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Rwanda: The Good, the Bad and the Hopeful

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda, South Africa, Citizen Media, Development, Economics & Business, Education, Freedom of Speech, Governance, Health, Human Rights, International Relations, Labor, Media & Journalism, Politics, Science, Technology, War & Conflict, Women & Gender
-Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda  at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa- via wikipedia cc-license-2.0 [1]

Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, at the World Economic Forum on Africa 2009 in Cape Town, South Africa- via wikipedia cc-license-2.0

Rwanda remains deeply scarred by the 1994 genocide of 800,000 to 1 million people, including 80 percent of the Tutsi population [2] as well as many Hutus. Around one-sixth of the country's total population was killed in a matter of weeks.

Twenty years later the process of reconciliation still has a long way to go. President Paul Kagame is accused of suppressing his opponents, among other serious human rights violations. But efforts to rebuild are beginning to yield results.

The Good News

One of Rwanda's most remarkable achievements is the progress of gender equality in numerous areas. The percentage of women in the Rwandan parliament, at almost 64 percent, is the highest in the world, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union's 2014 ranking [3] of 189 countries.

Louis Michel, a former minister in Belgium and European commissioner, noted on his personal blog [4] [fr]:

Ces résultats sont spectaculaires : en moins de dix ans plus d’un million de personnes ont été sorties de la pauvreté extrême et le pays a enregistré un taux de croissance économique stable de 8% par an. Plus de 95% des enfants ont aujourd’hui accès à un cycle complet d’éducation primaire, la mortalité infantile a été réduite de 61% tandis que les trois quart de la population ont accès à l’eau potable. Enfin, près de 50% des femmes ont accès à un moyen de contraception, ….. Cela fait du Rwanda l’un des très rares pays d’Afrique qui pourra affirmer avoir atteint la quasi-totalité des OMD en 2015. 

These results are spectacular: In less than ten years, more than one million people have been lifted from extreme poverty and the country has seen a stable economic growth rate of 8 percent per year. Today more than 95 percent of children have access to a complete primary school education, infant mortality has been reduced by 61 percent, and three-quarters of the population have access to potable water. Finally, almost 50 percent of women have access to some means of contraception …. This makes Rwanda one of the very few African countries that will have almost entirely achieved its Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

The country's first five-year plan for the development of new technologies [5] [fr], created in 2001, showed significant progress. During the plan's second phase, which ended in 2010, Rwanda saw a 8,900 percent increase in users, compared with 2,450 percent for the rest of the continent and a world average of 44 percent. The magazine African Renewal, hosted by the U.N., reports [5]that four divisions of the public sector (ministers, agencies, provinces, and districts) and almost a third of the private sector have an online presence. Rwanda's capital Kigali plays a primary role in the development of the surveillance system of navigation and aerial communications throughout the region.

President Kagame maintains [6]that “the Internet is a needed public utility as much as water and electricity.” In collaboration with the Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN), the government has implemented a plan for the development of Internet access in rural zones. A report [7][fr] published on balancingact-africa.com states:

Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN) s’est rallié aux efforts du gouvernement et s’est engagé à créer un réseau national de 1 000 centres TIC d’ici la fin de 2015 et à former du personnel local. 

Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN) is rallying with the government's efforts, pledging to create a national network of 1,000 ITC centers by the end of 2015 and to train local personnel.

A further sign of advancing access to new technologies is that Rwanda is the highest achiever among the African countries participating in the program One Laptop Per Child [8]. According to the OLPC wiki page [9]  :

 By the end of 2012, 210,000 laptops have been deployed to more than 217 schools across the country. In 2013: 210k = 110K (before 2012) +100k (2012) laptops [were distributed] in country 

The Hopeful News

After the genocide, the country took legal action, creating a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission [10] (NURC). The NURC, established in 1999, aims to contribute to good government; promote unity, reconciliation and social cohesion between Rwandans; and form a country where everyone has the same rights.

Susan Thomson, a professor of contemporary African politics at Hampshire College in the U.S., wrote in an article [11] [fr] published on academic publication hub Cairn.info:

Sous la férule du RPF, l’État postgénocide a largement contribué à restaurer la paix, l’unité et la réconciliation aux quatre coins du pays. L’appareil d’État rwandais, solide et centralisé, a facilité une reconstruction rapide. À la différence de La plupart des autres États africains, le Rwanda est capable d’exercer son contrôle territorial avec une efficacité extrême. Les institutions de l’État ont été restaurées. 

Under [the ruling] Rwandan Patriotic Front's rule, the post-genocide state has made a large contribution to restoring peace, unity and reconciliation throughout the country. The Rwandan state structure, solid and centralized, has facilitated a rapid reconstruction. Unlike most other African states, Rwanda is capable of exercising territorial control with great effectiveness. The state institutions have been restored.

The Rwanda Peace Academy [12] (RPA) is an example of those advances. Created in 2009 with the financial backing of Japan and the United Nations Development Program, the RPA has a mission is to carry out research and to develop and implement professional training courses and internationally recognized educational programs. Its goal is to provide the army, police and civil servants with the necessary skills to respond to current challenges and future peace and security issues in Africa.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, this promising work is marred by the grave human rights violations reported by advocacy groups. Violations have been occurring for years. In 2012, after having sent several missions to the country, Amnesty International condemned [13]the violations:

Between March 2010 and June 2012, Amnesty International documented 45 cases of unlawful detention and 18 allegations of torture or ill-treatment at Camp Kami, Mukamira military camp, and in safe houses in the capital, Kigali. The men were detained by J2 for periods ranging from 10 days to nine months without access to lawyers, doctors and family members.

Assassinations of opposition members [14] [fr] have also been reported outside the country. Journalists and former political leaders close to the Rwandan president have been arrested or killed [15] [fr]. The most recent arrests were confirmed at the beginning of April 2014.

Singer and activist Kizito Mihigo - Public Domain [16]

Singer and activist Kizito Mihigo – Public Domain

The site arretsurimages.net [17] [fr] reported the arrest of famous singer Kizito Mihigo, a genocide survivor, and three other individuals, including a journalist accused of plotting a grenade attack on a building in Kigali. Kizito Mihigo, however, is known for his activism for peace. He even founded an NGO for peace education. His blog [18] [fr] reads:

Depuis l'année 2003, il a œuvré pour le pardon, la réconciliation et l'unité dans la diaspora rwandaise en Europe. En 2010 quand il est rentré au Rwanda, il a Fondé la Fondation KMP (Kizito Mihigo pour la Paix), une ONG rwandaise qui utilise l'art (musique, theatre poesie, ..) dans l'éducation à la Paix, à la Réconciliation et à la Non-violence après le génocide. 

Since 2003, he has been working for forgiveness, reconciliation and unity in the Rwandan diaspora in Europe. Upon his return to Rwanda in 2010, he founded the KMP Foundation (Kizito Mihigo for Peace), a Rwandan NGO that uses art (music, theater, poetry…) in education focused on peace, reconciliation and non-violence after the genocide.

The singer pleaded guilty, but serious doubts [19] [fr] were raised about many aspects of the case.

Furthermore, for the past several years Kigali has had tense diplomatic relations [20] [fr] with several other countries. Once a country favored by the West, Rwanda is now becoming a no-go area and is losing its military [21] [fr] and development aid. Diplomatic relations with South Africa are strained following assassinations of opposition members in that country. There have already been expulsions of diplomats [22] [fr] on both sides.