4. Rwanda Today: Reconciliation and the Hope for Sustainable Peace
Rwanda in 2009 is not what Rwanda was in 1994. It is now a republic based on
democratic principles laid out in its 2003 Constitution. In 2003, Paul Kagame was
elected president of the republic with very little opposition—he had already been running
the country when the new constitution came into force and when the election occurred.
Like with most young democracies, there is a lot left to be desired, but there is also a lot
of real positive steps the country has taken in the years since the genocide. At its heart,
the new constitution values tolerance, justice and cooperation—but in a way that needs
understanding in the Rwandan context.
The constitution was not written in a bubble, the writers knew their country was still one
that was highly impoverished, that still had problems of ethnic violence, that had
infrastructure that was yet to be built, and there was the understanding that a strong
national identity—rather than strong ethnic identities—needed to be promoted. The
constitution was written in a regional context that saw fighting in eastern Congo, civil
conflict in sister-country Burundi, and a 20 year conflict in Uganda still going. The
Rwandan authorities knew they needed to build on their strong, security apparatus by
promoting good citizenship and responsibility to the nation, rather than to a particular
The Rwandan constitution was based in ‘westernized’ ideas of rights, the major
difference being the Rwandan Constitution, like Palestinian Basic Laws, is more about
responsibility to the government—unlike the US Constitution which is basically about
government responsibility to the people. An examination of the UDHR versus the African
Charter on Human & People’s Rights (ACHPR) will reveal much the same difference.
The ACHPR was written in a ‘westernized’ format, but is about the communal
responsibilities to societies rather than the other way around like in the UDHR.
Everything that exists in the Rwandan constitution begins and ends with the genocide.
Article 9 under the Fundamental Principles reads:
‘The State of Rwanda commits itself to conform to the following fundamental principles
and to promote and enforce the respect thereof:
1° fighting the ideology of genocide and all its manifestations;
2° eradication of ethnic, regional and other divisions and promotion of national unity;
3° equitable sharing of power;
4° building a state governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic government,
equality of all Rwandans and between women and men reflected by ensuring that
women are granted at least thirty per cent of posts in decision making organs;
5° building a State committed to promoting social welfare and establishing appropriate
mechanisms for ensuring social justice;
6° the constant quest for solutions through dialogue and consensus.’
The reason for the strong rule of law are excused because of how these particular rights
or aspects of society contributed to the genocide. It is a democracy built on retributive
justice. That is, perpetrators—and their non-active associates—are made to feel guilt
and remorse constantly as Rwanda rebuilds. Perpetrators and survivors are spoken of
as one in the constitution, as Rwandans, but a large bulk of the constitution is given to
the promotion of a strong justice system to enforce this idea.
In an attempt to unify a country torn by ethnic conflict, the writers of the constitution
knew they had to write into law aspects of society related to identity. The words ‘unity,’
‘dialogue,’ ‘tolerance,’ and ‘reconciliation’ are frequent; and commonalities (eg language,
culture, history, etc) are emphasized. For Rwanda this is an important foundation. The
constitution decrees both a National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and
National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide—in Articles 179 and 180 (not listed
in your manual).i
Still, Rwanda keeps a strong security apparatus (military, police, paramilitary, private
security) for a reason. In many regards, the ideals of the constitution for this young
democracy need to be enforced or closely monitored. The constitution promotes ‘unity &
reconciliation,’ not ‘truth & reconciliation’ like many other countries have promoted after
decades or centuries of conflict or atrocities (eg Chile, South Africa). The governing
Rwanda Patriotic Front does not talk about truth, they talk about unity and those who are
unwilling to work toward a united Rwanda need to be punished or publicly condemned.
The inherent problem is that without truth it is hard to build trust amongst a citizenry that
has been historically manipulated, is suspicious of governance and the like.
Unity versus truth is a big issue in Rwanda. To be a good citizen in Rwanda, one must
abide by the democratic principles in the constitution and what the government decrees.
If this happens, then Rwanda will ‘stay’ unified, if not then there is the chance for more
internal conflict. Unity and citizenship in Rwanda, means responsibility by the people
within the limitations of land, resources, and infrastructure. In Rwanda, citizens must be
tolerant of neighbors regardless of historical differences, because they have no other
choice—then there will unity. Those that have perpetrated many genocide-related
crimes, as opposed to a few, must be brought to justice—then there will be unity.ii
The citizen in Rwanda is actively engaged in unity and reconciliation directly and
indirectly, by choice and not by choice. NURC has a department of Civics Education and
another one for Peace-building and Conflict Resolution. This means a constitutionally
appointed commission is working to promote good citizenship in Rwanda. Here are a
couple of examples of good citizenship promoted by NURC:
• Ingando—are ‘…training sessions… the content shows remarkable continuity
with the curriculum that was prescribed for a “solidarity camp” … The “solidarity
camps” have provided intensive ideological training for periods ranging from a
week or two to three months for thousands of Rwandans since the current
government was established in 1994. Camp sessions are organized to include
people from the same background, such as prisoners just released from jail,
refugees returning from exile, students, teachers, or officials of a particular
branch of government. In addition, public officials reinforce many of the same
ideas at community meetings, as do many clergy, teachers, and journalists, each
in his or her own domain of activity.’ -Human Rights Watch, ‘Law And Reality:
Progress in Judicial Reform in Rwanda.’ Human Rights Watch. 2008, New York,
Basically, ingando is the first and only time that Rwandans are introduced to
Rwandan history, as ordained by the current government. Ingando are like boot
camps to build Rwandans to be active, knowledgeable citizens. For example, re-
patriated Hutu fighters returning from the Congo, go to Ingando for a couple
months, learn the Rwandan national anthem, community responsibility, take
classes on history, civics and peace-building and then are re-integrated into their
old communities. Ingando basically teaches Rwandans how to be Rwandan
• Umuganda (sp?—see source below) – This is community beautification. The last
Saturday of each month each community in Rwanda is responsible for carrying
out a community-based beautification project that was agreed on in a community
meeting nights before. This could be tree-planting, smoothing out roads, or re-
building someone’s home, for example. No one is exempt, the president and
foreigners living in the country do it. Police are on the streets making sure this
These are just two examples of enforced civic engagement. But there is also strong civic
engagement vital to Rwandan society that is not enforced. Youth in Rwanda are very
active. While young people do not get the best education in the Rwandan schools, and
there is still no Rwandan history taught in school, there are plenty of youth created,
organized and led organizations promoting various human rights. Examples include:
• Never Again Rwanda (www.neveragainrwanda.org) – NAR was started by youth
who wanted to engage other youth in peacebuilding and conflict resolution. They
have clubs in many schools and communities in Rwanda. They hold debates to
engage young people on different issues that may be controversial, but are done
in the ‘safe space’ of a debate. They are also teaching the skill of debate.
Another project is about income generation. One of the youth clubs may have a
teacher teach them to make beadwork and how to sell in the market. Another
project brings youth from the clubs to a community of genocide orphans whom
are peers and there is collaboration on community beautification, skills-building,
and knowledge sharing.
• Global Trustees for Peace & Unity Volunteers – this is a volunteer based
organization started by Rwandan youth in elite schools that wanted to ‘help’ the
less advantaged youth of their society through partnerships and collaborations.
They provide workshops and hold trainings, while advocating on the behalf of all
It is important to note the active citizenry in Rwanda. Whether this is because people feel
forced to engage or they really want to create a unified society is difficult to say.
The constitution is meant to be the unifying feature of society. The government decided
through the framing of the constitution that there would no longer be ethnicity, that
everyone is Rwandan. In light of the genocide, the government saw this as a necessary
step to unify people and reconcile past differences. In sister-country Burundi they say
‘we need to remember we are Hutu’s and Tutsi’s and cannot deny this in order to live
together in harmony.’ These are two different approaches: one, Rwanda, erases
identifications of the past in hopes of a unified future, the other, Burundi, acknowledges
them in hopes of a unified future.
Justice is another piece of the citizenship puzzle. In a country where nearly a million
people were murdered in 100 days, there are many perpetrators. In Rwanda, what
existed of the justice and prison system were completely destroyed by the conflict and
the genocide. The constitution goes very deep into issues of justice, the re-building of
the judicial chambers of government, the responsibilities of government and the people
when it comes to justice, and the possible punishments for crimes committed—
especially as they relate to the genocide.
Soon after the genocide, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was set up to try
genocide-related crimes in Arusha, Tanzania. Rwanda did not have the infrastructure to
handle these cases. The Rwandan government has never had full faith in the ICTR as it
moves very slowly and does not base itself in the Rwandan constitution. So to try lower-
level genocide-related crimes the Rwandan government decreed Gacaca courts. These
justice courts were set up in the communities where atrocities were committed. They
often happen outside or in community centers and are essentially run by community
elders—as appointed and trained by the government. Gacaca is meant to be restorative:
a way to seek forgiveness, community unification and to re-build trust through a
transparent justice proceeding. Often the perpetrators are living right next door to
families they committed crimes against, but Rwanda is densely packed and there is little
choice in this regard.
Witnesses from the community are brought forth. Stories are told, names are taken,
perpetrators or survivors are hunted down for statements. A community must cooperate
with and must be tolerant of the perpetrator(s), likewise the perpetrator must tolerate and
cooperate with the community of which they have damaged. This is important to the
restorative justice process: all parties must be willing to work together in order to make a
more united Rwanda. A Gacaca sentencing will often be service to the community, while
living in the community. Whether forgiveness is given or received, the perpetrator may
have to do, for example, three years of road-work in the community.
Gacaca is government enforced community-based restorative justice. Communities are
required to have Gacaca proceedings. Those unwilling to participate are, themselves,
punished. There have been many cases of revengeful violence versus perpetrators and
survivors brought on by Gacaca and the process still has a lot of problems. But in many
ways it is working, mostly because there are few alternatives.
Rwanda faces an odd predicament when it comes to justice. Having come out of the
genocide there has been intense international pressure, funding and resources on
Rwanda as a ‘glimmer of hope’ in a region historically beset by ethnic-based conflict.
This poses challenges and opportunities for Rwanda: it can be the non-ethnic
democracy it desires to be as long as the citizens are convinced that this is possible.
The president can make statements claiming to be the first African country developed
based on the latest ICT’s (Information Communication Technologies) because it started
at nearly zero. The government can claim to have more women in elected positions than
any other country in the world, because it does and is decreed as such through the
constitution.iii Rwanda has a fast growing economy; while it has not been easy to
diversify beyond the coffee cash-crop, there are signs of growth in other services and
industries—especially ICTs. There is massive infrastructural investment: the Chinese
built roads, the EU has built schools and office buildings, the Saudi’s have built
hospitals. Rwandan primary schools achieve over 90% enrollment—though this number
only counts those who start primary 1—and it is tuition free.
Again, the new government and the framers of the constitution did not have much to
start with, so the government was basically able to create a utopian vision of how it
desires Rwanda to be by, say, 2020 and have been able to decree it through a strong
constitution and democratic principles. But the challenges are many. There is little
freedom of the media and freedom of movement due to the dense population spread
over the hills of Rwanda. Democracy, economic well-being and the enforcement of
constitutional practices are top-down and there hasn’t been political opposition since the
The government has created loose terms to describe any opposition they face. These
terms are ‘Genocide ideology,’ and ‘divisionism’ amongst others. Basically, any time
there is a conflict of interest or something that goes against the constitution the
government can proclaim the perpetrator is an adherent of ‘genocidal ideology’ or
believes in ‘divisionism.’ This immediately silences an already fearful people.
Government officials, nor justices, nor the people can really give concrete definitions to
what these terms mean, leaving them ambiguous enough to be utilized as needed.
There is a massive gap between rich and poor in Rwanda. Those that seek the riches
from the new industries and the international aid move to the capitol, Kigali, for their
piece, and often that piece is not existent. There are high rates of child mortality,
malnourishment and problems related to reproductive health and women’s rights—
especially outside the capitol. There is a dependence on foreign investment and
international aid and technical expertise and the greatest benefactors are the elite.
Remember, this dependence helped contribute to the genocide—as did the poverty,
negation of rights and more. Though Rwanda is relatively safe, security-wise, the conflict
brewing in the Eastern Congo has the potential to spill over into Rwanda, which has
helped support the Tutsi-led rebels in the Congo.
The constitution decrees that there is only Rwandan identity now and no longer Hutu
and Tutsi. But in reality, this is not as easy as a constitution or democratic principles.
Those who speak of ‘liberation’ are historically Tutsi’s, ‘civil war’ means historically Hutu;
colonial language being French usually means a Hutu, English means Tutsi; returned
from exile between 1994-1996 usually means Tutsi, after 1996 probably makes you a
Hutu; RPF inner-circle means you are a Tutsi, peripheral roles in government make you
a Hutu; laughing about old ethnic stereotypes makes you a Tutsi, silence means you are
a Hutu. These kind of differences can not be turned around by constitutional force and
democratic principles. The citizenry need to be engaged in behavior change, much like
the promoters of this new, beautiful, inclusive and unifying document.
Rwanda is a new kind of democracy, it has a strong constitution that pushes justice,
cooperation, reconciliation and tolerance and engages its citizens on its motto’s, as
decreed in Article 6, ‘Unity, Work and Patriotism.’ Rwandans do not want to return to
conflict. The government knows this, the constitution attests to this. The framework for
peace to be sustainable exists, it is a matter of how much effort the people and the
government are willing to put forth in order to ensure these high moral claims. Right now,
they are putting forth their greatest efforts. This is unity and reconciliation.
• Who is responsible for protecting the values that have been written into the
Constitution of Rwanda?
• What is the responsibility of the people in terms of reconciliation? The
• For the environment in which reconciliation is to happen, is unity or truth more
• How does the justice system enforce the main tenets of the Rwandan constitution?
• What does it mean to be a citizen in Rwanda?
• What does it mean to have democratic principles in Rwanda?
• Is it to Rwanda’s advantage having only one governing/national language? Why or
It is interesting to note that Article 180 on the fight against genocide notes that Rwanda has the
responsibility to fight genocide anywhere it may exist in the world. The Rwandan Defense Force has sent
troops to the Balkans in the past and currently has troops in Darfur. Rwanda is more pro-active in this
way than any other country—it is written into their national constitution rather as a signatory on
international treaty, this may make them more likely to follow through on their promise. Though, sadly,
they are under-equipped to fight the genocide in Darfur.
The justice system in Rwanda was so inundated for so long that they created categories of perpetrators,
ranging from 1-5. One extreme are the planners and public figures of the genocide, the other extreme are
the everyday people who may have killed only a couple of people. The prison system is not large enough
to handle all the perpetrators, so alternative justice was needed. More about Gacaca is in the text.
It is important, though, to be mindful of the positions the women do have in government—are they
simply serving in ‘gendered-roles’ (eg Minister of Gender or Minister of Reproductive Health) or are
they in positions of ‘real’ power (eg Ministers of Defense, Foreign Policy, etc)?