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This information is current as of

February 2013

Contemporary Sociological Global Review (eISSN 2027-7431)

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony,

unity and reconciliation

Hli Habyarimana
Matrise studies at the University of Rouen (France) from 2004 to 2005
Masters Studies at University of South Africa, UNISA, in Linguistics
with specialization in Sociolinguistics.
Republic of Rwanda - Africa.
Email address:

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013)

ID: csgr00013
doi: 10.6040/s2027-7431.38116x
Available Online at

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Reflection Article

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation
Ruanda: del conflicto ahora arraigado a la
armona, la unidad y la reconciliacin

Hli Habyarimana
University of South Africa, UNISA.



Identity-based conflict, Ethnicity, Divisionist ideology,

Genocide, Unity and reconciliation.

Many years ago, Rwanda had a hard experience of identity-based conflicts where
groups were convinced wrongly that they were threatened of disappearing or of being
reduced physically or politically. The conflicts were crystallized by the assumption of
belonging to different ethnic groups, and supported by historical and ideological
constructions affiliated to political calculations. After the 1994 genocide, Rwandans
have undergone a promising process of restoring peace and harmony. In order to
achieve the goal, home-made tools namely civic education, conflict mediation, and
support to communities were developed by citizens themselves. They thereafter resulted in feeling a sense of interpersonal trust, identifying with a collective identity,
working together towards shared goals, and feeling that government institutions
represent their interests and well-being. Therefore, Rwanda could inspire the world
about post-conflict reconciliation, peace building, and reconstruction of the national
identity and citizenship. Copyright Syllaba Press International Inc. 2011-2013.
All rights reserved.

Palabras clave
Conflicto basado en la identidad, Etnicidad, Ideologa divisionista, Genocidio, Unidad y reconciliacin.


Address correspondence to
Hli Habyarimana
Matrise studies at the University of Rouen (France) from
2004 to 2005. Masters Studies at University of South Africa, UNISA, in Linguistics with specialization in Sociolinguistics.
Republic of Rwanda - Africa.
Email address:

Hace muchos aos, Ruanda tuvo una dura experiencia de conflictos basados en la
identidad, en la cual los grupos fueron convencidos errneamente de que slo tenan
dos alternativas: ser amenazados de desaparecer o ser reducidos fsicamente o polticamente. Los conflictos se cristalizaron por la suposicin de pertenecer a diferentes
grupos tnicos, idea apoyada por construcciones histricas e ideolgicas asociadas a
clculos polticos. Despus del genocidio de 1994, los ruandeses han sido sometidos a
un proceso prometedor de restauracin de la paz y la armona. Con el fin de lograr
ese objetivo, fueron desarrolladas por los propios ciudadanos herramientas caseras de
educacin cvica mediacin de conflictos y apoyo a las propias comunidades. Ello posteriormente dio lugar a una sensacin de confianza interpersonal, a la identificacin
colectiva , trabajando juntos hacia metas comunes y la sensacin de que las instituciones gubernamentales representan sus intereses y bienestar. Por lo tanto, Ruanda podra inspirar al mundo acerca de la reconciliacin despus de los conflictos, la
construccin de la paz y la reconstruccin de la identidad nacional y la ciudadana.
Copyright Syllaba Press International Inc. 2011-2013. All rights reserved.

Contemporary Sociological Global Review - CSGR

Volume 3 Number 3 (February 2013)
Article Received: November 2012.
Article Accepted: January 2013.
Article Published online: February 2013.

2027-7431/$ - see font matter Copyright Syllaba Press International Inc. 2011-2013. All rights reserved

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

Rwanda is one of the small countries in the Central
Africa with approximately 11 million people. The country
is landlocked with many lakes, hills and mountains.
Rwandans share the common culture and language, and
their standard of living is likely the same with some nonsignificant inequalities.
Rwanda has been suffering from ethnic conflicts
since the colonial period in early 1900s. It had one of the
worst slaughters of the 20th century i.e. the 1994 Tutsi
genocide, which made the loss of about a million people.
It has been very difficult to understand the real origin of conflicts in Rwanda since the population shares a
hundred per cent of their social fabric. However, the history witnessed a series of conflicts and security lapses in
different periods of time.
Objectives and scope
The purpose of this paper is to show how, in the
course of history, conflicts in Rwanda have come to be
facts, and their alleged and/or real causes. It further
makes a statement on the process of peace building endeavors in the country, with special emphasis on strategies proper to Rwandans, the extent to which they have
been effective, and the way in which they may inspire
other parts of the world torn apart by wars and conflicts.
The scope of the paper extends over the period from
the German and thereafter Belgian colonization (1900s)
up to today (2011). Despite some references made to the
Great-lakes region, the paper focuses on Rwanda.
Information provided herein was collected from various publications, reports and surveys from various people
interested in the case of Rwanda. Evidence was given
from the researchers own observation and experience as
a Rwandan citizen anxious about positive peace and social cohesion among Rwandans.
The Rwandan conflict: history and causes
The history of the Rwandan conflict, which peaked in
the 1994 genocide, is very far rooted. One may talk of periods before, during and after colonization, postindependence, and between 1990 and 1994.
Three ethnic groups purportedly thought to act in
the Rwandan conflict have been peacefully cohabiting.
The categories of Tutsi, Hutu, Twa really existed in precolonial Rwanda, but the terms did not connote the same
differences as those allocated during the period after.
Newbury and Newbury (1995, p.5) stated that the terms
expressed differences in status and wealth, and their implications varied significantly over place and time8

among regions and at different periods. Moreover, in

many contexts, lineage and region were more important
bases for identity than Hutu or Tutsi.
To a certain extent, the three groups denoted occupational differences. Tutsi tended to be more pastoralists,
Hutu more agriculturalists, and Twas hunters and potters. However, these distinctions varied considerably
since there were many Tutsis engaged in agriculture,
Hutus who kept cattle and some Twas who were not
hunters/potters. As regards the power, it was alleged
that all powers were seized by Tutsis; however, numerous
Hutus were in governance organs even the highest ones.
The colonial period, occupied by Germans first and
Belgians after, in collaboration with Missionaries, was
the starting point of manipulating Rwandan groups for
political purposes. They inherited the country with a
causal factor of conflicts based especially on two main
lines: instilling and exacerbating the Hamitic myth and
theories about the populating of Rwanda on the one hand,
and the political line based on divide and rule practices
seconded by instrumentalization of ethnicity.
In the framework of civilizing and dominating, colonizers and missionaries brought numerous mythologies
and introduced a lot of judgments aiming at emptying
the population from their original values and thus
destroying their cohesion. The mythical and ideological
constructions related to the Hamitic myth made the two
groups in Rwanda and Burundi learn that they belonged
respectively to the Bantu and Nilotic-Hamitic family,
that they were definitely strangers to one another (Shyaka, 2005:17). Moreover, they learnt that one
group (Hutu) was an inferior race and Tutsi a superior
race, which arouse frustration on the one hand and
conceit on the other hand.
The ethnic phenomenon was used in and for political
affairs. In this regard, segregation, favoring Tutsis, and
excluding Hutus from positions of power and responsibi
lity seconded the purported racial inequality and genetic
domination to foster hate between groups. The malpractice was termed by Shyaka (2005:19), as the instrumentalization of the ethno-racial factor in Rwandan political
The early decolonization period stressed the state of
conflicts between Rwandans. The most important example is the 1959 Revolution which inspired and made the
starting point of violent clashes which resulted in attacks
perpetrated by Hutus to Tutsis. Newbury and Newbury
(1995:6-7) talked about a dynamic of distrust and mutual
fear which grew and created a volatile situation. In fact,
Tutsi, power holders, feared they would lose power to
Hutus [and] Hutu leaders feared they would be liquidated by Tutsi intent on keeping power. The situation
was very critical and tragic to both groups. Finally,
Hutus won elections organized at the time, took power,
replaced Tutsi authorities, and forced them to flee after
killings and firing homes.

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi:

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

Rwanda gained its independence in 1962, and the

period henceforth (up to 1990) did not calm conflicts
down, but rather fuelled them. The Rwandan leadership
and governance, like in other African countries, failed to
manage and eradicate negative ideologies and political
practices inherited from colonial times. The two sub
sequent regimes (the 1st and 2nd republics) were characterized by nepotism, clientelism, corruption, and exclusion as they had been practiced in the previous period.
The period experienced external attacks by former
Rwandan refugees, pogroms against internal Tutsis,
domination of the political space by a paucity of members
of a group, many political crises and centralization of
political institutions, ever growing antagonism between
Hutus and Tutsis, harsh measures against political opponents, and many political assassinations. These shaky
political systems contributed to dividing the Rwandan
society and consolidated sources of tensions and conflicts.
The period from the 1990 October war to the 1994
genocide was the most awful of conflict in the country.
The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) attack of 1990 served
as a scapegoat to stress and raise the level of hate against
the Tutsis, and since then multiple hostilities against the
group were done in various parts of the country. Killings,
torture, firing houses, pillages, exclusion from jobs were
directed against them. At the same time, government
propaganda was done unceasingly in order to make
Tutsis more hated by their co-citizen Hutus. This was
done through mass media (Radio, TV, newspapers) and
meetings of the mass. Different people (politicians, religious people, and civil society) were involved in propaga
ting and blackmailing the Tutsis.
The peak of the conflict took place in 1994. During a
hundred days, around one million of Tutsis and moderate
Hutus were viciously slaughtered by neighbors and
trained militia (Interahamwe=United gangsters). The
carnage was systematic and carefully planned. The story
makes everyone to shake. The goal was to liquidate all
Tutsi group and opponent Hutus, which relates to the
characteristics of the identity-based conflicts.
When looking at the causes of the Rwandan conflict,
it is worthy noting that it has been understood in diffe
rent ways. On the one hand, it has been purportedly
linked to anthropological factors (concept of races, tribes,
ethnic groups). However, if we consider the context of
Rwanda in the region, it is very difficult to give enough
reasons to the assumption. On the other hand, politicalbased factors have been involved. To a very small extent,
socio-historical factors have also been evoked.
During the colonial period, former colonizers used
indirect rule to administer the country, favoring one
ethnic group (Tutsi) to the detriment of another (Hutu);
Divide ut regnes-divide and rule. Thus, the question of
economic, ethnic and social inequality rose giving to conflicts early before the independence in 1962. The state of
distrust and mutual fear between ethnic groups

continued in the post-independence period (first and

second Republic) where some Rwandans were forced to
seek asylum outside the country. This situation resulted
into a social conflict where Rwandans valued more differences than similarities. Consequently, the colonial discourse and the post-independence divisionist regime took
advantage of it in connection with political interests to
the benefit of the ruling group.
This purported ethnic-based conflict was associated
to historical myths (Hutus inhabited the country before
Tutsis, and so there is no reason to be dominated by the
late comers), anthropological concepts (wrongly characterizing Hutus and Tutsis as different races, tribes or
ethnicities, and thus totally different from one another),
socio-economic based reasons connected to occupational
differences (minority Tutsi pastoralists and herds owners
were wealthier than majority Hutu agriculturalists and
deprived of herds), and a so called physiological difference
linked to the Hamitic theory (Tutsi distant ancestors
would have been of Eurasian origin, and Hutus would
have been of Bantu origin, and thus the two groups have
different facial appearances and physiologically genetic
Very far from the above arguments, we agree with
Shyaka (2005: 12) who qualified the Rwandan conflict as
an identity-based conflict where a human group [Hutu
or Tutsi] is convinced, rightly or wrongly that it is
threatened by another group of disappearing or of being
reduced physically or politically. The Rwandan identitybased conflict (Hutu-Tutsi conflict) has been crystallized
by the assumption of belonging to different ethnic groups
coming from different territories, and supported by historical and ideological constructions affiliated to political
Like the Gnostic myth, there has been in Rwanda a
perfect entity which was the sedentary Hutus, and then
a disturbing element which was invasion of Tutsis, and
last a need for Hutus to restore the primitive state and
thus get free from the Tutsi invaders. This three-phase
dynamics, a little rational it may be, has been functional
in Rwandan society long years ago, and may explain various stages of hostilities perpetrated among Rwandans
and by one group to another.
To this deep-rooted identity-based conflict were
added a number of what could be termed conflict gene
rating factors grounded on the aforementioned myths.
Shyaka (2005:14) categorized them as colonization and
missionary church heritage, chronic bad leadership and
inadequate governance.
In fact, colonial and missionary ideological line
stressed the Hamitic myth and the political divide and
rule strategy in order to strengthen their powers. From
missionaries, Rwandans learnt that, according to Shyaka
(2005:17), in spite of absence of the traces of cultural and
linguistic otherness, [their society was organized] in three
races: a Nilotic-Hamitic conquering and superior race

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi:

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

(the Tutsis), a Bantu and inferior race (the Hutus) and

the left-behind race (the Twas) considered as pygmoids.
The idea of Tutsis racial purity and ethnicist
consciousness stressed Tutsis domination over the Hutu
Manipulation of ethnicity for political purposes, also
termed instrumentalization of the ethno-racial factor by
Shyaka (2005:18) was closely related to the previous
theories and ideological beliefs. Colonizers and postindependence politicians perpetrated segregation and
ideological convictions of racial inequality, which resulted
in the exacerbation of identity-based conflicts and thus
undermined the Rwandan social fabric. The same author
(2005:19) added that privileges granted arbitrarily to
some and often to the detriment of others resulted in
frustrations, by transforming ethnicity into a political
phenomenon. In Rwanda, like other African countries,
the post-colonial predatory powers have often institutio
nalized conflicts for the power (Shyaka, 2005).
Indeed, Rwanda had a bad start of independence
since it failed to guarantee the same national identity to
all citizens. Secondly, Rwandan leaders favored the climate of corruption, hegemony and exclusion, which complicated social relations and gave to social cleavages, frustration, ethnism, and regionalism. Moreover, the majority model favoring Hutus to the detriment of Tustis,
ethnic coalitions, and the ethnocratic democracy were
used by political powers in place as tools of violence and
Furthermore, Staub (1992) in Shyaka (2005:27)
talked about intensifying factors of identity-based conflicts in Rwanda, namely harsh living conditions, deep
violations of human needs, scapegoat ideology, the syndrome Us versus Them, and leniency from inactive
onlookers. Extreme poverty and scarcity of resources
have intensified conflicts among Rwandans in such a way
that, during genocide for instance, people killed others in
order to own their property (land, houses, cows, etc). Besides, Rwandans could remember very well how the
Hutus were taken as Natives and the Tutsis considered
as strangers, non-natives. During the genocide, there
was a slogan that Tutsis should go back to their native
land [Ethiopia] through the river Nyabarongo (a river
that is considered as the source of Nile). Last, massacres
in Rwanda were exacerbated by leniency of the group not
in danger either by complicity or fear, and this contri
buted to increasing identity-based mistrust.
To sum up, some of the causes of conflict in Rwanda
could be qualified as phantom causes. They were manipulated for powers interest, and could not stand alone to
justify the reason of ethnic conflicts since Rwandans have
so many points of convergence that could rather unite
them. Nevertheless, the 1994 genocide was a logical consequence of the long route of conflicts among Rwandans.
Therefore, the challenge should remain how to disinfect
the Rwandan society from that evil, so as to resuscitate

and reconstruct the country.

Peace process in Rwanda
The process of peace restoring and keeping in
Rwanda may be viewed in two major parts. The first period is before 1994 genocide, and the second is after the
1994 genocide. The two periods are different from each
other in terms of strategies used as well as their effectiveness, efficiency and relevance.
Just at the early stage of colonization, and after they
got aware of dangerous policies perpetrated by colonizers,
Rwandans and their local leaders attempted to resist.
Unfortunately, the resistance did not bear fruits since
colonization powers were stronger than indigenous resistance. Thus, attempts of keeping unity and peace failed
During 1950s, when Rwandans became aware of the
necessity of independence, and started creating political
parties, some attempts of keeping peace were undertaken. Political debates focusing on the issue of social
inequality and the ethnic question (earlier and wrongly
considered as sources of conflicts) were initiated. However, two blocks in negotiation (conservatives on the one
hand and revolutionists on the other hand) failed the target. Instead of addressing the real problem, they attri
buted the question to economic and social factors, and the
lack of independence.
Independence, which was expected to be a
miraculous solution to Rwandans conflicts, was contra
rily used to intensify them. The strategy of peace by force
and arms (ci vis pacem para bellum=if you want peace,
prepare the war) was used by post-independence regimes.
On the one hand, harsh measures against political opponents, elimination, imprisonment and exclusion were
used as purported attempts on peace by one group. On
the other hand, the other group resorted to armed attacks
in order to restore their rights and thus regain peace.
This is the case of the 1990 attack by the Rwandan
Patriotic Front (RPF). Nonetheless, all the strategies
failed and the climate of conflict persisted.
The so called strongest peace attempt was The
Arusha Peace Accords signed between the RPF and the
Rwandan government on August 4th, 1993 followed by
the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda
(UNAMIR). The content of the treaty stipulated lots of
endeavors aiming at restoring peace and harmony among
Rwandans. They included merging the two armies,
granting to refugees the right to repatriation, fair sharing
of power and resources, and reconstruction of the social
fabric as a whole. However, Newbury and Newbury
(1995, p. 13) stipulated that the Arusha Peace Accords
contributed significantly to the polarization of political
tensions within Rwanda, which had very dangerous implications for intensifying tensions between Rwandan
ethnic groups. The situation was crowned by the 1994

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Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

After the worst split of the Rwandan social fabric,
which resulted from long years of mass spread of hate
and divisions, Rwanda has undergone a promising pro
cess of restoring peace and harmony among its citizens. It
is now worth focusing on the concept of reconciliation and
other strategies used.
The concept of reconciliation has been very meaningful to the Rwandan society. It has got a merit because of
its success in rebuilding the Rwandan social fabric after
years of divisions. The key role has been played by the
National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC)
created in 1999. The concept itself (reconciliation) was
defined by Mutamba and Izabiriza (2005:22) as both a
goal to achieve and a process to do it. Thus, it is a pro
cess through which a society moves from a divided past to
a shared future. It is a long-term process, which requires
firm commitment to deal with hard issues.
For it to effectively achieve the assigned mission, the
NURC has developed and implemented three important
home-made tools (NURC and IJR, 2005). In fact, civic
education, conflict mediation, and support to communities have contributed a lot to restoring peace and harmony among Rwandans.
Civic education has entailed mobilizing and training
communities on unity and reconciliation and related topics through solidarity camps (Ingando), reconciliation
summits, the leadership academy (Itorero), and
intercommunity exchanges and consultations. Let us look
at them in a detailed way.
Solidarity camps Ingando refer to halting normal
activities to reflect on and find solutions to national
challenges. In ancient Rwanda, Ingandos were first developed by the military. The NURC formally redeveloped
Ingando as a tool to build coexistence within communities. The first beneficiaries were excombatants, and the
program later expanded to at least all parts of the Rwandan social fabric (youth, adults, survivors, business people, prisoners, community leaders, and women), and have
been carried out countrywide and mostly co-facilitated by
communities. During the time spent together in one
camp, participants discussions cover five central themes:
analysis of Rwandas problems, history of Rwanda, political and socioeconomic issues in Rwanda and Africa, citizens rights, obligations and duties, and leadership.
The earlier Leadership academy (Itorero ryIgihugu)
was a National Educational Institution that mentored
and cultivated servant leaders. Various lessons including
History, Philosophy, Sociology, Oral Literature, applied
Ethics, Theology, Political and Military Sciences, Law,
Patriotism, Regional and International relations were
taught therein. The present Leadership academy Itorero
ryIgihugu gathers people (one category at a time) and
discusses issues like good governance, national unity,
reconciliation, justice, economic development and other
social problems affecting the country. At the completion

of the training, beneficiaries become opinion leaders in

their respective villages, workplaces, and/or institutions.
National reconciliation summits have been organized
annually by the National Unity and Reconciliation
Commission (NURC) in the framework of harmony restoration. They are chaired by the President of the republic
and attended by a cross-section of Rwandans and dignitaries from the international community. The purpose is
to review the progress and accomplishments with regard
to unity and reconciliation and adopt recommendations in
relation to peoples wishes. The adopted recommendations are made public in the same forum and stakeholders commit themselves to undertake the responsibi
lity and accountability of those recommendations relating
to their various mandates. They have been open spaces
where troublesome problems are discussed and resolved.
Besides, intercommunity exchanges and consultations have been carried out through the creation of
Reconciliation Clubs known as Students Clubs for Unity
and Reconciliation (SCUR). The idea started in schools
and institutions of higher learning, and has thereafter
spread allover the country. The clubs provide a space
where people from different backgrounds (including
ethnic groups) get together and promote reconciliation in
places where they live. Their activities countrywide are
streamlined by the NURC.
In addition, Rwanda has developed grassroots conflict mediation strategies through developing and transferring conflict management skills to communities. In
this regard, Community Mediators (Abunzi) committees
have been operating in each sector, and they are recognized by the Constitution. The mediation committee
members are responsible for mediating conflicts between
parties. It is only when they fail that disputes can be
brought before ordinary courts. Each committee comprises 12 residents who are persons of integrity and
acknowledged for their mediation skills. Members are
always trained for building their capacities through conflict management courses, technical support, and training
There is another program similar to the one above.
Peace Volunteers (Abakangurambaga) intercede in disputes and mobilize communities to address problems.
Both Community Mediators and Peace Volunteers are
involved in organizing and holding trainings to the benefit of their local citizens. Topics discussed relate to conflict management and resolution, peaceful resolution of
disputes, promotion of peace and good cohabitation, and
sometimes they exchange ideas about other developmentoriented matters. It is worthy stating that they have been
very useful to the process of peace building in the country, especially at the grassroots level.
The afore-mentioned endeavors have been seconded
by the provision of other support to communities. In fact,
the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission had
the idea to mobilize ordinary people to fight poverty. The

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Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

thinking was that if people created initiatives together,

they would be inclined to nurture those initiatives and to
defend them, irrespective of their differences. So far, the
growth of several community-based reconciliation associations involving genocide survivors, genocide perpetrators, and people with family members in prison has been
an indicator that reconciliation is taking place at the
community level. Those associations have been receiving
grants from the NURC through advocacy to donors and
It is worth stressing that the above stated
reconciliation tools have been effective and are still
promising in the process of conflict resolution in Rwanda.
However, more efforts need to be made for total effectiveness and success. Besides, they have not functioned
alone, but rather they have been supported by other
strategies namely good governance, reform and reinforcement of judiciary, and fostering the national identity.
Indeed, Rwanda has made significant progress in
terms of governance and creation of an able state. We
agree with Rwamasirabo (2007:12) that administrative
and good governance institutions created after the 1994
genocide have been involved in fighting against injustice,
divisionism, corruption, and all sorts of conflictgenerating factors. Among those institutions are the National Police, office of the Ombudsman, office of the Auditor General, etc. Moreover, power sharing and decentralization processes made Rwandans get rid of the earlier
political exclusions, nepotism, and monopolization of
In judiciary, the most important role in peace building process was played by Gacaca jurisdictions. Originally, the Gacaca settled village or family disputes. The
courts were informal means of solving disputes around
issues like theft, marital issues, land rights, and property
damage. They were like village assemblies, presided over
by the ancients, where each member of the community
could request the floor to speak. More importantly, the
trials were meant to promote reconciliation and justice of
the perpetrator in front of family and neighbors.
The objective of new Gacaca courts was threefold;
achieving truth, justice and reconciliation. Since there
was a need to reconstruct what happened during the
genocide, to speed up the legal proceedings by using as
many courts as possible, and reconcile all Rwandans as
well as building their unity, the traditional courts were
revived. The system has been emphasizing the importance of accord, condemnation of the guilty, and promotion of collaboration between decision makers and spectators. As results, in a lapse of time, millions of trials were
settled, and at a good level, people reconciled. Furthermore, they helped to mend the social fabric and stressed
the capacity of Rwandans to resolve their own conflicts.
In promoting national cohesion, the Government of
Rwanda has been prompting the symbolism of nationhood in replacement of ethnicity. Efforts to create a new

Rwandan have been made at different levels. Words like

our nation, Fellow Rwandans, our culture, our language
have been used as signs of the new Rwandan identity to
be adopted by everyone. Rwandans have been called upon
to valorize more what unites them than their differences,
and thus they have been sensitized to feel Rwandans.
In that respect, features like language and culture
have been set as instances of the concept of unity. Fawcett (2003:112) stressed that the promotion of the
common language, symbols of unity and concerted reeducation programs [have been] all moves made by the
government to develop a feeling of belonging in the population that will result in feelings of being one people.
There are no longer Hutus and Tutsis, but rather Rwandans.
Success and effectiveness of peace process in postgenocide Rwanda were brought about by firm
commitment and involvement of different stakeholders
namely individuals, the government, the National Unity
and Reconciliation Commission, civil society, media,
youth, women, and Non-governmental organizations.
The report of the research carried out by the NURC
about the causes of violence after the 1994 genocide in
Rwanda (2008:87) stressed the level of personal involvement in conflicts resolution. Indicators and alternatives
in which individual Rwandans have been involved in resolving their conflicts comprise active participation in
Gacaca, participative and restorative jurisdictions, willingness to apologize and to forgive, and to repair damages
for crimes perpetrated against neighbors, recognition and
confession of ones own wrongdoings, spirit of and willingness for dialogue and tolerance, and involvement in fighting against ethnic hatred as well as active participation
in unity and reconciliation associations.
The individual involvement in peace process has
been supported and brought about by government policies
and initiatives. The Government of national unity has
made a priority the promotion of unity, reconciliation,
peaceful cohabitation, and national identity among
Rwandans. Not only the NURC has been the specific
institution to attend to the issue, but also all state organs
have been aware of the necessity to reconstruct the peaceful and harmonious Rwandan social fabric.
Moreover, government efforts have been seconded by
the civil society efforts through mass-dissemination,
broadcasting, sensitization, follow-up, and monitoring
mechanisms. The media (radio, newspapers), religious
denominations, and NGOs have been actively involved in
various programs aiming at promoting peace, unity and
reconciliation. Specifically, religious confessions, as giant
agents of socialization, have even developed their own
peace initiatives among their members, especially the
youth and women.
It is worth highlighting the role of women in building
peace among Rwandans. Having the majority population
of women, and being one of the countries having a big

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi:

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

number of women in leadership, Rwanda has empowered

women and raised their awareness as regards playing the
crucial role in all facets of the life of the country. In this
framework, women have played the foremost role in
maintenance and restoration of security after the 1994
genocide through persuading males (husbands, brothers)
to stop crimes and insurgencies, raising voices and influencing in decision making, education for peace and tole
rance as mothers, and huge participation in socioeconomic and unity and reconciliation oriented associations (a great number of them are made of women).
Rwanda today
With regard to the above statements, Rwandans
have done a long way from conflicts towards peace, unity
and reconciliation. Achievements may testify to the real
peaceful situation in the country, which is reflected in the
high level of social cohesion among Rwandan citizens.
Social cohesion was defined by the NURC (2007:1) as
the glue that binds the society together. It entails the
fact that members of the society feel a sense of belonging
and identify with a collective identity, individuals trust
one another, work together towards shared goals, and feel
that government institutions represent their interests
and well-being.
Referring to a survey carried out from 2005 to 2007
by the National Commission for Unity and Reconciliation
(2007), a great deal of indicators revealed optimism about
the restoration of social cohesion among Rwandans. We
focus on two of them, namely the level of interpersonal
trust and the extent to which the population trusts their
government. The items are worth emphasizing because,
as stated above, the Rwandan conflict was prompted by
the governance, and it opposed citizens to their
It has been stressed that trust between individuals
and institutions are ingredients in making the society
function, and social trust provides meaningful relationships within members of the society. Interpersonal trust
among Rwandans is based on reciprocity, responsibility,
and moral obligations towards one another, and it likely
determines the extent to which people rely on one another and may work together for their development. In
Rwanda, interactions between citizens have built trust
and are an indicator of cohesion. In this regard,
neighbors ability and willingness to come together and
help one another solve a new problem have been an
example among others of interpersonal trust.
According to the aforementioned survey (2007), 58%
of Rwandans confirmed to trust their neighbors in 2007.
Recently in 2010, the National Commission for Unity and
Reconciliation stated that the rate increased to 70%.
Moreover, the level of distrust feeling between genocide
survivors and prisoners (perpetrators) has decreased significantly according to the same source.

In addition, citizens trust in government institutions

and activities has been an indicator of social cohesion.
This is worth noting because governments that led the
country before 1994 perpetrated hatred among Rwandans, and thus were not trusted by citizens. The abovementioned survey (2007:38-39) confirmed that 97% had
faith in governments efforts to promote their well-being,
and more than 90% were supporting government policies.
Moreover, peoples confidence in Government action was
rated above 90%. This is highly sounding comparing to
other African countries which were ranging between 60%
and 74% (Uganda 61%, Senegal 74%, and Ghana 73%).
As a result, citizens have been more willing to work with
and follow government institutions because they are seen
to follow clear and widely known rules.
The government policy of decentralization has
boosted the level of trust by citizens. The governance
system allowed Rwandans to take part in decisionmaking on issues of their concern. Moreover, according to
the same survey (2007:42-46), the policy has contributed
to the decrease of corruption, and allowed citizens, even
though they do not have powers on local authorities, to
take recourse against them in cases of wrongdoings.
Furthermore, citizens trust in the juridical system
and governments efforts to eradicate the culture of impunity (both prisoners and genocide survivors) has been another indicator of citizens trust in their government.
Unlike the former governments which promoted partiality, Rwandan population now testifies that the current
Government has been doing justice to all people.
Lastly, the current Rwandans opinion on peace and
reconciliation is that harmonious coexistence between
citizens has been a fact. The aforementioned survey
(2007:70) stated that 73% of genocide survivors and 74%
of prisoners (especially those who confessed) supported
that reconciliation is possible. For the general population, 91% of them agreed with the statement. Nevertheless, it is worthy stressing that peace, unity and reconciliation are a long process.
However, challenges still rise against the process of
peace building. The report on the Rwandan conflict,
origin, development, exit strategies (2005:33) stated three
eminent instances. The huge weight of earlier identitybased crimes and the genocide are not yet healed in the
Rwandan society. In addition, there are still intensifying
factors not yet settled likely poverty, illiteracy, and divisionist ideologies. Moreover, the regional and international environment of Rwanda still impedes effective
peace building process through potential support to negative forces (especially genocide perpetrators), slowness
and lack of dynamism of international systems (in justice
especially), and sometimes external resistance to change
(little trust in the effectiveness of home-made peace initiatives).
In order to address the aforementioned challenges,
Rwandans have thought about different strategies. As

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi:


Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

Shyaka (2005:33) stated, building sustainable peace in

Rwanda requires the establishment of strategies respon
ding to two types of factors: on the one hand those that
have impeded peace to exist or have constantly weakened
it. On the other hand, there are factors that could possibly nip peace in bud. Thus, strategic mechanisms should
be taken with focus on organization of capacity building
and problem solving workshops to the benefit of citizens,
community empowerment and promotion of bottom up or
grassroots peace initiatives, strengthening good gover
nance and leadership at all levels, and institutionalization of reconciliation into all national processes, as well
as speeding-up economic growth and development programs (NURC and IJR, 2005:13-14).
Besides, effective implementation of these strategies
and successfully overcoming the aforementioned
challenges will be made possible by opportunities
Rwanda has. As stressed by Shyaka (2005:33-36), the
government action and leadership as well as the action
and attitudes of the population itself should be viewed as
opportunities towards achieving sustainable positive
peace. In fact, the Government has shown its ability
through different programs (judiciary, NURC, decentralization, Rwandan constitution, Vision 2020, good gover
nance, regional and international influence and current
repute, involvement in peace keeping operations) that
Rwandans and the international community should trust
in. Moreover, values and positive attitudes intrinsic to
the Rwandan culture like endurance, commitment, perseverance, and volunteerism should prompt unity and
peace, and be used for sustainable peace.
Lessons learnt and to teach the world
Rwandans have leant a lot from their tragic history
of conflicts and divisions. And, the step just made in
terms of reconstruction of the country could inspire
communities allover the world. What could the world
learn from Rwanda? What could Rwandans, from their
history of conflicts and thereafter the national reconciliation or peace building teach other communities?
The world could get a lot of lessons from the conflicts
in Rwanda. A relevant reference may be got from the
Press Release SG/SM/9245 AFR/893 HR/CN/1077 issued
on April 7th, 2004 by the UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva at
the launching of the Action plan to prevent genocide. The
focus on genocide is motivated by the fact that it was the
worst consequence of conflicts in Rwanda. Nevertheless,
focusing on genocide does not exclude all other sorts of
The Secretary General (2004) reiterated failure and
inaction of the International Community to prevent conflicts, and the permanent frighteningly real risk of genocide and other conflicts. Thus, he stated five lessons that
the world should learn from the Rwandan past situation.

These lessons include preventing armed conflict since one

of the best ways to reduce the chances of genocide and
conflicts is to address their causes, protection of civilians
in armed conflict, in such a way that the mandates and
resources of all peacekeeping forces should be under
constant review, particularly with the threat of genocide
in mind, and they should be promptly reinforced when
the need arises. In addition, impunity should end through
building and maintaining robust judicial systems, both
national and international, so that, over time, people will
see there is no impunity for crimes. Moreover, early and
clear warning should be well placed to sound the alarm
and people should be serious about preventing or stopping imminent conflicts in future. Last, there is a need
for swift and decisive action when there is a warning that
genocide and conflicts are happening, or about to happen.
This is very crucial since, too often, even when there is
abundant warning; there is lack of the political will to
Apart from these lessons from conflicts and genocide,
Rwanda could inspire the world about post-conflict reconciliation, peace building, and reconstruction of the national identity and citizenship. Among various useful endeavors done by the government and the population of
Rwanda, the focus should be put most on home grown
initiatives such as Gacaca participatory and reconciliatory justice, Community Mediators (Abunzi), the Leadership academy (Itorero ryIgihugu), solidarity camps
(Ingando), reconciliation clubs and associations, and good
This is very important since Rwandan local initiatives were thought without any international aid, and the
level of success they achieved should be sounding to any
other area of the world suffering from the same troubles.
They have proven that citizens are totally able to resolve
by themselves their internal conflicts with or without topdown and/or external intervention. Especially for Africans, this should remain the paramount remark since
they have been always waiting for Europeans and Americans input and guidance to sort out internal conflicts.
Furthermore, it should be a good lesson to the First
world, which has been acting as the lonely savior to provide best solutions to the Third world conflicts. Everyones capacity to settle conflicts should be recognized.
Particularly, the Third world should be honored as mature people as regards peace building, keeping and maintenance.
At the completion of this paper, it is worthy reminding that Rwandan conflict, which peaked in the 1994
genocide, is very far rooted. Periods before, during and
after colonization, post-independence, and between 1990
and 1994 purportedly fostered the assumption of ethnic
groups to act in the Rwandan conflict. In fact, colonizers

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi:

Rwanda: from far rooted conflict to fast harmony, unity and reconciliation

in collaboration with Missionaries were the starting point

of manipulating Rwandan groups for political purposes.
They inherited the country with a causal factor of conflicts based especially on instilling and exacerbation of
the Hamitic myth and theories about the populating of
Rwanda, and the political line based on divide and rule
strategies. Early decolonization period and postindependence regimes did not calm conflicts down, but
rather fuelled them. The Rwandan leadership and
governance, like others in Africa, failed to manage and
eradicate negative ideologies and political practices inherited from colonial times.
Failure of numerous attempts at restoring peace
among Rwandans resulted in the 1994 genocide, which
was then taken as a logical consequence of the long route
of conflicts among Rwandan citizens.
After the carnage (genocide), Rwanda has undergone
a promising process of restoring peace and harmony. In
this regard, the concept of unity and reconciliation raised
and home-made strategies namely civic education, conflict mediation, and support to communities have contri
buted a lot to restoring peace and harmony among Rwandans. The process has become effective thanks to
reconciliation tools namely solidarity camps (Ingando),
reconciliation summits, the leadership academy (Itorero),
intercommunity exchanges and consultations, and grassroots conflict mediation through Community Mediators
(Abunzi) and Peace Volunteers (Abakangurambaga).
They have been supported by government strategies like
good governance, reform and reinforcement of judiciary,
and fostering the national identity.
As results, social cohesion among Rwandans has
been recovered at a very high level. This may be proven
by the fact that current Rwandans feel a sense of
belonging to a collective identity, trust each other, work
together towards shared goals, and feel that government
institutions represent their interests and well-being.
However, some challenges still have to be eradicated.
They include huge weight of earlier identity-based crimes
and the genocide which are not yet healed in the Rwandan society, prevalence of poverty, illiteracy, and divisionist ideologies, existence of unfair regional and international environment which impedes effective peace building process, slowness and lack of dynamism of international judiciary systems, and sometimes internal and/or
external resistance to change.
Despite of the above statement, achievements by
Rwanda in peace restoration, maintenance and monitoring are worthy highlighting. They could even inspire the
world in various ways including post-conflict reconciliation, peace building, and reconstruction of the national
identity and citizenship.

We would like to express gratitude to all stakeholders of the conference on International conflicts.
Thanks go first to the organizers for their hardworking
and efforts devoted to the effectiveness of the conference.
Second, we highly appreciate efforts devoted by our
colleague presenters and co-authors for valuable insight
provided through their papers. Last but not least, we
acknowledge all participants for their enthusiasm and
willing to get the world rid of conflicts.
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About the Author

Hli Habyarimana, Matrise studies at the University of Rouen (France) from 2004 to 2005. Masters Studies at
University of South Africa, UNISA, in Linguistics with
specialization in Sociolinguistics.

Contemp. Sociol. Glob. Rev. 3(3): 7-15 (2013) ID: csgr00013 - doi: