I could not be more impressed with a Head of State, yet alone a pioneering African Head of State. I first met His Excellency Paul Kegame, President of Rwanda, at a private dinner at the home of my friend and mentor Quincy Jones last year, attended by me and my sweetie, Mrs. Sheila Kennedy Bryant. At that time I did not know much about the man or the country, yet I was immensely impressed with his sense of integrity, character and vision for his country. President Kegame immediately invited us to visit his country and "see the changes for ourselves." Well, as life would have it circumstances came together so that I was indeed able to visit Rwanda, site of the world’s worst genocides in history (April through June, 1994), as part of a very small delegation with HOPE spokesman and my hero Ambassador Andrew Young. Well, as you will see over the course of this week as I post a series of intimate Blog stories on my life-changing visit, I was overwhelmed with the promise, and progress of the new Rwanda. But it all starts with the story of one man, this one, President Kegame.
President Kegame and his family, along with countless other Rwandans of Tutsi descent were cast out of Rwanda in 1959 by radical Hutu leaders (and this is a long and complicated history and story of Rwanda’s history involving German, Belgium and French influence that over time pit Tutsi and Hutu against each over, starting as early as the late 1800’s) where they lived in neighboring Uganda. But it would take the genocide of 1994, where 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were literally slaughtered over the course of approximately 80 days of killing in Rwanda (imagine 10,000 people killed per day in this small country of then 10 million), that would bring Kegame back to his country’s defense, ultimately driving out the offending Hutu leaders, many of which have since been brought to justice. Most perpetrators of this heinous crime against humanity are still on the run. Less than 100,000 are currently in prison in Rwanda but in order to kill 1 million, just imagine, probably involved a million or more.
Perspective: Just to place this tragedy into perspective, the genocide in Rwanda slaughtered approximately 12% of the Rwandan population, or the same percentage of all African-Americans in America. Just imagine all black Americans being slaughtered and effectively eliminated nationwide. This was the impact of the genocide in Rwanda, effectively reducing their country’s population to approximately 8.5 million today.
Well, today President Kegame has an impressive story to tell to and for the world, and just may stand as a future role model nation for the entire African continent. Rwanda, under President Kegame’s leadership has:
- Created probably the most progressive Constitution of any nation the world over.
- 49% of all leaders in government are women, as mandated by the Constitution (52% of Rwanda’s population are women).
- The Constitution calls for absolute protection of individual property rights.
- The Constitution mandates free education for all children to 10th grade. Again, a model for other nations around the world.
These are but some of the landmark and vitally important leadership steps taken by this man to bring his country together and to lead them forward.
Finally, most impressively the genocide was built on a desire by some to divide the country into Tutsi and Hutu, and over time to de-humanize the Tutsi in the mind of the Hutu population, very much like Hitler did to the Jews in the minds of the average German. Well, not only is the country healing and moving on, at no time during our entire visit did Ambassador Young or I ever hear the term Hutu or Tutsi used; everyone called themselves simply "Rwandans." Beautiful. And we met some brilliant and committed leaders from both the Tutsi and the Hutu community that all seem to be committed to absolutely the same thing — the future of a united Rwanda. You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first. Rwanda has had its storm. It is now time for its rainbow…. Inasmuch as President Kegame is a fan of our financial literacy work at Operation HOPE, we will see what little we can do to introduce an understanding of money and the free enterprise system to the young people of Rwanda. More on this later.
For now, check out the upcoming stories of absolute inspiration, called Rwanda reborn!
Onward Rwanda. With HOPE
John Hope Bryant