After the three-month-long genocide in 1994 that claimed the lives of approximately 800,000 predominantly Tutsi and moderate-Hutu citizens, Rwanda has been working to rebuild, reconstruct and promote lasting peace and stability.
Poverty in the post-genocide years is still a prevalent issue, even after 23 years of reconstruction in Rwanda. More than 60 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day, and the nation failed to meet the U.N. Millennium Development Goal of halving the 1990 poverty rate by 2015. However, the current state of poverty must be considered in the context of the conflict and upheaval Rwanda has experienced and the progress it has made since its brutal setback.
Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 23.8 percent reduction in poverty. Rwanda has also become one of the fastest-growing economies in Central Africa. It had four straight years, between 2011 and 2014, of GDP growth at eight percent. These are all positive signs for Rwanda’s future.
Since the genocide and the preceding civil war, under the leadership of former-RPF leader Paul Kagame, the government, local NGOs and the international community have worked toward reconstruction in Rwanda.
On the federal level, economic reform has led to rapid and sustainable economic growth which has lifted many people out of poverty. Privatization and liberalization have been the core tenets of this economic growth. More specifically, it has been achieved by increasing opportunities for employment outside of the agricultural sector, increasing agricultural productivity and increasing entrepreneurship and small business ownership.
Women have been central to reconstruction in Rwanda. Women make up 57 percent of the adult working population and they produce nearly 70 percent of the country’s overall agricultural output. Women have also organized themselves into socio-professional associations, development associations and cooperative groups, thereby taking control of and exercising agency over the reconstruction process.
Outside of the economy, gender equality has still been a focus, especially in politics. Women make up 64 percent of the Rwandan parliament, which is three times the worldwide average of 22 percent.
Interpersonal social reconstruction has also been a necessity, since the conflict exploited ethnic divides and hatreds. On the federal level, Rwanda adopted a policy of de-ethnicization wherein they “erased” ethnicity, stating that there were no longer Hutu and Tutsis, only unified Rwandans. On the local level, communities implemented Gacaca community courts to relieve the judicial burden of the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda and foster accountability and reconciliation.
Local organizations and initiatives have had a crucial role to play in reform and reconstruction. These groups have worked on both the community empowerment and economic empowerment levels, as well as on many other fronts.
The Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe’s Action Peace Campaign works to empower women to realize the need to live in peace, give them the tools to live together peacefully and organize “dialogue clubs” to address underlying tensions. Another initiative, TO THE MARKET, is an online sales platform where genocide survivors can sell homemade goods globally. This harnesses local entrepreneurship and economically empowers the artisans.
Regarding the government, Kagame’s leadership has been strong and authoritative. While this has allowed him to mandate many economic reforms, it has also squashed political dissidence and limited freedom of the press.
The needs of women continually need to be met. The Rwandan Genocide was the first time in which mass rape was recognized as a tool of genocide. The prevalence of rape during the conflict means that today there are thousands of survivors who need unique support from the government and from society.
Finally, Rwanda is still very dependent on foreign aid. Approximately 35 percent of its budget comes from foreign aid. The next step in reconstruction should be to increase independence and make sustainable economic advancements so Rwanda can support itself with less support from the international community.
– Olivia Bradley