Today marks 26 years since the Rwandan genocide. And if I know anything about the people of Rwanda, it is their capacity to survive tumultuous periods in history and emerge a stronger, more united country. Whilst we are encouraging and hoping that Australians will come together at this challenging time, Rwandans remember past crisis and know they have the will, courage, and faith to press on.
It was only 26 years ago that Rwanda faced a genocide, yet today, Rwanda is a stable nation:
- Sitting amongst the 15 fastest growing economies in the world;
- The only country in Sub Sahara Africa to meet its Sustainable Development Health Goals;
- With the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, chair of the African Union and the 2018 African of the Year;
- Leading the world with the highest percentage of women in the parliament including 50% representation in caucus.
And this is just the beginning of its accomplishments as a nation.
But this was not the case in 1994.
On this day, 6th April, a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both Hutus, was shot down killing everyone on board.
This event triggered a civil war which in just 100 days, saw one million people killed, two million internally displaced and one million flee into neighbouring countries. All of this tragedy for a nation of only 7 million citizens.
For the most part, the killing was done by ethnic Hutu extremists, known as the Interahamwe, who targeted members of the minority Tutsi community, as well as their political opponents, irrespective of their ethnic origin.
The massacre only ended when the well-organised Rwanda Patriotic Front, backed by Uganda’s army and led by current President Paul Kagame, marched into the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on the 4th July 1994.
But the division was not over. Whilst International courts and tribunals were being set up to prosecute the ringleaders and Hutu officials, Rwanda struggled under the weight of imprisonment numbers and community mistrust. In response, community courts, known as gacaca (meaning “to sit down and discuss an issue”), were created to speed up the prosecution of hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects awaiting trial. For more than a decade, 12,000 gacaca courts met once a week in villages across the country, often outdoors in a marketplace or under a tree, trying more than 1.2 million cases.
I still marvel at the recovery of Rwanda. Not only in measurable indicators but those intangible elements of unity, hope, forgiveness and resilience. These are the characteristics of a nation that can face any crisis, even an unseen virus, and know that there is life on the other side.