In searching for answers to the question of Rwanda’s most pressing challenges, ‘The New Rwanda’ had the opportunity to interview Bishop John Rucyahana, founder and head of the Sonrise School and Chairman of the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC).
Bishop Rucyahana, through his moral leadership and educational initiative, has not only identified the depth of Rwanda’s problems, but he has a clear vision of its path to the New Rwanda. And in the spirit of true leadership, he is walking it and clearing the way for the next generation to follow him.
Below are excerpts:
SM: What do you see as the major challenges in building a new Rwanda in the post-genocide period?
BJR: The major challenges are reflected in the major changes that are taking place in a sustainable way in
Rwanda: First and foremost is the transformation to good governance. We now have a Rwandan Constitution, popular because it was put together by Rwandan people for their own well being, to address their own problems and express their own values.
Rwanda is now secure over all its territory and is the least corrupt country in Africa. Most meaningfully, it has decentralized its developmental plans and leadership. Rwanda has recovered its economic course and as a result, some percentage of our national budget is covered by our own revenue.
You realize that it is only 17 years since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi; Rwandans are engaging in reconciliation and facing realistic historical experiences in order to make our nation whole again. We have no shortcuts—no magic solutions. But we are facing our past and engaged in choosing a future of promise. The change is hard, but it is our call—our responsibility—to do it.
SM: How important is education in the process of transformation? What, in terms of both content and methodology, needs to be changed in Rwandan education?
BJR: Education is crucial; indeed it is imperative that we transform our educational system. We have to engage our people’s minds and change our attitudes. And we must do it at all levels. We have examples at the Sonrise School, where the students, three quarters of whom are orphans, are being given an excellent education along with care and the opportunity to heal and recover from the traumas they have experienced to become leaders of this nation. The process of discipline and transformation is critical to their education.
We now have an elementary school and a high school. The government has initiated means to educate all Rwandans.
SM: Is there a peace and reconciliation process in place? If so, is it effective?
BJR: The reconciliation in Rwanda is effective. Rwandan people are convinced that reconciliation is the most important requirement for our future. And it cannot be imported or donated. Reconciliation, as I said, is not magic. We are, to this day, still burying the remains of people killed in the genocide. The pain is real, but even so, our people need to recover their dignity, which was trampled on, and make us a nation again.
SM: What is the state of ethnic identity and conflict today? What is the potential for the future
vis-a–vis ethnic conflict?
BJR: Rwandans feel more like Rwandans, owning their own affairs, with more national responsibility than they have ever had before. They are in the process of correcting the colonial distortions and misconceptions as well as their own Rwandan mistakes. In answering the first question, I cited our progress—it’s all Rwandan.
It is high time that we grow and design and implement our development based on our own values.
Civil society, of which we are all members, is growing steadily as is the economy and other national necessities. We have a number of examples.
SM: Are you optimistic about Rwanda’s future?
BJR: I wish you could have attended some of my sermons, calling upon church leaders to make Rwandans into an undivided people; the issue of ethnicity in Rwanda was exploited by colonial powers to advance their own agenda. It was also misused by our post-colonial powers in the interest of Rwandan leaders who were under the influence of their donors and sponsors. Today no one bears any official document declaring his or her ethnic identity, as it had been in the past; today students and employees no longer get considered based on ethnicity—but only on merit. The ethnic conflict is no longer present in the society.
The Rwandan government is aware of the former soldiers and armed perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda who are now in Congo—and some are in Europe and elsewhere. They are still speaking evil thoughts, but we hope for their change as well, or their apprehension.
It is our prayer to the living God that it is not only my optimism but that of many Rwandan that I speak about. It is our hope that through our own efforts we will usher in democracy, economic growth, peace and reconciliation, and that we will become a strong nation.
Yes, I am optimistic, because we are not just wishing for a better future but working for it—because we know that we must fulfill our own destiny by reaching the goals that we have set out for ourselves.
This article is part of a series of articles from ‘The New Rwanda: Prosperity and the Public Good’ by Sondra Myers.