Rwanda hopes to build nation on science and technology

The Rwandan government is working to transform its blood-soaked image from the genocide of 1994 into that of an educated and productive leader in central Africa, a top official said.

“We are telling people some of the challenges we are meeting in rebuilding our country after the genocide and some of the successes we have made in particular in building a stable government,” Romain Murenzi, Rwanda’s minister of education, science, technology and research, said in an interview on Thursday with The Associated Press.

On a six-city US tour, Murenzi hopes to replace images of the 1994 genocide with those of a well-educated workforce that has renewed its respect for human life and hope for the future.

“If we invest heavily in education, in particular in critical thinking in science, the environment, peace education and human rights, we will have a chance to have not only citizens with knowledge that will make a difference, but citizens who also respect human life and value human life,” he said.

“In that way, we will have a chance to have a sustainable development.”

Murenzi said Rwanda has doubled its elementary school enrollment, and high school enrollment is five times what it was in 1994.

The government’s goal is to create a knowledge-based economy by 2020 where people are trained in the sciences, specifically information technology.

Murenzi (46) has a doctorate in mathematical physics. He taught for nine years at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, leaving his job as chairperson of the physics department to become Rwanda’s minister of education.

Rwandans who saw their families killed in 1994 remain traumatised, he said, but “in the next decade we will have seen more and more reconciliation”.

Juliette Murekeyisoni was 21 when the killing began in 1994.

Hutus, who historically had been relegated to secondary status by the nation’s colonial rulers, attacked the more privileged Tutsis and those who sided with them.

Murekeyisoni (32) was born in Burundi after her parents fled an earlier episode of genocide in Rwanda, but she returned in 1994 because she felt compelled to help.

A Tutsi, she said she knew it was dangerous, but she was driven by her desire to help.

“I think God just guided me,” she said.

Her last memories of Rwanda were corpses scattered on the ground.

“I saw dead people everywhere, dogs eating people everywhere,” she said.

In 1997, she moved to Connecticut, where she earned a bachelor’s degree, and later obtained her master’s degree in diplomacy and international relations from Seton Hall in 2004.

She arrived in Iowa on December 13, 2004, to work with Lutheran Services, helping refugees from Somalia, Sudan, Liberia and Cuba, and currently is considering job offers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Good Works International in New York.

She also serves as president of the non-profit League for Rwandan Children and Youth, which delivered $10 000 in donations to a Rwandan orphanage in August.

“When I left Rwanda, it was a mess. When I went back, I was lost—just how the country had improved,” she said.

“People were building houses, everywhere people living together, they didn’t fear nothing [sic].”

She said she was encouraged when she saw people living in peace.

“In Rwanda, we are the same people, we eat the same food, have the same culture, speak the same language,” she said.

The new Rwandan Constitution, approved in 2003, created a power-sharing mechanism.
The president and prime minister, for example, must be from different parties. Rwanda currently has eight political parties that participate in government.

Women must be equally represented in Parliament. Currently 49% of elected representatives are women, Murenzi said.

While in the United States, Murenzi is visiting universities and research centres that can help train Rwandans in science and technology.

“We believe science and technology is going to be the most determining factor for development, particularly for a country like Rwanda that doesn’t have a lot of natural resources,” he said.

He was in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska, earlier this week and was scheduled to speak at Iowa State University on Friday.

Rwanda has learned many lessons from the last decade, but the world also should learn from Rwanda, he said.

“After the Holocaust, the world said, ‘Never again,’ but it happened again…” he said.

“The world should be able to intervene as soon as possible when things like what happened in Rwanda are going wrong.” - Sapa-AP

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