Rwanda shares lessons on unity, good governance ahead of the 29th Genocide commemoration

By Lavie Mutanganshuro

On March 29, 2023, the Rwanda High Commission and the United States International University-Africa (USIU–Africa), held a symposium to commemorate the upcoming 29th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi. The symposium discussed Rwanda’s journey to recovery, prosperity, the remaining challenges, and how they can be addressed. The event brought together diplomats, representatives of different institutions and organizations, and students from different universities in Nairobi.

Speaking during the event, the High Commissioner of Rwanda in Kenya, Dr. Richard Masozera, said that unity and inclusive governance have been key in building the modern Rwanda following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed a million lives in 100 days.

“Our leadership began from scratch, by uniting a people that had been fed hate and divisionism for years, which later culminated into the genocide. We focused more on what unites us; the immeasurable things we have in common, and decided to ignore our differences,” Dr. Masozera said, adding that it was not an easy process, but rewarding in the end.

The same sentiments were shared by Prof. PLO Lumumba, who stressed that governance is key in preventing the genocide, as well as reviving a destroyed nation.
He said that the revival of post-colonial African states demands to revisit Africa’s governance structures and emphasize on what people have in common instead of their differences, so that nobody feels excluded. “This is an inter-generational project that we must work towards,” he added.

Home-grown solutions
After the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda’s infrastructures were completely destroyed, and many professionals had succumbed to the tragedy while others had to seek refuge outside the country.

One of the sectors affected was the country’s judicial system, yet there was a backlog of genocide cases that needed to be cleared. In response, the government of Rwanda introduced Gacaca, a home grown solution whereby ordinary citizens with good reputation were selected as judges.

Members of the community would come together and provide factual information they have about a given genocide suspect in that particular community, and the judges would later determine whether the person is guilty or innocent based on gathered information. Through this judicial system, about two million cases have been tried in a period of ten years.

According to Prof. Margee Ensign, Vice Chancellor of USIU-Africa, the various home-grown solutions were fundamental in helping rebuild a country that was then in a devastating situation.

“Gacaca was probably the largest experiment in reconciliation and public justice in modern history. Through this system, the foundation of trust, justice and hope was laid in Rwanda,” she said.

Prof. Ensign also hailed Rwanda’s extraordinary progress in gender equity, poverty reduction, health and education as well as Imihigo, a performance-based contract where local leaders pledge what they will accomplish in a given period of time as a way to ensure responsible and accountable leadership.

Impunity and genocide denial
While Rwanda has made remarkable progress 29 years after the genocide, the country still faces a number of challenges as far as its tragic history is concerned, some of them being impunity and genocide denial.

A number of genocide fugitives are still roaming freely in some African countries as well as outside the continent. On this, Dr. Alphonse Muleefu, a Lecturer at the University of Rwanda’s School of Law, argues that it remains a responsibility of individual countries to not only prevent the genocide but also punish it.

“Some countries have used their state obligation under different international legal instruments to bring to book genocide fugitives on their territories. However, there is still a big number of genocide fugitives given a safe haven. This is simply due to lack of political goodwill, and in turn that impunity fuels genocide denial and undermines the progress made,” Dr. Muleefu stated.

Since 2007, Rwanda’s National Public Prosecution Authority has issued 1,148 indictments and arrest warrants to 33 countries in Africa, Europe, North America and Australia. However, out of these, only 29 suspects have been deported or extradited for trial in Rwanda, while only 25 genocide suspects have been tried by foreign host countries.

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