The Second of 5 Illusions a Naïve Visitor to Rwanda Falls for


 ILLUSION 2: Rwandans are now reconciled


On arrival, our gullible guest to Rwanda has been received by highly courteous immigration officials. And after collecting her luggage downstairs, her plastic bags have been taken away to protect mother earth. And once outside, her taxi drives away towards Serena Hotel on a palm-tree lined boulevard without a single pothole. Who indeed would not be impressed by these things?

The visitor then poses to her taxi driver the one question she has been dying to ask since she set foot on the Rwandan soil. “So tell me, are you a Hutu or Tutsi?” The reply stuns her. “Look Madam, this is a new Republic of Rwanda. We are only Rwandans here. You can in fact go to jail for asking that. We do not tolerate divisionism and such mindsets that breed genocide ideology.” The naïve lady visitor happily settles in the back seat of her taxi, satisfied that a miracle has happened in a country that almost self-destructed via ethnic hatred and genocide back in 1994.


Rwandans are now reconciled, freed from divisive ethnic labels by a progressive government that is successfully building a united and prosperous future for all Rwandans. Ethnic divisions in Rwanda are no more.


Beyond the generic rhetoric of today’s Rwandan leadership, no one really knows the extent of reconciliation. How can anyone assess and know such a thing in an atmosphere in which almost all issues are deemed taboo to talk about?

Nonetheless, we have a sense of what Rwandans may be feeling. A snap review of the past 19 years since President Paul Kagame has been at the helm of Rwandan political economy, illustrates an unattainable political environment for reconciliation:

  • RPF commits itself in 1994 to power-sharing both inside the party and nationally, with the victorious General Paul Kagame making a strategic concession by taking a position specially created for him – Vice Presidency – which he held together with Minister of Defense, making the General the king-maker;
  • Pasteur Bizimungu becomes President of Rwanda;
  • Things soon unravel by 1997-8;
  • RPF chairman Kanyaregwe is unceremoniously dumped;
  • Vice President Kagame takes over as chairman;
  • Pasteur Bizimungu, the head of state, reduced to Kagame’s deputy in the party;
  • To grasp the absurdity of this machination, imagine Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who is the president of Uganda reduced to deputy president of NRM and Edward Ssekandi, who is the vice president of the country, grabbing party presidency;
  • Fast-track to 2000, President Bizimungu is finally removed (and later imprisoned), Paul Kagame becomes head of state and party;
  • Once Paul Kagame is in the presidency, the post of vice president mysteriously vanishes into thin air never to be heard of again;
  • Fast-track to 2013, no significant senior ministerial post, besides the Presidency, remains in the hands of Hutu leaders – including Finance, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Cabinet Affairs, Justice (both the Minister and Chief Justice), Central Bank, Health, Education, and Local Government. Throw in the chief of police and head of prosecuting authority!

It would be a grave mistake to see the current rule simply as a Tutsi regime, however. It is President Paul Kagame’s regime, a one-man thing demanding total allegiance in which a single diverging/independent thought is enough ground to become ruthlessly purged. The recent removal of former Justice Minister Kagarugama is further evidence, if any were still needed. Karugarama’s crime was, apparently, to hold fast to the Rwandan Constitution which does not allow any head of state to hold power longer than two 7 year terms – 14 years in all.

The post-1994 Rwandan history hardly paints a journey to reconciliation and long-term stability.

Dr David Himbara was the Principal Private Secretary to President Paul Kagame in 2000-2002 and 2009. He was the founding chairperson of the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU), the founding chairperson of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the founding chairperson of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).  A Rwandan-Canadian, David Himbara is an independent reform strategist and an Adjunct Professor at the University of the Witswaterand, South Africa which he has been associated with on-and-off since 1994. Himbara left Rwanda and returned to South Africa in January 2010.

Continue reading:
ILLUSION 1: Rwanda is an environmental haven
ILLUSION 3: Rwanda is a role model in empowering women
ILLUSION 4: Rwanda, towards a knowledge-based economy
ILLUSION 5: Rwanda is zero-tolerant for corruption

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