In 1994 one the most horrifying events of the post-war era took place in the central African country of Rwanda….a carefully planned genocide that saw the slaughter of over 800,000 men women and children. So, 25 years later, it was an honour for me to join the Governor General’s delegation to Rwanda to attend the official ceremony commemorating the victims of the genocide. We also paid our respects on behalf of Canada to the survivors and other citizens who have dedicated their lives to the reconstruction and reconciliation of their country. Rwandan President Paul Kagame spent some time with us outlining his efforts to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for his people. Economic growth has averaged 7.5% over the past ten years, making it one of Africa’s fastest growing economies. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to engage in a discussion with President Kagame regarding the new railway being planned for his country with Canadian expertise.
The genocide that we were commemorating involved two tribal groups, the Hutu and the Tutsi, who had lived as one for centuries up until the time of European colonization. In 1916 the Belgian colonial government brought eugenics to Africa, and noted differences between Hutu and Tutsi. Scientists actually measured skulls, and since Tutsi’s skulls were bigger, the people were taller, and their skin was lighter, Europeans came to believe that Tutsis were superior to Hutus based on the false assumption that they showed signs of Caucasian ancestry. Racial identification cards were issued and Tutsis received favourable treatment which enabled them to become dominant in Rwandan politics. Naturally the Hutus, who represented the majority of the population, grew to resent their situation culminating in a series of violent retaliations that began in 1959. The 1994 genocide was a grotesque continuation of these hostilities which now hopefully have come to an end, a reason to mark 25 years of peace, progress and reconciliation for Rwandans.
Canadians may not be aware that Canada has had a strong presence in Rwanda since establishing relations in 1963, at which time we helped establish the Rwanda National University. Our most prominent involvement though was the heroic effort by Major-General Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) during the time of the genocide. General Dallaire’s efforts were severely compromised by a lack of support from the United Nations Security Council, but he nevertheless is celebrated in Rwanda for helping save thousands of Rwandan lives. He was unable to travel to Rwanda but we all spoke to him by Skype thanks to his colleague Dr. Shelly Whitman, Executive Director of The Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative. Our delegation also visited the African Institute for Mathematical Science, the brain child of new Canadian Neil Turok who is the director of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. Students from across Africa study toward Master’s Degrees in math and science related subjects. In 2010 Canada provided $20 million dollars to help establish AIMS centres throughout Africa. It was somewhat daunting for me to speak to a roomful of young African geniuses during our visit, notwithstanding the fact that all of them couldn’t have been more gracious and friendly.
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