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Think Global, Act Local: A Glimpse Of The Land Of A 1,000 Hills: Rwanda

A discussion with ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana

Photo Courtesy of Rwandan embassy

Esteemed Readers,

It is my great honor and pleasure to introduce you the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States of America and non-resident Ambassador to Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina:  Professor Mathilde Mukantabana.

Prior to her appointment in Washington D.C., Ambassador Mathilde Mukantabana was a tenured Professor of History at Cosumnes River College (CRC) in Sacramento, California from 1994 to 2013. She is also co-founder and President of Friends of Rwanda Association (F.O.R.A), a non-profit American relief association created in the wake of the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi in Rwanda.

She graced us with her precious time to answer some questions on the monumental Rwandan journey. In times when a challenge seems impossible to surmount as a nation: I want the world to learn from Rwanda.

#VisitRwanda

Walk to Remember in Kigali (Rwanda) April 2019

Q: Can you tell us a little about your life journey?

A: I was a tenured faculty at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, California, and President of Friends of Rwanda Association (FORA). Our Association was instrumental in creating a community of Rwandans and American friends whose main mission was to promote friendships for Rwanda.

Even though I lived in the U.S., Rwanda was central to all my main engagements outside of my teaching responsibilities.

Even though representing my country as its Ambassador is more noteworthy, I had been going back to Rwanda for almost a decade to lecture at the National University prior to my appointment.

So I wouldn’t say my transition was from California to Washington because my journey was not linear. It was more of a triangle. My involvement with my country predates my appointment as Ambassador.  More importantly, even at a time I was forced to live in exile away from my country, Rwanda never left me! I always carried it with me.

Q: What is the background on the Rwanda-USA historical relationships?

A: Diplomatic relations between Rwanda and the U.S. were established in 1962 following Rwanda’s independence from Belgium. The United States has been a steady ally of Rwanda for decades; provided much-needed emergency relief programs in post-1994 genocide against the Tutsi, partnered in health, expansion of economic opportunities, providing food security programs, education and in many other sectors through various initiatives. Both countries maintain diplomatic missions both, in Kigali and in Washington, D.C., and are part of several international initiatives such as the UN and the World Bank. Both countries explore political relations, trade and investment channels and opportunities, as well as other relevant portfolios such as ICT, health and education.

Q: Kwibuka25: how is the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi commemorated in Rwanda and in the Rwandan diaspora across the globe?

A: Kwibuka – To Remember, is an annual commemoration held in Rwanda and across the world to honor more than 1,000,000 men, women and children killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The genocide began on April 7, 1994, and was ended on July 4 by the Rwandan Patriotic Front Army, Inkotanyi. The Genocide was the culmination of years of oppression, discrimination and massacres of Tutsi spanning four decades. Today, the people of Rwanda under the leadership of President Paul Kagame have taken measures to ensure that what happened in 1994 will never happen again.

They have embarked on a journey of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and on the forging of national identity. This year’s commemoration was held under the theme: Remember-Unite-Renew. In the U.S. alone, 21 events were held in several Rwandan communities across the country, two major conferences were held, one at Michigan State University, and the other at the U.S. Senate in collaboration with the U.S. caucus on Human Rights, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Q: Describe the central role of Rwandan women in rebuilding the nation.

A: The country has institutionalized women’s political and economic empowerment through legislation as well as several initiatives aimed at increasing access to economic opportunity. Rwanda is also known to have the highest representation of women in parliament at 61 percent and 50 percent in the cabinet. The government of Rwanda has been widely recognized, internationally, for its commitment to fighting gender-based violence and in providing comprehensive care to girls, boys, women and men who are victims of GBV.

Economic empowerment for women in Rwanda is ensured through the establishment of incubation centers for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in both rural and urban areas and through the financial inclusion and saving scheme at the village level. Women continue to be instrumental in the development of the country by actively participating in its economy, being at the forefront of policy and decision making in areas such as health and education sectors. Women also, despite carrying difficult scars from the genocide, continue to be at the forefront of unity and reconciliation programs across the country, creating spaces of mutual understanding and growth in their communities.

Q: What can the current state of the affairs around the world learn from the Rwandan journey?

A: Even though the world is now more interconnected than ever through technology, there is a big deepening divide that is complex and multidimensional. There is a huge economic disparity, a growing disconnect in global politics and security as well as a growing gap in gender representation. As citizens of the world, it behooves us to find common ground and build resilient societies that strive to lift up all their citizens. Many of the causes that burden the world today will affect everyone in the long run, regardless of their socio-economic status, race or what country they are born in.

Issues of climate change, job security, cyber security, affect us all without regard for borders. It is high time for the world to come together, with world leaders at the forefront and the betterment of the human race at the core of their transformation agenda, to carry us through this fourth industrial revolution. Rwanda had to learn that “out of many we are one”, and this key lesson is just as valuable for world leaders of today and tomorrow, albeit on a larger scale.

Q What is the Vision2050 of Rwanda?

A Vision2050 is about ensuring high standards of living for all Rwandans in five identified main areas: Quality of life, modern infrastructure and livelihoods, transformation for prosperity, core values and international cooperation and positioning. The groundwork for Vision2050 was laid by other successful initiatives such as Vision 2020, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals, Paris Declaration on Climate Change, East African Community Vision 2050 and African Union Agenda 2063.

Vision2050 will clearly be multifaceted and holistic in the implementation of its stated goals; Rwandans will deftly navigate from the optimization of space utilization through SMART cities programs to quality healthcare and education, to affordable, sustainable and reliable energy and to accessing high value IT and tech services among others. Rwandans are now, more than ever, prepared and ready to take this next phase on their road to progress and increased prosperity.

Murakoze!

Alexandre Cyusa

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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