Africa We Want

COOPERATION SOUTH-NORTH: North Ireland to Learn From Rwanda

A DELEGATION from Troubles victims’ charity South East Fermanagh Foundation is back from a fact-finding trip to Rwanda, the scene of horrific ethnic bloodshed in the 1990s. ’IMMENSE GRACE’ Terror victims say we have much to learn about accountability from Rwanda’s peace builders. By Kenny Donaldson

Kenny Donaldson, centre, met with people impacted by the bloodshed in the 1990sCredit: SEFF

SEFF’s Director of Services KENNY DONALDSON says recent events in Northern Ireland reveal we could learn a lot from peacemakers 4,000 miles away.

NEXT year will mark 25 years since the 1998 Belfast Agreement was signed. Yet, despite it being held up as a shining example of how to make peace, it feels as if we have a long way to go.

Recent opinion polls, elections and divisive events are all testimony to that. As are the comments by Sinn Fein first minister designate Michelle O’Neill who, to the despair of many across the community, said last month had been « no alternative » to the IRA’s bloodshed.

There is a fracture in Northern Ireland between victim and victim-maker and it runs right through the heart of society. In August members of SEFF had the privilege to spend 12 days in Rwanda on an information-sharing visit.

It is a landlocked, central African nation of some 13 million people. Many will remember that back in 1994 Rwanda was the stage for the horrendous genocide of the Tutsi people by the Hutu-led government.


More than one million were killed in an ethnic conflict that lasted 100 days. It was an unthinkable slaughter. Yet something astonishing has been happening.

« Path of humanity »

A significant number of the perpetrators have embraced a new way forward, a path of humanity where they have accounted for their wrongs.

They actively, formally recognise that the bloodletting at their hands was as unjustifiable then as it is now.

That generosity of spirit has been embraced by large swathes of Tutsi people, even though they have suffered so much.

It has led many to meet their once deadly enemy halfway to engage in a healing process that is creating a remarkable renewal.

Peace gesture

Justice and accountability are the bedrocks to this resurgence that is unlocking the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.

As part of our visit, and with the assistance of church donations, we gave a number of cattle to rural villagers who had lost loved ones at the hands of the killers.


Even French were forgiven, but Rwanda remember

« Path of humanity »

A significant number of the perpetrators have embraced a new way forward, a path of humanity where they have accounted for their wrongs.

They actively, formally recognise that the bloodletting at their hands was as unjustifiable then as it is now.

That generosity of spirit has been embraced by large swathes of Tutsi people, even though they have suffered so much.

It has led many to meet their once deadly enemy halfway to engage in a healing process that is creating a remarkable renewal.


Children come around

Peace gesture

Justice and accountability are the bedrocks to this resurgence that is unlocking the potential for forgiveness and reconciliation.


As part of our visit, and with the assistance of church donations, we gave a number of cattle to rural villagers who had lost loved ones at the hands of the killers.

The idea is that when a first calf is born to the cow, it is generously gifted to the perpetrator who has come forward and shown remorse.

This practical and meaningful « Cow For Peace » gesture serves to highlight and even cement the progress towards reconciliation.

There is nothing of symbolic comparison in Northern Ireland and, as the way things stand, there is unlikely to be.

Issue is haunting us’

We need to be clear about the root of our reconciliation problem. The 1998 Agreement catapulted us into a situation where some involved in the conflict became an essential part of our government.

There was no necessity for anyone to address their past, no matter how cruel and bloody it may have been.

There was not even a suggestion that they might search their conscience and possibly show even the slightest drop of remorse.

A quarter of a century later and this issue is haunting us.

Terror « apologists »

It has effectively allowed emboldened apologists to forever endorse what it was that so many worked so hard to stop.

Recent events have made it clear that it is essential that we turn our attention to a top-down and bottom-up response to halt this increasingly toxic drift.

There is much to be said for securing an acknowledgement from all parties involved of the wrongs that have been committed.

The people of Rwanda have lived through a very unique horror which is beyond the scale of our experience.

« Yearning for peace »

Yet the feelings and passions of ordinary people remain the same. There has been a yearning for not just peace, but also for peace of mind.

What we are discovering is that glorification of the past helps no one heal. And without healing, we are not building for a future that is in the interests of us all.

« Immense grace »

The Rwandan people might not have much materially, but we came away feeling that we had much to learn from them - there is much wisdom within their people.

They have demonstrated immense grace on all sides in the aftermath of a terrible conflict.

SEFF would like to thank all those who assisted with donations to the Rwandan people.

And we thank too our hosts Thrive Ireland and CARSA Ministries (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance) for facilitating the programme.

Author: MANZI
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