What Choice Did Rwanda Have?
Rebuilding a Modern System after the Genocide that Maintained the Traditional Ideals of Unity, Resolution, and Reconciliation
Kaitlin M. Roach*
A. The Rwandan Genocide
B. Post-Genocide Rwanda
II. Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Goals
III. Rwanda’s New Constitution
IV. Rwanda’s Traditional Ideals In Its Modern System
A. The Gacaca Courts
B. Abunzi Mediation
“Any country emerging from conflict and embarking on a peace-building process, should not exclude its people, and it should always consider its own specific circumstances and context.” – President Paul Kagame
Rwanda is demonstrating to the international community that it is a nation determined to overcome the stigma that comes with genocide, to unify its people, and to find a place on the international stage without completely abandoning its traditional notions of unity, resolution and reconciliation in the process. These traditional ideals have been most successfully integrated into the modern Rwandan system through the Gacaca Courts, the most well-known homegrown initiative in Rwanda, and Abunzi, the mediation system that is essentially the successor of the Gacaca Courts. Both Gacaca and Abunzi serve as significant evidence that homegrown initiatives in Rwanda provide a successful balance between a modern system and the Rwandan traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation. It is necessary for Rwanda to maintain its traditional ideals after the devastating genocide in 1994, for those traditional ideals are a critical part of rebuilding and modernizing, thus enabling Rwanda to become a more self-sufficient nation and a more prominent player on the international stage. Even though much more needs to be done, Rwanda is making positive strides toward becoming a more influential presence in the international community.
A. The Rwandan Genocide
In 1994, mounting tension between the two primary social groups in Rwanda, the Hutu and the Tutsi, reached a breaking point that ultimately resulted in genocide. Fueled by political propaganda, Hutu extremists attacked Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Three months after the genocide began, Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current President, came into power when the Rwanda Patriotic Front, of which he was a soldier and leader, ended the genocide by force. While countless acts of violence occurred during the three months of genocide, the international community did very little to intervene. When the genocide ended, leaving over 800,000 Rwandans dead and the nation’s entire infrastructure in ruins, Rwanda had no choice but to rebuild. Because the international community had, with few exceptions, generally turned a blind eye to the atrocities of the genocide, Rwanda had to be its own solution. Maintaining traditional notions of unity, resolution, and reconciliation has helped Rwanda progress immensely since 1994 as well as allowed the Rwandan people to set goals so that they can continue this progression without heavily relying on the international community in the future.
The people of Rwanda were victims of genocide twenty years ago. They will never forget the atrocities that occurred. The rest of the world should never forget. Now, however, the people of Rwanda have overcome being victims; they no longer want to carry the stigma that comes with genocide. Even so, the international community continues to look at Rwanda as a victimized nation, with such perceptions no doubt colored by the lens of the genocide. This is as much of a disservice to the people of Rwanda after the genocide as it was to turn a blind eye to the genocide while it happened. It is important to distinguish between remembering the atrocities that devastated a nation and failing to recognize that Rwanda is rebuilding and moving forward.
B. Post-Genocide Rwanda
Since the genocide, the people of Rwanda have been building a modern system while remaining true to their traditional ideals. This system is working for Rwanda, given Rwanda’s recent history, even though it may not work elsewhere. Admittedly, the system in Rwanda today is not perfect. Nevertheless, the system Rwanda has built out of the rubble of genocide deserves recognition by the international community. The first step in gaining recognition came from the Vision 2020 goals drafted by the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning. The next step came from drafting the new Constitution in 2003, a Constitution that is intended to be a model for the whole world. Finally, the successes of the Gacaca Courts and the Abunzi mediation system deserve recognition. The government in Rwanda has seen the importance of codifying homegrown initiatives, such as Gacaca and Abunzi, into modern law to carry on the traditional ideals of Rwanda while building a modern system after the genocide. The fact that the Rwandan people have acknowledged in the Vision 2020 goals that maintaining and fostering the modern system’s continued growth is the most difficult challenge that Rwanda faces today also deserves recognition by the international community.
The traditional ideals engrained in the modern Rwandan system, significantly so in the modern Gacaca Courts and Abunzi mediation system, stand in stark contrast to the American court system and mediation system, which are both adversarial and retributive. Arguably, mediation in the United States is a less adversarial alternative to litigation, which is a similarity to its Rwandan counterpart. This is probably because the modern Rwandan systems of mediation and arbitration are partially based on other alternative dispute resolution systems like that of the United States. However, even the mediation system and other methods of alternative dispute resolution in the United States are more adversarial than in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s recent history has enmeshed the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation into Abunzi. In contrast, the United States has only tried to create a less adversarial alternative to litigation. There has recently been a push in the United States to utilize mediation more and to incorporate non-adversarial methods in mediation. In this way, the language of Rwandan mediation clauses is similar to mediation statutes in the United States because both nations are striving to encourage parties to utilize mediation before litigation. Another similarity between the mediation system in Rwanda and the system in the United States is that both nations have similar motivations for encouraging mediation: it saves time and money, and it helps prevent backlog in the courts. Despite the similarities between the two mediation systems and the efforts by the United States to promote a less adversarial mediation system, Rwanda is more easily able to adhere to a non-adversarial system because of its consistency in keeping traditions relevant even as it makes efforts to continue to modernize its mediation system.
The international community should understand the challenges that Rwanda has faced and continues to face since the genocide and should give Rwanda recognition for coming so far in less than twenty years. More importantly, the international community needs to understand that in the context of a post-genocide nation, Rwanda faces different challenges than many other nations and consequently what Rwanda needs is different than what other nations need.
There is still much to be done in Rwanda, as it is still in a fragile state after the devastating genocide. The efforts that the people are making to rebuild their nation could serve as a benchmark to inspire other systems, such as the American system, to be less adversarial and retributive by showing that homegrown initiatives like Abunzi can keep traditional ideals relevant while operating as efficiently as other modern systems of alternative dispute resolution. The international community should stop allowing its view of Rwanda to be colored by the genocide, as many countries still view Rwanda as a victimized nation. It is easy to criticize a fragile nation so soon after genocide. The international community should take a step back and acknowledge that what might not work in other nations does work for Rwanda. The Rwandan system, like all systems, faces challenges. However, the challenges that Rwanda faces are the reason that the Vision 2020 goals and the new Constitution exist. Those challenges are also the reason that the modernized Rwandan system has maintained the traditional ideals embodied by Gacaca and Abunzi.
II. Rwanda’s Vision 2020 Goals
“How do Rwandans envisage their future? What kind of society do they want to become? How can they construct a united and inclusive Rwandan identity? What are the transformations needed to emerge from a deeply unsatisfactory social and economic situation? These are the main questions Rwanda Vision 2020 addresses.”
In the years following the devastating genocide, Rwanda accurately identified the most challenging questions it faced when the Vision 2020 goals were drafted. Answering those questions required remaining true to the Rwandan traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation to reunite the Rwandan people after the genocide tore them apart. Rwanda understood that it needed to be its own solution in order to create a lasting peace that would prevent a future genocide and help Rwanda to rebuild and grow. By challenging the people of Rwanda to attain the lofty Vision 2020 goals, Rwanda took the first step in reconciling and rebuilding a nation through tradition synergized with a modern system.
After a national consultative process took place in Rwanda from 1998 to 1999, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning drafted the Vision 2020 goals based on the consensus that Rwanda needed to clearly define its future in the aftermath of the genocide. At that time, Rwanda had achieved some degree of political stability and had begun to revive the economy. The core of the Vision 2020 goals as an achievable program can be summarized by the six pillars, which represent the main objectives of Vision 2020:
- Reconstruction of the nation and its social capital anchored on good governance, underpinned by a capable state;
- Transformation of agriculture into a productive, high value, market oriented sector, with forward linkages to other sectors;
- Development of an efficient private sector spearheaded by competitiveness and entrepreneurship;
- Comprehensive human resources development, encompassing education, health, and ICT skills aimed at public sector, private sector and civil society. To be integrated with demographic, health and gender issues;
- Infrastructural development, entailing improved transport links, energy and water supplies and ICT networks;
- Promotion of regional economic integration and cooperation.
At all times, these will be affected by a number of cross-cutting issues including, gender equality and sustainable environmental and natural resource management.
Vision 2020 is to be achieved in a spirit of social cohesion and equity, underpinned by a capable state. Rwanda’s ongoing development will have, at its core, the Nation’s principal asset – its people.
Rwanda’s Vision 2020 goals set the bar very high for the people of Rwanda to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure as a unified people after the genocide. Now that the country has achieved a greater degree of political stability, the Vision 2020 goals are a driving force to improve “unsatisfactory social and economic conditions.” Ultimately, Vision 2020 seeks to develop Rwanda into a middle-income, semi-industrialized country by the year 2020, halve income poverty, and substantially reduce inequality in the process. Rwanda is also striving to achieve the Visions 2020 goals in a way that helps it phase out the humanitarian assistance associated with genocide and move toward a point of sustainable development, allowing Rwanda to then focus on creating a larger presence on the international stage.
The Rwandan people’s determination to stand on their own feet, especially after an enduring a traumatic genocide, is especially worthy of recognition. The nation’s determination to achieve the Vision 2020 goals is evident in talking with Rwandans. Even if the Vision 2020 goals as a whole seem overly ambitious, Rwanda is doing what is best for Rwanda as it tries to take steps in a direction that aims to inspire and rebuild the nation. The Vision 2020 goals set forth many of the same Rwandan ideals and goals that were later written in the new Constitution. Together, the Vision 2020 goals and Rwanda’s new Constitution serve as the cornerstones for a lasting peace, new growth, and modernization in Rwanda. Furthermore, they laid the foundation for Gacaca and Abunzi to carry on the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation as an integral part of Rwanda’s modern system.
III. Rwanda’s New Constitution
“The principle governing the Republic is ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’”.
Rwanda passed a new Constitution into law in 2003 that was intended to be a model for the whole world. Building off the momentum from the Vision 2020 goals, this Constitution was drafted with many innovations that should be recognized by the international community. Even though the Rwandan Constitution has already been amended four times, efforts were made to include the Rwandan people in the drafting of the document. Rwandan citizens were able to attend large public meetings with Legal and Constitutional Commission (“LCC”) leaders, complete an LCC-issued questionnaire, and submit independent written comments and proposals. The document itself and the way it has been implemented by the government has been criticized, but allowing the Rwandan people to have a say in what they want out of their Constitution, in a fashion similar to the Vision 2020 goals, has been an excellent mechanism for promoting reconciliation and unity after the genocide. In addition to encouraging this social change, Rwanda’s new Constitution serves as a mechanism to help Rwanda rebuild and grow after the genocide’s gravely detrimental impact on the country’s entire infrastructure. By providing the Rwandan people with substantial rights and protections and allowing the people to be involved with the drafting of the document, the new Constitution motivated the people of Rwanda to be active participants in the rebuilding and growth of their nation.
Compared to the United States Constitution, the Rwandan Constitution offers many of the same rights as its fellow democratic system. However, the Rwandan Constitution goes a step further in many respects in the way that it empowers the Rwandan people through the process of creating the new Constitution as well as in the language of the document itself. The Rwandan Constitution is unique to Rwanda because it is a new democracy and especially because of Rwanda’s tragic recent history. As such, the Constitution of Rwanda may not serve as a model for the whole world in many respects, but it should still be recognized for helping to lay the foundation for Rwanda’s continued growth and progress.
The Rwandan Constitution, like the Constitution of the United States, offers many protections for its people while also creating a government whose function is to help uphold these protections and maintain stability. However, unlike the United States Constitution, the Rwandan Constitution grants protections to more classes of people and has specific articles that are a direct result of the genocide. For example, the Rwandan Constitution offers protections in its anti-discrimination clause to more protected classes than does the US Constitution. In Rwanda, the Constitution mandates that citizens have a duty to participate in the country through work, whereas in the United States, the Constitution implies that Americans have the right to do so. Also, one of the many articles specific to Rwanda because of the recent genocide is an article granting citizens the right to defy orders from their superiors. The drafters of the United States Constitution did not include such articles in their Constitution because their unique history at the time they drafted the document did not compel them to do so the way the Rwandan drafters were compelled to include such an article after the genocide. This is one of many reasons that certain articles, such as those that apply protections to more classes of people, can serve as a model for the entire international community. Yet it can still be argued that the history motivating specific provisions like this one make the Rwandan Constitution as a whole better for Rwanda than as a model for the rest of the world. For example, an article in the United States Constitution that gives United States citizens the right to refuse orders by their superiors would not make sense because the United States had not experienced a recent history that included genocide when the document was drafted. Another difference is that the U.S. Constitution does not impose duties on American citizens like a duty to work; the U.S. Constitution focuses much more on rights than duties.
Rwanda’s new Constitution, in conjunction with the Vision 2020 goals, has helped lay the foundation for stability and growth in Rwanda through the Rwandan tradition of reconciliation via modern democracy. Although the type of democracy that the Constitution provides for may not be what everyone thinks Rwanda needs, the Constitution provides a balance of democratic inclusion to unify the people and a strong enough government to prevent another genocide.
IV. Rwanda’s Traditional Ideals in its Modern System
“Reconciliation processes are particularly necessary and urgent in countries and regions of the world which have suffered, or are suffering, situations of conflict that have affected and divided societies in their various internal, national and international facets”
Rwanda has not abandoned its traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation in the modern, post-genocide age because those very concepts helped Rwanda rebuild and progress in the years following the genocide. Rather than abandoning these ideals in an attempt to move forward after the genocide, Rwandans have recognized that these ideals continue to be relevant today and are essential to Rwanda’s continued growth. Rwanda has therefore integrated the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation into the law and justice systems in Rwanda. Homegrown initiatives focus on unifying the people and granting them a higher level of access to, and involvement in, the justice system.
These traditional ideals have been embodied in two of Rwanda’s homegrown initiatives: the modern versions of the traditional Gacaca Courts and the Abunzi mediation system. These ideals have been a necessary part of the justice system in Rwanda because of Rwanda’s recent history. The United Nations General Assembly has recognized the necessity for places like Rwanda to maintain its traditional concepts to rebuild and move forward, and only countries that have been through tragic events like genocide can truly understand this need. Given this, the successes of Gacaca and Abunzi withstand criticism from the international community and should be recognized and commended. Countries with systems that are more focused on retribution, like the United States, could learn from what Rwanda has accomplished through its prioritization of socially positive traditional ideals.
The traditional ideals of Rwanda do not claim to have universal applicability; they are instead context specific. Yet the entire international community can learn from this and strive for unity, resolution, and reconciliation as the appropriate and desired outcomes of any dispute, whether it is a local civil dispute or an event as tragic as genocide. The international community has erroneously labeled institutions like Gacaca and Abunzi as “African conflict medicine.” This widespread, condescending view stresses that mechanisms such as Gacaca and Abunzi are applicable to societies afflicted by conflict, like Rwanda and many other African nations that utilize similar traditional mechanisms for conflict resolution because of events in their respective recent histories. Again, such traditional ideals should not be limited only to societies afflicted by conflict like Rwanda if they are capable of resolving conflict just as well, if not better than, notions like retribution.
Reconciliation and the related processes associated with restorative justice seek to discover ways and means to build trust so that the parties might be able to live cooperatively with one another. The Gacaca Courts were successful at helping the Rwandan people to achieve the beginnings of unity, resolution, and reconciliation. Now, the Abunzi mediation system continues to give the Rwandan people a modern mechanism that is still entrenched in those same traditional ideals still relevant in modern dispute resolution in Rwanda. The Rwandan people saw the necessity to avoid retribution even after the atrocities of genocide and addressed this need by utilizing traditional, local justice mechanisms. The nation had experienced enough violence and suffering; converting the notion of retribution into conflict resolution mechanisms would have only perpetuated destructive social forces akin to those that had resulted in genocide. Because of the nation’s recent history, Rwandans continue to see the value in striving for a unifying, restorative, and reconciliatory mechanism for civil and criminal dispute resolution as opposed to the retributive approach in the United States.
A. The Gacaca Courts
“Gacaca is a Rwandan tradition, by Rwandans for Rwandans, where injustice was committed by Rwandans against Rwandans,”
Because the judiciary, along with essentially all of Rwanda’s other infrastructures, had been destroyed in the genocide, the Rwandan people utilized the Gacaca Courts, a traditional mechanism for justice and reconciliation, when the country needed it the most. The Gacaca Court system was a necessary alternative to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda implemented by the United Nations to try the participants in the genocide. Although the Gacaca Courts have now closed, their use served a necessary step in applying Rwanda’s traditional ideals of reconciliation to further the reintegration of participants in the genocide so that Rwanda could rebuild. The Gacaca Courts allowed Rwanda to continue to be its own solution to the genocide that killed so many Rwandans and destroyed Rwanda’s infrastructure. The Gacaca Courts, established in 2002 after the genocide, were successful in synergizing traditional Gacaca with a modern system in accordance with the modern rule of law.
Gacaca translates literally to “trials in the grass,” and, before 2002, the Gacaca Courts typically assembled to resolve disputes within or between families, especially in the more rural parts of Rwanda. When the Gacaca Courts were established in 2002 to assist the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in trying the participants of the genocide, the Courts were a synthesis of the traditional Gacaca and the modern rule of law. In that way, the Gacaca Courts that were in operation from June 18, 2002 until they were officially closed on June 18, 2012, tried over 1.9 million cases during that time and emerged as a hybrid between a traditional truth and reconciliation process and a traditional Western-style trial in an attempt to seek a small degree of retribution for genocide participants. This is yet another area where Rwanda should be recognized by the international community for its efforts since the genocide.
The United Nations has recognized that the Gacaca experience should be a lesson about how homegrown initiatives should be supported. Legal experts have also praised the modern Gacaca Courts as the ideal alternative for the “failed” classic penal systems, like the Western judicial system, to give genocide victims timely justice. According to Dr. Roelof Haverman, an independent consultant on the rule of law in Africa and a member of the Hague Rule of Law Network, “Gacaca trials were taken to the scene of the crime, with the victims, the offenders and the witnesses, relatives, neighbours, all taking a part in dispensing justice.” Haverman also noted that the use of Gacaca trials enabled massive participation in dispensation of reconciliatory justice, with witnesses telling everything they saw and the accused confessing and begging for pardon.
Gacaca did produce challenges, but the good outweighed the bad, especially in the absence of a feasible alternative. In spite of criticisms from the international community, the Gacaca Court systems achieved justice for many Rwandan victims, as is the aim of Western trial systems, while also focusing on the traditional ideals of reconciliation and reintegration into society as much as possible, which is specific to Rwanda’s unique history. After the Gacaca Courts closed in 2012, the Abunzi mediation system carried on the synergy between Rwandan traditional ideals and a modern system.
B. Abunzi Mediation
“Dialogue among opponents from positions of respect and tolerance is an essential element of peace and reconciliation . . . [and] that truth and justice are indispensable elements for the attainment of reconciliation and lasting peace”
Like the Gacaca Courts, the Abunzi mediation system has served an important role in the process of trying those who were involved in the genocide in a way that focused on reconciliation as opposed to retribution, the focus in the United States. However, unlike the modern Gacaca Courts created to address the genocide, the Abunzi is an indigenous, pre-colonial Rwandan system that has been modernized and mandated into law after the genocide, similar to the modern version of Gacaca, the Gacaca Courts. After the genocide, the Rwandan Government said this approach was a necessary step towards reconciliation after the trauma of genocide.
Now that the Gacaca Courts have closed, the Abunzi system continues to demonstrate to the world that Rwanda’s traditional ideals can be useful in the modern, post-genocide age. Rwandans have not abandoned the traditional notions of unity, resolution, and reconciliation even now that the genocide participants have all been tried for their involvement. By utilizing the traditional mediation system when the country needed it the most, the Rwandan people have increased access to justice while at the same time healing and unifying the people after the genocide ended. Abunzi mediation is part of the Rwandan justice system, whose restorative approach helps people address their conflicts without resorting to litigation and other retributive approaches. Although it is loosely based on other alternative dispute resolution systems, like the mediation system in the United States, the Abunzi system is unique to Rwanda because it is a synergy between the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation with a more modern system.
“Abunzi” translates literally to “those who reconcile.” Abunzi is intended to evoke the notion of Abanyarwanda, basically meaning “Rwandanness,” transforming it into a unifying concept that is supposed to epitomize the concept of the “imagined community.” Through Abunzi, Abanyarwanda therefore serves as yet another mechanism of unifying the Rwandan people and continually reinforces the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation through mediation to help that unity last. Although the concept behind Abunzi is deeply rooted in Rwandan tradition, the Abunzi is also mandated by law:
There is hereby established a “Mediation Committee” responsible for mediating between parties to certain disputes involving matters determined by law prior to the filing of a case with the court of first instance.
The Mediation Committee shall comprise of persons of integrity and acknowledged for their mediating skills.
An organic law shall determine the organization, the territorial jurisdiction, the competence and the functioning of Mediation Committee. It shall also determine the number that comprise the mediation committee and the organ that elects it.
In addition to the Constitution, a complementary Organic Law also mandates Abunzi. By mandating Abunzi as law, Rwanda has demonstrated its preference to resolve certain civil and criminal cases through mediation. This is similar to the United States where, in many states, parties must submit to mandatory mediation or arbitration before filing suit in a court of law. Many states’ laws require mediation for certain types of civil disputes; such laws are very similar to the Model Clauses of the Kigali International Arbitration Centre:
Any dispute, controversy or claim out of or in relation to this contract, including the validity, invalidity, breach or termination thereof, shall be submitted to mediation in accordance with the Kigali International Arbitration Centre Mediation rules in force on the date when the request for mediation is submitted
Suggested clauses for mediation followed by arbitration:
- Any dispute, controversy or claim out of or in relation to this contract, including the validity, invalidity, breach or termination thereof, shall be submitted to mediation in accordance with the Kigali International Arbitration Centre Mediation rules in force on the date when the request for mediation is submitted in accordance with these rules
- If such dispute, controversy or claim has not been fully resolved by mediation within one month from the appointment of the confirmation of the Mediator, it shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with the Kigali International Arbitration Rules
Suggested clauses for future Dispute
- The undersigned parties hereby agree to submit to mediation in accordance with KIAC rules the following dispute [brief description of the dispute]
- The seat of the mediation shall be KIAC unless (the parties agree otherwise), although meetings may be held in. . . [specify place]
- The Language of the proceedings shall be. . . [specify language]
Rwandan mediation is binding. Conversely, all mediation in the United States is nonbinding, even when it is required, so that parties who agree to mediate are still free to seek more adversarial, binding methods including arbitration and litigation.
The American mediation and arbitration systems are still much more adversarial than the Rwandan Abunzi system. This is most clearly evidenced by the fact that parties must be forced to try to mediate or arbitrate a dispute in certain situations rather than immediately filing suit. In the United States, mediation and arbitration are always preferred because there is a desire to avoid overburdening the courts as well as a general policy allowing people to resolve disputes amicably without court involvement whenever possible. Despite this preference, Americans still have a reputation for being overly litigious, and the American legal and justice systems remain known for their overall retributive approach. In Rwanda, mediation and arbitration are the preferred and legally obligatory methods to prevent overburdening the courts, thus keeping the traditional values of unity and resolution relevant.
The Abunzi system consists of over 30,000 mediators, Abunzi, who were selected as “persons of integrity,” just like their counterparts, the inyangamugayo, in the Gacaca courts. By selecting mediators that the people of Rwanda can trust to help bring resolution to a conflict, the Rwandan government has given the Rwandan people some local ownership over the Abunzi system, as they tried to do with the drafting of the Vision 2020 goals, the new Constitution, and the implementation of the Gacaca Courts. This correlates to the Rwandan government’s general movement for the decentralization of justice. The criticisms that decentralizing the justice system promotes coerced peace-building and makes the Abunzi mediation system inefficient stand in stark contrast to the fact that the Rwandan people have been receptive to decentralization of justice and to the Abunzi as the first step in conflict resolution. According to the 2010 Citizen Report Cards (CRC) survey conducted by the Rwanda Governance Advisory Council (RGAC), the Abunzi mediation committees came as the first appreciated dispute resolution instrument when compared to other mechanisms because citizens felt that the Abunzi process allow for easy access to justice.
In the United States, the mediation system also provides easier access to justice for its citizens. At the same time, the mediation system in the United States is still seen as a retributive system. For example, reasons to choose mediation rather than litigation to resolve a dispute are often presented to the parties in adversarial terms:
Why mediate? There are a number of reasons why participating in mediation as early after the dispute arises as possible is beneficial. They include efficiency in getting back to business, reducing the financial and emotional cost of fighting, eliminating risk (win or loss), the possibility of readjusting the adversary’s expectation and the exchanging of information, among others. 
The differences between the American mediation system and the Rwandan system of Abunzi are not surprising given Rwanda’s recent history. The two systems do have some commonalities because both systems are a modern alternative to trial and often are required before litigation can be pursued. However, Rwanda’s mediation system is much more readily equipped to handle disputes in a non-adversarial way because of the traditional ideals that Abunzi mediators, as well as the parties, have constituently accepted. In the United States, parties must often be convinced to mediate rather than going to trial. This was not always the case in the United States. In colonial America, emphasis was placed on communal peace and harmony between parties, but American diverged from this emphasis as legal issues got more complex over time. In Rwanda, because its traditional ideals have consistently been adhered to, mediation is perceived as a natural first step in resolving disputes as opposed to a compromise to save time and money while each party still expects to get what they want out of a settlement agreement. Perhaps if American experienced a recent history similar to that of Rwanda, it may have necessitated the implementation of homegrown initiatives to keep with the traditions that it valued in the colonial times. But because the United States strayed from those traditions, it now has a more adversarial mediation system than the Abunzi system in Rwanda.
The Rwandan government is striving to further develop mediation as an effective way to resolve disputes so that mediation continues to be a more effective mechanism for its people, like the mediation system in the United States. However, for Rwandans, developing the Abunzi system further does not mean abandoning the traditional ideals that the modern system of Abunzi mediation was built on, as the United States did. On the contrary, those traditional ideals will become more deeply engrained in the modern mediation system to allow for greater access to dispute resolution where there continues to be some degree of local ownership over the Abunzi.
Rwanda should be recognized by the international community for its efforts and methods of rebuilding essentially its entire infrastructure after a catastrophic genocide that resulted in over 800,000 Rwandans losing their lives. After little help from the international community during the genocide, the people of Rwanda were determined to be their own solution after the genocide. Because Rwanda’s modern system in the post-genocide world is not perfect, criticisms are not difficult, but they are frequently inappropriate and misguided. Coming so far less than twenty years after the atrocities of the genocide and continuing to rebuild and grow should help Rwanda gain a more prominent role on the international stage.
Rwanda’s recent history is also the reason that the government understood the benefit of homegrown initiatives, like Gacaca and Abunzi, and why both systems are much less adversarial than the mediation system in the United States. Although the Rwandan Gacaca Courts have now closed, Abunzi is carrying on as a mechanism that is both a modern mediation system and a system maintaining the traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation. Because modern Abunzi is based off of other modern alternative dispute resolution systems, such as the mediation system in the United States, the structure of the system does share commonalities with its American counterpart. However, the United States mediation system is still struggling to be less adversarial and is often perceived as an adversarial method for dispute resolution by parties and attorneys. Conversely, in Rwanda, the Rwandan government has more deeply engrained Rwandan traditions into its modern system as legal issues have become more complex since the genocide. Furthermore, unlike Americans, Rwandans have embraced the synthesis of their traditions with the modern system because of Rwanda’s recent history.
The Vision 2020 goals, the new Constitution, and the synergy of traditional ideals with a modern system in the Gacaca Courts and then in the Abunzi mediation system should not be picked apart by the same international community that turned its back on Rwanda when the Rwandan people needed it the most. Despite whatever improvements could or should be made to the post-genocide system in Rwanda, is has been and continues to be successful by motivating and empowering its citizens as they continue to rebuild and modernize the much-needed infrastructures while at the same time staying true to the Rwandan traditional ideals of unity, resolution, and reconciliation. These traditional ideals have been most successfully applied to the modern system in Rwanda through the Gacaca Courts and the successor of the Gacaca, the Abunzi mediation system. This is a difficult balance to maintain, but Rwanda has been successful doing what works for Rwanda, given its unique recent history.
* Law Student, Gonzaga University School of Law. I would like to thank Professor Cheryl Beckett for the opportunity to participate in the Legal Capacity Building Program in Kigali, Rwanda and for her guidance throughout this project. Professor Cheryl Beckett for the opportunity to participate in the Legal Capacity Building Program in Kigali, Rwanda and for her guidance throughout this project.
. Martha Mutisi, Local Justice and Conflict Resolution: The Abunzi Mediators of Rwanda, African Center for the Constructive Resol. of Disputes (July 11-14, 2012), http://www.usb.ac.za/DisputeSettlement/ppts/Martha-Mutisi_ACCORD_IACM-2012.ppt [hereinafter Conflict Resolution].
. I have chosen to use the term “system” to describe the political, legal, economic, and social mechanisms and realms of Rwanda as one collective “system.” In all of these areas, the nation’s approach to rebuilding – its focus on maintaining tradition while embracing modernity – is so pervasive that it affects nearly every aspect of Rwandan life.
. Roelof H. Haverman, The Rule of Law in Rwanda: Prospects and Challenges, HiiL Rule of Law Quickscan, 29 (Apr. 2012), http://www.hiil.org/data/sitemanagement/media/ Quickscan_RuleofLaw_Rwanda_digitaal_130812.pdf.
. Id. at 32.
. In this context, “modern” is intended to mean post-genocide. Rwanda is modernizing in the sense it is going to become a more prominent actor in the international community politically, economically, and socially because of how it is rebuilding and progressing.
. Conflict Resolution, supra note 1.
. See Stevenson Mugisha, UN Failed Rwanda, Rwanda Focus (Feb. 22, 2014), http://focus.rw/wp/2013/05/un-failed-rwanda/ (discussing how the UN Secretary General admits that the UN and the international community failed Rwanda and praising Rwanda for accomplishing so much in just two decades).
. See generally Rwanda Vision 2020, Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (July 2000), available at https://www.sida.se/Global/ Countries%20and%regions/Africa/Rwanda/D402331A.pdf.
. There are countless accounts of how the UN leader on the ground, Romeo Dallaire, many of his UN troops, and others wanted to do more to help the people of Rwanda, but they were not successful. See Stephanie Rohr, The Response of the International Community to the Rwanda Genocide, U. Wis. La Cross J. of Undergraduate Research XII, 5-7 (2009), available at http://www.uwlax.edu/urc/jur-online/PDF/2009/rohr-stephanieHIS.pdf (discussing generally the response of the international community and Dallaire’s efforts).
. Rwanda Vision 2020, supra note 9.
. For example, when I told my friends and colleagues that I was going to Rwanda, everyone had the same reaction: their eyes got wide, and they made a comment about the genocide or expressed concern about my safety there. It is dismaying that often the only thing people can relate to when Rwanda is mentioned is the movie Hotel Rwanda, Hotel Rwanda (United Artist 2004), rather than how far Rwanda has come since the genocide that inspired the movie. In Rwanda, I learned that the majority of Rwandans detest that movie for glorifying one man during the atrocities of the genocide and the way the movie has turned their tragic recent history into a source of entertainment for the international community.
. I saw firsthand what the devastation from genocide looked like by visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center and hearing what the genocide was like from people who were there and were fortunate enough to survive it. Everywhere I looked, I saw the benefits of keeping traditional ideals relevant because I saw progress through the Rwandans’ determination, growth, unity, and hope. This is how Rwanda has distinguished between remembering and moving forward.
. The extent to which Rwanda has been criticized by the international community since the genocide is beyond the scope of this article. The main purpose of this piece is to demonstrate that the modern system in Rwanda synergized with Rwandan traditions is working in Rwanda; it may not work elsewhere because other nations lack Rwanda’s unique recent history. However, the international community should consider that even though they do not share Rwanda’s traditions as an integral part of their respective modern system, Rwanda’s system could inspire other nations, like the U.S., to focus more on the traditions. Regardless, it is important to acknowledge that criticisms exist and that Rwanda is susceptible to these criticisms because of its recent history.
. Haverman, supra note 3, at 29.
. See Rwanda Vision 2020, supra note 9.
. Richard M. Calkins, Caucus Mediation – Putting Conciliation Back into the Process: The Peacemaking Approach to Resolution, Peace, and Healing, 54 Drake L. Rev. 259, 263 (2006).
. See Martha Mutisi, The Abunzi Mediation in Rwanda: Opportunities for Engaging with Traditional Institutions of Conflict Resolution, 12 ACCORD Policy & Practice Brief 4 (Oct. 2011) [hereinafter Abunzi Mediation].
. See, e.g., Wash. Rev. Code § 64.55.120 (2010) (requiring mandatory mediation for property disputes).
. See Calkins, supra note 17, at 267 (discussing the revival of Mediation and other forms of ADR in the United States in the past fifteen years or so and also proposing peacemaker mediation as opposed to adversarial mediation).
. See id. at 260-61.
. See Haverman, supra note 3, at 32-34 (discussing the successes of the Abunzi).
. Rwanda Vision 2020, supra note 9, at 6.
. Id. at 6-7.
. Id. at 6.
. Id. at 12, 14.
. Id. at 6.
. While on a tour of Kigali, we drove through a very upscale neighborhood that resembled the wealthy, lavish areas of Southern California; our tour guide informed us “by the year 2020, all the neighborhoods in Kigali will look like this.” Even if the Kigali homeowners fall short of achieving this arguably superficial goal by 2020, the conviction for self-improvement this woman exhibited mirrors the attitude of the nation toward all of the Vision 2020 goals.
. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda May 26, 2003, art. 1.
. See generally Angela M. Banks, Expanding Participation in Constitution Making: Challenges and Opportunities, 49 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 1043 (2008) (outlining the efforts the Rwandan government took to include Rwandan citizens in drafting the new Constitution).
. Id at 1045.
. See generally U.S. Const.
. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda May 26, 2003, arts. 16, 33, 37, 46, 53, 54.
. Cheryl Beckett, Rwanda: Striving to Meet ILO and Millennium Development Goals, Presentation for Gonzaga University School of Law in Florence, Italy (June 11, 2012) (presentation on file with author).
. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda May 26, 2003, art. 48 (“Every citizen has the right to defy orders received from his or her superior authority if the orders constitute a serious and manifest violation of human rights and public freedoms.”).
. There is currently a lot of criticism of President Paul Kagame and his government exercising too much control in Rwanda. See Banks, supra note 32, at 1067. However, Rwanda’s unique history explains why Paul Kagame needed to establish and lead a strong government in order to maintain a lasting peace and to prevent future genocide. Id. This controversy is worth mentioning, especially with the current concern that Paul Kagame wants the new Constitution amended for fifth time so that he can extend his Presidency beyond the constitutionally allowed limit. See Now Rwanda’s Transition Hinges on amending law to Keep Kagame, East African (June 26, 2013), http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/Now-Rwanda-transition-hinges-on-amending-law-to-keep-Kagame-/-/2558/1891220/-/item/0/-/k1a2mq/-/index.html. This piece does not address Paul Kagame’s Presidency further, but this is another example of how Rwanda’s unique history may require the Rwandan people to do things their way.
. G.A. Res. 61/17, ¶ 2, U.N. Doc. A/61/PV.59 (Nov. 28, 2006).
. See Haverman, supra note 3, at 29-32 (discussing how the traditional Gacaca and Abunzi have been part of local justice in Rwanda for a long time and how, after the genocide, the government recognized the importance of the traditional ideals behind Gacaca and Abunzi by codifying them into law as part of the modern system in Rwanda).
. See generally Abunzi Mediation, supra note 18 (discussing the decentralization of justice in Rwanda).
. Id. at 1.
. Id. at 2.
. When I spoke with Rwandan citizens, including successful Rwandan lawyers, they assumed that all American lawyers were rich because that it all they had seen on television and in movies. I could not help but think that this was also the result of America’s reputation as an overly litigious society where all attorneys seek retribution for their clients at all costs and make excessive amounts of money for themselves in the process. It would likely be much more believable that we have public interest attorneys and other attorneys who are not very rich if our society was not perceived to be retributive with our legal and justice systems.
. Christopher C Joyner, Reconciliation as Conflict Resolution, 8 N.Z. J. Pub. & Int’l L. 39, 39-40 (2010).
. See Haverman, supra note 3, at 29-32.
. Bosco R. Asiimwe & Felly Kimenyi, Legal Experts Hail Gacaca, New Times Rwanda (June 18, 2012), http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15027&a=54925
. A full discussion of the Gacaca Courts is beyond the scope of this piece. However, introducing Gacaca is necessary because it served as the predecessor to the Abunzi by synergizing Rwandan tradition ideals with the modern, post-genocide system through homegrown initiatives.
. Michelle Ciurria, Complicity and Criminal Liability in Rwanda: A Situationist Critique, 17 Res Publica 411, 417-18 (2011).
. Id. at 417.
. Edwin Musoni, Gacaca is a Lesson to the World, New Times Rwanda (June 18, 2012), http://www.newtimes.co.rw/news/index.php?i=15027&a=54926.
. Ciurria, supra note 51, at 414.
. Musoni, supra note 53.
. Ciurria, supra note 51, at 418.
. Musoni, supra note 53 (discussing how Gacaca provided a solution to the complex nature of the genocide cases and helped with the backlog of cases at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda headed by the UN, which stated that Gacaca definitely contributed to the peace and reconciliation process and was not vigilante justice, as many critics had predicted).
. Asiimwe & Kimenyi, supra note 49.
. Id. When I was in Kigali, one of our guides told my group that her mother had testified in a Gacaca hearing as a witness because it was their responsibility to tell what they saw if they witnessed any atrocities during the genocide.
. Asiimwe & Kimenyi, supra note 49.
. Joyner, supra note 47, at 39-40 (discussing the notion of reconciliation as a prominent international topic of conflict resolution and how it enables parties in a dispute to examine their particular situation to overcome sorrow and live together in peace after resolving the dispute).
. Martha Mutisi, Local Conflict Resolution in Rwanda: The Case of Abunzi Mediators, Int’l Rel. & Sec. Network 69 (2012), available at www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?lng=en&id=146651 [hereinafter Case of Abunzi Mediators].
. Musoni, supra note 53.
. See Case of Abunzi Mediators, supra note 63, at 42.
. Id. at 62.
. Id. at 46.
. Id. at 54.
. Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda May 26, 2003, art. 159.
. Organic Law No. 31/2006 on the Organisation, Jurisdiction, Competence and Functioning of the Mediation Committee (Aug. 14, 2006) (amended by Organic Law No 02/2010/OL on the Organisation, Jurisdiction, Competence and Functioning of the Mediation Committee (Sept. 6, 2010)).
. Calkins, supra note 17, at 267.
. See Model Clauses, Kigali International Arbitration Centre, http://kiac.org.rw/model-clauses (last visited Jan. 26, 2014).
. Calkins, supra note 17, at 268.
. Abunzi Mediators, supra note 18, at 1.
. Conflict Resolution, supra note 1.
. Abunzi Mediators, supra note 18, at 1.
. See generally Banks, supra note 32.
. Rwanda Governance Board, Innovation Abunzi, http://www.rgb.rw/main-menu/innovation/abunzi.html (last visited Feb. 17, 2014).
. Robert E. Marguiles, Food for Thought: Why Should My Client Mediate?, 269-APR N.J. Law 14, 14 (2011).
. See Deborah R. Hensler, Suppose It’s Not True: Challenging Mediation Ideology, 2002 J. Disp. Resol. 81, 96 (2002).
. See Calkins, supra note 17, at 266-67.
. See Marguiles, supra note 81, at 14.
. See Case of Abunzi Mediators, supra note 63, at 60.