As part of the ICD’s Cultural Diplomacy in Africa Forum, Mr. Felix Sangano Muhire, First Secretary of the Embassy of Rwanda, gave a presentation on the 19th of August, 2009 on Rwanda’s Achievements—15 years after the genocide against the Tutsis. In his lecture, Mr. Sangano talked about how Rwanda has made significant progress as a whole considering the scale and legacy of the 1994 genocide. He attributed this to the hard work of the Rwandan people who “have been laying a strong socio-economic foundation for the future”. In an interview with CD-News after the presentation, he elaborated further on the concept of introducing traditional cultural aspects into political institution, reconciling the ‘Rwandan Identity’ and the road ahead for Rwandan development.
During your presentation you spoke of encouraging foreign investors to come to Rwanda. Do you have any measures in place to ensure that foreign companies follow a code of Corporate Social Responsibility?
Well, the government is attracting investors, but it has to make sure that those investors care about the environment, and that they work for the good of the local people. If you’re going to invest in a country, you need to take the needs of the local population into account and make sure that your activities are not in contradiction with their well-being. If the foreign companies are profiting, at the same time, we need to make sure that there is a kind of win-win situation, where everybody is gaining—including the society which is hosting the foreign companies. In this respect, the Government of Rwanda has set up the Rwanda Bureau of Standards (RBS) whose objective, among other things, is to carry out all activities in relation to the development of standards and quality assurance in the country. The RBS is governed by the Board of Directors and composed of major stakeholders from government, industry and academic institutions, as well as consumer associations.
During your presentation, you informed us of the Gacaca court and how it took the place of the older judicial system in Rwanda. Was the decision to implement traditional communal law enforcement procedures made at a local or a national level?
After the genocide, there were extensive debates and consultations on how to bring perpetrators of the genocide to justice, and, at the same time, to promote reconciliation among the shattered society. From 1996, His Excellency the President of the Republic called reflection and consultation meetings bringing together government representatives, members of civil society (such as from NGOs and religious institutions), and those from academic circles. Participants noted that if Rwandans had been living together peacefully for many centuries, it’s because they had in their tradition mechanisms of conflict resolution. That’s how the idea of Gacaca emerged. It’s a restorative traditional justice that seeks to reconcile divided communities.
It’s interesting how traditional aspects of Rwandan culture such as Imihigo (performance-based contracts) and Ubudehe (assisting the poor and vulnerable) have been integrated into your political constitution. This has been quite successful in Rwanda: do you think it could be a model for other countries?
Well, I think so, provided that those aspects go with the reality of other countries. Indeed, they are home-grown solutions, and, as such, they need to be applied after taking into consideration the particular context of a given society.
In terms of the government dealing with the effects of the tragedy of genocide, has it been trying to promote a single national identity as Rwandan to dissolve remaining tensions, or is it focusing more on respect and mutual understanding between Hutus and Tutsis?
The focus is to find a common denominator that unites all the social categories, whether Tutsi, Hutu or Twa. They share the same language, live in the same place and have the same culture, so they share a lot. While the institutionalization of Tutsi/Hutu/Twa identities led Rwanda into chaos, the national identity (ubunyarwanda) had managed to forge a sense of solidarity among Rwandans over centuries. Even today, Tutsi, Hutu and Twa have that feeling of being Rwandans. So this common identity is important and beneficial for all of us. That’s the feeling of national identity we need to restore in the country. The experience we have from the system based on ethnicity is genocide. That’s why the Government is promoting national identity over ethnicity. Indeed, this approach serves the ideal of promoting mutual understanding among Rwandans.
Rwanda has made a lot of progress in the last 15 years, what are the next big challenges for the country in the near future?
We are still facing challenges. We are a landlocked country and we need to build infrastructure; as I said in the presentation, Rwanda is starting a project to build a railway with Tanzania, and this will really reduce the time and costs of transportation. Also, we are faced with a shortage of energy. Energy is key to development, so economically, that’s another challenge. The government is attracting investors in this particular sector, for example, the extraction of methane gas in Lake Kivu and construction of solar and biogas plants. So far, only 6 per cent of the population has access to electricity. The Government aims to increase that access to 16 per cent by 2012 and 35 per cent by 2020. Another challenge is the birth rate, which is high. If we want to develop the country, we need to curb the birth rate and change people’s mentality to make them understand that, in order to achieve [Rwanda’s] Vision 2020, they have to limit the number of children to about 3 in a family.
Interview conducted by Gráinne Toomey & Jordan Kynes