Rwanda: Witnessing a Rebirth

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KIGALI, Rwanda - A brutal genocide ended in the African nation of Rwanda 14 years ago this week. Up to a million people were massacred. The killing ended when a rebel group took control of the government. Mr. Paul Kagame led that group and he was elected president in 2003.

Now's he focusing on turning Rwanda into an open and democratic society.

Click play to hear Pat Robertson's comments following CBN News Reporter George Thomas' report.

Kagame was elected president of Rwanda in 2003. Since then, he has focused on the future -- trying to transform Rwanda into an open and democratic society.

Kagame is tall, thin and brimming with confidence about the direction of his country.

"What's going on is that there's a lot of energy on the part of everyone in this country," Kagame told CBN News during a recent sit down interview in the Rwandan capital.

Rebirth

From the streets of Kigali to the remote parts of the country, Rwanda is witnessing a rebirth.

"People are eager and keen on rebuilding their lives," Kagame said.

At 51 years of age and in his fifth year as president, Kagame has an ambitious vision to transform Rwanda from an agricultural-based society into what he calls a "knowledge-based economy."

His biggest asset: the people of Rwanda.

"We want to see them have good health," he said.  "We want to see them with a good education and we want to base our development on knowledge, on information, on skills," Kagame explained.

There are about 9 million people today in the nation of Rwanda.  It is a country roughly the size of the state of Maryland.

Change

In the capital city of Kigali, there are about a million people. The locals say that the best way to take a look at the dramatic changes taking place in Rwanda is to hop on one of the two-wheeler taxis.

A ride through the center of Kigali shows the pace of change. New office buildings, luxury apartments and hotels are being constructed.

The local market is teaming with people buying and selling goods.

"Life is fantastic," says Maurice Mico, a Kigali businessman.  Mico travels throughout Africa trying to get more people to invest in his country.

"For the last 14 years, since the genocide, a lot has been done every time I go out and I come back to Kigali," Mico said.  "I've found things have changed."

One big change is that on almost every street corner, there's an Internet cafe giving people here unprecedented access to the outside world.

"We never had this kind of technology before or access to information," said resident Bukanga Eli.  "This is changing the way we look at the world and I hope the way people look at us."

The economy is growing at an outstanding rate of about 6 percent a year.  The tourism business is booming.  Corruption is down.  The fight against HIV and AIDS has become one of the government's top priorities.

The Price

Kagame says it's all about building a new Rwanda -- a Rwanda where ethnicity, Hutu or Tutsi, is a thing of the past.

"What we are trying to do today is to have a united nation," he said.  "A country that is at peace with itself and that being a foundation on which social and economic development can be built."

But some argue all this progress comes at a price.

Human rights groups accuse the president of stifling political dissent and press freedom.  Several prominent critics of the government have been imprisoned or forced into exile.

"People are scared to openly criticize the government," says Charles Kabonero, editor of UMUSESO, which is the only independent newspaper in Rwanda.  "There is this kind of rule of fear that prevents people from speaking out."

This has lead some to accuse the president of being an authoritarian leader.

CBN News asked the president if he was an authoritarian leader.  Kagame answered that he did not know what that meant.

"To want a prosperous nation, to want your people to have ownership and to work hard to develop themselves and to be constantly telling them that this is the only way forward," he explained.  " What we have been doing has been built on democratic principles."

During a 100-day period in 1994, an estimated one million Rwandans were killed.  Many of those that were murdered were mainly Tutsis at the hands of radical Hutus.

The genocide came to an end when Tutsi-led rebels under Kagame took control of Rwanda. Fourteen years later, the government is still trying to reconcile its divided people.

"It is a long process," Kagame said.  "We have to deal with the ills of a very long history and having to say that there is more work to be done is recognition that it takes time."

Many Rwandans believe it will take a long time to bring healing to their nation. But the people that CBN News spoke with say they are willing to wait for as long as it takes, in the hope that one day, in the not too distant future, peace will finally come to their nation.

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George Thomas

George Thomas

CBN News Senior Reporter

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