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.