Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

improvements in RwandaRwanda is the fourth-smallest country in Africa, located in the Great Rift Valley in the central part of the continent. The nation has a population of about 13 million people and is home to two main ethnic groups: the pastoral Hutu and the agricultural Tutsi tribes. In 1990, tensions rose between these two groups and sparked a civil war, resulting in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The genocide led to the massacre of approximately 800,000 Tutsi civilians by Hutu extremists, marking one of the worst genocides in history. Since then, Rwanda has been in a state of repair and has made great strides in many areas of development. In particular, the Rwandan government notes 10 impressive improvements in Rwanda.

10 Improvements in Rwanda

  1. Poverty is on the Decline. In 2001, the poverty rate in Rwanda was as high as 77%, dropping to 55% in 2017. The introduction of the first five-year Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2008 and a second five-year plan in 2013 largely account for this reduction.
  2. Increasing Life Expectancy. The Rwandan Civil War had a significant impact on life expectancy, which fell to a mere 26 years in 1993. Since then, the government has committed to improving the health and quality of life for its citizens, achieving a life expectancy of 69 as of 2019.
  3. Rwanda is a Leading Country in Gender Equality. In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda ranked as one of the top five leading countries in gender equality alongside Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Since the civil war, the nation has pushed for more female leadership in politics — as of November 2021, the Rwandan parliament has a 61% women-led majority, the world’s highest rate of female representation in parliament. Rwanda also has one the highest rates of women participating in the labor force at 84% in 2019.
  4. Unemployment is Decreasing Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic. Before the pandemic, unemployment in Rwanda was steadily declining, dropping to less than 1% in 2019. Like many countries, lockdowns and other preventive measures for COVID-19 originally caused unemployment to skyrocket back up to 1.35% in 2020. However, Rwanda quickly bounced back — employment rates rose from 43% in the second quarter of 2020 to nearly 49% in the third quarter.
  5. Maternal Mortality Rates are Falling. In 2019, the maternal mortality rate in Rwanda decreased by nearly 23% “from 1,270 per 100,000 live births” in the 1990s to 290. This significant decrease is largely due to innovations in the medical field, which allow for better storage and delivery of blood supplies, preventing postpartum hemorrhaging deaths in women.
  6. Inequality is on the decline. Inequality is defined as “disparities between individuals or groups in areas such as income, wealth, education, health, nutrition, space, politics and social identity.” Historically, Rwanda was home to some of the highest rates of inequality in Africa. However, this is changing. Over the past two decades, Rwanda has noted significant improvements in terms of access to utilities. Access to health care is also improving although there are still disparities between urban and rural communities. From 2006 to 2017, inequality declined from 0.52 to 0.43 as measured by the Gini index.
  7. The Rwandan Economy is Growing. Prior to the pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing “an economic boom.” From 2000 to 2019, the economy grew by an average of 7.2% and the country’s GDP rose by about 5% annually. Rwanda has put in place measures to control COVID-19 within its borders, resulting in an unsurprising 3.4% GDP decrease in 2020. However, the nation hopes to resume growth following the distribution of vaccines.
  8. Land Restoration. Rwanda also notes great improvements in terms of the environment. In 2012, the Rwandan government initiated the Green Fund, “the largest investment fund of its kind in Africa.” So far, the project has created more than 10,000 jobs and encourages rural communities to participate in agroforestry and reforestation.
  9. Malaria Progress. Medical improvements in Rwanda have reduced fatal malaria cases significantly in recent years. In 2017, the country experienced upwards of 4.8 million cases, but in 2020, cases dropped to 1.8 million. Malaria-related deaths also reduced from 700 in 2016 to 148 deaths in 2020.
  10. Health care is Universal. Mutual Health is the name of Rwanda’s universal health care system, which was created in 2008. As of 2019, Mutual Health covered close to 96% of the population, lowering medical costs and providing services for even the most impoverished citizens of Rwanda.

Rwanda: A Success Story

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many new obstacles for Rwanda, but the “Land of a Thousand Hills” is advancing nonetheless. Since the civil war and the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the country has committed to recovery and restoration and has certainly exceeded all expectations. These many improvements in Rwanda are due to the great resiliency of the nation’s people, a nation that will continue to rise above all obstacles.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Flickr

Penal Reform International in Rwanda
In response to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda incarcerated up to 125,000 Rwandans (most of them Hutus) in facilities meant to hold 12,000 prisoners. Since the prison system could not sustain such a high number of inmates, it reestablished the traditional Gacaca courts for the sake of efficiency. However, the Gacaca Courts fell under international scrutiny for their failure to provide fair trials for the accused; the poor conditions at detention centers; and the election of poorly trained community judges, which held heavy prejudice against the accused. Penal Reform International, a nonprofit organization that works toward prison reform on the global stage, attempted to help Rwandan courts and prisons develop a more humanitarian legal process with respect for the tenets of international law. Below is information on Penal Reform International in Rwanda and how it has positively affected the country’s civil courts.

What is Penal Reform International?

Established in 1989 as an international nongovernmental organization, Penal Reform International’s mission is “to [reduce] the use of imprisonment around the world, through promoting alternatives to imprisonment, and to developing and promoting the implementation of international human rights standards on criminal justice and prison conditions.” It also uses paralegals – legal advisors – for those who have experienced incarceration and are awaiting trial with the goal of educating them on their rights within the country’s legal system.

Penal Reform International’s paralegals receive training in “international human rights instruments; National criminal law and procedure (including the Constitution and the Penal Code); The judiciary and the court systems; Prison conditions, systems and infrastructure; Health and safety awareness.” In cases such as Rwanda, having expertise on legal rights amid overcrowded prisons is valuable and extremely beneficial to prison reform as well as for the implementation of prison standards in accordance with international law.

Reforming Rwanda’s Courts and Prisons Through Education

Penal Reform International’s mission revolves around using paralegals, which, thus far, have “[organized] and conducted awareness sessions for over 3,000 detainees awaiting trial,” specifically targeting groups that are vulnerable to the spread of diseases within these prisons and informing them of their rights within Rwanda’s legal system. Penal Reform International in Rwanda has also “distributed 7,300 booklets on the rights of detainees in all Rwandan prisons,” which, in effect, not only educates the inmates of their rights but also advocates for more humanitarian methods within the Gacaca courts. As such, both the inmates and the judges in office are now more aware of the legal standards that international law demands.

The organization’s use of legal education as an instrument for court reform has been beneficial as it has reduced “unlawful and pre-trial detention,” and allowed for better-informed pleas, quicker file management and the overall improvement of communication from actors within the criminal justice system. As a result of Penal Reform International’s mission, the Rwandan courts have been able to lawfully issue court summons for 1,055 citizens using proper adjudicating techniques, obtain 1,100 court judgments for the purpose of constructing an able defense for appealing inmates and successfully lodge 455 appeals.

Stopping Overincarceration

Overcrowded prisons violate numerous human rights laws, confining inmates to dangerous living conditions which are unsanitary, leading to diseases and starvation. Nevertheless, Penal Reform International has helped release many Rwandans from these conditions. In just a year, from October 2009-2010, it assisted in “the permanent release of 625 detainees” along with deriving 168 provisional releases. In 2010, due to organizations like Penal Reform International, Rwanda’s prison population decreased to 43,400, a significant change from its earlier population of 125,000 inmates. Penal Reform International accomplished all of this by improving prisoners’ abilities to represent themselves in court and educating them on their rights. Ultimately, through this work, Penal Reform International’s mission has helped solve many of the problems stemming from over-incarceration in Rwanda.

Due to organizations like Penal Reform International in Rwanda, the absence of humanitarian legal values in underdeveloped countries has evolved to a system that is international judicial bodies both accept and praise. As Penal Reform International’s mission continues to thrive, so will underdeveloped countries around the globe.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

Flaxseed Oil
Around 689 million people, or 9.2% of the global population, currently live in poverty with less than $1.90 a day. In 2017, Global Citizen reported that “at least half of the world’s population did not have access to essential health care.” Global connections between health care and poverty are distinctly universal, even in the United States. A study by the Institute for Research on Poverty further indicates that practically 70% of the U.S.’s uninsured experience poverty or are on the brink of poverty. Consequently, poverty and low-income status have links to a variety of negative health consequences due to poor sanitation, such as shorter life expectancy. One way to improve sanitation in areas with high poverty is to use flaxseed oil.

Poverty and Sanitation

Research shows that 673 million people continue to defecate in public, such as in city gutters, behind bushes or in open bodies of water; the impacts of poor sanitation are severely detrimental. Poor sanitation exacerbates stunting and contributes to the spread of diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. This issue is causing diseases such as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma. Predictions have determined that poor sanitation causes 432,000 diarrheal deaths per year. Factoring in deaths from all of these diseases, countless people die every year in connection to poor sanitation.

A National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that there is a relationship between sanitation and types of floors. High levels of bacteria such as E. coli are more common in houses with dirt floors in comparison to houses with concrete floors. Proper floors and resources are a solution to this issue; however, concrete is expensive which means it’s hard for the poor to access it. This is where flaxseed oil comes in.

Flaxseed-Supported Floors

After Gayatri Datar traveled to Rwanda with her classmates from Stanford University, she wanted to address the prevalence of dirt floors as around 75% of the population had dirt floors, making people susceptible to certain illnesses. Datar partnered with Zuzow, one of her former classmates, and together they created “a flaxseed oil that, when poured over an earthen floor, dries to form a plastic-like, waterproof and sustainable resin that glues the surface together. The flaxseed is currently imported from India, but EarthEnable [Datar’s organization] is planning to harvest it in Kenya to keep the entire project more local.”

This flaxseed oil is a cheap and effective alternative to concrete floors. The flaxseed oil sealant costs between $2 and $5 per square meter, or around $50 per house, and residents pay it in either one sum or in six monthly installments. The cost is less than the $162 cost of the concrete floors used in Piso Firme, one of the first floor-replacement operations in Mexico.

Connecting Solutions

TECHO – a nonprofit organization – has been doing something very similar. It has “built one-room houses with hard floors, insulated pinewood walls and tin roofs for almost 130,000 families in Latin America since 1997.” All of this together has resulted in a “big drop in childhood incidence of diarrhea in these homes, down 27% or double the improvement Gertler measured for Mexican children whose dirt floors were replaced with concrete.”

Though simple, identifying contributing factors to poverty and poor health can be a meaningful step to increase the quality of life for millions. While EarthEnable and TECHO continue their work, they quite literally work to establish a stronger foundation for those experiencing certain forms of poverty.

– Noya Stessel
Photo: Flickr

School Feeding Program in RwandaRwanda is a small, densely populated country in Africa, located just south of the equator. Though the country has made great strides in poverty reduction since the 1994 genocide, 55% of the population still lived in poverty in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic halted a period of economic boom and, as a result, the World Bank expects poverty to rise by more than 5% in 2021. International aid and development programs in Rwanda are more important than ever, especially when it comes to providing reliable, nutritious food sources. Chronic malnutrition affects more than a third of Rwandan children younger than 5 and the World Food Programme (WFP) considers nearly 20% of Rwandans food insecure. One key initiative aiming to eradicate malnutrition in Rwanda is the WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda.

History of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

The WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding initiative works with local governments, farmers and schools to provide nutritious, diverse daily meals for students and enrich local economies. These Home Grown School Feeding programs currently operate in 46 countries with each program tailored to the needs of local people.

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda began in 2016, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mastercard. The program serves daily warm meals to more than 85,000 learners in 104 primary schools. The program benefits both students and their families in several major ways.

5 Benefits of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

  1. Improves Nutrition. Agriculture is the basis of Rwanda’s economy, but desertification, drought and other problems are decreasing harvests. As a result, many families struggle to grow enough food to feed themselves. The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda provides students with meals of either maize, beans or hot porridge. The school-provided meal is often the only regular, nutritious meal available to many students.
  2. Improves Hygiene. Along with kitchens and ingredients, the WFP also supplies schools in Rwanda with materials to teach basic nutrition and hygiene. One strategy includes installing rainwater collection tanks and connecting them to handwashing stations. Additionally, WFP workers build or renovate bathrooms at each school. Connecting the school to a reliable water supply also benefits the local community by decreasing the distance villagers travel to access water. School handwashing stations are also open to the community, improving health and hygiene for everyone.
  3. Improves Focus, Literacy and School Attendance. According to Edith Heines, WFP country director for Rwanda, “a daily school meal is a very strong incentive for parents to send their children to school.” In primary schools where the WFP implemented the Home Grown School Feeding Program, attendance has increased to 92%. With the implementation of the program, students report increased alertness in class and better grades and performance. One child from Southern Rwanda, Donat, told the WFP that before his school provided lunch, he was often so hungry that he did not want to return to school after going home at lunchtime. Now that his school provides lunch, he looks forward to class each day. Literacy rates have also improved dramatically at schools where the program operates and the WFP reports that student reading comprehension has increased from less than 50% to 78%.
  4. Teaches Gardening and Cooking Skills. The WFP develops a kitchen garden at every school involved in the Home Grown School Feeding program. Children participate in growing and caring for crops, learning valuable gardening skills that they can take home to their parents. Children are also instructed in meal preparation and in proper hygiene.
  5. Diversifying Crops at Home. Students also receive seedlings in order to provide food at home and to diversify the crops grown in food-insecure areas. Crop diversification can help improve soil fertility and crop yields. Sending seedlings home also promotes parent and community involvement in the program, ensuring the program’s long-term stability.

Looking Ahead

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda has improved the quality of life for many children living in poverty as well as their families. By fighting to end hunger in food-insecure areas of Rwanda, the WFP has improved hygiene, nutrition, school attendance, literacy, crop diversity and more. The continuation of the program in Rwanda and in other countries around the world will enable further progress in the fight against global poverty.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Rwanda’s Ecotourism IndustryThe Rwandan genocide in 1994 was a national tragedy resulting in an estimated 800,000 deaths in a period of 100 days. However, 27 years after the massacre, the small, landlocked nation of 12 million people is thriving. A mix of social and political factors has contributed to a thriving nation. Rwanda’s ecotourism industry also plays a significant role in alleviating national poverty.

A Closer Look at Rwanda

Over the past quarter-century, Rwanda changed its course, moving positively toward economic growth and increased prosperity. According to the World Bank, poverty in Rwanda declined substantially from 2001 to 2017, dropping from 77% to 55%. Since 1994, Rwanda has maintained political stability. Stability allowed the country to develop a cost-free and compulsory primary education system with “one of the highest primary enrollment” rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

The country instituted a universal healthcare program and made great strides in legislative gender equality. In 2019, women made up 61% of Rwanda’s parliament. The percentage of female parliamentary representation is substantially greater than most western democracies. Continued economic and social growth is necessary in order to continue poverty reduction progress.

The Role of Rwanda’s Ecotourism Industry

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.” Ecotourism can be a tool to unite communities, build environmental awareness and grow underdeveloped economies across the world. Over the past 27 years, Rwanda capitalized on this opportunity and created a growing ecotourism industry.

Tourists flock to Rwanda to wander through hiking trails in the country’s four national parks. Others are drawn specifically to the bamboo forests where visitors can see mountain gorillas, an endangered species, in their natural habitat. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. The tourism sector in Rwanda is “more than 80% nature-based,” indicating that ecotourism forms a substantial part of the tourism sector.

Tourism in Rwanda

Rwanda’s tourism sector experienced its highest annual growth in 2019, netting more than $498 million and attracting an estimated 1.63 million tourists. For the past seven years, “tourism has been ranked as the first foreign currency earner in Rwanda,” contributing 14.9% of Rwanda’s GDP in 2018.

Rwanda’s tourism sector has increased jobs and significantly contributes to the overall growth of the country’s economy. Tourism in Rwanda employs more than 3% of the labor force. For the Rwandan government, tourism is a critical tool for alleviating national poverty, explicit in both policy and poverty reduction strategies. Not only does tourism create jobs but the wealth generated from a booming tourism industry can help facilitate a country like Rwanda in its ability to access clean water, reliable energy and sanitation services.

“Africa’s tourism industry continues to flourish and supports more than 21 million jobs, and for the developing countries, tourism is an enormous tool for sustainable development,” says Mukhisa Kituyi, former secretary-general of UNCTAD.

How COVID-19 Impacts Rwanda

Pre-pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing an economic boom. In 2019, the economy grew by more than 10%, on its way to grow further in 2020. Instead, due to COVID-19, Rwanda’s economy shrank, with a projected decrease in GDP of 0.2%. As a result of COVID-19, the World Bank projected that poverty rates would increase by 5.1%, placing an additional 550,000 Rwandans in poverty in 2021. Overall unemployment rose from 13% in February 2020 to 22% in May 2020 and 60% of workers who remained employed saw significant salary decreases.

As the pandemic forced global recessions and travel restrictions, Rwanda’s ecotourism industry took a major hit. Tourism was expected to decrease by more than 70% worldwide in 2020. Rwanda’s finance minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana, confirmed that in March and April 2020, the tourism industry missed out on roughly $10 million in revenue.

The Road to Rwanda’s Recovery

Since reopening in the summer of 2019, Rwanda’s growing ecotourism industry shows signs of recovery. While international tourism rates are down, domestic tourism rates are up in comparison to past years. According to Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, The New Times, increased domestic tourism is expected to restore a revenue sharing program where the Rwandan government will redistribute the earnings from domestic tourism to communities living in and around the visited national parks. This policy is likely to enhance the growing ecotourism sector and aid communities that have suffered economically throughout the pandemic.

-Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 response
While the COVID-19 pandemic has yet to come under control, many countries around the world have taken steps to economic recovery. African nations in particular, although prone to severe economic impacts, have shown significant progress in their COVID-19 response. According to the World Bank’s October 2020 Africa’s Pulse issue, GDP growth projections in all regions of Africa are positive for 2021 and 2022 following GDP growth decrease in 2020. This article highlights three countries that are demonstrating optimistic economic growth after COVID-19.

Rwanda

COVID-19 Response Measures: Rwanda has received recognition for its efforts to contain initial outbreaks. This is likely due to the country’s aggressive measures combining public health mandates and innovative utilization of technologies. What separates Rwanda’s response is its reliance on scientific guidance and a high-tech approach to health and social service policies. For example, treatment centers are using human-sized robots for temperature checks and supply deliveries. National enforcement also deployed drones to monitor and ensure compliance with lockdown measures.

Fiscal Policy: The December 2020 update on fiscal policy in Rwanda includes $314 million in economic stimulus, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens (unemployment benefits) and food assistance. Rwanda’s financial capacity proved beyond national resources but international support was able to expand it. UNDP Rwanda and the World Bank are currently working closely with the Rwanda Ministry of Finance to discern how much the COVID-19 response plan will need for operation.

Monetary Policy: The National Bank of Rwanda reduced the policy interest rate to 4.5%. It has further plans to establish liquidity and digital payment support measures. In Africa’s Pulse, the World Bank classifies Rwanda as the only country established in the Growth Taxonomy in sub-Saharan Africa. The taxonomy compares pre-pandemic performance to mid-pandemic growth. Expectations have determined that Rwanda will achieve the highest post-pandemic recovery with a GDP growth of 7%. With economic drivers like vaccine campaigns and investment and trade boosts, countries like Rwanda and Tanzania expect GDP increases. East Africa in general is expected to reach 5.1% GDP growth as opposed to the continental average at 3.2%.

Kenya

COVID-19 Response Measures: Kenya adopted many of the common direct response measures, such as a widespread lockdown. Additionally, the U.N. praised Kenya’s maintenance of well-equipped emergency treatment hospitals to best accommodate not only Kenyan patients but also U.N. personnel and partners. Kenya’s hospitals can also potentially play an important role in regional humanitarian development.

Fiscal Policy: Kenya announced a $534 million economic stimulus, a $377 million COVID-19 health expenditure, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens and food assistance. Like other African countries, Kenya is receiving financial assistance from major international entities such as the World Bank and the E.U. With 86 different donors, Kenya received Ksh 194,663,072,350 ($177,3769,915.25) for COVID-19 response plans.

Monetary Policy: The Central Bank of Kenya reduced the policy interest rate to 7% and planned liquidity support measures. Additionally, the government launched the National Hygiene Program (Kazi Mtaani) to reduce pandemic-induced unemployment. It offers employment with daily wages to the hardest-hit communities. Jobs include street cleaning, garbage collection and disinfection. Kenya’s trade activities also indicate promising economic recovery. According to the World Bank’s Africa’s Pulse, Kenyan exports have already recovered rapidly and have surpassed pre-pandemic highs.

Senegal

COVID-19 Response Measures: The World Bank highlighted Senegal as demonstrating a successful health response to COVID-19. Swift responses were key, particularly in regards to test capacity, quarantine facilities and ventilators. Preventative measures also included temperature checks and hand sanitizer distribution. By September 2020, 80% of confirmed cases had recovered.

Fiscal Policy: Senegal has an $801 million economic stimulus, a $130 million COVID-19 health expenditure, corporate tax exemptions and subsidies, cash transfers to citizens and food assistance. Some participating entities for Senegal’s financing include the African Development Bank Group (AfDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. For instance, AfDB contributed €88 million to support Senegal’s measures to provide relief to vulnerable households, businesses and job security initiatives.

Monetary Policy: Senegal’s monetary policy is in collaboration with other West African countries, including Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger and Togo. These countries work with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), which has made FCFA 4.750 billion ($8,383,750) available to banks and has reduced policy interest rates to 4%. In Africa’s Pulse Growth Taxonomy, Senegal is one of five countries in the top tercile of growth performers. It has a classification of “improved.” Improved GDP growth can indicate the first signs of economic recovery.

The Road to Recovery

As a result of early preventative policy measures, fiscal and monetary policies, international financing and trade initiatives, many African countries have paved a road to post-pandemic recovery. Rwanda, Kenya and Senegal are merely three of the African countries benefiting from smart policy measures and quick COVID-19 responses. In many cases, these countries are experiencing even higher levels of growth than they did before the pandemic. The steps that these countries and others took can serve as a model for how to navigate the economic hurdles of a global pandemic.

– Malala Raharisoa Lin
Photo: Flickr

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda. 1994. 100 days. This was all it took for a band of Hutu extremists to commit the Rwandan Genocide, killing just under a million civilians. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda has prompted yearly remarks around the world. The United Nations sponsors these, discussing the horrific implications of the event. Survivors have come forth to tell their stories as they work to make impacts to prevent genocides in the future.

What Was The Rwandan Genocide?

Two neighboring castes lead Rwanda; the Tutsis and the Hutus. The 1994 Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsi was a power struggle between these dividing castes. Although the Hutus largely outnumbered the Tutsis, with “about 85% of Rwandans,” the Tutsi had been in power for a long time. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and civilians fled to neighboring countries. Rwanda remained under the Hutu dictatorship for many years following.

Long thereafter, a group of Tutsi exiles formed a rebel group known as the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). They stormed Rwanda in 1990 and fought until 1993 when both parties agreed upon a peace deal.

However, the peace agreement broke on April 6, 1994, when a plane carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana, a known Hutu, was shot down. Hutu extremists blamed the RPF for the killing. Soon thereafter started the mass genocide that resulted in the killing of over 800,000 people. Government troops backed up the Hutus, many of whom forced civilians and youths to fight and to exercise the slaughters. The RPF stormed the capital, Kigali, on July 4, 1994, to gain back power.

Help from The World Food Programme

The Rwandan genocide forced many civilians into starvation, often unable to provide for themselves or their families. The World Food Programme provided emergency food assistance to those in need, targeting the “fundamental role food plays for vulnerable communities fleeing from conflict.” One Rwandan that the WFP helped is Liberee Kayumba. A survivor of the genocide, she was only 12 when she lost both of her parents and brother, experiencing starvation following the conflict. Now working as a monitoring officer for the Mahama Refugee Camp organization, she helps others suffering from food insecurity.

On the WFP’s Website, Liberee tells her story. She says that the memories from the genocide helped motivate her to want to help people in need. Liberee remembers how food availability was the main problem after the genocide for her and other survivors. Therefore, she has exact memories of the meals the WFP distributed, which she thinks saved her life.

The United Nations Conducts The International Day of Reflection

The U.N. has mandated an information and educational outreach programme to help survivors and others cope with the ramifications of the Rwandan Genocide and their resulting losses. This program emerged in 2005 with the main themes of preventing genocide and supporting survivors. Around the world, events such as “roundtable discussions, film screenings, exhibits and debates” occur yearly.

The slogan of 2020’s event was International Day of Reflection. It marked the 26th anniversary of the genocide, with a virtual observance for all to join in on. Multiple officials and survivors made sure to show up, including Jacqueline Murekatete. She is a lawyer, human rights activist and founder of the nonprofit organization Genocide Survivors Foundation. Murekatete lost her entire family in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide when she was only 9 years old.

The U.N.’s yearly observance reminds us to reflect on past events and recount what we can do to promote resilience and growth among countries facing hardships. Those this horrific event impacted have the chance to mourn and reflect, looking toward the greater good as individuals strive to create a better future for all.

– Natalie Whitmeyer
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Rwanda
In 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide that resulted in the death of approximately 1 million people and the displacement of millions more. Many are still feeling the results of this genocide to this day, just 27 years later. Studies have shown that 94% of the population witnessed at least one traumatic event during the genocide, including the death of a loved one, the destruction of their home or a threat to their lives. As a result, approximately 25% of the population meets the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every April, during the annual commemoration of the events, there is a spike in people experiencing symptoms of PTSD and anxiety. The burden of mental health in Rwanda is a pressing concern for the country and it has made great strides to tackle this challenge.

The State of Mental Health Care Globally

Mental health services are often the last health service that undergoes establishment or receives funding. Globally, mental health professionals account for just 1% of the workforce worldwide. Meanwhile, 45% of the world’s population has access to just one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, even though over 10% of the global population has a mental health disorder. These numbers are even higher in sub-Saharan Africa, where the average rate of mental illness is about 12%. There are only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Rwanda.

What the Rwandan Government is Doing

Despite these grim statistics, the Rwandan government recognized the need for large-scale mental health services in the wake of the genocide. In 1995, it established a national mental health service with the goal of providing services within the context of the community.

Since then, mental healthcare has featured in many of Rwanda’s health goals, including Rwanda’s Fourth Sector Strategic Plan, which the country passed in 2018. This plan set goals and strategies for the nation’s health care for six years since its implementation (until 2024). It sets up several strategies for the future of care for mental health in Rwanda. These include having mental health intervention in all health centers and community units, defining the mental health package for each level, scaling up the surveillance and reporting system for following up with patients and expanding services for the prevention and treatment of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction.

Another strategy is the construction of a National Mental Health Care Center. The plan considers mental health alongside physical health issues such as malaria. It even includes a section ensuring people with disabilities, who are often cannot access mental health plans, have access to care.

The Rwanda Ministry of Health also teamed up with Johnson & Johnson in 2018 to establish a five-year three-pronged approach to understand the burden of mental disorders, decentralize care and increase access to affordable, quality medicine. These two plans, if implemented successfully, will provide access to mental health services for much of the country and ensure a healthier, happier population.

The Future of Mental Health Care

These plans are especially vital right now, as, due to the inherent trauma of living through a global pandemic, the burden of mental health in Rwanda and throughout the world is sure to rise. Governments need to be willing and able to commit to ensuring the continued mental health of their people. Rwanda has become an example in sub-Saharan Africa and much of the world for how to integrate mental healthcare into a national health plan. Hopefully, these plans will continue to improve the state of mental health care in the country through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

– Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Pixabay

The Rwandan Genocide
Rwanda is a small but population-dense nation in Africa neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 1994, Rwanda’s Hutu ethnic majority slaughtered an estimated 800,000 people of the Tutsi minority in the Rwandan Genocide. Today, many people regard it as one of the most brutal genocides in history.

When the revolution ended the killing, communities had to pick up the pieces amidst trauma and broken trust. Though much healing still has to occur, Rwandans have been working tirelessly to repair the emotional scars the genocide left 25 years ago using restorative justice practices. Neighbors who so recently slaughtered each other’s families set an example for the world by making amends and living side by side in the new peace they found.

How the Rwandan Genocide Happened

Until 1959, Rwanda was a colony of Belgium, and Belgian leaders favored the Tutsi racial minority. After the Hutu revolution that established Rwanda as an independent nation in 1962, many Tutsis fled the country and took refuge in Uganda and formed the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990. The Hutu leaders increased racial profiling and accused many citizen Tutsis of being part of the RPF.

In 1994, when the Rwandan president died by assassination, Hutu militias took charge and began slaughtering Tutsis and anti-violence Hutus. Extremists blasting messages encouraging Hutus to murder their Tutsi neighbors took over government radio stations. When the RPF took power later that year, the Tutsi population had undergone decimation, and refugee camps in neighboring countries experienced overcrowding.

The RPF did not seek revenge. It established a coalition government including a constitution with no ethnic mentions which underwent ratification in 2003. The killing had stopped, but the emotional scars ran deep through Hutus and Tutsis alike. Significant measures would be necessary to repair the psychological harm that participating in and witnessing such brutal violence caused.

Addressing Trauma Through Restorative Justice

Violence occurs neither spontaneously nor in a vacuum. Experiencing trauma without opportunities to process it is a big predictor of violent behavior. Elaine Barge, director of Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience at Eastern Mennonite University, uses the term “cycles of violence” to describe the perpetuation of violence in a community whereby victims become likely offenders due to experiencing trauma. Racial tensions beginning in colonization leading up to the Rwandan Genocide were likely sources of trauma for all ethnic groups.

Restorative Justice is an evidence-based model with a design to break these cycles. The main element in Restorative Justice is victim-offender mediation. In this process, both the victim and offender start by meeting with a mediator separately in order to prepare for the mediation. Then, if both parties are willing, they can meet in a formal conference, oftentimes including other community members. This simple act of seeing and acknowledging the other causes an empathic response for both victim and offender that can alleviate negative feelings about the traumatic event.

Everyone present shares their experiences during and after the transgression. The offender has an opportunity to apologize and ask for forgiveness. If the discussion is going well, all parties work together to agree on what the offender can do for retribution.

Though some risk of deepening emotional wounds exists during such a discussion, in most cases the offender is grateful for the opportunity to apologize and offer retribution, and the victim has an easier time moving past the traumatic experience. The empathic response in the brain of the offender is a crucial component reducing the chance they will re-offend.

Reconciliation

Though an International Criminal Tribunal tried high-level planners of the Rwandan Genocide, many low-level offenders participated in Gacaca courts, primarily with sponsorship from the NGO Prison Fellowship Rwanda, and oftentimes after serving many years in prison. Tutsis who watched their families die met with those murders voluntarily to restore peace in the nation. After these meetings, many Hutus and Tutsis built new homes together with communal structures such as wells. These new villages all around the country can be home to hundreds of Rwandans sharing food and caring for each other.

Mass violence like that of the Rwandan Genocide can be devastating to the well-being of communities as well as mental health on an individual level. The success of Gacaca courts lends support to the effectiveness of restorative justice for addressing trauma and rebuilding the relationships necessary to keep communities running smoothly.

– Elise Brehob
Photo: Flickr

 Mental Health in Rwanda Rwanda is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda has struggled to become a stable country economically and politically since it became independent in 1962. As a developing country, Rwanda is still trying to develop its healthcare system. With years of conflict and instability, people especially struggle with mental health in Rwanda.

5 Facts About Mental Health in Rwanda

  1. The Rwandan Genocide plays a significant role. Roughly 25% of Rwandan citizens struggle with PTSD and one in six people suffer from depression. The reason why so many Rwandans have mental health conditions can be explained by one key event in Rwandan history. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered as many as 800,000 people, mostly of the Tutsi minority. The mass genocide caused severe trauma to survivors who still suffer from mental health issues 26 years after the event.
  2. Rwanda has very few resources. According to the World Health Organization, Rwanda has only two mental health hospitals, zero child psychiatrists, and only 0.06 psychiatrists per 100,000 people. With a large amount of the population plagued by mental health issues, Rwanda needs more resources to help the mentally ill.
  3. Suicide rates have greatly decreased in Rwanda. In 2016, the suicide rate in Rwanda was 11 deaths per 100,000 people. This is a great improvement compared to the 24.6 suicides per 100,000 people in 2000. An increase in mental health resources contributes to the lowering of the suicide rate in Rwanda.
  4. Increased mental health funding is essential. The average mental health expenditure per person in Rwanda is 84.08 Rwandan francs. Most citizens of Rwanda do not have the financial resources to afford mental healthcare. The government currently uses 10% of its healthcare budget on mental health services. Considering how large the mental health crisis is, the government should increase its expenditure to address the crisis. Since citizens cannot afford to pay for mental health resources, the government will need to help provide more free or affordable resources.
  5. The Rwandan Government is updating policies to address mental health. In 2018, Rwanda’s updated strategic plan for its health sector set new targets for expanding mental health care services. Its purpose is to help increase access to mental health resources by decentralizing mental health and integrating it into primary care. Also, this plan calls for a decrease in the cost of mental healthcare and an increase in the quality of care. The plan hopes to accomplish strategic goals by 2024. If successful, this plan may be used as a method to help other countries establish a quality mental health plan.

The Road Ahead for Rwanda

Considering Rwanda’s violent history, it is no surprise that the population struggles with mental health. Over the years, progress has been made with regard to mental health in Rwanda. However, many more resources are needed to help address the mental health crisis in Rwanda. With Rwanda’s updated strategic plan to address the issue and an increase in expenditure, the well-being of Rwandan’s will be positively impacted.

Hannah Drzewiecki
Photo: Flickr