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Rwandan Ambassador Says Genocides Can Be Prevented

The Rwandan Ambassador to the United States says the kind of genocide that killed over 800,000 people in 1994 can be avoided in the future. In a lecture at a high school here in the Washington area, the ambassador also spoke about what led to the genocide. Rwandan ambassador Zac Nsenga talked about the Hutu-Tutsi relationship after 1994. He told the auditorium filled with Madison high school students in Vienna, Virginia, that the difference between the two is neither tribal nor ethnic:

“These are people who speak the same language, people who share the same culture, people who in the past were observing the same region, and these are the people – most of them who share the same poverty on the hills. They are all black, they are all women men and children, and they share the same residence. There is no difference fundamentally, other than their social status and their physical features.”

The ambassador says the reasons for the genocide also were not based on ethnicity:

"It was lack of education for some, it was lack of opportunities and jobs, some could not have access to schools, to business, to civil service, and they were not treated as equal citizens, they were second-class citizens."

But Mr. Nsenga says now every Rwandan is a first-class citizen. He says that since the genocide more than a decade ago, “the government has taken an about turn.” He says Rwandans have been living and working together, and will continue to as long as they are given the right political atmosphere. He says that includes a system of free education, protection and justice for all Rwandans:

"There is peace, there is stability, social infrastructure is established, people are trying to improve the economies and most important, there is reconciliation now going on. And there is justice."

He says all Rwandans, even those who were once in prison, now have access to their relatives and even live with them.

The ambassador says Rwanda now has a “broad-based government.” There is no “Hutu-land” and no “Tutsi-land.” Ambassador Nsenga says all children go to schools; there is no discrimination. He says Rwandans now have a sense of hope. He says there is some fear and guilt remaining, but that it will be overcome with time because now there is no revenge, no retribution.

On avoiding genocide in the future, Ambassador Nsenga says it’s a matter of governance:

"If the leadership in country X is behind the genocide, it happens. If the government in a country is not behind the genocide, it doesn’t happen. If there is a way of mobilizing international political will, then people would have the guts to stop the genocide. Everything else is there, the resources, the armies, the guns, whatever, the facilities are there, what is lacking is the political will."

The Rwandan ambassador also criticizes the media’s lack of coverage of the country since the genocide. He says it leaves the impression that Rwanda is still divided along tribal and ethnic lines when it is not. Mr. Nsenga says that because the country’s economic recovery in itself is not big news, many of the country’s accomplishments since the genocide are overlooked. But in fact, he says, the reconciliation and economic progress there today is “amazing.”