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A new dawn for Rwanda

Rwanda today commemorates the genocide that 20 years ago gripped the country and shocked the world.

In all, close to one million people, mainly ethnic Tutsis, were massacred by predominately ethnic Hutus in 100 days.

It is estimated that the daily death rate was five times that of the Nazi death camps, with killings most often carried out by murderers using machetes and hatchets. In looking back, Rwandans can be justifiably proud that their country is unrecognisable from those dark times.

Today, Rwanda's economic progress is the envy of many African nations, and the ethnic divisions that once so bedevilled the country have been replaced by government initiatives aimed at fostering reconciliation.

On the face of it, things are looking good, but this should not detract from the pressing challenges that remain. Some 40% of Rwanda's citizens still live in extreme poverty. Then there is the question of human rights. To his supporters, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is a saviour; to his detractors he is little short of a dictator. The latter claim that Rwanda's progress has come at a price, with freedom of expression restricted and little tolerance of political dissent.

It would be unfortunate for Rwanda if Kagame lived up to the worst fears about his rule. For now, though, Rwanda is light years from the nightmare of 20 years ago.

In remembering the Rwandan genocide, we should also pause to take stock of the eerie and worrying similarities of what happened in 1994 to what is currently unfolding in the Central African Republic. How tragic it would be to see one African nation to pull itself out from the abyss only to see another descend into the same.

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