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Past Issue • Oct-Dec 2011

Out of Africa: A Story of Hope and Reconciliation

His Excellency Williams Nkurunziza, High Commissioner of Rwanda to New Delhi, was at the Indian School of Business (ISB) to talk to students about Rwanda’s political and economic turnaround after the genocide in 1994.

From witnessing the genocide of a million people to being rated by the Royal Commonwealth Society as the second best country in Africa for a girl to be born, Rwanda has come a long way in under two decades.

The twist in Rwanda’s rehabilitation story is that the 3.5 million culprits, who had fled to neighbouring Congo after committing the genocide, were recalled to rebuild the country. They were told, “You are not going to be killed because you killed – you are going to have to explain and accept a punishment that the law will deem necessary,” explained H E Nkurunziza.

According to him, “The return of those refugees into the country was a very fundamental decision that formed the basis of the re-constitution of the country and the beginning of the process of healing.”

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which came into power after the genocide in 1994, recognised that most of the culprits were peasants, who had been manipulated into committing the genocide. It was, thus, important to separate them from the actual architects and perpetrators of the horror.

Since Rwanda was dealing with an astounding number of culprits, the process of delivering justice posed great challenges. Thus, the RPF decided to initiate Gacaca (Ga-CHA-cha), a system of Restorative Justice, based on the traditional Rwandese community practice of resolving disputes, where the onus of the crime is placed on its perpetrator. Thus, the family of a genocide victim recovers by receiving help from the culprit.

The diplomat attributes Rwanda’s turnaround to the choices his country made in its path toward recovery. “We had to think right, act right and act fast to save ourselves,” he asserted. Post-1994, the country’s first priority was to secure itself and heal the people. Only when this aspect was stable, did the process of restoring institutions begin. Subsequently, the focus then shifted to reconstructing the economy.

Also critical to Rwanda’s future was the drafting of an inclusive constitution that allowed people to share power. This was especially necessary since the country had witnessed a genocide that was a culmination of “bad politics revolving around competition for power.” Based on the new constitution, the presidents of the senate and the national assembly have to come from a party other than the ruling party, regardless of whether they are a minority in parliament.

Today, Rwanda is seeing the outcome of these reforms and is on its way to developing its tertiary industries such as the Financial Services and Telecommunications sectors.

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