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Rwanda moving from conflict to peace

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It is only 15 years since Rwanda was torn apart in a vicious civil war in which over 800,000 people were killed. Since that troubled time the country has made real progress on the road from internal conflict toward peace. One recent sign was the declaration in early December that Rwanda is the first country to be ‘landmine-free’, a year ahead of schedule. Another was the agreement that Rwanda’s application to become a member of the Commonwealth had been accepted.      


Landmine free

The declaration that Rwanda was the first country to achieve the ‘landmine-free’ status came at the ‘Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World’, held in Colombia. The announcement was made a year ahead of schedule, due to the planning of the Rwandan government, and assistance from NGOs. The UK based NGO Mines Awareness Trust worked with the Rwandan National De-mining Office (NDO), with funding from the Department for International Development, to make the country safe and land available for farming and agriculture.


Rwanda is a densely populated country with a high percentage of its population working in agriculture. There have been a great number of people seriously injured or killed as a result of landmines, on average 150 people were killed each year. These are merely the reported cases. In third world and developing countries many injuries go uncounted, so the real number would in fact be a great deal higher.


The forest land that contained the landmines had previously been very productive. The denial of its use had led to many people losing their jobs, a damaging social and economic issue in a country still heavily reliant upon the agricultural sector. As a direct result of the work that has been done, 5,000 people across the country have now gained employment.


The Rwandan Ministry of Defence announced that to date, “a total of 52 mined areas representing a total of 1,946,755 square metres of land have been cleared. The work has culminated in the destruction of 600 anti-personnel mines, 29 anti-tank mines and 2,034 unexploded ordinances.”


Joining the Commonwealth of Nations

At the end of last month Rwanda became the 54th member of the Commonwealth when their application was accepted at the biannual meeting of members in Trinidad and Tobago. The conditions for acceptance include democracy, an independent judiciary, protection of human rights, equality of opportunity, good governance and transparency in government.


Becoming a Commonwealth member will help Rwanda’s goals for political, social and economic development. The country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Rosemary Museminali, said “There are economic, political, social and cultural benefits but we should also say that there is a lot Rwanda can contribute to the group.” The country’s inclusion into the Commonwealth underlines the democratic credentials that Rwanda has been aspiring to have recognised internationally.  


Rwanda is moving away from its past. The country has the highest number of women legislators, with women taking 56% of the contested seats in the 2008 parliamentary elections. It also holds the world record as the country with the highest rate of re-forestation and is the first developing country to introduce mass vaccination for pneumococcal diseases for its children. Like any developing country, Rwanda still has its issues, but as a nation it really has come along way from those terrible three months in the summer of 1994.



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