Rwanda one year later


By Ladislas Niyongira

[This article first appeared in the Rwandan newspaper Kinyamateka. An entire edition of the paper has been translated into French and English by the organisations Reporters Sans Frontieres and World Media Network and is being reprinted in many countries around the world.]

After April 6, 1994 — the date of the attack on President Juvenal Habyarimana's airplane — Rwanda experienced an apocalyptic situation : killings on an unprecedented scale, first in Kigali, then in all of the country, lasting three months.

When the city of Kigali fell into the hands of the FPR [Rwandan Patriotic Front], on July 4, the Rwandan armed forces fled in large numbers towards Zaire, taking with them millions of Rwandans as well as an enormous quantity of possessions, leaving the country ravaged and devastated. On July 19, a new government was set up to rebuild the country and dress its wounds. Where are we today, one year after the beginning of the massacres?

Awaiting justice

There is continuous talk of national reconciliation. But who is reconciling with whom? In order to put an end to the impunity which criminals here are enjoying, politicians consider setting up a judicial system the most urgent priority.

Out of the more than 700 officials who made up the Ministry of Justice before the war, only 200 remain. Some were killed, others are in exile. Now, according to the law in power, no additional magistrate will be named before the appointment of a superior council of magistrates, and not before that of the Supreme Court.

What are those responsible for the country waiting for, therefore, in order to set up these institutions? This delay has unfortunate consequences. More than 23,000 people are crammed into prisons without due process of law, sometimes without any charges filed against them.

The prisons have become places where people are left to die because of the prevailing overpopulation. The central prison of Kigali, built in 1930 to accommodate 750 prisoners, today houses more than 7000 inmates. Only justice can protect the rights of people and permit the guilty to be lawfully punished. In the meantime, vengeance dictates the law.

One of the objectives of the present government is to have refugees and displaced persons return. But it has been mainly the refugees of previous massacres (1959, 1972) who have returned in large numbers, while no receiving system was in place.

Statistics supplied by the minister of rehabilitation indicate that 240,000 former refugees living in Burundi have returned, as well as half of the 260,000 refugees in Uganda and the majority of the 500,000 refugees in Zaire and in Tanzania. All of these refugees moved into the cities, taking over the homes of those who had fled, and in the country, they moved into Bugesera (south-east), Kibungo, Mutara and Mayaga (south).

They took possession of the fields of those who were not there. And, as the former owners return, conflicts break out, at times deadly. Leaders must undertake measures to help in the settlement of the refugees, in compliance with what had been decided at the Arusha accords.

The new refugees, like the displaced persons, constitute a serious problem. In the neighbouring countries there are estimated to be about 2 million refugees. In the interior of the country, in the camps for those displaced by the war, they number several hundred thousand. Three reasons prevent them from returning.

The first is that people are taken as hostages by those formerly in power, aided by the military and the Interahamwe Hutu militia. Those who have expressed their desire to return have been known to be executed. They want to keep them in the camps to demonstrate to international opinion that the population has more confidence in the former leaders than in the present government of Kigali.

The second reason is that certain people participated in the genocide: they don't dare return, because they know that they would be pursued. The third reason is the prevailing insecurity in the country.

One cannot deny that there is great insecurity. The assassination of the prefect of Butare, Pierre Claver Rwangabo, is one illustration. He was killed by gunshot during the night of March 4-5, while travelling from Kigali to Butare, with one of his children and his chauffeur. Only his bodyguard survived.

The speeches of certain politicians, especially at exhumation ceremonies of victims of genocide, are not reassuring. Some people who return disappear suddenly. Others go to prison based on simple denunciations. Others, finally, are victims of arbitrary executions. If there was a solution for these three situations, the refugees would return on their own.

Among the displaced persons, there is a category of which one often speaks: the homeless. At the time of the genocide, homes were also destroyed. Those who managed to hide themselves and who did not die, found themselves living on the street. In the country particularly, many people camp in commercial warehouses, in schools or in parks. No aid has been allocated to them.

Beginning at zero

Living conditions are still precarious. Health centres have started to function, but almost all of them are run by foreign non-governmental organisations. And in the case that these foreigners leave, what is the state, which is responsible for public health, anticipating doing?

Already before the genocide, the pandemic of AIDS was reaching disturbing proportions in Rwanda, and many of those infected with the virus died during the war, not having been able to withstand the difficult conditions of life. During the genocide the population intermingled, there were numerous incidents of rape, and from this time AIDS spread throughout the country. This is particularly true in the refugee camps, where there is much promiscuity.

Worse: since the war, people don't seem to fear the virus. Those who narrowly escaped death insist that it is not AIDS which kills, and they no longer protect themselves. If the state does nothing, the AIDS virus may produce another genocide.

All schools have been seriously damaged. Numerous teachers have died or are in exile. The primary schools have been reopened and the secondary schools have just begun to reopen. But we don't know what will happen to the universities. In the beginning, the quality of the teaching will not be good, due to lack of educational material and experienced teachers. But at least it will be a start.

Means of transportation and communication are still disabled. "Out of the National Office of Public Transport s 200 vehicles, only 38 are left", laments the head of the service operation. Among these, only 24 buses are in working order. Transportation has become difficult, especially in remote spots where roads are bad, and where private drivers do not dare venture.

There is much to rebuild. But the most difficult are not the houses and roadways, because money is all that is needed to rebuild them. The most difficult is cohabitation. The people of Rwanda will need to have the will, clear-sightedness and insight, especially on the part of those in authority, so that everyone will feel good in their country, work for the country and themselves, without treading on their neighbour. The rebuilding must begin with people, because it was they who were ravaged most by last year s horrific events.