The United Nations currently has twelve peacekeeping missions deployed worldwide. The aim of the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions is to ‘help countries navigate the difficult path from conflict to peace’. However, the peacekeeping mission deployed in Rwanda between 1993 and 1996 is regarded as a failure. The aftermath of war and conflicts tends to be harsh and easily flammable, especially when such peacekeeping missions fail. But surprisingly, in Rwanda, it seems to be going very well nowadays.
Contrary to many African countries, Rwanda’s borders are not an artefact of the Berlin Conference (1884-1885). In fact, the territory of contemporary Rwanda is defined by the Kingdom of Rwanda, a pre-colonial kingdom. Rwanda’s population knows three different tribes: the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa. These groups are ethnically the same but are distinct by societal classes based on economic power. This class society dates back to pre-colonial times. In colonial times, Belgium highlighted differences between the groups due to administrating and categorizing the groups based on physical features and imposing unequal rights on education. After independence from Belgium in 1962, discrimination and tensions rose between these groups, resulting in the Rwandese Genocide, which lasted for 100 days in 1994. During this period, the Hutu-led government slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsi as well as some moderate Hutu and Twa.
After the genocide, Rwanda had to rebuild its country and its society. Rwanda initiated ‘Rwanda Vision 2020’ in 2000, a framework to reconstruct and develop the country after the genocide within twenty years. In line with this framework, Rwanda initiated many programs and plans. After the genocide, Rwanda quickly rebuilt its infrastructure and developed social housing for displaced families. The most known program is called Umuganda, a national holiday every last Sunday of the month. These days, citizens do mandatory clean-ups of their environments and streets. Because of Umuganda, Rwanda is known in Africa for its safe and clean living environment. Besides that, reports say that it increases social capital in communities as well.
The trials for the people accused of genocide were executed using the Gacaca court system, a traditional communal justice system. Many African countries have these communal justice systems, which involve tribe chiefs or elders to solve problems. However, few countries have formalized this. Furthermore, Kigali (the capital) has two car-free days per month. These days, citizens can get medical consults with doctors for free as well. Rwanda has banned plastic bags since 2008 (!). Also, Rwanda has invested heavily into education; almost one-fifth of the public budget is spent on it. Nowadays, 95 percent of Rwandese children are enrolled in school, and 73 percent of the Rwandese people can read and write, which is double as much as 40 years prior and 12,5 percent more than in 2000.
To tackle poverty, the government implemented ‘Girinka’, the ‘one cow per poor family’ program. Additionally, the first female calf of a given cow is given to another family in the program. This innovative addition to the program makes the program very cheap and sustainable since the supply of calves is virtually infinite. Because of this, the cows can be distributed amongst many families. Cows are important for the rural Rwandese population, as they provide a livelihood, and culturally they are valued as well.
Even though Rwanda is seen by experts as a success story, the country also implemented a more controversial measure. Rwanda implemented an ‘ethnicity ban’, a policy that makes it forbidden to talk about ethnicity. It tries to eliminate ethnicity from the public sphere. This policy could potentially be dangerous since discrimination might stay undercover and is not freely discussed in society. However, the policy might strongly counteract the caste-societal discourse and provide equal opportunities for all Rwandese people.
Rwanda has navigated its own path from conflict to peace by implementing traditional pre-colonial Rwandese customs. Diminish the 24/7 bustle of capitalism for the sake of community building and grassroots developments. However, not all these customs are conservative. Rwanda will develop the ‘Kigali innovation city’ in which Rwanda’s new, highly educated generation will be employed and which will ‘boom’ its economy even more. This healthy mix of tradition and progressiveness gives Rwanda identity and a bright future.
This article was first published in the Girugten Freshmen Issue (Year 52 of Girugten – issue 01 – September 2021).