The cost of war manifests in the failure of conflict countries to make progress in key areas of development… However, when peace is achieved and sustained, recovery is possible.’ – The Aftermath of Civil War
One of the Kigali Genocide Museum exhibitions in Rwanda is on rescuers, exhibiting Hutus who risked their lives to save Tutsis. This exhibition seems to clash with the historical tragedy we knew about the 1994 Rwanda Genocide: due to racial hatred between two main ethnic groups of Rwanda- the Tutsi and Hutu, more than one million Tutsi people were perished by the Hutus army, militias, and civilians; an estimated 150000 to 250000 Tutsis women were raped during the 100 days of genocide (UN). The truth is that historical tragedies are true. The impression of the hatred between the Tutsi and Hutus people continues to exist in the minds of the masses after the end of the conflict in 1994 Rwanda.
However, 28 years after the tragedy of the genocide, we cannot help but wonder in our hearts what the current relationship between the Hutus and the Tutsi people is? Do they still hate each other? How does Rwanda, after a genocide, achieve reconciliation among its polarised ethnic groups? Do we have sufficient capability or knowledge to foster reconciliation and stabilize peace effectively?
What is reconciliation?
The Latin expression of ‘reconciliation’ means ‘coming together.’ Reconciliation is not limited to individual forgiveness; reconciliation is a social process to establish the broken relationship between social groups (Dhammika Herath, 2018). When a country-wide conflict situation has ended, not only economic recovery, political reconstruction, and security recovery is all in full swing in post-conflict Rwanda, the reconciliation among Rwanda people is also essential and fundamental. The process of reconciliation between Tutsi and Hutus is attempting to promote tolerance and understanding between them, so that promote non-violent conflict resolution during their future interactions and finally heal the wounds of violence for this society in the long term.
However, although the Rwanda tragedy has passed for many years, the Rwanda government tried to establish ‘one Rwandan nation’ in a legal perspective to avoid ethnic division. Rwanda people’s ethnic identity, especially for Tutsis and Hutus, still consolidates. The reconciliation between two ethnic groups is still challenging due to the genocide hatred.
The first step of genocide survivors to move toward reconciliation-positive self-healing
According to the Rwandan Ministry of Social Affairs, around 300000 Tutsi survived after the Genocide; most of them suffered from psychological trauma that the ethnic violence left them with (Jean d’Amour Banyanga, et al. 2017). Especially for the child survivors, the Rwanda National Trauma Survey (2009) estimates that 96% of children observed violence, 80% lost family members, 69% witnessed death or harm, 31% observed rape. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was deemed a major psychological consequence for those post-Genocide Tutsi survivors, which substantially negatively impacts a person's ability to live in the future social life due to negative cognition and emotional disorders (Stephen Joseph 2018).
However, the devastating psychological consequence does not mean that the psychological healing of survivors after conflict as the first step of the reconciliation becomes out of reach.
In Stephen Joseph’s research about the psychological consequence of post-conflict Rwanda people, he found a positive psychological story of Rwanda survivors, named posttraumatic growth (PTG), which presents “the positive psychological change an individual can experience following a traumatic life experience.” This positive psychological consequence demonstrated that after experiencing such tragedy, Tutsi survivors are still intrinsically motivated toward posttraumatic growth. There are positive changes in "how they perceive themselves, changes in their relationships and worldview," especially positive manifestations of forgiveness.
The testimonies of Tutsi survivors at the 20th anniversary of the Rwanda Genocide in 2013 gave some positive examples.
A 52-year-old survivor called Bernadette told her son: “The philosophy I use for my life is to laugh; so, I laughed and after laughing told him, “Why should that worry you? Why should that make you cry?”
A 26-year-old victim called Philippe also said: “I know the people who killed my family; my parents, three brothers and a sister. I would forgive them because nothing I can do to bring them back, but it also depends on how they ask for this forgiveness. We now live more at peace, many of my friends who survived still have trauma problems, but we help each other…I would also like to see a more stable Rwanda where there is no threat to children... no more genocide.”
This positive psychological performance does not underestimate the concern of harmful psychological consequences. It is definitely not easy to overcome the trauma for those survivors. However, it is worthy of presenting a hopeful perspective to see the potential positive opportunities of reconciliation between two groups via victims’ positive self-healing.
The implantation of post-conflict reconciliation programs to foster social reconciliation
The fear, following distrust, suspension, and consequential hatred, characterizes the relationship between genocide survivors and perpetrators for a long time due to the original hatred and misunderstandings afterward. As professor Dhammika in his research to analyze the post-conflict reconciliation in Rwanda, mentioned that the failure to resolve the misunderstanding or isolation between Tutsis and Hutus can lead to the failure of reconciliation between them, which not only increase the risk of renewed violence but is also detrimental to the maintenance of sustained peace in society.
One family member of former genocide perpetrators said: “How can you trust people you can’t even talk to? We were all afraid, even [genocide] survivors. The only thing that we knew was that they [genocide survivors] would take revenge by killing us. no trust was there (Ezechiel Stenama 2009, p95).”
A 28-year-old female-genocide victim also stated that “We had lost trust because they killed ours. Who could think that they stopped their killings? No trust was there. It was only fear (Ibid.).”
The limited discussion of issues and doubts between two groups limited the chance to know and understand the truth, thus finally restricting the opportunities for reconciliation. Truth, intention, or the apologies and forgiveness could be understood only after communication. In some interviews of survivors, they also recognised that “reconciliation would only result from sustained interaction and cooperation between victims and perpetrators” (Stephen Joseph 2018, p.253).
Fortunately, the economic reconciliation program called the Peace basket cooperative program in Rwanda that was initiated in 1997 plays an essential role in promoting the increasing communication between the genocide perpetrators and survivors. This economic cooperative provides a common handmade working platform for two groups giving them a chance to share their current economic living conditions and truly feel of each other (Ezechiel Stenama 2009).
Moreover, the Ndi umunyarwanda (I’m Rwandan) campaign that provides a platform for two groups to discuss history, repentance, and healing for past crimes against other ethnic groups also increases their mutual understanding (Dhammika Herath, 2018).
Although mutual acceptance cannot be only achieved through cooperative communication; trauma cannot heal fully by talking about history. The individual acquisition of truth, acknowledgement, intention, or even friends through this communication and cooperation is still worthy.
As one member of this cooperative program, a 29-year-old female-family member of former genocide perpetrators said that: “membership of the cooperative does not mean that all the problems stop automatically. It takes time. However, the more you work together convivially and talk to each other, the more it is quite different from seeing a person and fleeing! In this cooperative, we meet, we talk to each other. Those problems of fear cool down little by little (Ezechiel Stenama 2009).”
The reconciliation program between Tutsi and Hutus thus has practical meaning for post-conflict Rwanda society. Through communication and cooperation, it could clarify the misunderstanding among people, heal the psychological trauma experience of victims, and build the harmonious relationship between them. It avoids unnecessary violent conflicts and keeps the long-term peace of society.
This article mainly described the positive development of the self-healing of the Tutsi people after the conflict and the positive development of reconciliation programs between the two ethnic groups. Because I do not want to show the stereotype that post-conflict countries are continually devastated, and hate filled. Currently, Rwanda is experiencing a sharp increase in its economic capacity under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. In 2019, Rwanda's GDP growth rate reached 10.9%, becoming the fastest growing country in the 2019 world (The World Bank). According to the 2019 Global Law and Order Report, Rwanda is the second most secure country in Africa.
Although the complete reconciliation between the Tutsis and Hutus has not yet been achieved. The gradual reconciliation is always essential, especially the descendants of the victims and the perpetrators, who are not the direct engagers of that tragedy, still live side by side in this common post-conflict Rwanda society. They deserve a more harmonious community life. Not all victims have the opportunity to heal themselves and usher in a new life. The attention to the psychological trauma of survivors in post-conflict countries should never be ignored.
Anderson, P., & Menon, J. 2009. Violence performed. New York, Palgrave and Macmillan. p54-55. United Nations. 2001. Country presentation by the government of Rwanda. Third United Nations conference on the least developed countries, Brussels. P9.
Dhammika Herath, 2018, “Post-conflict Reconstruction and Reconciliation in Rwanda and Sri Lanka”, <https://www.accord.org.za/conflict-trends/post-conflict-reconstruction-and-reconciliation-in-rwanda-and-sri-lanka/>.
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Sentama, Ezechiel. Peacebuilding in post-genocide Rwanda: The role of cooperatives in the restoration of interpersonal relationships. University of Gothenburg. Faculty of Social Sciences, 2009.
Xiangting is a second year International Relations student at the War Studies Department, King's College, London. She researched and wrote this article as part of the BizGees & War Studies Department Internship programme.