Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, spoke at an event hosted by Tufts University yesterday, marking the 20th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsis.
Kagame reflected on the impact of the 1994 genocide on the Rwandan people, discussed his country's path to recovery and explained the lessons the global community can learn from the tragedy. Before he became president, Kagame helped lead the Rwandan Patriotic Army to defeat the genocidal government.
"This afternoon offers us a particularly meaningful opportunity for our community to hear from a leader known around the world for his role in bringing an end to the genocidal violence that engulfed Rwanda 20 years ago," University President Anthony Monaco said in his opening remarks. "We have all watched with sorrow and shame as Rwanda marked the 20th anniversary of that tragedy."
Kagame began the lecture by reminding the audience that, although twenty years is a significant anniversary, it is just another year.
"At this moment my country is in the midst of annual remembrance period for the victims of the genocide," Kagame said. "Twenty is not a magic number, but the milestone has helped to refocus Rwanda and the world's attention to the causes and consequences of the genocide in Rwanda."
Kagame recapped the tragic events for the audience, explaining that the basis of the genocide stemmed from a racial ideology in the East African region. He compared the Tutsi genocide to the Holocaust in that both were systematic attempts to eradicate a particular group of people simply because they belonged to that group.
"The genocide was prepared over decades with profiling characterized by ethnic groups, [including] the marking of specific homes of this group for future extermination," Kagame said. "During the genocide, the famous hate radio station called RTLM broadcast lists of Tutsi to be killed. It warned that the Tutsi were carnivores and had the tongue of the devil. It was propaganda of the crudest and most violent kind."
Kagame reflected disappointingly on the international community's decision to stand by rather than intervene and help prevent the genocide.
"From our perspective, the [international community's] actions and inactions made the situation worse."
Kagame noted, however, that some countries, though few, did provide aid. He said he is hopeful the world learned from this mistake.
"A number of countries and individuals reflected honestly on their conduct, learned appropriate lessons and altered their policy and approach both to Rwanda and similar situations elsewhere," Kagame said. "The international community now generally accepts that they did not do enough to stop the slaughter in 1994."
One of the greatest lessons Rwanda has learned from the tragedy is the importance of autonomy and sovereignty, Kagame explained.
"What we learned as Rwandans is that people must ultimately be responsible for their own fate," Kagame said. "If you wait for help to come, you will just perish. Similarly, if you wait for outsiders to tell you how to rebuild your country, you will find their instinct is to reconstruct the same flawed structure that just collapsed."
While horror of the genocide against the Tutsis inspired new international action in field of justice, more must be done, Kagame explained.
"From our perspective, punity and justice is only half the solution," Kagame said. "The ultimate goal is to repair a devastated social fabric in order for a nation to begin to rebuild. This is true for Rwanda after 1994, as it is for other nations recovering from major conflicts."
Kagame attributed Rwanda's impressive growth recovery over the last 20 years to the Rwandan people's will, support and confidence. He thanked the global community for the support they have offered Rwanda in the years following the genocide but explained that it is the Rwandan people's drive that enabled this growth.
"Rwanda received and continues to receive critical contributions from governments, countries and other friends in our effort to rebuild our country both in terms of sound advice and more," Kagame said. "But without a clear vision for a new nation developed by Rwandans, those contributions would not have been able to have the impact they have had."
While Kagame acknowledged the international contributions that have helped Rwanda progress to where it is today, he stressed the importance of self-reliance and domestic development.
"The future we are working toward in Rwanda and Africa is one where our continent continues to grow stronger and more self reliant and, in this way, we can be less vulnerable to external factors," Kagame said. "As members of the international community as well, we all have a duty to contribute to addressing global issues in the mean time individually as nations, and collectively, we in Africa have an inescapable duty to build a continent that can fix itself."
Kagame won the first democratic election held in Rwanda in 2003 and was reelected to a second seven-year term in 2010. He also serves as chair of the United Nations Secretary General's Advisory Group on Millennium Development Goals and as co-chair of the international Telecommunication Union's Broadband Commission.
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--Reprinted from Tufts Daily
Read additional coverage of President Kagame’s remarks in Reuters and Associated Press