Post-Genocide Rwanda Seeks Development, Legitimacy
Brandon Sun “Small
World” Column, Saturday, August 14 / 10
For “light” summer reading in
July, your correspondent chose the 600-page A
Problem From Hell: America And The Age Of Genocide, a
look at genocide in the 20th century written by Pulitzer
Prize-winner journalist and professor Samantha Power.
spurred on in this disturbing quest by two of my children visiting
Rwanda this summer and because one of them is developing a course on
genocide to teach in his high school social studies program.
Sixteen years after the tragedy of genocide in Rwanda, that East
Central African country has just held its second democratic national
election and has shown marked improvement in its economic
At the same time, despite growth in exports,
resource development, tourism and in the earning power of its citizens,
tensions continue between ethnic groups, poverty remains a reality for
almost half of its citizens, and accusations abound about its
President’s strong governing style.
Canadians might best recognize Rwanda thanks to Romeo Dallaire’s book
and the follow-up movie Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, about his
experience of unsuccessfully trying to stop the slaughter of moderate
Hutus and all Tutsis by militant Hutus. Dallaire was in
charge of a small 500-person United Nations peacekeeping force that was
stationed in the Rwandan capital of Kigale in April of 1994.
When the Presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were shot down while flying
back from a failed peace conference with Tutsi rebels, a pre-planned
genocidal campaign was launched that, over three months, took the lives
of at least 800,000 innocent people who were shot, hacked, burned and
Because the world community (the UN, the US, Europe) refused to
strengthen Dallaire’s force and change his orders to be more aggressive
in defending Tutsis, only the final victory of the Rwanda Patriotic
Front (RPF), led by current President Paul Kagame, in July of that year
brought the rampage to an end. All in all, hundreds of
thousands of refugees were created, many also died of cholera in
refugee camps (both Hutu and Tutsi), many orphans were left behind, and
the country was devastated.
On the 15th anniversary of the genocide, U.S. President Obama said:
deaths of 800,000 people is so daunting, it risks becoming just a
statistic. It must be remembered that every one of those
people who died had their own story, their own family, and their own
Former U.S. President Clinton describes the lack of US
action against the genocide as one of his administration’s worst
mistakes. Dallaire lost his UN job when he refused to back
down from his outspokenness about the complicity of the international
community. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder
and is now a Canadian Senator and continues his campaign to aid Rwanda
and its victims.
Since that time, RPF leader Kagame, who was Vice-President until 2000
and has been President since, has worked to make over Rwanda, combining
strong government with massive aid programs, attracting foreign
investment, modernization of infrastructure (roads, phone lines,
hotels) to bring in tourism, and promotion of homogeneity between Hutu
As examples, the US firm ContourGlobal is building
one of the world’s largest methane extractors at Lake Kivu.
Meanwhile, China has built a huge embassy in Kigali, and Korea Telecom
is providing wireless broadband across the country. Costco
and Starbucks are buying up most of the coffee production, Rwanda’s
largest agricultural export crop, and marketing it aggressively in
North America and around the world.
The face that Rwanda wants to show to the world is of a progressive,
modernizing country seeking to join middle-income status nations such
as Brazil and Thailand by 2020, having reconciled their internal
differences, no longer needing international aid, and attracting
business and tourism.
To achieve this, they will have to gain
the support of both Hutu and Tutsi, they will have to bring down a high
birth rate while raising rural people up from abject underdevelopment
and poverty, and they will have to profit by their mineral resources
(gold and coltan) whereas neighbouring countries such as Democratic
Republic of Congo have had their wealth become a source of corruption
and civil war.
They will also have to prove that Kagame is truly a peaceful democratic
leader. Although a strong hand at the helm has been accepted
by business, the World Bank, and even moderate Hutus, criticism has
grown that access to government is impossible unless as part of his
political party or related groups.
With its national election
having been held this past week on Monday, August 9th, returning Kagame
to power for seven more years before he must resign, the recent murders
of opposition politicians and journalists have stirred the controversy
My children describe Rwanda as a beautiful country, hilly, green, with
a moderate climate. They enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of
the capital, Kigali, as well as their trek to see the mountain gorillas
on the border with Congo. They also found it “surreal” to
visit, and have a cup of coffee at, sites of the slaughter, such as the
Mille Collines (Thousand Hills), the subject of the Hollywood film
“Hotel Rwanda” about the genocide. These are now places of
peace, and long may they remain so.
Zack Gross works
for the Manitoba Council for International
Co-operation (MCIC), a
coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.