Pain and Progress in Rwanda
By Megan Rosenbach
Today, in Rwanda, on the last Saturday of every month, you’ll find people out sweeping and cleaning their community on a designated local service day. You’ll find a nation at work, rebuilding itself slowly and steadily, pushing ahead to the future. As you read this on your computer screen, it’s shocking to realize that only 10% of the Rwanda’s population has the luxury of even the electricity to power a computer. But the increasing numbers of power lines being installed across the country are an example of the growth taking place. These power lines carry more than simply electric current. In a certain sense, they also conduct a measure of hope for a future brighter than simply the lumens of light bulbs, empowering communities towards further development and ultimately, fighting poverty.
The Rwandan leap into electricity is a microcosm of a country that has the potential to be a model for Africa. Roads and buildings are planned, approved, and built in a matter of weeks and petty bribes land even high-ranking officials in jail. In the capital city of Kigali, the streets are clean, while strikingly, also hosting large numbers of heavily armed policemen. Eighteen years after the genocide that killed nearly one million people, Rwanda is on the path of security, economic growth, and prosperity.
Genocide in Rwanda
The sharp pain of tragedy still lingers tangibly in Rwanda as it meets the hope found in reconciliation and reconstruction. As a resilient people work towards a better future, it is in the wake of a chilling annihilation, firmly impressed upon the minds of a nation’s consciousness. From April to July of 1994, hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in the most rapid genocide in recent history. In just 90 days, it is estimated that more than 800,000 people were murdered. Rough estimates also place that anywhere from 250,000 and 500,000 women were brutally raped, which is believed to be the cause of the AIDS epidemic in Rwanda. And in the wake of the genocide and the HIV/AIDS crisis, there were also more than 600,000 orphans in Rwanda by 2001, and virtually no psychological care available for anyone after the trauma.
History: Colonization and Ethnic Tensions
The violence of the genocide took place in the warring of the Hutu and Tutsi, Rwanda’s two most dominant ethnic groups at the time. During the Belgian colonization of Rwanda, beginning in the early 1900s, Tutsis, the minority group, were given favor and considered superior to the majority Hutus. Tutsis benefited from better jobs and educational opportunities, while Hutu resentment steadily grew. In 1959, more than 20,000 Tutsis were killed by angry Hutus. Thousands of Tutsis fled Rwanda and settled in neighboring countries. In 1962, when Belgium pulled out of Rwanda, Hutus took control of the government and with the Hutus in power, minority Tutsis were blamed for every problem and crisis in the country. Political tension increased.
Tutsi refugees in neighboring Uganda —with support from some moderate Hutus—formed the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) with an aim to overthrow the then-current President, Juvenal Habyarimana (a moderate Hutu), and return to their home country. But in an effort to improve his waning popularity, President Habyarimana exploited the RPF’s threat, which resulted in launching accusations of RPF collaboration towards the Tutsis still living in Rwanda.
Then in April 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down. No one knows who actually ordered the assassination. Regardless, the RPF was blamed for the assassination, tipping off the rampant killing spree. Roadblocks appeared overnight, and thousands armed themselves with machetes, guns, and clubs. The staggering atrocities raged on for three months. In July of 1994, the RPF captured Kigali, and with the shift in power came a ceasefire: the massive genocide was over, leaving hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead and a country changed forever.
Hope Amidst Pain
In the words of the President Kagame, “[t]he genocide touched the lives of all Rwandans; no individual or community was spared. Every Rwandan is either a genocide survivor or a perpetrator, or the friend or relative of a survivor or perpetrator.”
The tragedy continues to have powerful reverberations, but now echoes in the hopeful future of Rwanda, as demonstrated by young people there.
TNHF’s Executive Director Justin Zoradi writes about his recent trip to Rwanda:
"The highlight of my trip was meeting and connecting with university students through our friends at Africa New Life. I spent substantial time with eleven amazing young women who were motivated, thoughtful, and committed to each other and to their country. Yet their ambition doesn’t come without heartache. Nearly all of the girls are orphans affected by the genocide, poverty, and their refugee status.
One of my last nights was spent over an amazing dinner with the young women at their home. We ate traditional Rwandan food, and I shared about my life in Portland, my wife, my pets, and my obsession with soccer. We watched videos of our TNHF students in South Africa. We laughed, prayed, and dreamed together of the amazing leaders these young women will become for Rwanda."
For more information on Rwanda, please check out these great resources
President Paul Kagame, preface to After Genocide, ed. Phil Clark and Zachary D. Kaufman (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009), xxi.
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