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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Rwandans still divided 10 years on
By Rob Walker
BBC correspondent in Rwanda

Rwandan rebels
Rwandan rebels prepare to return to their villages
At Mutobo camp in Rwanda's northern Ruhengeri province, several hundred former rebels sing about the joy of coming home.

"We have come to build a new country," they chant, clapping and grinning.

These are some of the remnants of the Hutu militias and former Rwandan army that fled to neighbouring Congo at the end of the genocide.

After spending up to 10 years in the jungles of eastern Congo, fighting the Rwandan government, they have now decided to lay down their weapons.


In Mutobo, they will be taught about the new Rwanda, about how Hutus and Tutsis can live together again. Then they will make the final stage of their journey back to their villages.

It is one of the signs how far Rwanda has come, since the chaos that engulfed a decade ago.

Nobody would think that those who survived and those who connived with those committing genocide could live peacefully in Rwanda - yet this is happening.
Rwanda's Foreign Minister Charles Muligande
"I would simply say that a miracle has happened in Rwanda. We have been able to bring back total security and peace," says Rwanda's Foreign Minister Charles Muligande.

When the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) took control of the country in 1994, ending the genocide, the economy and infrastructure were in ruins.

An estimated 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, had been slaughtered.

Three million Hutu refugees fled to neighbouring countries, among them the perpetrators of the genocide, who turned themselves into a rebel force menacing Rwanda's borders.

Today, the new government has made huge strides, Mr Muligande says, not just in rebuilding the country, but also in helping to reconcile its divided people.

"Nobody would think that these two sections, those who survived and those who connived with those committing genocide, could live peacefully in Rwanda. And yet this is happening."


The distance Rwanda has travelled is remarkable in many ways.

While up to 20,000 Hutu rebels remain in Congo, 4,000 including their leader have now voluntarily disarmed.

We don't even have anything like an opposition here - we can't see people who can criticise government
Newspaper editor Robert Sebufirira
Most refugees have come home and access to education and health services has rapidly increased.

A drive through the capital Kigali shows the pace of change, compared with even just a few years ago. New houses, modern office blocks and hotels are springing up.

But this progress comes at a price.

Prominent critics of the government have been imprisoned or forced into exile, human rights groups say. Many Rwandans are afraid to speak out against their government.

Robert Sebufirira, editor of Umuseso, considered to be Rwanda's only independent newspaper, says despite last years multiparty elections, the ruling RPF so far remains the only political force.

"We don't even have anything like an opposition here. We can't see people who can criticise government," he says.

'Judge and jury'

For the RPF, Rwanda's violent recent history means democracy must be balanced with certain controls if further conflict is to be avoided.

The second largest party after the RPF was banned last year - accused of trying to promote ethnic divisions. But critics say the RPF led government is using the past to justify a de facto one party state.

"As long as the RPF will be at the same time judge and jury, the accusations of divisive politics will lack credibility because it serves the interests of the government to say that their opponent is not following the rules," says Francois Grignon, Central Africa director of the International Crisis Group.

He argues a more plural political system is now essential.

"When security is not now the issue which supersedes everything else, opening up becomes necessary in order to achieve genuine reconciliation."

Ethnic labels

The extent to which real reconciliation has been achieved is disputed.

The government has made significant efforts to promote unity among Tutsis and Hutus.

A young Rwandan shows his national ID card,
Rwanda has abolished all reference to ethnicity on identity cards
And it believes these old ethnic labels are now being replaced by a single Rwandan identity.

But ethnicity is still a potentially divisive issue.

As a rebel movement fighting the previous regime, the RPF had its base among Tutsi exiles in neighbouring Uganda. And perceptions remain that the RPF led government is Tutsi dominated.

"The Tutsi occupy the most important positions in the army and in the civil administration - the ones with the real power.

"And they are the greatest beneficiaries of the important posts in the economy," says Alison des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch, and a long term researcher on Rwanda.

There are fears that a sense of political and economic exclusion will lead to a growing resentment among Hutus.

Rural poverty

But this is not the only challenge the government faces ten years on.

In the southern province of Gikongoro, I meet Yohanna Nkuliye, planting potatoes. It is a world away from the new office blocks in the capital.

Unless there is some way for voices of dissent to be legitimately expressed, the tendency to resort to violence will of course increase
Alison des Forges
Human Rights Watch adviser
There are hundreds of tiny plots of land like his stretching along the valley. Yohanna's father farmed this same land.

When he died it was divided between Yohanna and his four brothers.

Yohanna himself has six sons who have a claim on his farm.

"There are more people now and the soil is old. That's why we die of hunger. The land is not enough for my family," he says.

Rwanda has more people per square km than any other African country.

And its increasing rural population, is farming progressively smaller parcels of land.

Some analysts fear a potentially explosive mix - between this growing rural poverty and urban resentment at lack of political freedoms.

"Unless there is some way for voices of dissent to be legitimately expressed, the tendency to resort to voice will of course increase.

"It could be violence within the elite itself in the form of a coup, or it could be violence in terms of a rural uprising, or an uprising in the city streets," says Alison des Forges.

For many farmers like Yohanna, the greatest achievement in the past 10 years has been peace and security.

For his children, and for the growing urban youth, expectations will be higher.

Analysts suggest that the way in which the RPF government responds to demands for greater political freedom, and more equitably shared economic opportunities, will determine how far Rwanda's current stability is maintained in the long term.


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