An economy and a society left in tatters by the genocide
In Rwanda during the 1994 genocide against Tutsis (also known as the Rwandan genocide) not only did the genocidaires massively kill their Tutsis neighbors (calling them cockroaches) but they also looted and destroyed their property, including their houses, fields, and cattle.
After the genocide: the struggle for justice and rebuilding a nation from scratch
The genocide was committed in the name of justice and by Rwandans themselves. After July 1994, the judicial system was quasi-inexistent; hence, delivering justice was a matter of emergency. In fact, it was one of the biggest immediate challenges Rwandans had to face. Equally disrupted and destroyed were the social and economic structures. They had to be rebuilt anew.
Women as pillars of the reconstruction
Unlike men, Rwandan women before the genocide did not enjoy inheritance rights and most did not achieve a post high school education. Traditionally, both in the households and on the national level, men were dominant and women's participation in decision-making was quite insignificant.
The genocide reversed these dynamics. Most men were either killed during the genocide or in jail because of it. One must also keep in mind that those who committed atrocities were longtime neighbors of their victims, sometimes their relatives.
De facto, in the absence of men, women were at the front line of the social and economic reconstruction process. All of a sudden, they became the chiefs of their families. They had to provide for their children, their relatives' children (it is a common practice to adopt them) and their elderly relatives. In order to encourage adoption of the children orphaned by the genocide, the Late Minister Aloisea Inyumba spearheaded a national campaign following the motto, "Every child is my child."
Here are a couple common situations in Rwanda (and most probably unseen anywhere else in the world):
- A woman (either a survivor or not) is left alone to provide for her extended family, including her in-laws, because her husband (a convicted killer) is in jail.
- A woman has to, at the same time, deal both with her families' daily survival and trials and adjudication involving their relatives (in-laws and sons).
These are very common daily issues for women in Rwanda.
Gathering into cooperatives
To face these daunting challenges, Rwandan women gathered their strength together in various types of organizations. Very quickly, in 1995, women started working in associations and later the government of Rwanda sensitized them to work in cooperatives; they became entrepreneurs with no prior skills in business.
Inevitably, women from all walks of life had to mingle and work together: the widows who survived the genocide, and the women whose husbands were killers. To work together and run successful businesses, women had to help and support each other, whatever their tragic past. In doing so, women gradually overcame their loneliness. As the pillars of society, they naturally became community leaders, leading the delicate reconciliation (some say forgiveness) process.
Indego Africa in Rwanda: A social enterprise model
Indego Africa in Rwanda, we have witnessed all of this process coming together.
We are proud and humbled to say that, in every aspect, our cooperative partners are part of the incredibly successful socio-economic transformation in post-genocide Rwanda.
When Indego Africa started in Rwanda, many cooperatives relied heavily on aid. At Indego Africa, each partner cooperative is unique: it is run as a business, not a charity. The profits are re-invested into our trainings and social projects creating either more jobs for women or more business opportunities. Our cooperatives strive to be self-sustainable.
Not empowerment; women have been given power. Now, it is about accessing the opportunities out there
Since 2008, Indego Africa has been providing women with job skills trainings in English and Kinyarwanda literacy, computers, business management, and entrepreneurship. These women can access knowledge to which they had little or no access before the genocide. Indego Africa also provides its partner cooperatives with a market both in Rwanda and abroad. Women can travel to the U.S. and receive specialized trainings in entrepreneurship, communication, business management, and leadership. Both at the national and the international level, with the support of Indego Africa, women start running sustainable and thriving businesses.
At Indego Africa, by providing opportunities to those who have suffered the most during and after the genocide - meaning women- we are taking an active part in the reconstruction of a broken social and economical structure. The success of our cooperatives speaks for itself. Every day carries with it new projects and great hope for Rwanda's and Africa's future as a whole.
-- Rosine Urujeni, Indego Africa Country Director
Based in Kigali, Rwanda, Rosine leads Indego Africa's in-country strategy and operations. Prior to joining Indego Africa, she held positions as an Assistant Prosecutor for the High Court of Huye in Rwanda and as an Officer of Civil Status in Kigali. Rosine received her Bachelor's Degree in Law (L.L.B) from Kigali Independent University in 2005, studied and wrote a master's thesis at the International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Universite de Geneve in 200, and received her Master's Degree (M.A.) in Servant Leadership from Viterbo University in 2011.
You can support Indego Africa through the Huffington Post's "Raise for Women" challenge at www.crowdrise.com/indegoafrica-rfw.