At an April 21 Director's Forum, His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, reflected on the tragic genocide that took place in Rwanda ten years ago, discussing the root causes of the genocide, the international reaction to the crisis, and the measures that he and his country have been taking to rebuild Rwanda. The Director's Forum was part of Remembering Rwanda, a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the genocide. The event was co-sponsored by the Africa Program, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the United States Institute of Peace.
Between April and June, 1994, close to one million Rwandans, mostly Tutsi, but including many moderate Hutu, were killed in the space of 100 days in a genocide that was planned, designed and organized over many months by top leaders of the government of the day.
Africa Program Director Howard Wolpe criticized the international community's failure to respond and praised the efforts of Rwandans to rebuild. "Despite a rate of killing that exceeded even that of the European Holocaust, the world silently watched and chose not to act. Remembering Rwanda seeks not only to remember both the victims and survivors of the genocide, but also to pay tribute to the remarkable courage and vision of Rwandans who are undertaking the painful, difficult work of reconciliation and reconstruction."
President Kagame began by emphasizing the need to look at the history of Rwanda which led to the genocides. "We cannot begin to understand genocide and its aftermath in Rwanda unless we understand the context and the facts that have shaped us Rwandans for over five centuries."
Kagame pointed out that Rwandan society is comprised of three groups, but disputed the claim of many scholars that these groups are distinct tribes. "These people lived in the same hills, they intermarried, and they share the same culture, including language. Unfortunately, this cohesion was disrupted by the colonial policy of divide and rule."
However, Kagame said that the blame could not be placed solely on the colonizers. "I would like to point out that although we blame the colonials for sowing the seeds of hate and spreading entrenched division and differences among Africans, we cannot blame them for all the years that continue to afflict the African continent. Genocide in our country was, in many ways, a culmination of the hatred initiated during the colonial period, but it was also due to the failure of post-colonial rulers in Rwanda to divorce the legacy of that past."
Kagame said the failures of post-colonial Rwandan governments had many causes. First, an ideology of exclusion had penetrated all aspects of society, including local and central government, churches, and schools. Second, a culture of impunity rewarded criminals, including those who committed murder. Third, the institutions of the country were "ethnicized and only intent on maintaining the status quo." And lastly, the international community was silent in the face of serious human rights violations.
"All these were a recipe for a catastrophe that was waiting to happen. It is no surprise, therefore, that genocide happened when it did. Besides the poisoned colonial legacy I mentioned, there was the failure of the international community to prevent the genocide and stop it once it was underway. You will agree with me that the world had the means and the resources to act, but lacked the will to do so despite the solemn refrain, ‘Never again,' after the Holocaust."
Kagame stressed the importance of not focusing solely on assessing blame. "What is more pertinent for us is where we go from here and whether the world will act differently if a similar catastrophe erupts. In that light, the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of genocide presents us with an occasion to reflect and talk about the modest achievements we have made as a people."
Immediately after the genocide, Rwandans decided to set up a transitional government made up of a coalition of political parties that had not taken part in the killings. The government has adopted a policy of open return and reconciliation for the former soldiers that committed the genocide. Many of those soldiers have returned to Rwanda after fleeing to the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. However, Kagame warned that some extremist soldiers still remained in the DRC and pose an ongoing threat.
"Unless there is a concerted effort by the international community to deal with these forces that committed genocide and continue to harbor the idea of further genocide, they remain a potential threat to peace and security—not only to Rwanda, but to the whole region."
Kagame also described the reforms the new Rwandan government has undertaken over the past ten years. The government has set up new institutions "which promote transparency and accountability," while new schools, hospitals and basic civil services have been restored. This, he said, has enabled Rwanda to enjoy a period of successful economic growth, ranging from six to ten percent, with a low inflation rate. Last year the people of Rwanda ratified a new constitution and held a successful election that renewed Kagame's Presidential mandate.
Kagame concluded by encouraging the international community to act in ways that foster community and prosperity for everyone. "If we have the will, we can work together to ensure that the 21st century marks the start of endurable prosperity, peace and stability. The stakes are very high. The rewards are even higher. We in Rwanda will play our modest part."