The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi did not just tear down the social fabric of the country, it left such untold ruin that Rwanda became like an island surrounded by such rough waters that no one dared visit. Christian Ngabo Kanangire writes that the country and its people were forgotten, but after picking up the pieces and working to rediscover their dignity, Rwanda is now winning global attention.
When humanity descended down the precipice in the 1994 Rwanda, even those who had been given international mandate to ensure that at least a semblance of dignity remained in the country lost hope. Sure, a handful tried beyond their means, but with the world turning its back on Rwanda, they were disillusioned, dejected and helpless.
Rwanda, a landlocked country, was like an island littered with decomposing bodies. It was in such ruin that many thought the country would never be the same again. But two decades of deliberate, dedicated, planned and concerted efforts have given rebirth to progressive achievements.
Rwanda and Rwandans have in the recent past been variously recognised across the world. The hitherto forgotten ones are now turning global attention their way, with many renowned global organisations giving their mark of approval in Rwanda and its people.
The hitherto forgotten ones, abandoned by peacekeeping missions, have now made it a mission to help restore peace in different countries across the world. Rwanda is the fifth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions around the world.
The long road to redemption
In the days and immediate years following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandans who had survived, those who had just returned from exile, and others, were taken aback when confronted with the ruins that had become the face of their motherland at the time.
The Genocide was certainly not an overnight reaction; it is always a time-consuming criminal plan. It requires an extended period of oppression that affects people’s aptitude to hope for a better future. It also hinders development both at individutal and national level, as it creates no room to plan for a future but keeps the people anxious and in perpetual uncertainty.
The period following the Genocide was thus one of social, economic and political dormancy. The country was shrouded in distress for years. In neighbouring countries where many Rwandans had sought refuge for decades, they were faced with a plethora of challenges, ranging from social exclusion, injustice and lack of access to basic needs such as health and education services.
Yet those who got ideas that ‘east or west, home is best’ could only see their desires thwarted by the same genocidal elements who had by now taken to preaching the ‘scare gospel’ that the liberators who had stopped the pogrom were on vengeance and would kill anyone who returned home.
Even with the liberation of the country, the grief was too much to bear. The country was an abyss. However, the RPF-Inkotanyi had not a vision to just end the bad leadership, but to give hope and make the country the true motherland its people were entitled to.
RPF launched deliberate efforts to reawaken the Rwandan spirit toward the achievement of social, economic and political transformation where equal rights and opportunities are considered sacrosanct.
The common destiny
The RPF success was fashioned on popular support. Rwandans of all walks of life, at home, in exile and in the Diaspora understood the need for the struggle. They were all united by a common factor: the quest for hope.
Rwandans had for years wished to regain their lost identity, dignity and pride. They were conscious that these aspects ignited hope for a better future. They knew hope could only be achieved through developing the country. They knew it required a clear vision that was inclusive to all Rwandans and that aims at sustainable development of the country; a vision that the RPF had already drafted and strongly believed in.
It didn’t take long before the armed struggle was launched following unsuccessful efforts to negotiate with the Juvenal Habyarimana government on repatriating the refugees and stopping state-orchestrated criminal activities against nationals.
To achieve the dream of many Rwandans, there was need to restore self-assurance and optimism among the Rwandan people. Hope in the Rwandan spirit meant setting up a clear roadmap toward an effective and accountable government with mass enlightening by giving the people a vision and ability to shape their own destiny and sustainable future.
It has been two decades of progressive and planned achievements, not those that fall from nowhere, but certainly from the hunger for a positive change and from the annoyance of having been dirtied by manipulation 21 years ago.
The changes that have taken place in the country have restored hope in Rwandans and are also taking the country’s flag beyond its borders and across the seas.
The Rwanda of today is increasingly a pace-setter, a source of admiration in many spheres of life; from health, governance, science and technology, education, security to tourism and investments.
The economy of Rwanda has been growing at an average of 8 per cent GDP growth from 2000- 2014. With this growth has been the journey toward self-reliance as the country makes deliberate efforts to cut the yoke of donor dependency by increasing domestic revenue.
Foreign grants as a percentage of budget has dropped from 48.3 per cent in 2000 to less than 30 per cent in 2013. More than one million Rwandans were lifted out of poverty during the same period, an indicator that today’s Rwanda is a people-centred economy that is ranked third Most Competitive Economy in sub-Saharan Africa (according to the 2014/15 Global Competitiveness Report).
The safe environment and security has had a multiplier effect on Rwanda, starting from its tourism industry that is booming. Revenue from tourism has increased from $62 million in 2000 to $294 million in 2013, despite the global economic crisis and recession.
The Gallup Global Law and Order 2015 Report, released September, named Rwanda among the top five countries in the world where people feel safe walking home alone at night. The Gallup Index, measures people’s sense of personal security as well as their experiences with law enforcement.
Human capital is one crucial pillar of the country’s development, hence the need for a good health. Our people should live longer and better. Life expectancy moved from 51 years in 2000 to 65 years in 2012. More than 73 per cent of the population has health insurance, but the government is not convinced that figure is enough and continues to push for total coverage across the country by making several changes in the running of community-based health insurance scheme, Mutuelle de Sante.
Equal rights and equal opportunities, women’s empowerment, the opening of the borders and quest for increased economic cooperation with not only regional and African countries, but also those across the seas were dreams some Rwandans dared not dream of two decades ago.
It’s no wonder, therefore, that when you reflect on the chilling Rwanda of 21 years ago and juxtapose with the present, you see why the leadership of President Paul Kagame has the people in total approval.
In Kagame, many Rwandans can afford to forget where they are coming from, the frustrations, oppression and persecution that they were saved from and, more so, the long years of desperation. These all but look things of a distant past now.
Rwandans are ready to keep moving forward, more hardened by the need for a stable continuity in developments, ready to not only safeguard the country’s achievements but also sustain it and keep the Rwandan spirit soaring.
The days when being Rwandan meant absurdity has transcended to the opposite trajectory where, today, to be a Rwandan means being proud, innovative and hard working for a better future. That is the difference 21 years has made and continues to project.