For the last fifteen years after the devastating Tutsi Genocide, Rwanda has emerged from the ashes of genocide and embarked on the painful journey of national healing, unity and reconciliation as a pre-requisite for lasting peace, security, good governance and development.
Towards this goal, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC), was created after a parliamentary law was passed in March 1999. The law was further emphasised by the new Rwandan constitution of June 2003.
NURC has engaged Rwandans into a participatory consultative process to come up with a national unity and reconciliation policy whose core values include promotion of national unity based on ‘Rwandanness’, healing historical wounds through truth searching, acknowledgement and memory of genocide, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Immediately after its creation, NURC embarked on a comprehensive community and national dialogue on what divided the Rwandan society, analysis of the causes of the Rwandan genocide, whether unity and reconciliation was possible and what needed to be done to restore the lost national unity and foster a climate of trust, healing and reconciliation.
This countrywide exercise involved 300 community representatives in every district at a time when there were 154 districts- formerly known as communes.
Questions like who are reconciling? How does one reconcile with a killer of his family and why not justice first and reconciliation later? Were some of the issues addressed?
The outcome of grassroots dialogue inspired the 2000 National Summit on Unity and Reconciliation that brought together about 1000 participants from all levels of the Rwandan society.
The Rwandan Diaspora was also included as they deliberated on issues raised by grassroots consultations of bad governance, distorted Rwandan history, discrimination and ethnic hatred, poverty and ignorance as contributing factors to the genocide and a divisive past.
The outcome of the National summit led to proceeding summits of 2002, 2004 and 2006.
These summits have become bi-annual important reconciliation events and are chaired by the President of the Republic and honoured by various African leaders and international friends.
The National summit has not only provided space for civic debate on matters pertaining to national unity and reconciliation but has also stimulated discussion and commitment to issues of national interest like justice including Gacaca courts, Governance, Rwandan history, poverty, education, economic development, constitution and a peaceful exit of political transition just to mention but a few.
Additionally, the Commission in partnership with the Ministry of Education (MINEDUC), the Students Finance Agency of Rwanda (SFAR), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINAFET) and other relevant actors started “Ingando” program for the Rwandan youth studying abroad.
It is imperative for them to know the progress of their country but and build responsibilities about their role in the promotion of national unity and reconciliation.
The involvement of Rwandan Diaspora in unity and other developmental processes has attracted them to visit their country from time to time, use their skills and expertise in many professions, invest and organise Diaspora associations in order to promote solidarity and act as goodwill ambassadors in their countries.
A homegrown innovation known as Ingando, was developed, originating from the Rwandese verb “Kugandika” that refers to halting normal activities to reflect and find solutions to national challenges, discussions on post-genocide national reconciliation and reconstruction challenges were addressed with a view of mapping out solutions.
When NURC was established, it formally developed Ingando as a civic education tool to build coexistence within communities.
The first beneficiaries were returnees and ex – combatants from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The programme later expanded to include school going youth and students at secondary and tertiary levels.
By 2002, the training was extended to include other social groups like genocide victims, prisoners, community leaders, Youth, teachers, lecturers, famers and traders.
Today, Ingando are carried out countrywide and it brings together 100 to 1000 people for a period of 3 weeks and 2 months depending on the time available.
The focus of the educative and discussion sessions has inspired trust and ownership of the past tragedy and focuses on solutions for strengthening trust and social cohesion in our society.
Ingando for the former x-combatants and the released confessed perpetrators has enhanced their smooth reintegration and reconciliation with victims in society.
Ingando has also led to the creation of Unity and Reconciliation Clubs in school to provide a platform where students from different backgrounds get together to promote conflict resolution and reconciliation within their respective schools and universities.
Through considering the Rwandan Culture as a resource for reconciliation, the incorporation of concepts like ‘Abakangurambaga (reconciliation Volunteers), Ubusabane (Inter-communities exchange) and Itorero ry’igihugu (traditional Rwandan school) are mechanisms to promote unity and reconciliation, to inculcate a culture of responsibility among Rwandans and a vehicle of healing, ownership and empowerment.
The creation of Abakangurambaga was to intercede in disputes and mobilise communities to address community conflicts and problems and enhance trust and reconciliation among communities. More than 3700 community reconciliation volunteers are working to foster interpersonal and community reconciliation including reconciliation between victims of genocide and the perpetrators.
The commission has also coordinated regular exchange programs within and between communities from different districts called Ubusabane in Kinyarwanda.
Today Ubusabane has been entrenched at Umudugudu (village) level. The programs entailed exhaustive analysis and joint solving of problems with popular activities like sports, cultural celebrations and competitions.
It has recently started with a special kind of Ubusabane, where released perpetrators are reintegrated into the rest of the community.
This activity is a powerful trust building and effective reintegration tool between those convicts undergoing TIG (community service sentence) and the rest of the community including victims.
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 while avoiding attitudes and mindsets that deter development, all aimed at speeding up the attainment of Vision 2020, MDGS 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 combat discrimination and the genocide ideology.
The peace and leadership centre is yet another strategic approach developed by for consolidating civic education, a culture of peace and good governance mainly among the youth in Rwanda, the great lakes region and national leaders.
It is envisaged that in the near 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 response to conflict prevention.
Manuals have been developed, trainers trained and these are disseminated to the schools, civil society and local government institutions.
In collaboration with MINEDUC, a peace and conflict mediation syllabus has been introduced in schools and is offered in the form of life skills education.
The idea of supporting communities was to mobilize ordinary people to fight poverty.
The idea 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.
Peace building and conflict management
This again is about education through trainings, seminars and workshops in order to raise awareness about conflict and the need for reconciliation and, impart skills for dealing with conflict, or sustaining peace.
NURC has conducted researches ever since its existence on analysis of Rwandan conflict, nature and dynamics of conflicts in Rwanda, Threats to peace and reconciliation, the role of women in peace building and reconciliation, Gacaca, land reform and decentralization and democratization process and their implications to reconciliation.
Through using research findings to inform on program and national policies they are contributing to good governance and rule of law.
The program targeted different groups including Faith based leaders, Women, Media, Students in secondary and universities, Youth in Rwanda and in the great lakes region, Abunzi, Gacaca inyangamugayo, Members of Reconciliation Associations, Abakangurambaga, Intore, and other reconciliation stakeholders to intervene proactively in conflict situations and to monitor and document conflict signals.
In order to enhance peace and mainstreaming of unity and reconciliation, the commission has developed a partnership strategy through establishment of reconciliation forums at district and national levels to enable all reconciliation actors and other key stakeholders in public, private and civil society come together to forge networking relationships and build synergy on advancing unity and reconciliation.
The creation of reconciliation forums will liberate the NURC from intensive implementation roles to focus on strategic matters of policy coordination, enhancing partner’s capacity, monitoring threats to reconciliation and documenting best practices on reconciliation to help conflict and post conflict countries as well as scholars and visitors interested in understanding the Rwandan model of reconciliation.
The lessons learnt in unity and reconciliation for the last 15years after genocide and the 10 years of NURC’s existence will be an asset to other EAC members experiencing conflict.
The homegrown solutions based on Rwandan culture could provide inspiration to our neighbours in EAC and the region to explore possibilities of using positive aspects of their culture for conflict resolution.
Delegation after delegation from countries like Sudan, especially Southern Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Burundi, Liberia, Ivory Coast, US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Asia, have been coming to Rwanda and visiting NURC to learn and share about unity and reconciliation.