On Sunday, 07 April 2019. at the capital, Kigali, where 250,000 victims are buried, President Paul Kagame, and his wife, Jeannette, returned world attention to the 1994 100-day orgy of ethnic murders of 800,000 minority upper-class Tutsi by the majority lower-class Hutu. They organized a 25th anniversary memorial aimed to impress guests from the African Union, Belgium, Canada, Chad, the Congo. Republic, Djibouti, Ethiopia, the European Union, and Niger with the impressive improvement they had made. The memorial also prompted French president, Emmanuel Macron, to order a thorough investigation into the role of France that had helped both sides.
This wave of ethnic cleansing exploded when an aircraft, carrying Burundi president, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and Rwanda president, Juvenal Habyarimana, both Hutu, was shot down with surface-to-air missiles while landing at Kigali 06 Apr 1994. Hutu blamed the Tutsi, but doubts remain.
Conflict was ongoing at the time. In 1993, a UN peacekeeping force under command of Canadian general Roméo Dallaire was sent in. He became disillusioned with inadequate and indifferent world support. Overwhelmed by the Hutu, and, after 10 of his Belgian troops had been murdered, he withdrew, leaving behind a token force of mainly Ghanaian and Tunisian volunteers until the Hutu victory in 1996. In 2003, Dallaire published his book “Shake Hands With The Devil - the Failure of Humanity in Rwanda” He remains an outspoken critic of world ethnic cleanses and the use of child soldiers.
Today, Rwanda remains one of the smallest countries in Africa. It has 12 million predominantly young, densely-packed rural people speaking 3 official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, and English. It has a temperate climate with 2 dry and 2 rainy seasons per year. It is bordered by Burundi, the Congo Republic, Tanzania, and Uganda. Its people are one linguistic group containing: Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa, a forest-living pygmy group descended for the first humans there.
The 1884 German and 1916 Belgian colonial periods introduced and promoted Christianity. The Rwandan Banyarwanda religion’s creator, Imana, is now considered the same as Jesus Christ. Roman Catholicism is the leading religion at 43%, followed by Protestantism at 37%, and Islam 2%. All must now be proud Rwandans.
There is much to support this unified belief: There is low corruption, and;
Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in its parliament;
Rwanda is one of only two countries where mountain gorillas can be visited safely;
Access to electricity has increased from 18 to 70%.
The GDP has increased from $416 in 1994 to $2,225 in 2018.
The World Economic Forum rates Rwanda as the world’s 9th safest country to visit.
Free education has been increased to 12 years and professional sports teams compete well internationally.
Yet Rwanda rates among the lowest in happiness, Critics claim that only tourists and local politicians enjoy Rwanda’s stability. There is a climate of fear imposed by intimidation and restrictions on freedom of speech with frequent suppression of opposition groups. Reporters Without Borders calls Kagame a predator who attacks press freedom, citing the fact that in the last two decades, eight journalists have been killed or have gone missing, 11 have been given long jail terms, and 33 forced to flee Rwanda. Anjan Sundaram in his book “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” details Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press, giving a 12-page list of journalists harmed. He also tells of rows of homes in a rural province made roofless by owners to please Kagame who objects to thatched roofs that he considered non-modern. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since precolonial times; there are five provinces with borders established in 2006. Kagame, president since 2000, admits there are large areas of poverty and that most children are malnourished.
For a better understanding of this dilemma, we do need to look at still-controversial Rwandan history:
Hunter-gatherers settled the area in the stone and iron ages, followed by the Bantu, first with clans then with up to 8 kingdoms, all including Tutsi Hutu, and Twa. The Kingdom of Rwanda dominated from the mid-eighteenth century, with the Tutsi kings conquering others and enacting anti-Hutu policies. In 1884 Germany colonized Rwanda as part of German East Africa. Gustav Adolf von Götzen, was the first European to effectively explore it. The Germans ruled by backing the king and local chiefs . In 1916, during World War 1, Belgium invaded and exerted more direct colonial rule but still through local kings who perpetuated a pro-Tutsi policy.
In 1959 the Hutus revolted, massacred numerous Tutsi, and established an independent, Hutu-dominated, state in 1962. A 1973 military coup changed leadership, but pro-Hutu policy remained. Some 500,000 Tutsi had fled Rwanda. Their request to return home peacefully was refused by the Hutu Habyarimana, president since 1973.
The Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) under Paul Kagame, launched a civil war in 1990 ending in 1993 when the Hutu accepted a peace deal. The RPF had won a military victory only to face the 1994 uprising.
An amazing example of the current wave of forgiveness is the 15 April Christiane Amanpour PBS interview of Tutsi genocide survivor, Denise Uwimana, who lost her husband but saved her family including the baby she gave birth to under a bed while soaked in the blood of victims. This son, now 25, was due to a Hutu rape. She forgives all for a better future.
The economy is recovering from the great harm of the genocide. Major exports are coffee, tea, tin,
cassiterite, wolfframite, and pyrethrum. Also mined are sapphires, gold, and coltan, Manufacturing contributes 17% of the GDP. By 2017 tourism generated $444 million from 1.2 million visitors. The RwandAir fleet of a dozen, mainly Airbus, aircraft flies to Brussels, London, Nairobi, Entebbe, Lagos, Mumbai, Johannesburg and Cape Town. with the motto “Come, Grow With Us”.
Ethiopia is achieving a similar resurrection from a civil war that inflicted over 1.4 million casualties, 400,000 from conflict and a million by a ruinous famine.
Benedict Oramah, president of the African Export-Import Bank, has invested over $200 million in Rwandan development, praising its can-do spirit. The Africa boss at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Matshidiso Moeti, chose Kigali for this year’s first ever Africa Health Forum. She praised Kagame for remarkable leadership, creativity, tenacity and resolve in achieving health progress in a short space of time.
Elder Nigerian statesman, Olusegun Obasanjo, announced “Rwanda has made difficult trade-offs. But as an African leader, I would make the same trade-offs.”
Kagame was elected to chair the African Union’s April summit in Addis Ababa.
Big money interests are embracing Rwanda. Kagame has made Kigali his show case. The city is
immaculate, Its streets can be walked safely anywhere at any time. There are fancy hotels and restaurants. parks, urban farms, and golf courses are springing up and the views are spectacular. New housing developments attract so many that prices become inflated and renters must move on to high-rise rather than single-family houses.
Some of the trade-offs include shades of totalitarian Nazi-Germany, the USSR, and China. For example: one day each month, villages must come together to participate in Umuganda, a nationwide community service day. Afterwards, villages will meet to discuss issues, such as directives from the national government. Those who do not toe the line, who have not signed up for mandatory health insurance, or who have not delivered on personal pledges may be reprimanded or, on occasion, kicked out of the community. Each layer of society must answer to the one above it.
A resultant improvement can be seen in healthcare. In 2000, life expectancy was 49 years. It is now 64.5. Child mortality is down over two-thirds. Maternal mortality is down about 80%. HIV/Aids prevalence is down to 3% from 13%. There is now one doctor for every 6,000 people, compared 10,555 in 2000.
But, there is Anjan Sundaram’s “Last Journalists in a Dictatorship” detailing Rwanda’s suffocation of a free press with a 12-page list of journalists who have allegedly been beaten, tortured, exiled or killed by Kagame’s government. It is not, Sundaram says, an exhaustive list.
Kagame’s forces were also implicated in atrocities – and, later, were to contribute to a devastating war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo that left millions of civilians dead.
The arbitrary arrest of poor people is part of an unofficial government practice to hide ‘undesirable’ people from view, and contrasts with the Rwandan government’s impressive efforts to reduce poverty,” said Human Rights Watch. One of these detention centres is the notorious Iwawa Island. Officially, it’s a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, set in the glittering blue waters of Lake Kivu. Unofficially, it’s often described as Rwanda’s Alcatraz, where enemies of the state, along with its poor and homeless, are kept in prison-like conditions.
While Kagame’s impressive improvements in Rwanda deserve praise, his disdain of those who do not fit into his agenda is unforgivable, especially as the rising wave of far-right-wing groups are prone to copy such strongarm tactics whose true costs need exploring.
Those who create good for all, including the environment, must have the last word.