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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Rwanda: Life after Death, 1

Rwanda: Life after Death, 1
Date distributed (ymd): 980226
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Central Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +security/peace+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains part 1 of selected excerpts from an extensive report on the current situation in Rwanda from the U.S. Committee for Refugees.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The following is excerpted from the U.S. Committee for Refugees' newly published issue paper:


February 1998, by Jeff Drumtra, Africa Policy Analyst.

U.S. Committee for Refugees, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue, NW #701 Washington, DC 20036 USA Phone: (202) 347-3507; Fax: (202) 347-3418; E-mail for information:

Please note that this posting is not the full report. For copies of the report in full, please send an e-mail message to: or call Raci Say at: (202) 347-3507


Table of Contents

Key Points


Attitudes & Psychology

  • "Problems Among Us"
  • Mutual Victimization
  • Group Guilt
  • Insurgency Poisons Attitudes
  • Social Interaction


  • Killings in Northwest
  • The "Walking Dead"
  • RPA Tactics
  • Living With Insecurity in Northwest

Land & Housing

  • Can Housing Help Reconciliation?
  • Housing Boom
  • Housing Quality Mixed
  • Land and Housing Disputes

Other Challenges

  • Governance
  • Tensions Between Government and Aid Agencies
  • Flexible Aid Strategy
  • Economy
  • Food and Agriculture
  • Vulnerable Groups
  • Health
  • Reeducation Camps
  • Demographics



(NB: Only a selection of the contents are excerpted here)



  • Post Genocide -- Rwanda is a post-genocide society. The psychology of the country's nearly 8 million people is complex. Members of both ethnic groups believe they have been victimized. Rwandans are still sorting out how they will live with each other.
  • Extreme Flux -- Rwandan society is in a state of extreme flux. About half of the population has been killed, wounded, uprooted, or returned from long-term exile during the past four years. For the first time in nearly 40 years, the overwhelming majority of Rwandan refugees, Hutu and Tutsi, have repatriated. Many Rwandans are living together for the first time since national independence in 1962.
  • Stifled Dialogue -- Rwandan society has not yet found a constructive way to discuss ethnic tensions. Government efforts to pretend that ethnic differences do not exist are perhaps well-intentioned but lack credibility among the country's people and tend to stifle useful dialogue.
  • Social Problems -- The reintegration of 1.3 million returnees who repatriated in late 1996 and 1997 has proceeded well in some respects but has brought other social problems to the surface, such as the country's shortage of housing and agricultural land, competition for jobs and school placements, security concerns, and suspicion among neighbors.
  • Government Credibility -- Opinions about the Rwandan government vary enormously among Rwandans and international observers. Some regard the government as serious-minded and fair. Others view it as a regime determined to impose minority Tutsi control. These opposing views strongly color interpretations of events.
  • Security Issues -- The majority of Rwanda appears calm and relatively secure at this time. Sustained insecurity is largely confined at this time to the northwest corner of the country, where genocidaires continue an insurgency in their home area. Isolated violent incidents occur in other pockets of the west as well. Insurgent attacks and counterinsurgency tactics by the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) have reportedly left thousands dead in the northwest.

    Violence in the northwest is not continual or pervasive, however. Farming, markets, and other activities of daily life continue at many locations.
  • Insurgent Support -- The level of popular support in northwest Rwanda for the insurgency is uncertain. Civilians who provide insurgents with food, lodging, and other help may do so willingly, or because combatants coerce their cooperation. Insurgents' extended family members live in the northwest.
  • Propaganda -- Hate propaganda has begun to circulate again in northwest Rwanda, spreading fear. Propaganda leaflets distributed by genocidaires vow revenge against Tutsi and retribution against Hutu moderates. USCR procured English translations of several propaganda tracts.
  • Poisonous Insurgency -- The insurgency by genocidaires is geographically limited but exerts a powerful effect on Rwandans throughout the country by aggravating ethnic suspicion. The violent deaths of Tutsi and Hutu in the northwest fuel the worst fears of members of both ethnic groups nationwide at a time when Rwandan society is trying to make a new start.
  • Policy Traps -- Some policies of the Rwandan government that are meant to heal tensions in the long term risk aggravating social tensions in the short term.

    Government military efforts to defeat the genocidaire insurgency have contributed to deaths of civilians in the northwest. Poor implementation of a government program to "reeducate" former Hutu refugees about the principles of ethnic unity has effectively blocked many educated Hutu from jobs. Tentative plans to change land ownership laws in order to make land use more efficient can be expected to provoke controversy among Rwanda's overwhelmingly agricultural population.
  • Economic Struggle -- Rwanda's economic conditions at the end of 1997 were difficult, despite overall economic growth. Food prices in some areas had doubled, and families in some regions had lost more than half their purchasing power compared to the start of the decade. Economic life for many Hutu and Tutsi returnees is more difficult in Rwanda than it was in asylum.
  • Vulnerable Groups -- Rwanda's population includes large numbers of vulnerable people. One third of all households are headed by women. Some 80,000 households are headed by children. A quarter-million or more children are unaccompanied minors. Tens of thousands of genocide survivors, predominantly women and minors, need special assistance.
  • Aid Agencies -- Relations between the Rwandan government and international humanitarian organizations are strained. Government officials monitor aid organizations closely. Many aid agencies lack full confidence in the government's agenda.
  • Housing Shortage -- Rwandans have constructed or rehabilitated more than 100,000 homes with international assistance. Rwandan government officials estimate that 400,000 homes--about one fourth of the country's housing stock--eed construction or repair to accommodate returned Hutu and Tutsi refugees and genocide survivors.
  • Villagization -- The "villagization" plan proposed by the Rwandan government could become a massive attempt at social engineering. The ambitious plan, if implemented, would group Rwanda's overwhelmingly rural population into new or existing villages.

    Proponents contend the plan would improve land use, facilitate delivery of social services, and foster improved ethnic integration and security. Critics argue the plan is overly ambitious, poorly conceived, and is liable to produce forced relocations and new social tensions. The government's commitment to "villagization" remains unclear.
  • Local Participation --The axiom that aid programs work best when they include local participation is particularly important in Rwanda, where residents of both ethnic groups need to feel personally invested in rebuilding the country together.

RWANDA (excerpts)


Rarely in human history has a society asked--insisted-that all its people live together again, side by side, in the aftermath of genocide. That is, however, the task at hand in Rwanda. The people of Rwanda are attempting to do what few societies in recorded history have ever done.

In response to the Armenian genocide in the early 20th Century, the international community carved out an independent nation for the Armenian people. After the Holocaust, the world created a sovereign Jewish state, Israel.

After the "killing fields" of Cambodia in the 1970s--a bloodletting often defined as genocide--hundreds of thousands of Cambodians permanently resettled in other countries. In modern-day Bosnia, ethnic killings bordering on genocide have produced de facto ethnic separation.

Post-genocide Rwanda, however, is charting a dramatically different course. The country and its people are seeking to endure as one. A society torn apart by an attempt to obliterate an entire group is attempting to reestablish the trust needed to carry on.

For the first time in Rwanda's 35 years of national independence, the overwhelming majority of Rwandan refugees, Hutu and Tutsi, have returned to their homeland. The genocide of 1994 in which up to a million Rwandans perished will, it is hoped, give way to "reconciliation."

The nearly two million Hutu refugees who fled in 1994--the fastest refugee exodus of its size the world has ever witnessed--are being asked to resume their former lives. It is hoped that the abrupt repatriation of most refugees in late 1996--a massive return of unprecedented suddenness--will produce "social reintegration."

The challenge is, arguably, unique in modern times. Rarely has any society of any age suffered such shattering upheavals, self-imposed, and emerged intact.

Genocide. Civil war. Refugee flight. Hate propaganda. A culture of impunity. Ongoing insurgency and atrocities. Deep physical and psychological scars likely to linger for decades. The question of the moment is whether the people of Rwanda can rewrite the basic social contract intrinsic to any functioning society. Can Rwandans overcome mutual suspicion and live as neighbors again?

It is a unique challenge as well for the international community as it struggles to give proper assistance. Rwanda "is a difficult place to work," international aid officials privately confide. Some 80 international relief and development organizations operate in the country. Although much of Rwanda is outwardly calm, aid workers realize that "there is a lot going on under the surface."

Several issues in Rwanda are never far from the surface: Security and Insurgency Deep concern about personal safety is now ingrained in Rwandans after their recent ordeals. An armed insurgency by genocidaires (people who implemented the genocide) persists in northwest Rwanda, costing lives and poisoning attitudes even in areas of the country currently beyond the reach of insurgent attacks.

Many Tutsi view the insurgency as proof that the campaign of genocide continues against them, that they are still preyed upon in their own country. Many Hutu, especially those who survived the refugee ordeal in Congo/Zaire, fear that they might be victimized by revenge killings, detention, or other abuses now that they are home.

A resurgence of hate propaganda in recent months by Hutu extremists aggravates ethnic scars that have barely begun to heal. "You will not survive," one propaganda tract recently warned Tutsi. Another hate pamphlet warned that Hutu who befriend Tutsi neighbors will be "eliminated."

Government Legitimacy and Competence

Attitudes toward the Rwandan government vary enormously inside the country and internationally.

Some regard the government as a multi-ethnic, multiparty collection of serious-minded leaders who are pursuing political and social reforms based on justice and ethnic pluralism.

"They [government officials] really do believe Rwanda has got to come together, and that Rwandans can overcome this and live together in harmony, in a viable Rwanda," a U.S. aid official in the country stated.

Others view the Rwandan government and its motives with deep suspicion, as a regime determined to impose minority Tutsi control at home and Tutsi hegemony throughout Central Africa.

"This country scares me every day. It is hard to know what's going on. I'm scared that I might wake up five years from now and find out I worked for five years [with] a repressive regime," confided one expatriate with close connections to government officials.

Most observers agree that the Rwandan government--whatever its agenda--contains a fascinating mixture of steely resolve, inexperience, and limited resources. The result is an ambitious government stretched beyond its capacities in a country with enormous needs.

Reintegration and Social Attitudes

Only time can heal some emotional wounds.

Attempts to "reconcile" Rwandans with each other are underway through the work of local churches, indigenous women's organizations, and some international aid agencies. Mere mention of the word "reconciliation" is, however, a sensitive topic among those who continue to grieve and seek justice for the loss of loved ones.

"Anybody wanting to intervene to make sure it [wholesale ethnic massacre] never happens again has to understand the attitudes.... You cannot just talk to the adult generation about 'loving each other,'" explained an aid official engaged in reconciliation work.

Rwanda's leaders have attempted to improve social solidarity by eliminating ethnic references on identity cards and purging direct mention of ethnicity in most public discourse.

The government requires returned Hutu refugees to attend "solidarity camps" lasting one to two weeks, ostensibly to educate Hutu returnees about the country's goal of ethnic unity. The idea may backfire in practice, however. Many Hutu complain that the reeducation camps deliberately intimidate them and are used to restrict employment opportunities.

Justice System

Rwanda's overwhelmed justice system has received extensive international attention.

Some 120,000 persons remain imprisoned for alleged participation in the genocide. Although thousands awaiting trial may be innocent, it is an important human rights achievement that tens of thousands of guilty prisoners have not been executed without trial. The pace of trials has been excruciatingly slow because the government has required four years to rebuild its cadre of judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of the genocide and massive population displacement.

Some 2,000 prisoners are children, accused of being genocidaires. Their dilemma illustrates that no easy solutions exist in post-genocide Rwanda. The government recently announced plans to free the imprisoned children--a step long advocated by the world community. Some of the minors, however, will probably be killed in revenge attacks if they are released without trial, aid workers warn privately.

The situation of child prisoners indicates that, because of the country's tensions, even progressive humanitarian policies can lead to death.

Housing and Land

An ambitious housing program is underway in Rwanda, the most densely populated country in Africa.

Local officials say 400,000 homes must be repaired or constructed nationwide for returned refugees and survivors of the genocide. Entire new villages have materialized in recent months, some without proper planning for water and farm land needed to sustain the families scheduled to move there.

Rwandan officials have proposed a controversial "villagization" policy to relocate most Rwandans into towns and villages for better services and security. The policy, if pursued aggressively, would rank as one of the most sweeping attempts at social engineering in recent memory. Critics fear the program would remove residents from their current homes by force.

In addition, the government has signaled its intention to pursue fundamental land reform. It is a sensitive issue in a largely agrarian society where small agricultural plots are the sole source of survival for impoverished families.

Basic Development

The upheavals that have befallen Rwanda during the past four years would devastate any country. Rwanda, however, was already one of the world's poorest nations prior to 1994.

By 1997, it had become the second least developed country on earth, according to UN measurements. "It can be difficult to find a commune that is not in dire need," one UN agency reported in Rwanda. Such severe deprivation tends to incubate social tensions and complicates efforts to rebuild trust.

Rwanda lacks adequate schools and health care. The country's overwhelmingly rural settlement pattern--it ranks with Burundi as the least urbanized country in Africa--makes delivery of improved social services difficult and expensive. Events have crippled the country's tea and coffee industry and erased a nascent tourism industry that was based on international interest in the mountain gorillas of northwest Rwanda.

The country's ordeals have imposed added development burdens that no amount of aid money can eliminate: up to 120,000 children are orphaned; as many as 85,000 households are headed by children; and an enormous percentage of the country's accumulated skills and knowledge lay buried with the dead, or hidden in exile.

(continued in part 2)

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC), the educational affiliate of the Washington Office on Africa. APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups individuals.

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