Rwanda: 14 years out of the mire

April 11, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, April 9 – It’s been 14 years since the dreadful ethnic bloodbath in Rwanda claimed nearly one million lives, and this week from April 7 to April 13 the Rwandese government through all its embassies around the globe will commemorate the 1994 Genocide that threatened to cripple that country.

The theme of this year’s celebration is, ‘Let’s commemorate Genocide while fighting its ideology, rendering support to survivors and striving for development.’

The fete will serve to remind Rwanda and the world at large of the tragic events of the Genocide to keep the memory fresh and ensure that a repeat performance is not witnessed anywhere in the world.

The massacre was preceded by the assassination of the then Rwandan President Juvenal Habyalimana and Burundi’s President Cyprien Ntaryamira, as they returned from a meeting in Tanzania. The small jet carrying the two presidents was shot down by ground-fired missiles as it approached Rwanda’s Kigali airport.

Immediately after this, Rwanda plunged into a wave of political violence where Hutu extremists began targeting the Tutsis for annihilation.

Rwanda is one of the smallest countries in Central Africa, with a population of just seven million people, and is comprised of two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi.

Although the Hutus account for 90 percent of the population, in the past, the Tutsi minority was considered the aristocracy of Rwanda and dominated Hutu peasants for decades, especially when Rwanda was under Belgian colonial rule.

Following independence from Belgium in 1962, the Hutu majority seized power and reversed the roles, oppressing the Tutsis through systematic discrimination and acts of violence.

As a result, over 200,000 Tutsis fled to neighbouring countries and formed a rebel guerrilla army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

In 1990, the rebel army invaded Rwanda and forced Hutu President Juvenal Habyalimana to sign an accord that provided for power sharing between the Hutus and the Tutsis.

The animosity between them began to grow and though tireless efforts were made to unite the two groups, the ethnic divisions just wouldn’t go away.

The international community including the United Nations (UN) has been in the spotlight for allowing the conflict to get to the point of no return, when nothing could be salvaged and hundreds of thousands of people had been killed.

Rwanda’s ambassador to Kenya George Kayonga launched the celebrations on Tuesday and indicated that the country had made great strides towards reconstruction and recovery, key among them reconciling the people, expanding the economy, rebuilding the infrastructure and promoting gender balance over the last one and a half decades.

The country also boasts of a growth rate of between six to seven percent per annum, an improvement that has been recorded over the last five years.

“We continue to see more foreign investors attracted to our country,” he noted.

Events that unfolded during the massacre led to the destruction of Rwanda’s infrastructure, halting the economy of the small nation.

Fighting rebels made away with literally anything that came in their paths and destroyed everything they could not loot.

But now, the Ambassador said the country had set the best example in the globe on gender issues, especially with the 48 percent representation of women in Parliament. Kayonga attributed this to the affirmative action adopted by his government.

“This was a deliberate effort by us; it’s our way of doing it,” he stated.

Besides this, women also receive key appointments to public and private sector institutions.

Rwanda has also made purposeful efforts to reconcile warring communities and quell the fierce animosity between the Hutus and Tutsis.

However the Ambassador admitted that challenges still lay in wiping out the deep-rooted genocide mentality.

“There are some people who are bent on the genocide ideology. So it is two sided, at one point you are trying to reconcile a people but at the same time you are following up on those who are negating the ethnic animosity,” noted Kayonga.

The diplomat however noted that all those behind the crimes against humanity must face the full force of the law.

He said that some foreign nations, some of which were accused of fuelling the ill feeling, continue to hamper efforts to bring the perpetrators to book.

“Tremendous progress has been made but there is still a lot to be done. The prime suspects are still out there but we have not lost hope. They are fugitives wherever they are and one day justice will be done,” said the diplomat.

Over 100,000 people were arrested following the massacre and 60,000 of these have been released to go through the community court system known as ‘Kacaca’.

Under this system the convicts are given an opportunity to confess and those found guilty are handed various community service sentences.

The main financiers and planners of the genocide including the prime suspect Felicien Kabuga have not been arrested.

Kabuga was last seen in Kenya, and efforts to have him arrested have not yielded any fruit.  Authorities believe he may be hiding in Kenya or one of the neighbouring countries where he has vast interests in the real estate business.


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