• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Rwandan cooperative shows reconciliation needed to draw refugees home

News Stories, 8 February 2006

© UNHCR/B Gonzalez
A Rwandan coffee cooperative has raised living standards and shown that reconciliation after the genocide is possible.

MARABA, Rwanda, 8 Feb (UNHCR) Peace has returned to Rwanda but life for Beatrice, a coffee grower who lost her husband and a son during the 1994 genocide, is not easy with six children at home to feed.

The years following the war were especially difficult in her region of Maraba, a district located in the Southern province of Butare that had the highest percentage of victims during the genocide. Many harvests were abandoned and poverty and misery gripped the province, inflicting terrible consequences on the remaining people's livelihoods. Coffee production dropped 55 per cent, accompanied by a fall in its quality.

In 1999 Beatrice found new hope in Abahuzamugambi, a farming association that was then taking its first steps with about 200 members. The name translates as "those who have a common goal" and is the sort of activity that could help draw back the nearly 57,000 Rwandans who remain outside their country, still not persuaded to return despite the offer of repatriation by the UN refugee agency.

UNHCR, which considers voluntary repatriation an essential part of achieving peace and stability in the region, has upgraded its monitoring of returnees in Rwanda, which helps in reintegration and the provision of information on conditions to remaining refugees.

"In Rwanda coffee growers working on their own cannot make a living. You work very hard for a ridiculous price paid in the local market," Beatrice said. "This is the reason why I decided to join Abahuzamugambi, whose members fight for better prices in the market to obtain a fairer compensation to our work."

The association became a cooperative and today has 1,768 members, of which 936 are women. Some, like Beatrice, lost relatives during the genocide while others have husbands in prison waiting to be judged by gacaca popular tribunals for involvement in crimes during the genocide.

François, the executive secretary of Abahuzamugambi, said with pride that "in the cooperative everybody works together with the aim to reach a better living standard for coffee farmers in Maraba." He said "women come together to work, they eat together and socialize."

Some 70 percent of the money received for the coffee is shared among the members, while 30 percent is invested in the cooperative. The coffee is exported to two companies in the U.S. and Britain after a long process to achieve the best quality of the area's Arabica Bourbon coffee. Production rose from 30 tonnes in 2002 to 65 tonnes in 2005.

"The lives of the neighbours in Maraba have improved a lot with the progress made by the cooperative, and now we have in the village some shops, two hairdressers and a kindergarten funded by Abahuzamugambi," said François,

The president of the cooperative is Joyeuse, an ironic name for a woman whose eyes reflect a deep sadness and resignation after the loss of her husband during the genocide.

But she said: "the association has given to those women affected in one way or another by the war new reasons to live. I have three teenagers at home whose studies I can afford now, even if the money is still very little."

Domina also has found the money to educate her two children, though her situation is different her husband has been in the Central Prison of Butare for eight years.

"It is only possible thanks to the cooperative, which has greatly reduced the amount of work of members as we do not need to worry about selling in the market. This allowed us to cultivate other products like sweet potatoes or manioc to obtain additional income," she said.

Members of Abahuzamugambi agree the big advantage of the cooperative is that it seeks the price of the international market, which is generally higher than the local market. In October 2002 Abahuzamugambi was fairtrade-certified, which meant inclusion of a premium reserved for sustainable business and social development programmes.

This certification is also due to Abahuzamugambi following an environmentally friendly policy that excludes use of chemical fertilizers. The cooperative won the International Environment Prize for Sustainable Development in Goteborg, Sweden.

Beatrice, Domina or Joyeuse all suffered the tragic consequences of the war in different ways. Now they are working together for a better life, proof that reconciliation is possible.

By Beatriz Gonzalez in Maraba, Rwanda




UNHCR country pages

Human Rights and Refugee Protection

Self-Study Module 5, Vol. I: Human Rights and Refugee Protection

The Rwandan Conflict 1994 from '1997 In Review'

Stories from Refugees Magazine Issue N° 109: 1997 In Review, related to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan Conflict 1994

Rwanda, Revisiting the Camps

It was the fastest genocide in modern history and ten years on, Rwanda is still trying to pick up the pieces. Seeing today's empty fields, it is difficult to recall the horror of the refugee camps a decade ago. Unfinished business as thousands of Rwandans continue to return home years after the conflict ended.

Stories from Refugees Magazine Issue N° 135: 'New Europe and Asylum. What Next?' related to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in History

The Rwandan Conflict 1994

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan conflict 1994

The Rwandan conflict 1994 from 'Crisis in the Great Lakes'

Stories from Refugees Magazine Issue N° 110: Crisis in the Great Lakes related to Unit plan for ages 12-14 in History: The Rwandan Conflict 1994

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

The Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda's Southern province was reopened in June 2012 after thousands of Congolese civilians started fleeing across the border when fighting erupted in late April between Democratic Republic of the Congo government forces and fighters of the rebel M23 movement. Built on terraced hills, it currently houses more than 14,000 refugees but was not significantly affected by the latest fighting in eastern Congo, which saw the M23 capture the North Kivu provincial capital, Goma, before withdrawing. While many of the adults long for lasting peace in their home region, the younger refugees are determined to resume their education. Hundreds enrolled in special classes to help them prepare for the Rwandan curriculum in local primary and secondary schools, including learning different languages. In a camp where more than 60 per cent of the population are aged under 18 years, the catch-up classes help traumatized children to move forward, learn and make friends.

Kigeme: A home carved from the hills for Congolese refugees

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Rwanda's Kiziba Camp was opened in December 1996, after the start of civil war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The facility was constructed to help cope with the influx of tens of thousands of Congolese refugees at that time. Some of the refugees have since returned to their homes in eastern DRC, but about 16,000 remain at the remote hilltop camp located in the Western province of Rwanda. Fresh violence last year in DRC's North Kivu province did not affect the camp because new arrivals were accommodated in the reopened Kigeme Camp in Rwanda's Southern province. Most of the refugees in Kiziba have said they do not want to return, but the prospects of local integration is limited by factors such as a lack of land and limited access to employment. In the meantime, people try to lead as normal a life as possible, learning new skills and running small businesses to help them become self-sufficient. For the youth, access to sports and education is very important to ensure that they do not become sidetracked by negative influences as well as to keep up their spirits and hopes for the future.

Keeping Busy in Rwanda's Kiziba Camp

Congolese Refugees flee to Rwanda

In the first ten days of May 2012, more than 6,500 refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo crossed into Rwanda, fleeing fighting between the Congolese army and renegade soldiers. UNHCR and its UN partners worked with the Rwandan government to provide the refugees with humanitarian assistance in the early stages of the crisis, and to find solutions until it is safe for them to return.

Some of the refugees walked for days before reaching the Goma-Gisenyi border crossing between Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. They came with their belongings, including mattresses, clothing, perhaps a few toys for the children. The images are from the border and from the Nkamira Transit Centre, located 22 kilometres inside Rwanda. Accommodation at Nkamira is poor: the centre can only host up to 5,400 individuals. It is only temporary shelter, but numbers continue to swell as hundreds cross the border every day.

Congolese Refugees flee to Rwanda

Rwanda: Flight from BurundiPlay video

Rwanda: Flight from Burundi

In recent weeks, the number of Burundian refugees crossing into Rwanda has increased significantly. According to the Government of Rwanda, since the beginning of April, 25,004 Burundians, mostly women and children, have fled to Rwanda. Many said they had experienced intimidation and threats of violence linked to the upcoming elections.