excerpt from
10 Years On - The Story of Rwanda
a presentation by Dr Alfred Ndahiro
Communication & Public Relations advisor to the President


The foundations of post independence Rwanda were built on a legacy of utter disregard for human rights and the rule of law. Starting from 1959, tens of thousands of innocent Batutsi men, women, and children were killed in the name of a revolution. Hundreds of thousands more were deprived of their homes and other property and banished to refugee camps inside the country or driven to exile, mainly in the neighbouring countries where they languished for over thirty years.

Atrocities and other gross violations of human rights organized and carried out by the governments of the day continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Government repression against Rwandans who remained inside the country escalated and intensified, irrespective of ethnic identity. The independent press was suppressed. Political opposition was harassed, to the extent that deputies representing opposition politicians in the First Parliament had all been killed by 1966 and Rwanda was soon declared a one party state.

This entrenchment of dictatorship and gross violation of fundamental human rights went hand in hand with institutionalised discrimination akin to apartheid. Access to education, employment or public service was strictly governed by quotas based on ethnicity or regional provenance. The Batutsi had been reduced to second-class citizens in their own country. They were repeatedly killed with such impunity that when 1994 came, hundreds of thousands of their country men and women responded to incitement to kill them again, this time with unprecedented ferocity. The institutions of the state and public officials responsible for public order and for protecting the population turned around and organised the genocide that was unique in its barbarity, speed and scale, and one that will remain a grim reminder of man's inhumanity to man.

The Immediate Aftermath of the 1994 Genocide

July 1994 found Rwanda on its deathbed. The air was filled with the stench of death: heaps of corpses were on every inch of the land while others floated freely on lakes and rivers. Within the space of one hundred days, over a million Rwandans had perished at the hands of their compatriots, who used every implement imaginable: guns, grenades, machetes, spears, axes, bludgeons or just pieces of wood. A number of victims were burnt in their houses or in churches, while others were smashed against walls and rocks, or just thrown into pit latrines and other deep pits to die there.

Only a few people out of those targeted survived this pogrom, mostly those who were left for dead. Some others were able to hide in ceilings or swamps, and others miraculously escaped the eye of the rampaging, different killer groups. Even those who survived were maimed, and all were left with dreadful wounds. Their wounds were both physical and mental, as they had all witnessed this horror, as well as the death of their relatives and neighbours; some of them killed by their other relatives and neighbours: fathers killing their children, husbands their wives, wives their husbands, children their parents.

As the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) advanced to halt the genocide, the killers fled through the nearest border-points into the neighbouring countries of Tanzania , Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC, the then Zaire ). On fleeing, the refugees, who included government officials, officers and men of the national army, private individuals and the rest of the peasantry, fled with the entire infrastructure: money out of the banks, vehicles, military tanks and arms, as well as all the ammunition. In all, over three million people poured into the neighbouring countries, although the bulk of the armed and militia groups sought refuge in the DRC, where they saw a chance to reorganise so as to resume their genocidal campaign and complete their macabre business. The rest of the killers who did not flee set up camps within the country as internally displaced persons. As a matter of fact there was total displacement of the population and countless numbers had been orphaned, widowed, handicapped and were generally in a very vulnerable situation.

Rwanda lay in limbo, and there was need to start everything anew, if it was going to function ever again as a country. The winning Rwandan Patriotic Army and its political wing the Rwandan Patriotic Front - had two choices to make: to declare the situation hopeless, consider Rwanda a failed state (in the eyes of many observers, Rwanda indeed looked like a failed state) and engage in revenge killings and more auto-destruction. Alternatively, they would take to the drawing board, set about the difficult task of rebuilding the country, and shape a destiny for the Rwandans, once more as a peaceful and reconciled people. In essence the choice was one and naturally they took the latter option, choosing to form a government of national unity that embraced Rwandans of every persuasion, save those who had participated in the genocide.

When the Government of National Unity was set up in July 1994, the whole country was shattered and was in a state of utter anarchy. Its social and economic infrastructure was in a state of collapse. The whole population was greatly divided, deeply traumatised and needed healing if life was to go on. "Law and order had completely broken down. Large-scale atrocities were still going on in parts of the country. The judicial infrastructure had either been damaged or destroyed. All national law enforcement agencies and judicial institutions had ceased to exist and the system of administration of justice had come to a complete standstill. Neither schools nor hospitals were functioning. The civil service had been decimated or its membership had fled into exile" . Public utilities such as electricity, water and telephones were not functioning. The fleeing genocidaires had run away with practically all the money and the little money left in the banks lay in vaults whose location was unknown to the newcomers. There were no functioning banks, factories, shops or even open-air markets. Commercial and residential buildings stood in an eerie silence, shattered or intact but almost all invariably containing dead bodies. Instruments of death lay everywhere: guns, grenades and all the other crude implements. Genocide survivors were still scattered all over the country, deeply traumatized. The genocide had greatly divided and polarized the country. Most worrying, however, was that a cloud of insecurity hang over the country, as former soldiers and militia groups reorganized across the border in the DRC, with the tacit support of the then President Mobutu.

Achievements in Post-Genocide Rwanda

Immediately after genocide, eight political parties that had not participated in the genocide formed a transitional government, the Government of National Unity, and began the monumental task of rebuilding the country. This was a defining moment and a challenge to all Rwandans. Clearly, the task at hand was exceptional and daunting. But the Rwandan people refused to be a failed state. Instead, they resolved to fight the ideology of genocide and to build a country governed by the rule of law. The results are there for everyone to see, and most observers believe that in the last ten years, the Government of Rwanda has made considerable progress in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Rwanda , through the resilience, hard work and sheer determination of the Rwandan people...

To read the rest of Dr Ndahiro's presentation go to: 10 YEARS ON - THE STORY OF RWANDA cont'd

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