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‘A Model for Truth and Reconciliation’: Reflections upon the Rwandan Genocide


This week marks the 24th anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide. At this time of remembrance, we reflect upon the legacy of the tragedy, and share our thoughts on the typically understated role of local agency in the Republic of Rwanda's remarkable post-conflict transformation.

  • Published

    10 April 2018
  • Written by

    Oscar Lester

The Rwandan Genocide was one of the most infamous crimes perpetrated by and against humanity in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Known formally as the ‘Genocide against the Tutsi’; the outbreak of genocide between the beginning of April and mid-July 1994 led to the wholesale slaughter of as much as 70% of Rwanda’s minority ethnic Tutsi population, predominantly – though by no means exclusively – at the hands of the country’s own Hutu ethnic majority.


Adam Cohn

During this period, inter-ethnic bloodletting resulted in the violent liquidation of an estimated 1 million Rwandan Tutsi’s and moderate Hutu’s, the forcible displacement of more than 2 million indigenous peoples, the systematic rape of between 250,000 and 500,000 Rwandan women, and the creation of as many as 75,000 genocide orphans.


I once spoke to someone who had survived the genocide in Rwanda, and she said to me that there was now nobody left on the face of the earth, either friend or relative, who knew who she was. No one who remembered her girlhood and her early mischief and family lore; no sibling or boon companion who could tease her about that first romance; no lover or pal with whom to reminisce.

Christopher Hitchens 

Whilst there has historically been much debate as to the root-causes of the simmering tensions between Rwanda’s three predominant ethnic groups – the Hutu’s (who today constitute approximately 84% of the population), the Tutsis (approximately 15%), and the Twa (approximately 1%) – which fatefully boiled over in the Spring of 1994, it is commonly conceded that Rwanda’s ongoing post-conflict transformation from blood-soaked ‘failed’ state to thriving free-market republic has been nothing short or remarkable.


In 1994, Rwanda was written off as a failed state, a basket case. Social, political and economic structures had collapsed. Over the last 19 years, by every measure, Rwanda's become one of the most successful countries in Africa.

Williams Nkurunziza

Indeed, much has been made within both the Rwandan and international press of the role of Rwanda’s long-standing leader, President Paul Kagame, in facilitating the nation’s miraculous economic revival whilst perpetuating the period of relative peace enjoyed by the peoples of Rwanda since his accession to the presidency in April 2000 (following extended tenure as both the country’s Vice-President and Minister of Defence in the wake of the 1994 Genocide).


ITU Pictures

That being said and whilst the Kagame administration has – for better and for worse – clearly succeeded in building the economy of post-colonial Rwanda up to hitherto unprecedented heights, the extent to which his ‘Rwandan Patriotic Front’ can justifiably claim responsibility for building sustainable peace within post-conflict Rwanda is debatable.

Notwithstanding the litany odious of charges leveled against Kagame (and co.) by ‘revisionist’ detractors in recent years; this is because the fragile peace which now permeates Rwandan civic political culture has grown not out of the broad-based state-building agenda pushed by a handful of Rwandan civil servants under the auspice of international institutions and transnational actors, but from the tireless efforts of a growing number of civil society actors across the republic who are putting education and reconciliation (rather than profit and power) at the heart of their community-level peacebuilding agendas.



Deriving legitimacy from their locality whilst drawing support from the grassroots; these native non-governmental organisations – for example: AJPRODHO, ALARM, AWF-RI and the IRDP – have helped mitigate the disastrous effects of the deep-seated and longstanding socioeconomic tensions which have historically embittered relations between the indigenous peoples of Rwanda by advocating for resolution, reconciliation and reintegration – as opposed to restitution, recrimination and retribution – in the wake of violence, genocide and war.

Given the scale of trauma caused by the genocide, Rwanda has indicated that however thin the hope of a community can be, a hero always emerges. Although no one can dare claim that it is now a perfect state, and that no more work is needed, Rwanda has risen from the ashes as a model for truth and reconciliation. 

Wole Soyinka

As such, the positive steps taken by Rwandan civil-society organisations and local-level peacebuilders towards building sustainable peace in (and around) the Republic of Rwanda over the course of the last near-quarter-century affirms our belief in the power and need for local agency in future reconciliation processes. Moreover (and in an age where now more than ever the hostile interplay between insular nationalism and homogenous globalism hamstrings the efficacy of liberal state-building agendas), the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide demonstrates that it is imperative for local actors and non-governmental organisations (both domestic and international alike) to proactively champion ‘bottom-up’ peacebuilding – and, by extension, localism – as a viable and desirable alternative to the inefficacious ‘top-down’ status quo.


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