Now that the UN Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon has come and gone, one wonders what exactly the general public takes of his recent visit. Personally, I’m delighted that his visit to Rwanda is one of the few visits he has made this year (2007) without the backdrop being a war zone.
He’s been in Algeria to survey the ruins of the UN building in Algiers, traveled to Baghdad and Kabul. Ban’s security guards must have breathed a sigh of relief when they were informed that they were coming to Kigali; they didn’t have to worry about dodging bullets and bombs.
The three day visit was interesting in many ways; it was full of symbolism and it shouldn’t be analysed without a historical and modern day context. First of all, the trip, unlike the previous visits of two former Secretary Generals, Butrous Boutros Ghali and Koffi Annan does not leave a bad taste in the mouth.
Ban is the first Secretary General to arrive in Rwanda without the weight of personal inaction during the 1994 Genocide hanging around his neck. Boutros Ghali will forever be known, at least in this country, as the one who dithered as one million perished in the 1994 mayhem, while Kofi Annan will also remain infamous in the minds of the Rwandese people as the head of the peacekeeping unit of the United Nations, who oversaw Gen. Dallaire-headed UNAMIR, which remained practically impotent as the events unfolded on the ground. So, the present Secretary General is the only one in a long while who doesn’t have the 1994 albatross hanging around his head. I believe that his visit was one that wasn’t only geared towards government but also to the greater Rwandan populace.
Since 1994, the populace had a skeptical view of the leadership of the UN but this visit has given new impetus to the relationship between the United Nations and the Rwandan nation.
The citizenry on the streets don’t have to look at the UN Secretary General as an incompetent lout but rather someone new; someone who should be given a chance to wipe the slate of UN incompetence with a show of aptitude. When Ban writes in the memorial book at the Genocide Memorial in Gisozi ‘"Genocide Never Again" we can actually not roll our eyes in disbelief. When he pledges $10,000 to the victims of the Genocide, he doesn’t look like a hypocrite and when he states that ‘the 1994 genocide will haunt the United Nations and the international community for generations’, he doesn’t seem like a politician just reading from a script. You can actually say he is sincere; something his predecessors can sound like.
Finally, the ghosts of 1994 will not cloud the average Rwandans’ view of the highest UN office; however, this visit didn’t only soothe the Rwandan wounds but also gave UN a chance to lay the ghosts of ‘94 themselves. The UN, as an institute, suffered the consequences of the 1994 debacle too. Sixty years after the Jewish holocaust, the UN had watched, hand in pocket, as another took place. The damage to the UN as an institution was terrible and now, it’s with new leadership, it can move beyond 1994.
In my view, Ban’s visit here and its symbolism were not just for the domestic and UN audience. The fact that he flew from Kanombe International Airport to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to attend the African Union Summit was not haphazard. Some of the biggest issues in Africa today are the Darfur troubles, the Zimbabwean travails and the Kenyan crisis. These troubles coincidentally have a certain relationship. Thus, he will point out to the leaders of these nations and the larger African community that conflict doesn’t have to be the only way in Africa. People can live together and that the political leadership can take a leaf from Rwanda’s book.