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Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide to Development

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, so it is necessary to compare the country then and now.  Today, the Rwandan population is estimated at 12,012,589 people, which is the 74th biggest population in the world.  But just 20 years ago, before the genocide, there were estimated to be anywhere from 500,000-1,000,000 more people alive (just under 20% of the population at the time).  This number has such a large range because there are still investigations going on to find how many perished that year.

The whole genocide was originally sparked by an ongoing ethnic competition for power between the Hutus and Tutsis.  In 1959, the Hutus (the majority ethnic group) overthrew the Tutsi king in power, started the slaughter of thousands of Tutsis and forced them to take refuge in surrounding countries.  Then in 1990, the offspring of those exiles formed a rebellion called the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and initiated a civil war. This war goaded the tensions between these two ethnicities, and in 1994 led to genocide by the Rwandan government against civilians (three-quarters of which were Tutsi).  The genocide ended when the RPF defeated the national army and almost 2,000,000 Hutu people fled the country (most of which have returned today) fearing a possible retribution of the Tutsis.

Since the end of the genocide, things have been drastically improving in Rwanda, particularly with regards to governance.  In 2003, they had their first post-genocide legislative and presidential elections. Then in 2009, Rwanda joined the Commonwealth after it was able to restore diplomatic relations between Kinshasa and Kigali, with the help of the Congolese Army.  Last year they were able to assume a nonpermanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time for this 2013-2014 term.

Rwanda has also progressed significantly in its services to the poor.  Rwanda is the very first country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce dual measles-rubella vaccines to its people.  These types of immunizations are incredibly important because they are a cost-effective and successful way to save children’s lives, which is obviously a great accomplishment, but it also reduces overpopulation since child mortality rate and child birthrate are directly proportional.

Rwanda is fully embracing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), being one of the few African countries that are actually on track to achieve seven of the eight. Recently, the poverty rate in Rwanda has dropped almost 12 percent, from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011.  This decrease comes from a number of reasons: the Rwandan government encouraging all of its citizens to take part in community development, the slowing of population growth, improved national infrastructure and agricultural production.

The percentage of people with safe drinking water in 2011 was 74.2 percent and is only improving.  Also, maternal mortality has dropped drastically, being at 1071 deaths per year in 2000 and 487 in 2010. Today, over 90 percent of children in Rwanda are vaccinated and living healthy lives. UNICEF has been a driving force behind all of this and has helped Rwanda over the last 20 years to go from genocide to development.

– Kenneth W. Kliesner

Sources: CIA World Factbook, UNICEF, UNDP
Photo: Paul Kagame