NEW DAWN OPENS NEW HORIZONS
When I return to familiar stomping grounds there are normally few things which I can say are truly new to me as it is after all my business to know what is happening across my areas of reporting. So when I came back to Kigali yesterday to commence the countdown for Kwita Izina 2012 with visits, interviews and interaction, and found an invitation by New Dawn Associates to sample one of their 6 exclusive excursion products they have developed, I thought first that the days programme, revealed to me on arrival with RwandAir from Entebbe, by my host minders from RDB, was a hard thing to ditch in favour of what on the face of it just looked like another run of the mill tour to a village or two.
I could not have been more mistaken though had I turned down my invitation, and missing the setting up and opening of the Kwita Izina Exhibition on a Green Economy was worth it as today it will still be there, whereas the invitation to Bugesera was limited for just that one day.
New Dawn Associates have 6 exclusive projects they take visitors to, starting from the Millennium Village Tour, the one I took, over This is Africa A charming introduction to multicultural Nyamirambo, The Dancing Pots An introduction to Batwa life and culture, the Humure Community Visit, where refugees thrown out of Tanzania one fine morning with little if any notice were resettled in an area South of the Akagera National Park, the Crop to Cup Kivu Coffee Experience where the processing of coffee from the tree to the washed bean is demonstrated to Imigongo A traditional cow dung painting workshop.
All of these trips can be included in a safari itinerary of regular shape and size, which ordinarily includes a visit to the highland gorillas, the savannah national park of Akagera, the Enchanted Forest, aka Nyungwe Forest National Park or the scenic sights of the Lake Kivu shores but ends up greatly enhanced by including the cultural and community aspects Rwanda has to showcase but few visitors even know they exist.
I, as mentioned before, took the day tour to Bugesera, where incidentally the new airport is going to be built, and 7 different activities and visits were on the programme.
First came the almost mandatory visit to a Genocide Memorial Site, many of which are located across the country and a standing reminder of NEVER AGAIN for real this time. The Nyamata Memorial Site was our destination, some 45 minutes outside Kigali, where about 100.000 people were slaughtered in a church, where they had sought refuge from the frenzied killers. Initially securely locked inside, the mob could not gain access and regular army units were brought in using grenades and heavy weapons to blow open the steel doors, before every single man, woman, child and baby was brutally murdered.
This happened in 1994 while attempts to murder thousands in 1992 in a similar way were thwarted by an Italian lady who lived much of her life opposite the church and raised the international alarm with calls and was in revenge killed in cold blood, though those in the church at the time were spared as a result of the global focus on what was about to happen. Two years later though, a brutal genocide was on the cards and swept the country, before the RPF led by current President Paul Kagame then drove the killers out of the country and laid the foundations for Phoenix to rise from the ashes and become the New Rwanda, a country of, for and by Rwandans without tribe.
(Tonia Locatellis grave next to the genocide church in Nyamata)
The tour then went on to visit a farm where the impact of the Millennium Development Village was very apparent, as the monocultures of old were replaced with mixed farming, where matooke and cassava is now supplemented by beans, groundnuts, cabbage, yams, avocado trees, chili plants, but also a cow, a piggery, chicken and goats. The efforts of agricultural extension officers and the UNDPs support for the Millennium Development Village concept here has resulted in a healthier life with cash crops for sale, helping subsistence farmers out of poverty.
The tour then went on to the Mayange Health Centre, now staffed with 17 nurses, a free family planning clinic including HIV testing and counseling and testimony that the post genocide Rwanda is now providing services to all people in all places. A mandatory 3.000 Rwandan Franc payment by each citizen per annum contributes towards a health insurance, which as a result has someone seeking treatment only pay 10 percent of the medical bills and prescriptions, while the public insurance pays the remainder of 90 percent, AND, those still living below the poverty line, once so ascertained by their cell leaders, are free of even that payment.
Modern schools have been built, offering three times a week a free lunch to children, with food grown within the school compound, and the One Laptop Per Child policy here paid dividends, as personally seen, with even primary school kids already being introduced to computing. Rwandas next generation will be well equipped for the challenges of the 21st century, computer literate and ready to propel the country truly into the new millennium.
A basket weaving cooperative too is on the visiting schedule, where women always the women it seems have closed ranks and are producing baskets for sale on the local and export market.
But most impressive was the final chapter in the days programme, a visit to a Reconciliation Village where victims, perpetrators and returnees live side by side, as neighbours and as seen with great surprise, as friends. It is here, in this policy of admitting guilt in public and then being forgiven, that the roots of the New Rwanda can be found. Just hearing about it of course raises huge questions, but being able to see those people living together makes a new understanding dawn. The Gacaca Court system across the country has since its inception 10 years ago dealt with over 2 million cases, something the conventional judiciary with its limitations of due process could well have taken 200 or more years quoting here a senior source from within the legal fraternity in Kigali to resolve, but here too Rwandas own way of dealing with the past succeeded. Over 1.6 million convictions were achieved, as were over 270.000 acquittals by the way, and those who confessed and asked for forgiveness were regularly made to serve a significant part of their sentence outside, doing community work before being re-integrated into society.
That left the main judiciary to pursue the masterminds, those still in hiding and those now extradited to stand trial in Rwanda, besides the ICTR in Arusha also having dealt with a number of cases referred there.
The testimony seen and heard, with those testifying showing their deep emotions and even tears, was both harrowing as well as relieving, the latter when it became evident that perpetrators and victims could after all achieve some normalcy in their lives, putting a very dark 100 days in human history behind them and now working hand in hand to build a New Rwanda together.
(Victim and perpetrator side by side, testifying about their past)
The Gacaca Court system will formally be closed down next week, after serving its purpose for the past 10 years, but the reconciliation villages will of course remain in place for as long as those involved on both sides of the genocide will live, giving ample time for visitors to Rwanda to not only come and see the gorillas, the forests, the big game and the scenic landscapes but also what the Phoenix truly looks like on the ground.
NDAs project visits are revealing, showcasing and yet prompt hard questions which in my case were answered. The victims and perpetrators do suffer from nightmares, just like all others so traumatized by what they experienced and did, only too well understood by this correspondent who in mid 94 was part of a relief mission to Rwanda and also cannot get these images and impressions out of his mind. For the people who live here, reconciliation and forgiveness seems the key to move on and for those unfortunate enough, or perhaps fortunate enough to have seen the circumstances close up and personal, they too can be a living testament that it did indeed happen and be fierce advocates of NEVER AGAIN and friends of the NEW Rwanda, where a dream appears on the way to reality.
NDAs founders, amongst them Rica Rwigamba who is now head of RDBs Tourism and Conservation Department, and in particular Anny Batamuriza Munyaneza, had a vision to showcase the beyond wildlife and landscapes experience, pass on the lessons Rwanda has to teach the world to visitors coming to The Land of a Thousand Hills, to enrich them and make them understand what the New Rwanda is based on, before going back as roving ambassadors who have seen, experienced and witnessed. Visit www.newdawnassociates.com for more information on available add ons to the conventional safaris and tours across the country covering one or more of their 6 exceptional projects while traversing the country.