As in the past years, Rwanda joined the international community on September 21st this year in observing the International Day of Peace. This is the occasion through which the United Nations calls for a global ceasefire while seeking to strengthen the ideals of peace and durable stability, both within and among all nations and peoples.
This call has been reiterated by the United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, in this year’s message in which he said: “I call on all warring parties to lay down their weapons and observe a global ceasefire. To them I say: stop the killings and the destruction, and create space for lasting peace."
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” which aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society as well as a variety of stakeholders across nations to work together to strive for peace. In Rwanda, the close partnership forged by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission and the Peace One Day Organization in organizing memorable events on the IDP, including a music concert, gave concrete meaning to this theme.
The work of the United Nations would not be possible without the initial partnerships that were active in its creation and the thousands of partnerships that are forged each year between governments, civil society, the private sector, faith-based groups and other non-governmental organizations that are needed to support the Organization in achieving its future goals.
The earnest call from the United Nations finds relevance in the current security situation in the world, where deadly local civil unrest which often culminate into violent conflicts, regional conflicts and international terrorism are more and more threatening global peace and security.
As I write this piece, millions of innocent civilians, including women, children and the elderly, are facing death and deprivation, as a result of unabated tensions and conflicts in many countries including East Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, eastern DRC, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon, where Boko Haram is causing havoc, and most recently in Burkina Faso.
While the International Day of Peace is meant to be a day of celebration of peace and joy, it has probably become more of a day of reflection on which effective ways to prevent violence and conflicts in the world. It is also a day to show global solidarity with victims of conflicts and civil unrest.
This year, we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, which came into being in 1945, following the devastation of the Second World War, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security and promotion of inclusive sustainable development.
Since then, the UN has tirelessly worked towards fulfilling this mandate, sometimes in very tough conditions in which many UN workers make the ultimate sacrifice of losing their lives.
The 3rd UN Secretary General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjöld, who served from April 1953 until his death in a plane crash in September 1961 is one of the many UN officials who lost their lives while trying to prevent conflicts and restore durable peace.
The most appropriate strategy to diminish human suffering and the massive economic costs of conflicts and their aftermath is to prevent conflicts in the first place. H.E. President Paul Kagame has talked about the critical importance of conflict prevention on numerous occasions. That is the reason why the United Nations has put emphasis on conflict prevention, using diplomacy, good offices, peace keeping mission and mediation where possible.
The central theme of this year’s celebration carries a very profound significance, for the United Nations System and the humanity as a whole. Peace cannot be achieved and sustained without strong and mutual partnerships between UN member states on the one side and between governments on the other.
But above all, strong partnerships between countries, national, regional and international organisations are also ingredients for sustainable peace and security.Non-governmental organizations, faith-based groups and corporations all have a key role to play in fostering social progress, protecting the environment and creating a more just, stable and peaceful world.
The long trajectory that took Rwanda has traversed since the 1960’s is tragic but also an inspiring story. A story of a nation, that once on the verge of collapse as of 1994, has risen into a vibrant strong nation thereafter, full of hope and capable of not only forgetting the past, but building on the lessons from the sad period of its history to build a brighter future.
From a country that was abandoned by the international community in its time of great need during the genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda has emerged as one of the largest contributing countries of troops and police officers to peace keeping missions around the world. The tremendous achievements registered by Rwanda over the past 20 years under the leadership of President Paul Kagame should teach the world the following key lessons:
First, we should understand that with a visionary, compassionate and committed leadership, that attaches supreme importance to the greater interest of society, and willing and capable of mobilizing the entire population, no matter how difficult are conflict conditions facing it, it is always possible to rise from the ashes and become a model of unity and reconciliation, social justice, economic recovery and sustainable development.
Second, social and economic recovery of a country emerging from tragic events like those that happened in Rwanda does not primarily come from the international community but from the country and its people themselves. The international community can only support national efforts towards restoring and sustaining peace and security.
This is what the UN System in Rwanda has done and is still doing with institutions such as the national Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Rwanda Governance Board, Ministry of Youth and ICT, the Rwanda National Police, the Rwanda Defense Forces and the Rwanda Peace Academy (RPA) as well as a host of NGOs and civil society organizations.
Third and last, and allow me to use the words of one on the great scientists and philosophers of our millennium, Albert Einstein, who rightly said that “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding” (Albert Einstein).
The reconciliation process in Rwanda has built on this philosophy of mutual understanding between the members of the Rwanda population. Where force would have failed without doubt, mutual trust, and the use of home grown initiatives such as Abunzi community mediators, Gacaca courts and “Ndi umunyarwanda” programmes have prevailed, and this has undoubtedly led to the outstanding achievements we all have witnessed.
The Youth of Rwanda have a particular responsibility to learn from the past and add their own “building stones” to the good work that Rwanda has already done. President Paul Kagame aptly recalled this when he addressed the Youth Forum in Dallas in May 2015 saying “We need a new generation of problem-solvers, who see farther, and work smarter. You are that generation. No matter where you live, you have a role to play”.
I felt relieved when I learned that “A youth parliamentarian” session would be organized on the International Day of Peace in Kigali. Indeed, the world, not only Rwanda, needs a generation of new peace-makers, a generation of problem-solvers instead of problem-makers. The youth are key partners in peace building. The involvement of different stakeholders in peace education and conflict prevention have also shown that strong partnerships are indeed the basis for effective peace consolidation in Rwanda.
On this occasion of the International Day of Peace let us all join the call of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to seize the opportunity and achieve the Organization’s founding purpose: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
The writer is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Rwanda