The recent past
Following the 1994 Genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took power and after a transitional phase, the RPF Leader Kagame and his party won landslide majorities during the 2003 and 2010 elections. Recognising the traumatic effects of the 1994 Genocide, which left the country shattered socially, economically, politically and psychologically, the government of Rwanda put in place mechanisms for Justice and Reconciliation.
The development of this reconciliation policy came in recognition of the limitations of international processes such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. A key part of this policy has been the adoption of the local Gacaca courts system, a participatory justice system aimed at addressing the enormous backlog of cases and having the community participate in the process of justice and reconciliation for the country. This is has been lauded as an effective mechanism for truth-finding, provision of justice and furthering reconciliation.
The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission for Rwanda was established in 1999 in order to promote peace and reconciliation and has helped Rwanda to emerge from its period of transition. Under the leadership of a strong government therefore, CSOs, NGOs and Government line ministries have established programmes that support the government mechanisms for the overall country cohesion and development.
The actual achievements and shortcomings of the Gacaca courts and other reconciliation policies in the face of the enormous impact of the genocide are debated. On the positive side the government has been able to achieve significant developmental strides and stabilise the country. This is well illustrated by the IMF projected growth of 6% for Rwanda economy in 2014. The IMF Rwanda Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper from December 2013 places the country as tenth fasted growing economy in the world during the 2000 decade and opines that ‘During the last ten years, Rwanda has experienced one of the most exciting and fastest periods of growth and socio-economic progress in its history'.
But the renewed nation-building process, including the "I am Rwandan" Program with an emphasis on one common Rwandan identiy has also been criticised for not entirely addressing some latent ethnic schisms and social distrust. Furthermore, Rwanda has been criticised for not allowing the space for a credible opposition or for NGO's (particularly in the human rights sector) and free media to operate.
Against this backdrop and considering the variety of outcomes from research on the ground, this has led to discussions about the extent to which acquiescence by citizens is a product of fear or greater social cohesion. And while economic development has been spectacular, 40% of Rwanda's GDP still depends on international aid and development assistance. It is important to note also that the any debate around Rwanda is often very emotional, if not confrontational and that interpretations about the various roles actors play vary considerably within governments, politicians as well as the population in the great lakes region.
Rwanda has established stability and economic progress since the genocide. It has presented the region with examples and opportunities for growth within a peaceful environment. However, considering the planned 2017 presidential elections any easing of the internal controls or regional tensions is unlikely.
The establishment of the Rwanda Governance Board was a step forward towards the consolidation of Civil Society Organizations in the country, and providing them with a platform to advocate and advance their mandates. The National Unity and Reconciliation commission has equally been key towards the consolidation of peace efforts by Civil society organizations as well as the Government. Considering the remaining tasks ahead all those issues and institutions require strategic engagements by CSO´s at local, national and regional level.
At a regional level. relationships with neighbouring states have remained tense with diplomatic incidents with Tanzania, DRC and South-Africa among others. The president of Tanzania was rebuked for recommending opening negotiations between the Rwandan government and its opponents, including the FDLR Hutu militia. Relationships with South Africa soured members of the Rwandan opposition were targeted in that country, leading to the mutual expulsion of diplomats. And the continued presence of remnants of the FDLR (a mostly Hutu led rebel group linked to the 1994 genocide fighting the RPF) on Congolese territory is an ongoing concern for the government and many people in Rwanda.
In 2013 and 2014 military fights along the DRC – Rwandan border took place recurrently with accusations on either side on whose interests were being pursued. Although under capacitated, the Expanded Joint Verification Mechanism of the International Conference of the Great Lakes played a useful third party role in this context. Interpretations on roles and responsibilities in this confrontations vary greatly on either side of the border and finding common grounds at higher political as well as at community level has been challenging.
What is the GLP doing?
The Great Lakes Project, in its Rwanda activities is aiming at strengthening civil society organizations and other stakeholders to enhance their continued engagement with existing national frameworks for peace and reinforce the links between national levels with the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
Concrete activities have so far included:
· A field visit to establish the needs and capacity gaps of actors in Rwanda that was carried out in June last year. Among other issues, the field visit identified Conflict Early Warning and Early Response as well as Reconciliation as key thematic areas that needed capacity building.
· Capacity building of local civil society. The first workshop was held in June 2014 in Kigali. It was jointly organised by NPI-A and a Rwandan counterpart Never Again, bringing together CSO's, the Rwanda Governance Board and the ICGLR national coordinator to develop a joint action plan, which will be pursued over the coming years
· Support the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) through facilitating regular contacts with local civil society organisations in Rwanda and the region. This includes expert meetings, consultative roundtables as well as collaborations with the civil society forums established under the ICGLR structure.
Further opportunities and possible areas of engagement for the Great Lakes Project include
1. Upcoming elections in 2017
2. Regional conflicts with DRC and political tensions with Tanzania
3. Institutionalization of the ICGLR and its growing role in the region
4. The role of youth in peace building and post conflict reconstruction in Rwanda
5. Collaboration with the government's commitment towards healing and reconciliation in Rwanda