Many survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in particular widows and orphans, have been unable to build new families, and their isolation is an important factor in their inability to re-establish a viable livelihood. Ex-combatants, many of whom are former child or young soldiers who have spent more than a decade in the military, are frequently ill-equipped to deal with insertion into the civilian economy. Ex-prisoners frequently face the particular challenge of having lost the most productive years of their lives in prison, and also of being stigmatised for their role in the genocide – even where the gacaca traditional justice system has exonerated them from having played such a role.
International Alert’s Rwanda programme provides space for interaction for groups most affected by the genocide and its consequences: survivors, ex-prisoners, ex-combatants and young people, thus building up trust and confidence between them. The programme enables them to identify common ground for cooperation and co-existence through dialogue and microfinance. In this way, these often conflicting groups can better understand and appreciate one another and how to resolve conflicts peacefully.
Currently, the Rwanda programme operates in 3 districts, namely Gasabo in Kigali City, Gisagara in the Southern Province and Ngororero in the Western Province.
Rwanda has come a long way since the 1994 genocide. The country has re-absorbed over three million returned refugees, over sixty thousand combatants demobilised and the gacaca traditional justice system has returned thousands of former genocide prisoners to their communities. Internal security has been assured. The country has joined the East African Community, infrastructure has been rehabilitated and the economy kick-started. The traditional patrimonial culture is beginning to change, with much greater prominence of women in social, political and economic life. The government and the people of Rwanda have made remarkable progress in re-establishing normality.
However, below the surface, communities across the country are still deeply divided and fragmented. Although the main two ethnic groups live together in relative peace, conflict has not been resolved; rather, measures have been taken by the authorities to contain distrust and hatred. The social and psychological impact of the genocide continues to hang over the country, and its manifestations are evidenced by widespread fears for personal security and of a recurrence of violence; the acute experience of loss and grief; and the fragility of intra-community relationships. Unless there is more tangible progress in truth telling, healing and reconciliation, there remains a real danger that tensions could spiral into violence again in the future.
The Rwanda programme addresses the economic, social and psychosocial dimensions of post-conflict recovery. Its starting-point is the belief that resilience at the societal and individual levels is a key factor in recovering the country’s capacity to put in place protection against future returns to violence. On the one hand, war and other forms of communal violence such as genocide have deeply damaging effects on the social fabric, not only because of lost and injured lives but also because relationships of many kinds (including family and neighbourhood relationships) break down under the pressure of fear, mistrust and resentment. Secondly, the capacity of individuals to cope with the impact of loss, injury and other consequences of violence, and hence contribute to social reconstruction, is critically influenced by the practical circumstances in which they live: poverty, deprivation and ill-health drain the resources of individual citizens and hence form powerful constraints to reconstruction and national recovery. Moreover, the programme’s experience so far has illustrated how multiple vulnerabilities – both social and economic – can affect the coping capacities of certain specific social categories.
The approach we use brings together perpetrators, survivors, ex-combatants and young people and simultaneously works on their social, economic and psychological needs in order to address unity and reconciliation amongst them. "The project is highly pertinent as a demonstration that what many considered impossible, namely bringing victims and suspected perpetrators together and establishing a degree of common cause between them, can in fact be achieved (Chris Dolan, 2009)."
To achieve this, the programme has built a partnership with five Rwandan organisations, each with their own areas of expertise. Alert has found that this methodology has a significant impact on local partners’ capacity, as through shared goals and mutual responsibility, all partners are able to discuss challenges and share ideas on a regular basis, thus allowing for key decisions to be enhanced by the inputs of others. This has enabled a greater strategic focus and has added to the learning of each of the partners in terms of delivering good project management.