Moving forward on the road of sustainable development and peaceful coexistence in a post-conflict society

Boston, 23 April 2014

  • Brandeis University President, Frederick Lawrence;
  • Brandeis Faculty and Students;
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank you for inviting me to this distinguished university to be with, develop deeper relationships and speak with you about Rwanda’s experience in post-conflict development.

As many of you know, we are commemorating the 20th year since the Genocide in Rwanda. This is a time of remembrance as well as serious reflection for Rwandans and others around the world.

There is no template for putting a country back together after such a major tragedy. Everything was a priority. Almost everything of value had been destroyed. We had to make decisions without any comfort of adequate time or resources.

This was the situation we faced in July 1994, as we stopped the genocide and formed a government of national unity.

Rwanda felt abandoned when the genocide started. The international community made a decision to pull out peacekeepers that were in a position to save lives, and deter the government of the time from implementing its plan for extermination, of an entire section of the population.

But we learned an important lesson that has guided our efforts at rebuilding: Namely, we had to be responsible for ourselves as we remained open to working with others.


We committed ourselves to search for innovative solutions to our unique challenges: to learn, to take risks, to experiment, even to challenge conventional wisdom – and above all to keep moving forward.

Establishing peace and security were the foundation for anything else we hoped to do. The forces that had just committed the genocide were camped only a few kilometres from our border, and tried to continue the Genocide targeting survivors and witnesses.

Meanwhile, the international community began the largest humanitarian operation in history to support them, and claimed to be powerless to separate refugees from armed groups.

There could never be peace under those conditions. We had to act. In late 1996, Rwandan forces separated the refugee hostages from the genocidal armed groups, and in the space of a few days, more than two million Rwandans returned home, walking back to their villages — where they have settled ever since.

This development made the search for justice and reconciliation an even more urgent challenge. Many of the returnees were involved, directly or indirectly, in the genocide. They were now living side by side with survivors.

What does justice mean when millions of people participated? What does reconciliation mean when perpetrator and victims see each other in the market every day? The rebuilding process required us to find the right balance.

To achieve this, we chose Gacaca, a community-based system of conflict resolution that would deliver restorative justice, as well as bring the society back together.

Cases were heard and judged at village level. In exchange for telling the truth about what they did and saw, perpetrators received reduced sentences or performed community service. Through Gacaca, Rwanda tried two million cases in ten years, completing the process in 2012.

Of course reconciliation and justice are not one-off events, but a long-term national process that requires continuous dialogue at all levels.

We are working to entrench new thinking about Rwandan national identity that transcends the ethnic ideology promoted by previous governments. The purpose is not to erase diversity or deny history, but rather to help Rwandans see themselves first and foremost as compatriots.

Rwandans strongly support such efforts. This is why programs like Ndi Umunyarwanda or “I am Rwandan” have been readily embraced by our people. The program provides a platform for honest dialogue among citizens and aims to strengthen the Rwandan identity.

After 1994, the new government had to set up an accountable state to deliver the services that our citizens need and deserve.

Achieving stability has allowed Rwanda to begin the serious work of building democratic institutions and securing the freedoms and rights of Rwandans, without whose participation progress and development would be impossible.

State reconstruction required the rebuilding, and in some cases creating from scratch, governance institutions that are often the first casualties of any conflict. We established new law and order agencies such as the Auditor General, Police and Ombudsman, in order to promote accountability and guarantee the state’s ability to safeguard and earn the trust of citizens.

We have also used home-grown solutions to overcome some of Rwanda’s challenges to socio-economic development. One way we did this is through the use of Imihigo, a practice from pre-colonial times whereby individuals would set targets and publicly pledge to achieve them.

Imihigo in modern Rwanda are annual performance contracts whereby targets are set by communities and signed by public officials. Performance is then assessed throughout the year.

It is the kind of thinking that has helped us to achieve real results for Rwandans, for example, the most rapid and steep gains in child and maternal health ever recorded by public health professionals.

For ongoing and future development, we are convinced that the private sector will serve as a vital catalyst of Rwanda’s socio-economic transformation. We have privatised state-owned companies, and worked to make Rwanda an attractive place to do business and to invest.

Our focus now is improving our infrastructure and human capital, so we can better compete in the global market and transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020.

Ultimately, our goal is to maximise opportunities for all Rwandans, including the young people who make up three-quarters of our population.

Rwanda is keenly aware of the importance of regional, continental and international collaboration to our stability and development. This is why we are active as strong partners in the East African Community, the African Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations among others.

We also greatly value the partnerships we have enjoyed with universities, business and philanthropists in this country.

  • Dear Friends:

While rebuilding our country remains an all-consuming task for the government and people of Rwanda, we continue to learn. We also willingly share our hard-won lessons: take ownership of our challenges; make leaders accountable; and place citizens at the heart of everything we do.

From the outset, Rwanda had to take risks. Our very survival was at stake, and we had no expectation that others would, or even could, find solutions for us.

We are pleased with the results so far. We are now even able to contribute to the cause of prevention of genocide and atrocity by supplying thousands of peacekeepers in some of the world’s trouble spots.

But there is more work ahead of us, and we feel a great sense of urgency to speed up the progress. This is why we always urge our citizens – men, women and young people who we have invested in, to make sure that we are up to this challenge.

Rwanda has received support from development partners which we appreciate – particularly because we know that no one owes us anything. We use this support effectively for the benefit of all Rwandans.

However, we emerged from the tragedy because Rwandans were prepared to stay the course, despite constant doubt and criticism. Without that tenacity, Rwanda would have remained a failed state.

I thank you.