top of page
  • Human Rights Research Center

Rwanda: Thriving Thirty Years After Genocide

April 7, 2024

In 1994, Rwanda endured a genocide labeled “100 days of hell”, as Hutu extremists targeted Tutsi, with estimates as high as one million people murdered in a rampage of death and unimageable cruelty. As much of the world simply ignored the tragedy occurring in this small, East African nation, including the U.S. President Clinton administration who were later excoriated  for their inaction, the country has demonstrated remarkable reconciliation and growth thirty years after the bloodbath. The question must be asked as to how this happened while Rwanda’s next door neighbor, Burundi, has languished in poverty and suffering, often listed among the poorest countries in the world. Speaking with genocide survivor Providence Nkurunziza, the answer appears to be a combination of strong, consistent leadership and the intrinsic strength of the people. While Rwanda has evolved into a country of stability that is rapidly becoming a leader on the continent, its emergence from the memories of 1994 is not without controversy.


In a report titled “Africa: Crime Index by Country 2024”, from research platform Numbeo released in February of 2024, Rwanda is among the safest and most welcoming nations in Africa. Rwanda comes first among the top ten countries with a 73.2% safety index, beating the next top country Ghana (56.1%) by 17.1 points. A staple of Rwanda’s stability is the presence of resident Paul Kagame who has led the nation since the year 2000. However, Kagame is running for re-election this year, nine years after a change in the Rwandan constitution that changed presidential term limits from two-seven year terms to allow Kagame to run for two more five-year terms, which potentially will see the sixty-six year old leader in running his nation until 2034. In 2023, Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO that charts political freedom throughout the world, listed Rwanda as “not free” with the report stating that the leader and his military supporters have engaged in the following: "banning and repressing any opposition group that could mount a serious challenge to its leadership." Rwandans will head to the polls on July 15th, with candidates allowed to campaign only between June 22nd and July 12th. When asked about the legitimacy of his presidential run and the criticism directed at Kagame from the West, particularly the United States, the leader retorted, “what the West thinks is not my problem.” This apparent lack of concern about Western opinions may be one of the reasons why Rwandans have supported Kagame, as his defiance of the West and his increased focus on strengthening Rwanda’s place as a leader of the African continent has endeared him to many of his people.  According to Providence Nkurunziza, a survivor of the genocide and member of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission who speaks frequently about the harrowing experiences of watching the majority of her village murdered in 1994, Kagame has made Rwanda “aware of the rest of the world” and “greatly enhanced technology”.

The technological advancements in Rwanda cannot be questioned. From his activity on X (formally Twitter) to his personal website, the first African president to create such an online presence, Kagame has become a master of controlling his own narrative. Yet, despite this media savvy, Kagame does not escape criticism. One of the most contentious actions of Kagame’s reign was the arrest of Paul Rusesabagina, hero of the film "Hotel Rwanda" and a very vocal critic of Kagame, in 2020 while traveling overseas.  For his anti-government rhetoric, Rusesabagina was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for "terrorism", but he was released in March 2023. However, not abandoning his ongoing condemnation of Kagame, the social critic described the Rwandan people as “prisoners in their own country.” How does Kagame continue to stay in power and win overwhelming reelection when such charges are labeled against him is a question that confounds some Western observers, but those outside of Rwanda miss the successes that fuel Kagame’s popularity.

The tech industry is synonymous with America’s “Silicon Valley” but may not leap into the minds of those thinking about African development. However, Kagame must be celebrated for the undeniable advances his country has seen during his time in office.  As Nkurunziza gushed to me, “when [one] visits Rwanda, [they] will be amazed by how modern and sophisticated it is, particularly the capital Kigali”. Her enthusiasm for her home nation is not one of overly nationalistic pride; Rwanda’s growth cannot be questioned-in 2019, the country launched Rwa-Sat-1, a communications satellite that allows the government to collect information on geographical topics ranging from agriculture to disaster risks. Rwanda has even developed drone delivery services and made significant strides in education. By 2022, nearly 400,000 laptops had been provided to Rwandan schoolchildren through the government “One Laptop per Child” initiative, with the country partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to teach IT and electrical engineering to prepare Rwanda’s youth for the jobs of the 21st century.  This commitment to enhancing Rwanda’s place in the growing tech sphere in Africa brings revenue and greater economic stability.

Thirty years after its genocide, Rwanda is a nation of progression, intellectual pursuits, and technological achievement.  However, Kagame is not free from critics, particularly concerning personal liberties.  Denunciation of government actions concerning free expression of the press and political opponents remains a point of contention with the West and one must wonder if such concerns will limit investors in Rwanda.  The answer to that query appears to be a resounding “no” as nations such as Portugal, the UK, and the United Arab Emirates have increased their investment in Rwanda, despite the nation’s limitations geographically.  The country is landlocked, and the Great Lakes region has long been a location of political instability. However, even with these concerns, Rwanda has demonstrated remarkable progress and elevated its international presence.  The legacy of Paul Kagame is yet to be written, and it may be at least another decade before Rwanda will exist in a post-Kagame world, but for those both inside and outside the country, the legacy of the 1994 Genocide is one of sadness and devastating tragedy, yet the future of Rwanda continues to improve.


bottom of page