Rwanda 1994-2014: a million of reasons to remember

09.04.2014 - Dario Lo Scalzo

This post is also available in: Italian

Rwanda 1994-2014: a million of reasons to remember

Twenty years after the Genocide that killed off up to a million of people in few months, is important to remember and to convert the memory in a positive force able to converge the past to the present to seed a new courage and new contagious hopes. We talk about the courage to push the world in the direction of the safeguard of human rights and at the same time to make aware people and powers in order to move towards a nonviolent culture; cause only the nonviolence can nourish the real sense of life. Rwandan atrocity becomes unfortunately the emblem of our illogical age living of savagery and dehumanization. Violence and oppression are in the middle of the current world scene emphasizing our social decline and the loss of Humanity

We reached Sulah Nuwamanya,, responsible for Partnership Development and Communications within ActionAid Ruanda, in order to have an evidence of Rwanda picture from who daily lives there and works frontline to play part in building a Social justice system as well as people inclusion

We are now at 20 years from the dramatic genocide, how have been lived these last 20 years in Rwanda? And which traces do remain in the country of that tragic historic period?  

In 1994, in Rwanda, in the space of 100 days of genocide against Tutsis, up to one million people  were killed by Hutu militias in a calculated act, fuelled and perpetrated by Hutu extremists in the then ruling government.  Up to 20 per cent of the population were killed in what is known as the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.  It was one of Africa’s defining moments, and arguably one of the greatest crimes against humanity of the late 20th century, causing a shockwave across the world that still echoes today. Twenty years on, the genocide continues to dominate Rwandan and regional politics and also the Rwandan people’s psyche:  the country was brought to its knees, the entire socio-economic and political fabric was destroyed, with women and children in particular left to bear the burden of a devastated society. Yet, it is important to look at what has been achieved in the wake of such tragedy, as well as what still needs to be done. Rwanda has seen remarkable success in the last few years, with poverty reduction matched by strong economic growth – with the help of overseas aid there has been impressive progress on the provision of basic services such as healthcare, education, agriculture and infrastructure development.

Violence, poverty, violations of human rights, hunger, high-tensions with Congo, what about all this today?

There are still armed militias within the Democratic Republic of Congo that harbour a genocide ideology and they are a destabilising factor for the entire region. ActionAid works across the region in Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and Uganda and we believe that the UN and African Union must take a lead and exert influence on all parties. No one within Rwanda wants the killings to return. There is too much to lose as the government knows, which is why initiatives such as unity and reconciliation, demobilization and re-integration of former armed forces and perpetrators have been put in place to encourage all Rwandans to work together and reconcile. That being said we believe that upholding basic rights and meeting basic needs are linked and that political progress has to be for Rwandans themselves to decide within a democratic political system with a free and fair judiciary

Still focusing at the present, what is the situation in Rwanda today?

Rwanda of today has transformed itself from that tragic history of the 1994 genocide where almost everything was destroyed. Annual growth has exceeded five percent in the last 20 years, driven by coffee and tea exports and expanding tourism; yet, despite positive movement, poverty is still an issue and Rwanda is still dependent on aid. Approximately 45% of Rwandans live below the poverty line in 2014 as compared to nearly 60% in 2004. Aid as a percentage of government spending dropped from 85% in 2000 to 40%, according to 2013/14 budget. The majority of the population are subsistence smallholder farmers and of these at least 80% are women who survive by farming on a small piece of land for food to feed themselves. Rwanda of today is the country that has made important steps in the last two decades. In 1994, Rwanda was totally shattered. The country’s entire socio-economic and political fabric had been destroyed. Aid as a percentage of government spending has dropped from 85% in 2000 to 40% in 2013. While much has been achieved, it is now important to reinvigorate a commitment to those young people and their families who live in the direst poverty. In particular, it is important to uphold the rights of girls and women who are worst affected by poverty, including the genocide survivors who were left to bear the burden of a devastated society.

Rwanda is a very young country with an average age of almost 19 and with 2/3 of the population under 15 years. Is this a population looking at the future more than reminding that sad past?

Rwanda has a very young population, so the country’s future depends on the next generation getting the support they need to protect their rights and work their way out of poverty and any form of injustice. People are naturally sombre as they look back and this is to be expected. Rwanda was totally scarred by the atrocity with few families left unscathed: Rwandans have come through very difficult and challenging times. Yet overwhelmingly, the mood looking forward is positive.  There is increasing optimism amongst Rwandan people that Rwanda is turning a corner.  Young people in particular want to see they are part of a sustained, united Rwanda and one that does not recognize the previous societal differences.

Do you think that western world and actually the entire world did learn something about Rwanda happening?

The world seems to have learnt something about what happened in Rwanda and we think the Genocide in Rwanda can always echo in people’s minds to ensure that what happened should never have happened and should never happen anywhere in the world. During the genocide the United Nations and countries including the United States, Great Britain and Belgium were criticized for their inaction, including failure to strengthen the force and mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) peacekeepers, while observers criticized the government of France for actively supporting the genocide regime. The genocide had a lasting and profound impact on Rwanda and its neighbouring countries. The pervasive use of war rape caused a spike in HIV infection, including babies born of rape to newly infected mothers; many households were headed by orphaned children or widows. The decimation of infrastructure and a severe depopulation of the country crippled the economy, challenging the government to achieve rapid economic growth and stabilization. What happened should never happen not only in Rwanda but anywhere in the world because what happened was total madness and I think the world learnt its own lesson.

Categories: Africa, International, Interviews, Peace and Disarmament
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