“God saw fit to equip other countries with natural resources. But for Rwanda, peace is our greatest wealth.” Former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana
In a long interview [to be published in several parts] that I had with Marie Rose Habyarimana, one of the daughters of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, she explains comprehensively and bring a new light on a number of issues that many interested parties, eager to tarnish purposely the image of her father, misrepresented for long giving a distorted image of the Rwandan society under the second republic. She also shades a picture of what made Rwanda experience stability with its neighbors during that period. Finally she gives advice to all those who want to bring change in her country and a particular message to the younger generation.
In the following section Marie Rose talks about the political climate prevailing in Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi at the time of the military coup of July 5th 1973. She then goes on highlighting what president Habyarimana did to bring peace and stability and particularly economic development which overall focused on increasing the well being of rural populations.
The Rising Continent (TRC): In developing enough, can you give three political aspects under President Habyarimana that you think helped Hutu and Tutsi live in harmony [despite some minority of the time arguing that this was not the case]?
Marie Rose Habyarimana (MRH): The three areas or factors I can think of are: 1) social peace and stability; 2) fair distribution of economic opportunities; and 3) a style of government focusing on modernisation. These three dimensions were the main priorities of Habyarimana’s political action: Peace, Unity and Development.
1st factor: Social peace and stability
Social peace lasted 17 years, from 1973 to 1990. It brought together the whole society – Hutu, Tutsi, Twa – and made them live in symbiosis as one people. To a large extent, it has even more benefited the Tutsi community than any other Rwandan group. To better appreciate the scope of this statement, we must remember the social context that prevailed at the coming to power of President Habyarimana.
The end of 1972 and the first half of 1973 were a period of significant social and political unrest in Rwanda, mainly as a result of the tragic events that were taking place in [neighbouring] Burundi. The Tutsi minority in power for hundreds of years in this country, persisted in eliminating Hutu having any formal education in order to avoid the repeat of the Rwandan social revolution where after about 400 years of domination by the Tutsi minority (15%), the Hutu majority (85%) had taken political power. Thus, the genocide of Hutus from Burundi in 1972/1973 caused, as a direct result, huge impact on the Rwandan society. Faced with the frustration of Rwandan elites, who had not managed to gain the support of the United Nations to condemn the Burundian military regime responsible for the genocide (estimated between 250,000 and 400,000 Hutu were massacred), these elites constitute then a core that will direct action against the Rwandan Tutsi minority, considered integrally as accomplice of the Burundian Government. It is worth mentioning that Tutsi were overrepresented in certain sectors, particularly those of education and economy [let’s add equally their under-representation in the army and security services following the threats of Inyenzi between 1960 and 1968]. In doing so, that group posed virtually the same substantial threat to the Tutsi minority as the Hutu majority faced in Burundi. Concerted movements are thus set in motion and begin to empty Tutsis from high schools, university, production companies and civil service. The whole country was shaken by violence; economic, educational and academic activity is de facto paralysed. Political instability ensued and is translated in the emergence of parallel power circuits in the territorial administration and destabilization of institutions. This rotten climate is perfectly ripe for change. And as to illustrate the social fragility of the moment, the inevitable change could be made in one way or another.
The coup of July 1973 as called ‘moral’ by its authors is undertaken by a group of military officers who want to restore calm and peace, and brings to power President Habyarimana who will quickly put an end to this situation of socio-political miasma. The vast majority of people welcomes this return to order. The Tutsi community that had been victim of months of abuse of all kinds, is at the forefront to applaud the new government, particularly its new President. It is not for nothing that during the two decades that followed, President Habyarimana will be seen as the bulwark of the Tutsi minority.
President Habyarimana will make social peace, the core of his reign, not missing any opportunity to urge, at the end of every speech, the people to preserve peace and national unity. We remember his famous words: “God saw fit to equip other countries with natural resources. But for Rwanda, peace is our greatest wealth.”
The newly found and preciously promoted social peace was fortunately accompanied by significantly good relations with neighbors and a significant economic development. Under President Habyarimana, Rwanda has consistently sought to build peace with its neighbours by paying special attention to the establishment and strengthening of regional integration organizations such as the CEPGL (Communaute Economique des Pays des Grands Lacs). This concern was particularly evident during the Arusha peace negotiations with the aggressor RPF from Uganda.
2nd factor: The equitable distribution of economic power.
Under the rule of President Habyarimana, the country’s economic development experienced a significant growth. The country began to develop modern infrastructures: paving the main roads; building hydroelectric power plants; developing a network of world-class hotels; construction of health facilities, schools, public buildings, establishing centres focusing on health, literacy, and family planning. All these public investments contributed to jobs creation and stimulation of domestic consumption. But it is especially the promotion of the rural sector which has been the hallmark of the economic development roadmap of the Habyarimana period. Through a proactive policy of establishing agricultural projects, his government helped inject significant monetary resources in rural areas, which in the country resulted in the increase of the general standard of living and more particularly in providing a decent housing to the population. In the late 80s, each of the ten administrative districts which constituted the backbone of the country had at least one agricultural project of great importance around which other projects and activities were organized.
There are actually three factors that contributed greatly to the economic development that should profit many: a) macroeconomic stability and its maintenance demanded the establishment of a national structural reorganization; b) development of a national independent financial capacity whose centerpiece was the system of Banques Populaires at the forefront in Africa and which quickly became the third financial strength of the country; and c) a distribution system (represented both by the invigorated network TRAFIPRO Cooperative and commercial sector increasingly dynamic) which ensured that the increased purchasing power in rural areas could be used to buy items for production and everyday consumer products.
Even the World Bank used to report that Rwanda was among the three countries best managed in the Third World. Additionally, job creation, in urban and rural areas, and the stimulation of domestic consumption that accompanies it, had resulted in the emergence of a private sector increasingly active in the fields of handicrafts, SMEs and trade, and in the service industry.
Many observers agree unanimously that this distribution of economic power has benefited more to the Tutsi minority.
Indeed, it was estimated that 60 to 70 percent of national production (retail and wholesale trade, import-export, service industry, construction and civil engineering, …) was in the hands of the Tutsi minority; in other words, at least three-fifths (⅗) of the national wealth were the property of the Tutsi minority (10-15 percent of the total population). Considered among other parameters, the distribution of political power in the region, this disproportionate share of economic power was rather seen as a factor that could provide some security in Rwanda.
More importantly, what needs to be remembered under the period of Habyarimana, is the impact of the general rise in living standards, especially in rural areas (because coffee production [as the main product of export] was the result of small family farms – and international demand of coffee was favorable to producers) and the [relative] equitable distribution of economic power, the cohesion of the social fabric. We must also remember that this desire not to leave behind the rural sector, helped to mitigate the income gap between the richest and poorest (the Rwanda with an excellent GINI coefficient) and thus to have a more just and harmonious society.
3rd factor: A style of government at the center favoring political modernization
Upon taking power, Habyarimana adopts a moderate speech and style of consensual government. His first tour of pacification of the country in July 1973, is part of this logic.
Governing in the center, it is also for him to listen to different groups supposed to represent the interests of large segments of the population. President Habyarimana always sought continuous contact with the public through tours organized across the country on an annual basis. One remembers the projects’ week each summer which was a staple of the president’s political agenda. These tours were an opportunity to take the pulse of the country directly. But they were not the only opportunity. Rwanda was indeed famous for its strong administrative supervision with periodic reports from officials of the territorial administration. It was common knowledge that these reports were channelled with direct access to the president office and received attentive consideration from him, as confirmed by the testimony of his former chief of staff, Enoch Ruhigira.
A major concern of President Habyarimana was consistency in all things. Concerted efforts and consistency had become the trademark of the framework of government policy. The reorganization of government, allowing the modernization of the administration were priority objectives.
To mobilize the country around national tasks, to associate it to the debates and channel citizens’ energies towards effective participation, President Habyarimana began a pedagogical and mobilization effort that was significant.
Thus, from 1987 to 1988, the President embarked on a direct dialogue with stakeholders from key sectors of the socio-economic activities of the country: Public Service; businesses; the banking sector; representatives of the agricultural sector, intellectuals, encompassing all spheres of the Rwandan society that we can call active forces of the country – and always with the same message: renewal and modernization, control of the economy, preparedness to the challenges of the country’s future: unity and peace, national reconciliation.
The social fabric of Rwanda is in a permanent state of fragility because of the historical background of the country. From this angle, it was important for the Head of State as primary responsible of the protection and security of citizens, to be attentive to the social groups, especially the most vulnerable groups. In this regard, it is important to remind that President Habyarimana was able to give special attention to the minority Tutsi (listening to its economic elite, intellectual and religious) which, following the events of 1959 had always considered itself as politically marginalized. (Examples abound: the state funeral accorded to the former Bishop of Nyundo Bishop Aloys Bigirumwami, the support for the current President of the ADB (African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, who in the 80s had asked Rwanda leaders, for him to become director of the International Coffee Organization, application he had asked as a citizen of Tanzania where he lived as a refugee, and other examples …).
The result of these consultations was presented in the government program for the 1989-1993 period, including, among other things the political aggiornamento.
From the same interview: