By Michael Shank and Innocent Rugaragu

Twenty years ago this week, an estimated 1 million Rwandans were killed in that country’s genocide. Needless to say, the post-genocide era has been difficult and pregnant with fears and hopes. Had the leadership at the time – at local and international levels – spoken and acted, hundreds of thousands of innocent people could have been saved. It goes without saying that this country would be very different now without the genocide’s continuous and devastating impacts.

The long journey since, healing communities and rebuilding institutions, has offered a profound lesson for Rwandans and the international community: We should never delay in protecting life and human dignity.

Twenty years on, maintaining peace is now the country’s main priority. From national identity to poverty alleviation to institution building, there is much work to be done to ensure a sustainable peace in Rwanda. And yet we continue to witness divisive politics and the politicization of ethnicity in order to gain political loyalties and power for some leaders.

National identity, for example, gets manipulated by political and ideological leaders. A recent initiative to build a common Rwandan identity – called “Ndumunyarwanda” – was intended to encourage Rwandans to see themselves first as Rwandans versus a Hutu or a Tutsi or a Twa first. But critics of the government see this as human right violation and denial of identity, to which the government responded saying this is a reconciliatory initiative that discourages group polarization and politicization.

Those who argue in favor of constructing a national identity have added that at the international level this helps Rwandans get recognized as Rwandan. When Rwandans participate in the United Nations Mission in Sudan, Central Africa, Liberia and Haiti, for example, they are sent into the U.N. mission, not as Tutsi or Hutu or Twa, but as Rwandans.

Given the divisiveness over this issue, and mindful of the fact that Rwandans share cultural traditions, values, taboos and language, among other things, an open dialogue is needed between the government, private sector, civil society and individuals over the purpose and intent of such an initiative.

But identity initiatives alone won’t bring the country together. Other necessary areas of improvements include combating poverty (more than 1 million Rwandans have been brought above the poverty line), a continuous crackdown on corruption and crime reduction, and substantial investments in education, trade and technology, women and youth empowerment, health security for all, and environmental protection.

Rwanda also needs to continue building institutions staffed with leaders with character, behavior, attitude and actions aimed at sustainable peace, development and reconciliation. The country needs leaders who seek to bring peace, reconciliation and development to an increasingly young and vibrant population.

These are critical indicators for sustainable peace in Rwanda and provide a natural progression toward a healthy democracy that ensures the wellbeing of every citizen regardless of Tutsi or Hutu ethnicity.

Like many other developing countries, Rwanda requires this sustainable peace in order to socioeconomically develop. Rwanda seeks to be free from fear of war and another genocide. She seeks and desires mutual respect and to be at peace with her neighboring countries and the international community. This is why human rights and democratic governance are so essential.

The genocide has taught Rwanda that she cannot flourish without internal and external peace – and that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo and the entire East African community. This means that, however painful it may be, Rwanda has to continue to challenge her citizens (and all who care about her) to continue embracing positive changes irrespective of who leads them (Hutu, Tutsi or Twa).

Rwanda’s lived cultural values, such as “Ubuntu and ubupfura,” generosity and integrity, moral and spiritual values and ability to exist should be the foundation of Rwandan loyalty and patriotism as a country. The psychosocial, spiritual, as well as material, support for those who are most wounded and hurt by the genocide should continue and strengthened through government, civil society, faith-based institutions and the private sector.

Twenty years after the genocide, there is more hope than despair in Rwanda. But it will only be sustained and strengthened if Rwanda, and the international community, comes together now to unite for the next 20 years. Peace is possible but only through partnership. Rwanda needs the international community’s support now more than ever.