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What's ARC?

Rwanda, often referred to as ethe land of the thousand hillsf or ethe Switzerland of Africaf has since 1994 become known as ethe land of the genocidef.

As several of the contributors to this volume have pointed out, the 1994 genocide should not be seen as the mere outcome of a straightforward ethnic conflict. Several more basic causes might be discerned such as, for example, the international pressure for  democratization, economic exhaustion (due to, especially, the collapse of coffee prices on the international market)  and the gradual disintegration that took place within former government circles. In addition to these causes, many other factors may be mentioned: the mobilization of militia (such as the infamous interahamwe), the effect of the hate radio broadcasts, the traffic in small arms and landmines etc.

The eventual net result of all this has been the breakdown of many functions which are normally taken care of by the state. This has created a host of problems relating to refugees, internally displaced people, human rights violations, land and house ownership, the corruption of the legal system, demobilization and reintegration, the surplus of women in the population and the smouldering feelings of revenge.

In the post cold war era, a number of international conflicts have occurred and it is the task of international organizations, governments or NGOs to look into the causes of these conflicts and gauge their overall impact on society. Also, consideration must be given to developing strategies which may be instrumental in preventing such conflicts from reoccurring.

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Japanese NGOs

In 1994, immediately after the nightmare, the exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees to neighboring Zaire and Tanzania necessitated the issuing of international emergency relief. UNHCR, ICRC, MSF and several Japanese NGOs were actively engaged in this. However, there were other Japanese NGOs which felt that the real solution to the problem crucially concerned the reconstruction within Rwanda. Reports on the situation in the refugee camps were being broadcast daily whereas the outside world knew hardly anything about the situation inside Rwanda  - the country to which the refugees should eventually return. Therefore, the Africa Japan Forum (AJF) decided to send Ms. Yukika Matsumoto and Mr. Kazuhito Suga  on a fact finding mission to Rwanda in August 1994, immediately after the war, where they met with many local NGOs. Prior to the genocide, these local NGOs had been working in the domains of rural development, health, human rights, education and the environment. Afterwards, a network (called Forum of Rwandan NGOs, NGO-FORWA) was established to cooperate for Peace Building and National Reconciliation in post-genocide Rwanda. Before, each NGO had been specifically linked to one particular field and no such cooperation had ever taken place. eNational reconciliationf became the key word for the recovery in Rwanda.

Matsumoto and Suga returned to Japan and together with a number of volunteers from various NGOs founded the Africa Reconciliation Committee (ARC) in October 1994 so as to work towards national reconciliation through the initiative of Rwandan citizens. Its chairman is Professor Nobuhiko Suto (Tokai University).

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ARCfs activities

When the refugees were still in the camps we started to investigate the background to and the causes of the genocide and the war. The general idea at the time was still that Hutu and Tutsi had been at loggerheads esince time immemorialf and that this antagonism had finally resulted in the genocide. Through a series of symposiums we have tried the correct this mistaken view.

In Rwanda itself, the staff of local NGOs operated inside the country but also in the refugee camps. To overcome this separation and because of the highly sensitive situation at the time, ARC acted as intermediary in organizing an international meeting of NGOs in Nairobi. As a result, the presence of international NGOs as a fully accepted ethird partyf became truly effective.

Since 1995, ARC has supported FORWA by various means, providing vehicles, computers, xerox and fax machines etc. to restart activities that had been seriously impeded as a result of the 1994 events. Also, ARC together with Haguruka (a local NGO, meaning estand upf) implemented a house construction programme. After the liberation by the RPF, the eold caseloadf refugees who had left during the 1960s returned to Rwanda one by one and began to occupy the houses of the new refugees who had fled to the neighbouring countries. UNHCR, UNDP and many international and local NGOs have also emphasized the need for housing projects but they opted for temporary shelters whereas ours were intended to be for long-term residence. We employed widows and orphans to build them, hence it was also a kind of job training programme.

At the end of 1996, the Banyamulenge rebellion in eastern Zaire pushed the refugees from Goma and Bukavu back into Rwanda and the einternational refugee problemf was suddenly solved. Their resettlement and reintegration would be the next step. We targeted women and the rural areas.

Agriculture assumes an important position in Rwanda. Yet, lands were devastated after the genocide and agriculture was retarded. Furthermore, many rural people had fled to the urban centres where there was no guarantee at all of finding a job. ARDI (Rwandese Association for Rural Development) is a local NGO which groups farmers into a network and stimulates them to be bee-keepers on the side so as to generate additional income in the rural area and to make sure they stay put. Since 1998, ARC and ARDI have been trying to expand this bee-keeping activity, especially in the Butare region, by providing modern equipment. In 1999, the Ministry of Agriculture put ARDI in charge of the bee-keeping and concomitant honey production throughout  the  entire country.

Many men were killed during the genocide. In addition, many others have been detained or arrested as suspects. Hence, the majority of Rwandafs active population is currently made up of women, which implies that these are to play an important role in the societyfs recovery. Within this context, many local NGOs are implementing job-training programmes for widows. The local NGO, Benishyaka (meaning epatriotf) has set up a school for tailors and provides widows and orphans with a six-month training course in the use of sewing machines. Since not everybody has constant access to a machine, ARC  -in cooperation with Benishyaka-  has equipped the school with large-size sewing machines for industrial use. In that way a better training can be given so that proper dresses can be made to be sold and to generate income.

ARTCF (Rwandese Association of Christian Women Workers) is also organizing a handicraft job-training factory. Women are making greeting cards by cutting the bark of banana trees and pasting the eventual result on paper. ARC is supporting their training and helping to generate income by importing these cards and selling them in Japan where they are carried by world famous department stores.

When assisting people in Rwanda we should try and allow for their latent capabilities to become linked up with the improvement of their lives, mindful perhaps of what Rwandan people have told me on several occasions: eit is useless to talk about reconciliation if we still lack food, houses, clothes, jobs and a proper educationf.

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Towards reconciliation

During the almost six years that have passed since the genocide, many foreign governments, international organizations (like the UN) and local as well as international NGOs have been helping towards Rwandafs recovery. They have been instrumental in re-establishing the social basis of society, in repairing the infrastructure and in putting the national economy on the path of recovery again. Yet, the root causes of the conflict and the immense problem of actually reconciling the people, have hardly been addressed. Within this context, we have recently witnessed several instances of revenge being openly displayed by genocide survivors. Since 1998, the Rwandan Government has been releasing suspects against whom no evidence could be procured. Still, upon their release several of them are known to have been killed. This clearly indicates that the cycle of violence has not yet been broken and we, human beings, have no foolproof method at our disposal to put an end to it and to turn a post-conflict society into an ordinary one.

Nowadays, the Rwandan Government together with the NGOs are organizing workshops throughout the country to openly discuss the issue of reconciliation – not only through mere discussions but also through songs, dances, poems and plays. An attempt is made to promote an atmosphere of peace and, hence, reconciliation. The mass media, which are known to have stimulated violence, are now being utilized to send out peaceful messages.  A solid social infrastructure is gradually becoming visible again.

Although these kinds of activities are needed, they are not fully supported by international aid organizations. One reason for this is that within the context of development aid the notion of reconciliation does not figure at all. Another reason is that overall interest on the part of the donors is clearly waning. Of course, in future it will be imperative for Rwandan civil society to be strong enough to prevent conflict. Therefore, management training for local NGOs will be of utmost importance. Given the collapse of the eaid bubblef it will be necessary to carefully plan and present extremely good, useful and significant projects so as to regain the confidence of donors.

Recently, the Rwandan Government has begun to integrate the informal community judicial system  -known as Gacaca- with the existing formal judicial system. The present system requires a long time for all genocide suspects to be brought to trial. By having recourse to Gacaca, judgment will be passed more rapidly. More significantly, however, is to realize that the traditional function of Gacaca was to create harmony in the community. Hopefully. through the institution of Gacaca people can be made to live together again. The role of the law is to be found along the right-duty axis or the crime-punishment dimension. Gacaca might provide an extra twist by emphasizing that the role of the law is also to promote reconciliation within society. Furthermore, Gacaca is an important element because it creates a link with the past - not with the recent past but with the traditional society that was all but lost due to the effects of colonization and modernization.

As mentioned earlier, the activities of ARC are various and have constantly been adapted to the specific recovery phases of Rwandan society. We at ARC believe society is very much like the human body: conflicts are illnesses. The eastern way of looking at health issues is to approach the human being from within in an attempt to restore the bodyfs original powers. Orthodox international assistance, however, is like western surgery – which treats the illness from outside the body. We believe that our eastern way of thought, fully embedded in oriental philosophy, may be instrumental in facilitating reconciliation within Rwandafs post-conflict society.

(2000)