The President of the Republic of Rwanda, H.E. Paul Kagame has said that the notion of ethnic differences in Rwanda that was elevated to ‘racial differences,’ was a deliberate design by colonialists to divide Rwanda, and other African countries, in order to rule.
President Kagame was speaking in Houston, Texas at the Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy on the theme ‘Rwanda’s perspectives on conflict resolution in Africa.’ He said that such divisions were alien characterizations for Rwanda where the people shared a common culture, and a common language. “We have lived on the same hills, and we have always intermarried,” he said adding, “Europe, scene of the two world wars and the holocaust, could not transcend its flawed perception of itself and of others in the late 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. To them, Africa was a dark continent in which the primitive tribes or ethnic groups and clans had to be ‘civilised’.”
In Rwanda, Kagame said, between 1959 and 1994, this resulted in massive periodic massacres, refugees, discriminatory government policies, an intolerant political culture, the ethnicisation of institutions that were fundamentally weak, massive poverty, over-reliance on external charity as a strategy of long term survival, and a cheering international community, not willing to take a hard look at the anatomy of a disaster-in-the-making.
Kagame said that in 1994, the Government of National Unity inherited an exceptional and daunting set of circumstances. One million people dead, the entire population displaced internally or having fled as refugees, a divided society, a collapsed socio-economic infrastructure, perpetrators of genocide defeated but relocated in neighbouring countries, absence of institutions, and relentless efforts by those who had supported the genocidal regimes to recapture state power so as to complete genocide.
Kagame said that these challenging circumstances underscored the need for Rwandans to take urgent action to change the destiny of their country, adding, “As Americans, acquainted with the American war of Independence, the Civil War, the Depression and World Wars and September 11, you will fully appreciate defining moments that challenge a nation and its people.”
Kagame said that Rwanda’s reconciliation and reconstruction efforts since 1994 “have been a tale of courage under fire.” He said the government is reuniting and reconciling the people, and has repatriated close to 4 million people. “A new society anchored on the rule of law is being built, seeking to bring to justice those responsible for genocide through the courts and through a new and innovative people-based jurisdiction called GACACA,” adding that the vision is to create a “new outlook that is Rwandan, and not ethnic, and cultivating a culture of inclusive and democratic politics in a decentralised framework that allows people in their communities to have a stake in governance.”
He also noted that social and economic infrastructure: schools, health centres, telecommunications, energy, water, have been rehabilitated and economic reforms have been undertaken. “Rwanda has for the last eight years registered economic growth that ranges from 8 to 13% successively; inflation stands at below 5%; monetary and exchange regimes have been liberalised; and various state assets are under privatisation. We are determined to continue creating an enabling environment conducive to foreign and local investment,” he said.
He also emphasized the need to invest in the education and health “as a strategic choice that will enable us to competitively enhance productivity and innovation in our economy that is currently pre-industrial.”
Among the lessons to be learnt about conflict and conflict resolution in Africa, President Kagame said, was that there can be no “one-size-fits-all” prescription for conflict resolution in Africa. He also said that Rwanda’s experience is that “conflicts, under certain circumstances have a justifiable basis: for example to challenge the status quo and to redress injustice.”
President Kagame was received at Rice University by Dr. Eugene Levy, Provost of Rice University and Ambassador Edward Djerejian, Director of the Baker Institute. The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is named after Mr. James (Jim) Baker, the former US Secretary of State who is at present a respected international mediator.