Much more than painful memories are left from Rwanda's 90-day genocide beginning in April 1994. There is the constant fear of renewed massacres, if not in Rwanda itself, in eastern Congo perhaps. One can hardly deny however, that the circumstances which led to the killings of almost a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the hands of former Hutu soldiers and militiamen, are no longer distinctly visible, as it was 6 years ago. Three days after the first Tutsi President was sworn into office last April 22, a primary suspect in the 1994 genocide was extradited to Tanzania, to stand before the International Criminal Court of Rwanda. It seems that events are finally folding nicely for the central African county. And indeed they are, but the threat is not over.
The post-genocide Rwandan government must be credited for its relative success in containing the deepening hatred, and striving to achieve national unity. We must appreciate the government's achievement even more as we learn that the formation of the transition government, which included Tutsi and Hutus was the work of a former rebel group, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Tutsi majority RPF, the group solely responsible for ending the Tutsi genocide refrained from serious reprisals against Hutus, ended the bloodshed, and resorted to lawful means to punish those responsible.
Yet, in very poor country like Rwanda, especially after surviving one of the century's most hideous acts of genocide, one cannot expect justice to be served, so promptly and efficiently. The 125,000 Hutus awaiting trial, charged for taking part in the massacres, remain in crowded prisons for years. Amnesty International criticized the Rwandan judicial system in a recent report, and expressed deep concern over the living conditions of the detainees, and called on the government to ensure fair trials. Amnesty claimed in its report that in various local detention centers, detainees are not fed by the state, instead they rely on the food brought to them by their families. If the dramatic picture of the situation described by Amnesty and other human rights groups proves accurate, the Rwandan government will be called on to rectify the injustices done, especially to those held without evidence.
Rwanda has no need to please any one but its own people. Let us not forget the international apathy that surfaced during the Tutsi genocide. Often I wonder, if the RPF forces failed to capture the capital Kigali only three months after the initiating of the slaughter campaign, what would have become of Rwanda's Tutsi population? However brutality, negligence and unfair trials of Hutus simply because they are Hutus, will not improve the situation either. After all, Rwanda's Tutsis remain the minority. Moreover, Hutu rebels in Congo are already on the move, taking advantage of the Congolese government's tolerance of their activities against Tutsi minorities.
Rwanda is indeed passing through one of its most challenging tasks. After seizing power in July of 1994, the RPF was cleverly able to appease the situation by appointing one of its Hutu members to be the county's president. By doing so, the RPF leadership convinced the Hutu majority that its only intention was to unite the people, rather than to engage in power struggles. The relative calm that followed was an unwritten census that the RPF's action was approved by the majority of Rwandans. However, as of April 22, Rwanda had another president, Paul Kagame, who earned the trust of most the parliament and government members, Hutus and Tutsis. Although many say that Kagame, the first Tutsi president of Rwanda was in fact the real decision maker in the African country, and naming him an official leader might provoke hardly forgotten hostilities.
While Kagame's predecessor, Bizimungu, was perhaps criticized by some Hutus for being inefficient or incompetent, Kagame's criticism by Hutus is likely to be reasoned with according to his ethnicity, as a Tutsi. Therefore, the new President's job is far more challenging than providing funds for vital projects, fighting poverty and rebuilding the infrastructure. Kagame will always be surrounded with the Hutus monitoring eyes, ready to blame if he falls short of being fair, just, and balanced. And since the legal system and the treatment of those suspected of taking part in the country's genocide are the greatest concerns for Hutus, the president must work hard to ensure justice, by improving human conditions inside the prisons, speeding the trail procedures, and freeing those held without evidence.
There is little doubt regarding Kagame's sincerity toward building a safer Rwanda. One of his promises as he was sworn to office is, "Rwanda will become a nation that every Rwandan will want to live in." Yet lack of trust, the slow redemption of the past, and the ongoing war between the Rwandan army and Hutu rebels in eastern Congo make it difficult even for sincerity to prevail.