Kwibuka 20: Rwanda’s journey of hope

WE ACKNOWLEDGE the humanity that binds us together in remembering the past – the unbelievable horrors of the Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda exactly 20 years ago, the immeasurable suffering, pain and loss which left a country and a people devastated and without hope. 
Wendy Lambourne
Wendy Lambourne

WE ACKNOWLEDGE the humanity that binds us together in remembering the past – the unbelievable horrors of the Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi in Rwanda exactly 20 years ago, the immeasurable suffering, pain and loss which left a country and a people devastated and without hope. 

We stand united in bearing the shame of those who failed to act to stop the genocide, and in working together to prevent such mass atrocities from occurring again in the future. 

We also unite with Rwandans in recognising the incredible resilience and determination they have shown in rebuilding their country and renewing a sense of hope in the future.

April 2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide that killed one million people in 100 days in the tiny Central East African country of Rwanda which, in 1994, became famous for all the wrong reasons. 

Today, Rwanda has become a poster child of post-conflict peace building and recovery with strong levels of economic growth and investment, free of corruption and with impressive achievements in health, education and especially, women’s participation. 

Rwanda is the only African country on track to meet all of the millennium development goals by 2015 and has the highest percentage of women in parliament compared to any country in the world (64%).

The 2014 World Bank Doing Business report rated Rwanda as having the second best business environment in Africa, and the country is now regarded as being one of the safest, cleanest and most peaceful countries in Africa.

One of the characteristics that has made this remarkable progress possible has been the Rwandan government’s policy of unity and reconciliation. In 1999, the Rwandan government established the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission and decided to adapt the traditional gacaca community justice system to deal with the crimes of the genocide and promote both justice and reconciliation.

Through these national institutions, and the work of local and international civil society organisations, Rwandans have been encouraged to confess and forgive the crimes of the past, to reconcile and to live together peacefully. 

For the good of the country and the future, feelings of anger and the desire for revenge have been buried in the hope that future generations of Rwandans will grow up free of the prejudices and interethnic violence of the past.

As a result of their experience in 1994, Rwandans have been committed to the global effort to prevent genocide, including the creation of a National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide (CNLG). 

In its determination to avoid being a bystander to mass violence, Rwanda has also become a significant global contributor to peacekeeping missions, including in Darfur, South Sudan, Haiti, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Liberia and Central African Republic (CAR).

Some of the initiatives taken by the United Nations in the wake of the genocide in Rwanda have included the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the development of the norm of the Responsibility to Protect and the creation of a Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Genocide Prevention. 

Despite these developments and the lessons of Rwanda, the international community has continued to be largely ineffective in averting genocide and other mass atrocities, such as in Darfur since 2004 and more recently in Syria and Central Africa Republic (CAR). 

Genocide prevention is a significant focus of the Kwibuka 20 programme of events around the world to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda. 

On 3 April, at the first of two events hosted by the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS) at the University of Sydney as part of Kwibuka 20, Eyal Mayroz, who recently completed his PhD with CPACS, presented a public lecture on the lessons from Rwanda and the potential and challenges of genocide prevention. 

Eyal discussed the impediments to effective action arising from geopolitical constraints and perceptions of logistical and practical obstacles, combined with lack of commitment to ethical and legal principles and norms.

CPACS joined with the Rwandan community of New South Wales and the  Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS NSW) to organise a second public event on 10 April, Kwibuka 20: Journey of Hope for Rwanda, with featured guest speaker Rwandan Ambassador to Japan and High Commissioner to Australia, Dr Charles Murigande, and a Q&A panel which was facilitated by myself, genocide survivor, Lambert Ndakaza, and special guests Professor Shirley Randell AO, PhD, Michelle Shaw from Hope: Global and Mohamed Dukuly from STARTTS. 

Ndakaza spoke of his feelings of shock, horror and disbelief as the genocide unfolded around him as a 20 year old young man in Rwanda, and of wondering if life was worth continuing following the loss of both his parents and three brothers as well as many members of his extended family. 

Lambert now lives in Newcastle with his own young family, thanks to the generous and caring sponsorship of an Australian family who enabled him to come to this country in 1997. 

In responding to the question ‘Why remember?’, Lambert admitted that it was extremely painful and not an easy process to go through, but, he said, ‘as survivors, we have an obligation to remember, so that the memories of our loved ones live on’ and ‘so that we make sure to learn some lessons for the future for the next generation’.

Ambassador Murigande explained how ‘the people of Rwanda refused to be overwhelmed by death and despair, and undertook to courageously pick up the pieces and rebuild a new and stronger nation’ by using a number of home grown solutions including: 

The traditional gacaca courts which focus on restorative rather than retributive justice and thereby foster reconciliation, imihigo, a performance contract between the leaders and the led which ensures transparency and accountability, ubudehe, a solidarity system at village level which ensures that the weak members of the society are not left out but are collectively assisted and supported by those who are strong and umuganda, a collective community work aimed at addressing community problems such as building classrooms and cleaning the neighbourhood among others.

Professor Shirley RandellAO, has been an adviser to the Rwandan government and worked in Rwanda as a gender and education specialist for the last nine years. She founded the Centre for Gender, Culture and Development at the Kigali Institute of Education (now the University of Rwanda College of Education) in order to develop a professional expertise to match Rwanda’s leading role globally in the empowerment of women and achievement of gender parity in almost all sectors, especially in education. 

After the genocide, according to UNICEF, women represented 70% of the Rwandan population, and the government took a proactive policy stance to include women and men equally as the ideal foundation for development. Women have made a key contribution to healing, peace, reconciliation and reconstruction by facilitating survivors and perpetrators working together for their communities and the nation. 

Hope: Rwanda is particularly active in the early childhood and primary education sector,as explained by Michelle Shaw, who is Education Programme Manager for Hope: Global, an international NGO whose motto is ‘shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, strength to strength’. 

Amongst their major achievements have been training teachers in teaching English, developing a school leadership programme and the social and economic empowerment of homeless women and children. 

Michelle emphasised the difference Australians have made in Rwanda through volunteering their professional skills and gave an example of how Australians had funded the building of a primary school classroom which had become a model centre of teaching excellence and innovation.

Faith-based civil society organisations such as World Vision and the Quakers have also assisted Rwandans in their recovery and development through the provision of psychosocial services and reconciliation programmes. 

Mohamed Dukuly, originally from Liberia and a trainer and facilitator with the Families in Cultural Transition (FICT) programme at STARTTS, identified the importance of trauma healing as a basis for building relationships and communities after mass violence, a process that is essential to peace building in Rwanda.

There are still political, social and development challenges in Rwanda. However, as Ambassador Murigande said in his closing remarks, ‘the modest but meaningful achievements we have made against incredible odds over the last 20 years have created in us strong self-confidence and self-worth as well as a resolve and belief that we shall overcome all the challenges that lie ahead of us on our long road to durable peace and prosperity’. 

He concluded by sharing a quote from a missionary who, when he was evacuated from Rwanda in April 1994, said: ‘There are no demons left in hell, all of them are now in Rwanda’ and that ‘looking at what Rwanda has accomplished over the last 20 years, I am tempted to say that “All the Angels have left Heaven to join us in the rebuilding of our country”.’

As part of Kwibuka 20, the Rwandan community will hold a commemoration service in Sydney in May.

Dr Wendy Lambourne is Deputy Director of CPACS, University of Sydney.