Rwandan president speaks in Kane
By Dylan Lee Lehrke
Rwandan President Paul Kagame delivered a message of measured optimism to an audience in Kane Hall last night, 10 years after the Rwandan genocide and on the fourth anniversary of his inauguration as president.
"Despite the progress we have made, we still have a long way to go. The problems we face will not be solved overnight," said Kagame. "Nonetheless, it is fairly heartening to say ours has been a story of courage of heart in a desperate situation."
Rwanda was engulfed in chaos in 1994 after the Hutu president died when his plane was shot down. In the following 100 days, Hutu extremists massacred an estimated 800,000 Rwandan Tutsis. Kagame was leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which forced the Hutu extremists out of the country.
"In the eyes of many observers, our days as a nation-state were numbered, but we refused to be a failed state," said Kagame, who has been credited by some for leading Rwanda out of the ethnic politics that have dominated its history.
Kagame has been in the United States for 10 days, delivering speeches and trying to convince businesses to invest in his country. His visit to the UW was confirmed only yesterday with limited tickets available.
Kagame's speech, "Remembering, Reconciling and Rebuilding -- A Call to Action," was sponsored by The Glaser Progress Foundation and the Marc Lindenberg Center at the UW Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs.
Marc Lindenberg was a UW dean who headed the private U.S. relief efforts during the 1994 Rwanda crisis.
Kagame did not try to explain last night what happened in Rwanda -- why people who had for so long farmed the same hills and intermarried began killing each other.
"Survivors could not comprehend how neighbors could turn on them and their children and kill them in the most brutal ways," said Kagame. "What happened in our country was just an extreme case of humanity at its worse."
According to Kagame, while the ethnic division was rooted in colonial divide-and-rule policies, Rwandans must accept primary responsibility since the post-colonial government reaffirmed the division.
"We Rwandans, we failed to rectify the legacy of that colonial period," said Kagame. "For us Rwandans, blaming the world for failing us will not lead us anywhere."
Kagame was reluctant to lay primary blame for the Rwandan crisis on any group of people or nation. He did not blame the United Nations for withdrawing its troops in the midst of the crisis, but blamed the member countries that, he said, lacked the will to act.
"The U.N. will be as effective and as useful as they want to make it," said Kagame.
Still, Kagame said he had forgiven the United States, just as he had forgiven many of the killers in Rwanda as part of the process of reconciliation.
Kagame also took the occasion to say it is not too late for other nations to come to Rwanda's aid.
"It is never too late to help, at least help the survivors of genocide," said Kagame. "We are not asking for fish. We are asking for the knowledge and equipment to do the fishing ourselves."
Kagame also took the occasion to call for action by the international community in the Sudan, where civil war is leading to a humanitarian disaster.
"Genocide is a crime against humanity and so humanity must take action in its own defense," said Kagame. "They don't have to wait to see another failure as they did in Rwanda."