Aim for lasting peace in Africa

Twenty years have passed since the start of the genocide in Rwanda, which took the lives of some 800,000 people. Sadly,even today in some African countries conflict and suppression of human rights, often fueled by religious or ethnic differences, are all too commonplace. The governments of these countries should strive to achieve national reconciliation and unification. Japan and other members of the international community, as well as the United Nations, should extend their support to help them achieve lasting peace and stability.

On April 6, 1994, a plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade. Rwanda’s dominant Hutu ethnic group responded with fury, launching a massive slaughter of ethnic minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Armed with such weapons as spears, hatchets and hoes and led by people in leading positions such as Catholic priests, teachers and public servants, Hutus attacked Tutsis even when they sought sanctuary in schools and churches. Over a six week period, some 800,000 people — about 10 percent of Rwanda’s population — lost their lives.

When the genocide started, about 2,500 members of U.N. peacekeeping forces were monitoring the ceasefire in the Rwandan civil war, which had started in 1990. But the U.N. withdrew most of its troops, fearing that they would fall victim to the violence.

In 1998, then U.S. President Bill Clinton acknowledged during a visit to Rwanda that it was a mistake on his part to oppose reinforcing the peacekeeping troops at the time of the genocide. In 2000, then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reviewed the world body’s policy on peacekeeping operations and started dispatching forces based on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows the Security Council to use force to maintain or restore peace and security.

Currently more than 70,000 peacekeeping troops are stationed in African countries, including some 20,000 each in eastern Congo and Darfur in western Sudan. In Liberia, Sierra Leone and Central Africa, efforts by the U.N. peacekeepers and troops from their former suzerain states have contributed to preventing large-scale killings.

Today, many African countries enjoy rapid economic growth mainly thanks to development and sale of natural resources such as oil and natural gas. But corruption is still rampant in some nations and those in power are accused of providing benefits to cronies and mobilizing masses and militiamen to suppress opposition groups.

In Rwanda, President Paul Kagame, the first Tutsi to serve as president, succeeded in building a “clean” country by fighting corruption and improving public order and safety. A World Bank report in October 2013 placed Rwanda in 32nd place in terms of the ease of doing business — not much worse than Japan’s 27th place. Per-capita gross national income increased from $220 in 2004 to $600 in 2012.

Political tension, however, remains high despite the slogan of national reconciliation. A female Hutu opposition leader was sentenced in December to 15 years in prison on charges of disturbing the public peace. In January, a former government information chief who became an opposition member after criticizing Kagame was found strangled to death at a hotel in South Africa.

It is imperative that governments concerned take policies aimed at enhancing the well-being of all groups in their countries, guarantee the freedom of speech and promote education that teaches people the importance of tolerating different cultures, traditions, opinions and views — elements constituting the foundation for national reconciliation and unification.