement including physical elimination of genocide survivors that continues in various parts of the country.

These factors make difficult cohabitation and continue to fuel mistrust among the two groups. For those who were interviewed, fear of the other and of tomorrow has an influence on the socio-political context of Rwanda today.

How do we overcome this fear? The researcher asked, in answering the question he said "the frequency on which we consider the ethnic group of a Rwandan that we encounter for the first time". 68.7% of people (1029) responded that they never wonder about the ethnicity of the other when they meet for the first time.

Findings also assert that this could be the result of the reconciliation policy in place that promotes national identity among the citizens. Again according to participants in focus groups and people who were interviewed says that the government of Rwanda has realized that economic welfare of citizens is required to solve the ethnic division challenges.

Giving prime examples researchers highlighted initiatives that has a big role which among others Girinka Munyarwanda literally meaning one cow per household program which helps poor persons to breed a cow without considering their ethnicity attachment  which is the opposite because in the ancient Rwanda a cow was related to the Tutsi ethnic group.

In the new Rwanda after all the hell happened now many Rwandans without any ethnic consideration noting of its cultural meaning, the distribution of cow is symbolically meaningful.

Another prime example is a healthy care program for all through the local healthy insurance scheme Mituelle de Sante benefits all citizens without considering ethnic biases. 

The researchers insist on the need to develop economic initiatives where citizens work together in order to strengthen the common interest concept which has not yet been internalized.

The paper explains to which extent it’s very complex and not easy to effectively explain the issues from Rwanda social and historical context and made some possible recommendations to improve on the current situation to see Rwandans have peace and live in harmony.

This document proved to be an interesting exercise tackling an important national issue relating to social cohesion without which citizens cannot enjoy freedom. Throughout this document various opinions were expressed by the population have been structured and presented.

It’s clear that inter-ethnic relationships have gradually improved over the 16 years.

However there still some hindrances against which our intellectuals, civil society and the public authority are invited to join efforts to enable the society to find adequate solutions to ethnic division. 

RECOMMENDATIONS

There’s need for an open debate on ethnic issues was emphasized during the research process as one of the solutions to the manipulation of ethnicity for selfish ends. Such a debate is not trivial since it tackles sensitive issues which arouse painful memories, remorse and the collapse of the society.

The study recommends the establishment of a responsible framework or partnership between the government and civil society actors to effectively manage the ethnic issue whereat a level of intellectuals, political leaders, media and other categories of the society should be invited to discuss and debate on the necessity of living together, to analyze the pitfalls related to ethnic identity and suggest possible solutions that are likely to be adopted as policies. 

Social cohesion inevitably implies that members of a society have a minimum of a common vision but also a collective memory and shared symbols.

The last recommendation is about the process of Gacaca jurisdictions has opened a unique space intended to raise and judge issues relating to the crime of genocide. This ethnic issue had to be tackled for specific needs of justice.
The study highlighted that the above exercise left wounds that are not yet healed. It’s important to comment on how to manage the post Gacaca period. This framework could become a social space for exchange and debate about the importance of social cohesion. This would also include the citizen’s ownership of strategies aiming at solving ethnic related conflicts.

At the end of the research, IRDP is hoping that the proposed recommendations can ensure stability and security needed for peaceful co-existence of ethnic groups. The task seems difficult but it only requires the establishment of a fair justice system that guarantees equal opportunities.

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