What Rwanda can teach Northern Ireland about reconciliation


Sometimes we are so obsessed in Northern Ireland with flags, emblems, territorial disputes and street confrontations, that we do not realise, or care about, what is happening in the big world outside.

Therefore it is important to note that the new Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Rob Craig, will be preaching tomorrow morning at Gikondo Presbyterian Church in Kigali, as part of his official visit to Rwanda and Burundi in Central Africa.

This is part of his fact-finding mission on behalf of the Presbyterian World Development Appeal which raises well over £200,000 each year from the church’s members throughout Ireland. He will be travelling with representatives from Christian Aid and Tear Fund who receive the money for work in the developing world, in association with their church partners overseas.

Part of the money raised for the Presbyterians’ World Development Appeal next year will be sent to Rwanda to help the excellent peace-building centre Moucecoure, so the Moderator’s visit is timely and relevant.

I am sure that he will also have to deal with some of the pertinent questions which I was asked when I visited Rwanda earlier this year, such as, why do our brothers and sisters in Christ fight with each other in Northern Ireland?

Part of my mission was to find a church which could link up with Whitehouse Presbyterian Church in the Tearfund’s ‘Connected Church’ programme.

Happily, I was able to make contact with the Gikonda Church and, as a result, it is due to twin officially in October with Whitehouse, which has the honour of being the first ‘Connected Church’ in Rwanda.

Tomorrow, the Whitehouse Minister, the Rev Liz Hughes, will be travelling there, with the Rev Dr Lesley Carroll and Kathryn Stone, the Northern Ireland Victims Commissioner, to find out how the Rwandan churches are helping to rebuild their society after the horrendous genocide in 1994 when the majority Hutus slaughtered over one million of the minority Tutsis in only 100 blood-filled days.

During my visits to Rwanda, I discovered that it can teach us much about reconciliation.

Over there, the people from different backgrounds live side by side, unlike here where we are partly divided into “unionist” and “nationalist ” areas. The Hutus and the Tutsis are learning to live together as good neighbours, despite the past bloodshed. I met one Tutsi woman whose husband was hacked to death by Hutus, but despite this she later adopted two children who were orphaned during the violence, and one of these is a Hutu boy.

I also met Michael Kabayita, a Tutsi, who was hunted for weeks by killer Hutus with dogs and guns. He survived with the help of moderate Hutus who gave him shelter. He asked me “How can I say that all Hutus are bad?” That sounds familiar in Northern Ireland, where some people still talk derisively about “Catholics” and “Protestants”, and “the other side.”

I was also impressed by the Rwandan people who told me that they no longer described themselves as “Hutus” or “Tutsis”. They said: “Now we are all Rwandans.”

In many ways the Rwandans, despite their material poverty, are more advanced than we are.

They are now rebuilding one nation, but in Northern Ireland we still cannot agree on who or what we are, and it shows in every flag-waving and street confrontation.

I hope that the Moderator comes back from Rwanda with similar stories to mine, and that his words receive widespread publicity.

We could do with some more inspiration from outside, in the midst of our own vicious tribal conflict.

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