Rwandans have so much in common. Their similarities do not stop at what principally defines them as a distinct people – common language, cultural beliefs, and customary values. We pride ourselves in a rich national heritage, but also share a great deal of regrets about certain things that dot our shared history.
At least half of the total population of Rwanda was once refugees, albeit at different times. Many vividly remember all sorts of sufferings that came with that homelessness. Yet, for a section of Rwandans, especially those who were cruelly driven out of the country during the pogroms of the late 1950s and early 1960s, a life in exile would later be relatively better considering all manners of inhuman treatment regularly visited on a section of the population by divisive and murderers regimes.
In fact, to many Rwandans, the better part of the last half a century would best be forgotten. Obviously, all well-meaning Rwandans wish their country never had to experience a genocide.
We wish we did not embrace and promote divisive politics in the first place. We wish we did not foolishly obey the cunning Belgian colonial masters and priests, and, later, the arrogant French imperialists. Many wish they did not blindly accept to soak our beautiful motherland in the blood of their fellow innocent compatriots.
Nonetheless, forgetting those ugly events and doctrines is not the solution. On the contrary, remembering that traumatic past should give us the courage to correct our past mistakes.
The crimes some of our people have committed against our compatriots and country are indelible; they represent the worst man can ever do. But what counts now is what we do today. What is more relevant today is not the past misdemeanor, but our current contribution towards a better Rwanda.
Indeed, the desire to turn the page has somewhat inspired the mind-boggling progress we have registered over the past 17 years – a period less than half the combined lost years under the Gregoire Kayibanda and Juvenal Habyarimana regimes.
If there’s anything good the current government has done for the people of Rwanda is to restore a sense of belonging among Rwandans, by providing them with equitable access to national opportunities, something never seen before, at least in modern Rwanda. And by setting up institutions and systems that enforce fair treatment of all citizens, the post-genocide administration demonstrated its intention to bring about a fundamental change in the country’s social fabric – one that will act as a deterrent to any future conflict.
Institutions such as the Rwanda Examinations Board, the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the Student Financing Agency for Rwanda, along with far-reaching judicial reforms, have offered opportunities to young and disadvantaged Rwandans to fast rise to positions that were before 1994 regarded as a reserve for members and families of the ruling clique.
That someone with a modest background can now ride entirely on their demonstrated abilities to a Cabinet portfolio, shows how much Rwanda has changed, even in the wider African perspective.
Over the weekend I was impressed by a friend, in his mid 30s, who boldly stated his ambitions for a top government post. “Why not? There’re many of my age-mates who are up there and doing a good job already. And, who knows I could be the next because I have also ably demonstrated my ability in my current position,” he remarked as if to justify his ambitions.
That is the reality in today’s Rwanda.
Many young people have been entrusted with responsibilities previously ‘reserved’ for grey-haired citizens, and have since demystified top public jobs. Others have made the most of youth empowerment programmes to emerge top business leaders and senior executives in the corporate world. They represent a new thinking in the new Rwanda.
It is a Rwanda in which a genocide orphan and a son or daughter of a top genocide convict, have equal access to national opportunities. It is a Rwanda in which members of former rival military groups (i.e RPA and ex-FAR) now cordially work together for the good of the nation, and in which genocide survivors are happily living, side by side, with the already-punished killers of their relatives. It is a Rwanda in which those who had fled the country in the 1950s and 60s and later returned in 1990s, and those who had streamed out of the country in 1990s and came back in the recent years, all receive equal treatment before the law.
For all this, Madaline Musabyimana, a forty-year old Rwandan mother, who, last week, voluntarily returned home from DR Congo through Nyagatare Transit Camp in Rusizi, said: “Since my return I have been warmly received by everyone…If I knew and returned earlier, I would now be far in terms of development.” This returnee and many others like her are clearly expressing regret for the missed opportunity of the past 17 years. To them, I say, it is not too late; what matters is that they have now made a right decision. And to the about 70,000 Rwandan refugees still out there, I say, we can’t wait to welcome you. You, too, deserve to enjoy the new Rwanda.