What leaders should learn from the reconciliation of Rwanda

We are watching with sadness what is happening around the world; the world that we will leave behind to our kids, grand children and many more generations to come.

The Covid pandemic, the George Floyd movement against racisms, the Honk Kong fight for freedom, the colossal economic crises and a long etcetera, have set most nations in turmoil with unclear future.

To make things worse, Leadership in our political systems has deteriorated to levels never seen in our recent history; leaving little hope for a collective comeback as we lived in previous global crisis.

I would like to solicit leaders around the world to look at one of the most impactful human projects ever:

The Reconciliation of Rwanda after the genocide in 1994.
In 1994, Rwanda suffered one of the most atrocious genocides that recent history remembers. Up to 1 million people perished in three months and as many as 250,000 women were raped, leaving the country’s population traumatized, its infrastructure decimated, and its judicial and political system completely annihilated.


Asking for the end of the genocide in Rwanda

Asking for the end of the genocide in Rwanda.


In the late 1990s, President Paul Kagame and his government started to look at their country in a different way. They began actively planning methods and established a Vision 2020 programme, [1] composed of 44 goals.

Since then, Rwanda has embarked on an ambitious development and reconciliation process with the ultimate aim of all Rwandans once again living side by side in peace. The Constitution now states that all Rwandans share equal rights. Laws have been passed to fight discrimination and a divisive, genocidal ideology.

Primary responsibility for reconciliation efforts rested in a new body, the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission,[2] established in 1999. The main activities performed by this body were around awareness and education. Several studies were carried out investigating the sources of the division and conflicts, and how to mitigate them in the future. National summits were organized around human rights, national history, good governance. Training on conflict management and trauma counselling was provided to women, adolescents and political leaders. Peace education programs (Ingando), explaining the origins of the division and Rwandan’s history were provided. A leadership academy (Itorero) was established to develop leaders and promote Rwanda’s values. From 2007 to 2009, 115,228 participants took part in the Itorero programme[3].

So far, the results of this transformation programme have been extraordinary, particularly in light of the terrible devastation the country found itself in 1994.

The National Unity and Reconciliation Commission has twice released a “reconciliation barometer”, which looks at dozens of factors to determine how well people are living together. In 2015, the last year for which the figures are available, the country deemed reconciliation in Rwanda to be at 92.5%.[4]

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Vision 2020 programme was its aim to eradicate the high levels of corruption present in the country, one the major burdens to prosperity and one of the main factors that led to the genocide. To win the fight against corruption, the programme’s leaders learned from Singapore the importance that cleanliness can have in influencing citizens and the overall culture of a country. The logic behind this is the idea that, if a city is clean, its government and politics will be clean too. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is one of the cleanest cities in the world. Corruption levels have dropped by half, with the result that Rwanda has become one of the least corrupt countries in Africa (falling from 83rd to 49th place according to Transparency International[5]).


Kigali, one of the cleanest capitals in Africa

Figure 17: Kigali, one of the cleanest capitals in Africa.

Rwanda’s Vision 2020 programme has achieved a number of other improvements too. For example, literacy grew from 48% in 1995 to just over 71% in 2016[1]. And in 2016 women held 56% of seats in parliament – one of the largest percentages in the world.


There are few ways of working and collaborating more motivating and inspiring than being part of a project with an ambitious goal, a higher purpose, and a clear fixed deadline.


What are some of the lessons learned from this incredible program?

Using the Project Canvas, we can see how the leadership team ensured that the essential elements of a successful project were in place.


[1] “An Evaluation of Rwanda Vision 2020’s Achievements” (East Africa Research Papers in Economics and Finance), Pereez Nimusima, Nathan Karuhanga, Dative Mukarutesi, EARP-EF No. 2018:17
[1] Rwanda Vision 2020 (Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, 2000), accessed 2 October 2018, https://repositories.lib.utexas.edu/bitstream/handle/2152/5071/4164.pdf?sequence=1.
[2] See http://www.nurc.gov.rw/index.php?id=69.
[3] “Background Information on the Justice and Reconciliation Process in Rwanda”, United Nations, accessed on 26 October 2018, http://www.un.org/en/preventgenocide/rwanda/about/bgjustice.shtml
[4] Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer (Republic of Rwanda, 2015), accessed 6 October 2018, http://www.nurc.gov.rw/index.php?id=70&no_cache=1&tx_drblob_pi1%5BdownloadUid%5D=55.
[5] “Corruption Perceptions Index” (Transparency International), accessed 2 October 2018, https://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/cpi_early/0.