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EDPRS: Forging a head in unity and Reconciliation in Rwanda

BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA Rwanda is gradually making progress on the road to reconciliation reflected in general high trust in Government action and good marks for newly decentralized political structures.


Rwanda is gradually making progress on the road to reconciliation reflected in general high trust in Government action and good marks for newly decentralized political structures.

However, it is also struggling to overcome widespread interpersonal distrust and divisions between genocide survivors and those accused of or convicted for crimes of genocide.

Rwanda came into international focus in 1994 for all the negative reasons: one of the worst human rights records on the African Continent; a Government which seriously violated the rights of its citizens with impunity and the worst genocide in recent history.

Rwandan stands chance to gain from the new economic opportunities. Vision 2020 which aspires for Rwanda to become a modern, strong and united nation, proud of its fundamental values, politically stable and without discrimination amongst its citizens

In Rwanda, attempts to address the consequences of 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and establish lasting peace have been made. The Government of Rwanda has put in place institutional and policy frameworks charged with the task of promoting peace and reconciliation.

The key player in this process is the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC).

NURC Mission
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, the mission of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission include.

Preparing and coordinating national programs for the promotion of national unity and reconciliation;
Putting in place and developing ways and means to restore and consolidate unity and reconciliation among Rwandans;


The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission strives for a peaceful, united and prosperous nation.

The Commission’s Work
Most of the Commission’s work involves facilitating group education programmes, initiated either by the Commission itself or by community and grassroots leadership.

The Commission invests mainly in building the capacity of partners and stakeholders engaged in reconciliation work in the community across the country. It employs knowledge transfer methods aiming at reaching out to as many people as possible.

Making reconciliation work community based and owned has started bearing fruit. This can be seen through the number of community initiatives of unity and reconciliation emerging every year. Such initiatives include:

1.Students Clubs for Unity and Reconciliation (SCUR) all tertiary institutions and over 200 Secondary schools have such clubs.
2.Abakangurambaga (voluntary community mobilisers). There are 3720 people nationwide.
3.Association of Head-Teachers committed to combat genocide ideology in schools. (All secondary school head-teachers are members of the Association and training of primary schools’ head-teachers has also started.)
4.Faith Based Associations of unity and reconciliation
5.Community based organizations and development workers who work in the area of unity and reconciliation.
6.There are also various cultural troops organized to sensitize population on unity and reconciliation.

The Commission has put in place a national policy for unity and reconciliation and it was recently approved by the Cabinet. The policy’s major objective is to mainstream and institutionalize reconciliation in the day to day work of partners.

The NURC recognize that mainstreaming reconciliation work into the activities of community based partners is the only way to speed up the process. The Commission’s present direction, therefore, is that of building the capacity of our partners.

Enormous efforts have been undertaken to bridge the deep rifts in society and heal the wounds inflicted by the genocide.

The government has put in place a number of policies and institutions aimed at guiding the country’s future path to sustainable development. Rwanda’s future development roadmap known as Vision 2020 is premised on the following major aspirations:

I. Reconstruction of the nation and its social capital;
II.  Harmonious functioning of an efficient, uniting and mobilizing state;
III. Transformation of the Rwandan society, the building of the social capital on the basis of positive cultural values, of the technological know-how and the balance between the economic rationality and the social logic;
1V.  Peace; internal and external security, the regional stability that enables the socio-economic integration of the country in the region and worldwide.

Rwanda has embarked on a new chapter that will see the past put behind the backs through forward – looking reconstruction efforts supported by the will of Rwandans to reshape and re-define their socio-economic background from a perspective which puts more emphasis on development.

The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) set for itself the unenviable task of instilling reconciliation among Rwandans after years of institutionalized discrimination and waves of genocidal killings which entrenched fear, hatred and suspicion in the population.

With no ready made experiences to draw upon, the NURC did the most natural thing consulting communities on the way forward and positioning them as the primary agents of reconciliation.

NURC has registered an impressive record of achievements. Most importantly, it has transferred reconciliation concepts and practices to communities and created innovative tools and institutions based on the integration of ancient Rwandese cultural practices and modern tools.

The last seven years should be seen as a phase of popularizing reconciliation.

The Commission is also engaged in extensive research work to ensure that reconciliation process is conducted along realistic and scientific findings.

So far the Commission has published research findings on Gacaca, Decentralization and Democratization Process, the Role of Women in Reconciliation Process, Land Issues, The Causes of violence, Social Cohesion in Rwanda, the Impacts of Ingando, Causes of Violence after the 1994 genocide and a reference manual on The Rwandan Conflicts.  

Itorero ry’Igihugu
Itorero ry’Igihugu is also a homegrown initiative inspired by the Rwandan culture that was formerly a traditional Rwandan school to instill moral values of integrity, and capacity to deal with ones problems.

Itorero ry’Igihugu has today been revived to promote values of unity, truth, culture of hard work and avoiding attitudes and mindsets that deter development all  aimed at speeding up the attainment of Vision 2020, MDG’S and EDPRS.

The pioneers of Itorero ry’Igihugu intore (graduates) were about 25,000 grassroots leaders and 43,000 primary and secondary teachers. Itorero ry’Igihugu will enhance community trust, reconciliation and combating discrimination and genocide ideology.

Peace and Leadership Centre
The peace and leadership centre is another strategic approach developed by the commission for consolidating civic education, a culture of peace and good governance mainly among youth in Rwanda, youth in the great lakes region and national leaders.

It is envisaged that in future the peace centre would be raised to a regional and international level to provide space for internship and research by a variety of international scholars and peace practitioners who are eager to understand the miracle of Rwandan reconciliation after the tragic genocide and the homegrown solutions to conflict resolution and peace building.

The NURC has developed many training and educational manuals on peace building, conflict management, civic education and early warning early response for conflict prevention manuals trained trainers and disseminated them to schools, civil society and local governance.

By 2002, the training was extended to informal traders, and other social groups including survivors, prisoners, community leaders, women and youth.

Today, Ingando’s are carried out countrywide and most are co-facilitated with communities. The provincial and local administrations provide assistance with logistics.

The NURC and its partners provide accommodation and meals and transportation is usually covered by the participants. Ingando’s entail residential camps, bringing together 300 – 400 people per programme for a period of 3 weeks to 2 months depending on the time available and focus of the sessions. The numbers also vary, although at each prison release, 1000 prisoners undergo Ingando.

Topics are covered under five central themes: analysis of Rwanda’s problems; history of Rwanda; political and socioeconomic issues in Rwanda and Africa, rights, obligations and duties and leadership.

Support to communities
The idea of supporting communities was to mobilize ordinary people to fight poverty. The thinking was that if people created initiatives together, they would be inclined to nurture those initiatives and to defend them, irrespective of their differences.

The growth of several community based reconciliation associations involving survivors, perpetrators, and people with family members in prison is an indicator that reconciliation is taking place at the community level.

Three main tools used: Providing grants to selected associations; the creation of NURC Clubs and; promoting culture as a resource for reconciliation.

Over 60 community-based associations have received grants from the NURC since 2001. Most of them comprise perpetrators and survivors and their activities range from promoting reconciliation in communities to income generating activities.

Creation of Reconciliation Clubs
The idea of forming NURC Clubs in schools and institutions of higher learning was one of the outcomes of the Ingando. Initially, the NURC took the lead in creating them. In time, however, students formed reconciliation clubs on their own.

The clubs provide a space where students from different backgrounds get together promote reconciliation in places of learning. In this way, their teaching does not just end at the Ingando awareness training but is carried forward constructively.

In future, the NURC plans to document all Reconciliation Clubs and associations countrywide and mainstream them into its reconciliation activities. This will be done by creating a central database.

Culture as a Resource for Reconciliation
The NURC has contributed tremendously towards promoting culture as a tool for reconciliation. The incorporation of cultural concepts such as Ingando, Abakangurambaga, Inyangamugayo, Ubudehe, Ubusabane, and others in its activities is a case in point. Since 1999, the Commission has organized several cultural activities, including plays, songs, poems and dance.

As a standard practice, every Ingando entails cultural activities and celebrations. As Rwanda sank deeper into Postcolonial conflict the institution of Ingando lost its relevance and was no longer practiced.

Moreover, the royal institutions, which had held Rwanda together for centuries were abolished.

When NURC was established, it formally developed Ingando as a tool to build coexistence within communities. The first beneficiaries were ex – combatants from the DRC. The programme later expanded to include school going youth and students at secondary and tertiary levels.

The uniqueness of the NURC lies in a number of factors:
 a) Unlike other reconciliation mechanisms in Africa and rest of the world its mandate goes beyond the formal transitional period.

b) It focus is to transfer ownership of reconciliation to communities and establish longer term structures.

c) It has promoted reconciliation as a strategic challenge to be taken up by individuals, communities and public and private organs.

d) It has developed a broadened notion of reconciliation that includes fighting poverty and raising household incomes;

e) It has encouraged communities to become the primary actors in the reconciliation process.

In summary, it has popularized the reconciliation agenda at community level. The commission has put in place an innovative approach to restore and consolidate unity among Rwandans through education, mobilization, sensitization and training.

Reconciliation initiatives
The idea of supporting communities was to mobilize ordinary people to fight poverty. The thinking was that if people created initiatives together, they would be inclined to nurture those initiatives and to defend them, irrespective of their differences. Most of them comprise of confessed perpetrators and survivors and their activities range from promoting reconciliation in communities to income generating activities.

The growth of several community based reconciliation associations involving survivors, perpetrators, and people with family members in prison is an indicator that reconciliation is taking place at the community level.

These has resulted into emerging stories of forgiveness and confession and are being used as a strategy to spread reconciliation message through exchange visits and sharing of testimonies through documentary films.

Such success stories of reconciliation are putting Rwanda as a global leader in reconciliation and peace building.

Reconciliation work in Rwanda is a partnership with many players and it started much earlier than March 1999 when the Commission was established.

It is also important to note that national reconciliation must be holistic and cross-cutting in nature. It embraces such issues as governance, poverty alleviation, justice and human rights issues, social services provision, peace building, education, conflict mitigation, etc.

1. Promotion of unity and reconciliation has become a cornerstone of all to the Rwandan constitution, Vision2020 and other governance efforts.
2. A policy on unity and reconciliation in place and to guide all institutions on unity and reconciliation and for NURC to monitor whether all institutions and Rwandans abide by unity and reconciliation principles
3. Peaceful reintegration of former ex-Combatants and released perpetrators back into the society 
4. People are willing to live together, work together and find consensus around matters of interest
5. Climate of trust and harmony is growing among Rwandans,
6. Laws that punish discrimination and genocide ideology
7. Introduction of civic education at all levels including home grown initiatives like ingando, ubusabane, Itorero ry’igihugu.
8. Emergence of reconciliation initiatives at different levels in the community
9. Creation of a permanent forum for community and national dialogue on unity and reconciliation and other issues of common interest through civic education and peace building programs.
10. Over 70.000 released perpetrators of genocide have been successfully reintegrated after attending Ingando. Some of them have facilitated truth telling in Gacaca Courts and confessed to the victims hence fostering reconciliation
11. SCURs in University, Secondary and Tertiary institutions
12. Peace building programs among children through debates and interschool competitions
13. Reconciliation Volunteers and reconciliation associations
14. Reconciliation symbols such as reconciliation villages, trees and posters
15. Creation of reconciliation forums at district and national levels for enhancing unity and reconciliation in their activities and coordinating the various reconciliation efforts.

Future Plans

In the next programme phase, the Commission intends to build on its successes by systematically institutionalizing reconciliation and empowering communities at all levels to carry forward and implement reconciliation programmes.

Bringing government decision-making closer to the people through decentralization and adjudicating crimes of genocide and building the basis for reconciliation through truth telling.

Rwanda is committed to being a capable state, characterised by the rule of law that supports and protects all its citizens without discrimination.

The state is dedicated to the rights, unity and well-being of its people and will ensure the consolidation of the nation and its security.


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