Rwandan president meets with faculty and studentsRwandan President Paul Kagame came to Brandeis University on Wednesday, April 23 for a round-table discussion with faculty, students, including some from Rwanda, and invited guests. The Heller School for Social Policy and Management’s Sustainable International Development program and Coexistence and Conflict program sponsored the visit.
Kagame, who also spoke at MIT and Tufts University this week, shared the lessons learned during and following the Rwandan genocide, which resulted in the death of more than 800,000 people 20 years ago. He also spoke about the challenge of rebuilding Rwanda, which was left impoverished following the fighting.
“There is no template for putting a country back together after such a major tragedy,” said Kagame. “Everything was a priority. Almost everything of value had been destroyed in Rwanda. We had to make decisions without any comfort of adequate time or resources.”
The efforts to ensure peace and reconciliation in Rwanda were made more complicated by the quick return of two million Rwandan refugees following the genocide. Many of those refugees were directly or indirectly involved in the genocide, and now they were living side-by-side with those who survived the genocide.
He asked, “What does justice mean when millions of people participated? What does reconciliation mean when the perpetrators and the victims see each other in the market everyday?”
The process to rebuild society and address atrocities committed during the genocide included the use of community-based systems of conflict resolution with the goal of achieving restorative justice. More than two million cases were heard and judged at the village level during a period of 10 years.
In light of the international community’s response to the start of the genocide, which included pulling out peacekeeping troops, many Rwandans felt they were left to their own devices in the rebuilding their country. This spurred them to develop innovative solutions that sometimes challenged conventional wisdom.
“We have used homegrown solutions to overcome some of Rwanda’s challenges, especially economic growth,” said Kagame, who has been president of Rwanda since 2000. This included promoting imihigo, a pre-colonial practice in Rwanda in which an individual or community sets productivity goals and deadlines and makes a commitment to succeeding regardless of the challenges that arise.
Following his opening remarks, Kagame participated in a round-table discussion moderated by Alain Lempereur, the Alan B. Slifka Professor of Coexistence and Conflict Resolution at Heller. The questions asked of Kagame ranged from his views on responsible leadership to whether Rwanda’s recovery and growth is a model of other African nations to the next steps for continuing the reconciliation process.
“While rebuilding our country remains an all consuming task for the government and the people of Rwanda, we continue to learn,” said Kagame. “We also are willing to share our hard earned lessons, take ownership of our challenges, make ours leaders accountable, and place citizens at the heart of everything we do.”