Reflections on Rwanda – 20 Years After the Genocide (Part I)

This summer, I had the chance to visit Rwanda.  Twenty years after the genocide, my sojourn allowed me to witness and enjoy the remarkable progress made in the country, but also to reflect on the cost of that progress.

It is almost unimaginable what devastation Rwanda has overcome, when 20 years ago approximately 10% of its populations slaughtered another estimated 10% of its population in approximately 100 days.  Thereafter, Rwanda had to rebuild itself, as well as establish justice mechanisms to prosecute the perpetrators.  Due in large part to international guilt at having done virtually nothing to attempt to halt the genocide, Rwanda at least was assisted in rebuilding by the international donor community.

Kigali, today, is a remarkably clean metropolis, where one would be hard-pressed to find litter, due in part to an admirable ban on using plastic bags, and designating the last Thursday of every month as a day where every citizen must tidy.  The streets are swept clean, so that every aberrant leaf is removed.  Those lucky enough to afford them (likely only a fraction of the population), can also enjoy beautiful hotels (such as the Serena and Mille Collines), with swimming pools and lovely restaurants.

Rwanda’s countryside is also quite extraordinary, with rolling hills covering virtually the whole country – hence, Rwanda is called the land of a thousand hills, “mille collines.”  Some are covered with picturesque terracing, to allow cultivation and minimize soil erosion.  Rwanda also boasts three wildlife preserves, two of which are home to a variety of monkeys (including mountain gorillas), and one of which hosts plains animals.  The author’s visit to see golden monkeys in Ruhingeri was truly enjoyable – as they jumped from tree to tree, groomed themselves, ate, and played, all in a thick bamboo forest.

Meetings with NGOs, government officials, academics and others generally revealed a positive vision of Rwanda, with some speaking proudly of how far their country has come since the genocide, the challenges for the future, and tasks ahead in apprehending and trying remaining génocidaires.  (There are a few “transfer” cases that have been sent back to Rwanda from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), as well as some cases of individuals apprehended in various European countries, now also returned for trial).

Beautiful appearances can also be deceiving.  To find out why, stay tuned for PART II of this post.