4th July is Liberation Day in Rwanda, marking the end of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. This wasn’t the total end of violence as troubles continued for several years afterwards, but on this day the Rwandan Patriotic Front took control over the country, thus overthrowing the extremist regime.
Today has been a pleasant day, a bit cooler than yesterday, with some clouds and a fresh breeze. It’s dry season now so every day is warm and sunny. A couple of days ago I finished reading a remarkable memoir by Rosamond Halsey Carr, an American lady who made Rwanda her home from 1949 until her death in 2006 (more on this book tomorrow). I’m now reading one of the best books ever written on Rwandan Genocide: Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. I was sitting in my garden this morning, catching some sun and reading this extraordinary account, but at some point I had to stop as I couldn’t concentrate. There was loud, joyful music coming from one of the neighbour’s garden down below, the birds were singing cheerfully, the hum of distant traffic carried over the valley, kids were playing next door – and there I was, reading about one of the most incomprehensible events in human history that took place in this very country I’m currently living in. Right now someone is blowing a vuvuzela not far away (remember those from the World Cup in South Africa?) and there are sounds of car horns and a party going on somewhere. It’s been 22 years since the Genocide. One generation ago but not that long ago after all. Yet this is a completely different country from what it was in the 90’s. Rwanda has come a very long way in a very short time, from a place of extreme violence to a peaceful and very ambitious state. It hosted the World Economic Forum on Africa back in May, and the 27th African Union Summit will be taking place in Kigali from 10th to 18th July. The economic growth rate is around 7-8%. It is a safe place, too. I can walk around on my own, also after dark, and no one will bother me. Of course, there are still a lot of issues. This is the most densely populated country in Africa (over 11 million people live in the space just a bit smaller than Belgium, with 445 people per square km; Belgium has a population density of 363 people per square km) and has very few natural resources – 90% of Rwandans are farmers, engaging mostly in subsistence agriculture. Overpopulation, poverty, HIV/AIDS and malaria – these are problems Rwanda is still addressing. But as this year’s liberation anniversary theme says: “Together We Prosper”. There is a bright future for this country if this sense of unity continues and gets even stronger. I’ve only been here a moment but what I’ve seen and experienced so far is impressive and very promising. The Genocide left a permanent mark, both on Rwanda’s and the world’s conscience, and it is crucial to never forget what happened in 1994. However, while remembering the past, it is also important to look ahead. There is no reason to doubt that Rwanda can be the regional leader of positive change and become a truly prosperous country in the coming years.