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WHAT OTHERS SAY: The tragedy in Rwanda may ultimately have a happy ending

Thursday, April 17, 2014 | 1:23 p.m. CDT

It has been 20 years since the genocide that took as many as a million lives and left Rwanda in ruins. So it is illuminating that a new report shows that life expectancy in the formerly splintered African nation has doubled in that time.

The development reveals what can happen when murderous, corrupt regimes are replaced with leadership focused on maintaining peace and improving living conditions.

Harvard professor Paul Farmer, along with Rwandan health experts, just published a study of the life expectancy data in The Lancet, the world's most prestigious medical journal.

"In the aftermath of one of the worst spasms of mass violence in recorded history, few imagined that Rwanda might one day serve as a model for other nations committed to health equity," their report notes.

The 1994 genocide, carried out chiefly by the country's Hutus against their rival Tutsis, killed nearly 20 percent of the nation's population and displaced millions more.

One particularly horrible statistic to emerge from the genocide: Half a million women were raped during the fighting, and up to 20,000 children were born as a result.

That was then. The story now goes far beyond the life expectancy data, which obviously were going to improve somewhat once the mass killings ended.

In Rwanda today, the genocide — while it will never be forgotten — has been put aside as the victims and the perpetrators join hands in a remarkable effort to build a better nation.

Investment in Rwanda has nearly tripled since 2005, and although it lacks many natural resources, the country has become economically vibrant.

Moreover, most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent since 2005. The crime rate is low, and Rwandan women can now safely walk the streets at night.

If this kind of reconciliation and revival can happen in a forlorn corner of the world like Rwanda, couldn't it also happen in other places?

In fact, it has happened elsewhere: Just last week, Michael D. Higgins became the first president of Ireland to ever visit Britain's Parliament and be received by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle.

Given the bloody history of Ireland's conflicts with the United Kingdom, it is encouraging the two sides are on friendly terms.

And although it took 20 years to overcome the horrors of Rwanda's genocide, we can only hope that the reconciliation, like that between Ireland and Great Britain, offers similar hope to other troubled parts of the world.

Copyright Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. Distributed by the Associated Press.


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