Unity and reconciliation on the right track
The Unity and Reconciliation Commission (URC) on January 25 held a meeting to evaluate its working for 2007 and plan the way forward for 2008.
Jean Baptist Habyarimana, the president of the commission, in his opening speech said that 13 years have passed since the unity and reconciliation program was started in Rwanda as an instrument to fight the conflicts that led to the 1994 genocide and to pave the road to development, good governance and building a culture of peace, with URC being created in 1999 as an independent commission that coordinates programs aimed at promoting unity and reconciliation in Rwanda.
Habyarimana also remarked that since its establishment, URC has managed to reach out to all levels in Rwanda and has even given Rwandan citizens a chance to assess for what may have led to the 1994 genocide, so that collectively steps are taken to support the cause of this commission.
In this context, the commission has started two programs, one on proper civic education and the second on building a culture of lasting peace and conflict resolution.
Steps taken by the commission on civic education include, amongst others, setting up of solidarity camps for people at different levels. The first level is that of students given scholarship to study in government universities; youth from the Great Lakes regionand the diaspora; as well as members from different associations such as Atraco, Assetamorwa, Unatave, Kora, and Karani Ngufu.
Moreover, the URC has conducted various workshops aimed at religious leaders, since they reach out to a large number of people and can easily influence them. Similar workshops were also held for women, journalist and the youth.743 university lecturers and 680 secondary and primary school teachers were also trained in these workshops that aimed at unity and reconciliation, conflict resolution and fighting the genocide ideology.
The commission also took several measures to promote the newly introduced informal education Itorero, whereby 25,000 teachers were selected countrywide to spread the message of unity and reconciliation in their residential areas.
Consultation of citizens
In the quest to find out what to some extent may be hindering the commission’s success, research was done in Gacaca courts, and impact assessment was also carried out on unity and reconciliation. Moreover, the role of women in promoting unity and reconciliation was examined, as well as the origin of conflicts in Rwanda and Rwanda’s history.
In a bid to evaluate its efforts, the URC consulted Rwandan citizens through open talks and debates in 2003 and 2004, during which citizens could express their concerns and suggestions concerning the commission. At the end of these discussions it was realized that its benefits reach the various levels that in Rwanda and no one is left out. The people also acknowledged that they all have a major role to play if unity and reconciliation is ever to be fully attained in Rwanda.
Another achievement of the commission was that in 2004 it held a conference for children from all over Rwanda, during which children met with various leaders and expressed their concerns and suggestions. At the end of the conference, their suggestions were put into the governments’ agenda.
However, Jean Baptist Habyarimana recognized that the URC still faces certain challenges. He said that unfortunately some Rwandans still harbor the genocide ideology, to the extent where they have even started instilling the ideology in their children. As this surfaces in schools, the commissions has started training 700 school administrators in the quest to promote unity and reconciliation thus fighting the genocide ideology.
“Teachers have constant contact with children, so we believe they can help them to eradicate these bad practices,” the president explained.
Another challenge that the commission faces is that it still has a lot to do in order to strengthen the 300 youth clubs that have been set up in the southern province. The social welfare of genocide survivors is also still low, therefore they are being encouraged to join cooperatives, especially in the southern province.
Fatima Ndangiza, the URC’s executive secretary, said that the commission in Rwanda is different from similar commissions elsewhere. According to her most, those only try to punish people who have committed genocide, whereas the URC looks for all possible ways of uniting Rwandans. This commission also has a different objective of educating Rwandans to fight the genocide ideology.