Sunday, July 26, 2020

The story of reconciliation and development in the genocide hit Rwanda

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Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda | Source: ITU Pictures via Flickr

The genocide and civil war had rendered hundreds of thousand of people homeless and in utter misery. If the Tutsi’s were the primary victims of genocide, the Hutu’s too suffer in the ensuing civil war when Paul Kagame led Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the government forces and took over Rwanda.

When the genocide stopped by August 1994, the the suspected perpetrators of crime were hounded by the new government forces. Thousands of Hutus left the country and sought refuge in the neighbouring countries. The legal system of Rwanda was in shambles and the vengeance was taking precedence over the quest of justice. Over a hundred thousand suspected genocidaires were put in prison but could not be properly tried due to a strained judicial system.  

Things however started to change from the year 2000, when Paul Kagame became Rwanda’s President. The biggest challenge for him was to rebuild a society that is economically and socially stable. The socio-economic transformation of Rwanda under Kagame is an inspiring story of reconciliation based on acceptance, repentance and forgiveness, the very foundation on which the edifice of Rwanda's reconciliation is standing firmly today.

The first step towards reconciliation started in 2002 when Rwanda introduced the community-based dispute resolution mechanism, Gacaca to try the genocide related crimes. Gacaca was traditionally used in Rwanda to resolve minor disputes. In its new incarnation, the objectives included not only delivering justice, but also strengthening reconciliation, and revealing the truth about the genocide.  

In the Gacaca court the local community elected the judges who then tried the defendants  in front of members of the local community. These community members  were asked to share whatever they knewabout the the role of defendant during the genocide. Gacaca courts functioned extensively during 2005 to 2012 and processed almost two million cases in this duration.

Though Gacaca courts were criticised by many human right organisations for putting speed over fairness in trial, it undoubtedly resulted in giving the opportunity for some genocide survivors to learn what had happened to their relatives. It helped many families of survivors and perpetrators living side by side with peace and contentment in many reconciliation villages, after the ‘perpetrators’ confessed their crimes and expressed repentance.

Taking inspiration from The Truth and Reconciliation Commission” of South Africa, Rwanda established a “National Unity and Reconciliation Commission” in 1999 with an objective to reconcile and unite the Rwandan citizens. This process used four specific tools. (1) Ingandos - to bring normal activities to a standstill in order to reflect on, and find solutions to national challenges, (2) Organising reconciliation summits, (3) Creation of a leadership academy for developing a new set of grassroot leaders, and (4) Frequent exchanges and consultations at inter-community level.

All these efforts along with that of many non-governmental organisations helped to greatly heal the deep wound of sectarian violence in Rwanda. According to the report published by the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission of Rwanda in 2016, over 92% of Rwandans feel that reconciliation is happening.  

Alongside the reconciliation process, the government of Rwanda started spending on health, education and other civic infrastructure which has paid a good dividend in last two decades.

Government expenditure on healthcare facilities per person has gone up sixfold from just $21 in 1995 to $125 in 2014) which contributed to the increase in Life expectancy at birth by 32 years between 1990 and 2016 while  reducing the infant mortality by half since 2000.

The focus on the education sector resulted in almost three quarters of girls and two-thirds of boys now completing primary schooling while literacy rates of adult males and females increased to 75% and 68% respectively.

Rwanda now ranks 6th out 149 countries in the global gender gap index and a high proportion of front-line political positions, including 61% of the parliamentary seats are occupied by women. Rwandan women possess the right to inherit property and can also pass citizenship to their children.

The newfound peace, stability and reconciliation in Rwanda gave a boost to the country’s economy which saw per capita GDP growth from $200 to almost $800 between 1994 and 2017. In 2018 the GDP grew at  8.6% and the county rated the second-best place to do business in Africa.

Rwanda today is a shining example that a country with a long and painful history of violent sectarianism, can achieve great success, if it takes every section of the population along on a path of peace, unity and reconciliation.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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