Rwandan And Congolese Youth United Against Stereotypes Of Genocide

Though peace is far secure between the Democratic Republic Of Congo and Rwanda, organized efforts to bring their youth together are multiplying.

Children sit at a reintegration center in Kpandroma in 2009.
Evariste Mahamba

GOMA — "The wound will not heal as long as the knife keeps twisting," reads a profession of faith by four young Congolese and Rwandan artists trying to shatter stereotypes between the two neighboring peoples of the Great Lakes region.

Through their group, Simama Africa, they mobilized some 30 young people from both countries for a day of reflection last month at the Protestant Welcome Center in Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"We thought is was the right moment to create a dialog between the youth of the two countries to see how to break the mistrust that the commemoration of the Rwandan Genocide of April 1994 risked creating every year," said Fison Muhindo, a young Congolese man and one of group's founders.

The Rwandan Genocide, carried out against the Tutsi people of Rwanda by the ruling Hutu majority, claimed the lives of an estimated 500,000 to one million Rwandans.

"We are all conscious of this sad history," Muhindo said. "But if we continue to reflect on it negatively, we will not know how to build peace between us."

For him, the persistence of the Rwandan Hutu rebel group Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, or FDLR, and other armed groups of the DRC originates from this unfortunate event.

The conflict in the DRC has already caused more than five million deaths, according to many reports.

Muhindo thinks the young generation needs to get involved in the search for a lasting solution.

We are all conscious of this sad history. But if we continue to reflect on it negatively, we will not know how to build peace between us.

A young Rwandan member suggests creating partnerships and exchanges. Speaking of an attack on Goma in 2012 by the M23 movement, a rebel military group based in eastern areas of the DRC, he recalled that on the eve of the attack, "I was in serious danger at the great barrier (the border crossing between Gisenyi and Goma) when I wanted to come here to Goma.

"I ended up vowing never to set foot here again," he says. "Today I understand that there were misperceptions between the youth of these two countries because some still remembered the images of hatred of 1994, even though we're already in 2017."

The young Rwandan firmly believes that history should not divide an entire people, and during the dialog between the young Congolese and Rwandans, he managed to convince his Congolese counterpart to participate in an activity at a Rwandan cultural center in Gisenyi.

Hilda Vagheni, head of communications at the Central Baptist Church at the Africa Center (CBCA), who also attended the event, thinks that the two countries should adopt policies to soften the language of some slogans, such as "the genocide inflicted on the Tutsis." Repeating this phrase victimizes the youth of that community and creates a sentiment of guilt among young Hutus, she says, thereby hindering the consolidation of peaceful relations between the two neighboring communities.

The Simama Africa initiative took place the day after the 9th Diocesan Youth Day, a day where Christians from all denominations in Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya celebrate with those from the DRC regions of North and South Kivu.

The essential message that emerged from the meeting was, "We are all the same, in the image of Jesus Christ, who is not a member of a tribe. He is here for everyone regardless of race, tribe, community or ethnicity."

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Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe

BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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