First Lady shares Rwanda’s experience at US Prayer Dinner

Rwanda needed both hard work and divine help to lift people from desperation to prosperity, First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said.
First Lady Jeannette Kagame shares a photo moment with Senator Inhofe (L) and his daughter (2ndL) and Amb. Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwanda’s envoy to Washington at the Leadership Dinner.  Courtesy.
First Lady Jeannette Kagame shares a photo moment with Senator Inhofe (L) and his daughter (2ndL) and Amb. Mathilde Mukantabana, Rwanda’s envoy to Washington at the Leadership Dinner. Courtesy.

Rwanda needed both hard work and divine help to lift people from desperation to prosperity, First Lady Jeannette Kagame has said.

She was sharing Rwanda’s development journey at a Leadership Dinner in Washington DC on Wednesday.

“What choices could we make to restore the humanity and sanity that had vanished? Would people ever trust one another? To mend this brokenness, to restore confidence and credibility in our institutions, we had to carry out deep soul searching,” Mrs Kagame said.

“The leadership often had to make tough, unpopular decisions. We swallowed the bitter pill to help us heal faster, as opposed to going for the band aid therapy.”

“The leadership often had to make tough, unpopular decisions. We swallowed the bitter pill to help us heal faster, as opposed to going for the band aid therapy.”

The First Lady said what Rwanda went through in 1994, was the culmination of over three decades of systematic classification and persecution of a targeted group of people, which in the end was not beneficial to neither the perpetrators nor the victims.

“2014 marks 20 years since the horrific Genocide against the Tutsi. The result was a complete collapse of family, church and State, as well as a society intoxicated with bitterness and mistrust. Thousands of innocent people were brutally killed, even inside sacred places of worship. The State, whose mandate it is to protect citizens, sponsored, planned and implemented the Genocide,” Mrs Kagame said.

“In my view, going beyond personal suffering prevented Rwanda from becoming a failed state. We opted instead to embark on a road to recovery.”

She said whereas the infrastructure could be fixed with enough resources and human capacity, healing hearts and building people’s consciousness would be a generational undertaking. 

“We challenged ourselves to be a voice of unity and reconciliation. We are working towards a collective consciousness of who we are as one people. We have transcended peaceful co-existence to become a truly integrated and cohesive community,” she said.

Mrs Kagame added that in order to heal fast, the government took on tough decisions which were sometimes unpopular but effective.

The wonders of Gacaca

Gacaca, a homegrown justice approach, was a value-based court system that promoted restorative rather than punitive justice, for both Genocide survivors and perpetrators; restoration of property to families of Genocide perpetrators, despite the urge to redistribute that property to survivors who were wronged and lost their families and property, the First Lady said.

“Forty thousand prisoners who committed Genocide were released due to old age, under a compassionate plea and laws were put in place to forbid revenge killings. Capital punishment was abolished, which was unusual for a nation emerging from a genocide.”

In 20 years, Rwanda has done well on several fronts, she said, such as gender parity with 64 per cent female representation in Parliament, and being ranked as the 3rd easiest economy to do business in sub-Saharan Africa.

The First Lady said this rise did not just happen by mistake.

“Credit goes to our citizens, who have engaged their hearts, heads and hands to work for and own the process of progress. Our success comes from the vision of an informed leadership, and certainly the hand of God,” she said.

Present at the dinner included Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, who recently visited Rwanda, and other senators and government officials.

Click here for the full speech

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