Ndi Umunyarwanda: A timely reconciliation move for Nyaruguru residents
On a chilly Tuesday morning, Joséphine Iyamuremye and her daughter, Jeanne Umulisa, sit down in a garden in front of their house in Ngera sector of Nyaruguru district, Southern Rwanda. The pair has barely arrived home from the field where they had gone to harvest sweet potatoes for the day’s lunch.
They have agreed to set aside a few minutes before they embark on their cooking task to talk about the current, national “Ndi Umunyarwanda” (“I am a Rwandan”) programme.
Through the newly introduced “Ndi Umunyarwanda” concept, Rwandans are urged to talk about the history that has characterized their country in order to face the effects the history caused and prevent other factors that can potentially set Rwandans apart again.
“I heard it [Ndi Umunyarwanda programme] over the radio. It is a good programme because it does not seek to discriminate people along ethnic lines which were the cause of what happened to us in the past,” said Iyamuremye.
Indeed Iyamuremye, 63, has bad memories of Rwanda’s history which was marred with ethnic divisions, among other ills.
In 1959, her parents had to flee to neighbouring Burundi for their safety as a result of a national, systematic campaign to get rid of Tutsis – what some scholars have dubbed “the 1959 Revolution”.
Having spent 35 years in exile in Burundi’s Muyinga province, where she got married to another Rwandan refugee and had all her eight children born as refugees, she came back to Rwanda – a country she had left when she was about nine years old.
In 1994, shortly after then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), now Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), halted the Genocide against the Tutsis, Iyamuremye returned to mother land.
“There was time when people talked about ethnic groups and they gave it much value. But today with Ndi Umunyarwanda programme, there is rather this spirit of togetherness and being one Rwandan people”, Iyamuremye added, smiling.
“Of course because of historic imprints, people still know their so-called ethnic groups. And this daughter of mine does, too. But the so-called ethnic groups are now of a historic meaning. We no longer value them. The most important thing today is our Rwandan identity. If my daughter falls in love with someone from another so-called ethnic group, they can get married. No problem,” she said. Her daughter, 19-year-old Umulisa, nods in agreement to the mother’s statement.
“If parents no longer give value those so-called ethnic groups, how can we as children? We cannot do that either”, said Umulisa, who pursues her studies in languages and literature at the nearby Groupe Scolaire de Liba.
More unity and reconciliation in the pipeline
According to 76-year-old Vincent Kanamugire, a resident of Mukuge cell, still in Ngera sector, the Ndi Umunyarwanda programme will help seal the so far laudable achievements of the national unity and reconciliation programme.
“The Genocide happened because of ethnic division. And with Ndi Umunyarwanda programme, the way I understand it, there is no more Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. So if we meet on the road, we can walk chatting as Rwandans without minding about who is who – and this reinforces our unity and reconciliation”, said grey-haired Kanamugire, who now uses a wooden stick to help him walk.
“There used to be an indication of ethnic identity in the National ID and people were discriminated basing on that. But that is no more. We now talk unity”, the old man hastened to add as he trekked to visit a friend in his neighbourhood.
This area, formerly known as Gishamvu commune, is home to Jean Kambanda, Rwanda’s Prime Minister in the interim government at the time of the Genocide against the Tutsis in 1994. Convicted by the Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) of masterminding the Genocide, among other charges, he is now serving a life sentence in Mali.
In a country like Rwanda where some high-ranking officials during the Genocide made sure the death toll reached the peak especially in their native communities, the two families in Ngera sector are somewhat an great indication of how Rwandans are reconciling with their past nearly 20 years since the Genocide claimed over a million Tutsis.
The latest figures from the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission suggest that 80 percent of Rwanda’s population of about 11 million people have now reconciled. And the Rwandan government is committed to achieving much more in the same regard.
On Monday, while speaking at the launch of the national “Unity and Reconciliation Week” in neighbouring Rusenge sector, in Nyaruguru district, Dr Alexis Nzahabwanimana, Rwanda’s State Minister in charge of Transport, urged thousands of Nyaruguru residents to value the Rwandan identity above all other things, such as the so-called ethnic groups.