This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in an Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES) Joint Research Project (JRP) that took place in Rwanda. Over three weeks, we heard the stories of Rwanda’s recent history and plans for the future from a broad variety of individuals.
Joint Research Projects (JRP) are one of ALLIES core inter-chapter initiatives conducted annually by ALLIES members in order to provide participants the opportunity to investigate topics of shared interest in a civil-military setting. They align with the ALLIES mission and enhance the participants’ understanding of both military and civilian perspectives and approaches, while also creating relationships that last through entire careers. Past JRPs have been conducted in Jordan, Chile, Ukraine, Uganda, and Panama.
The concept of this JRP was originally envisioned by the former Rwandan Defense Attaché BGen Ferdinand Safari and Seth Karamage, a Rwandan graduate student, past participant in the Institute’s TILIP program, and a friend of ALLIES. On 19 April 2012, BGen Safari published a memorandum officially inviting ALLIES to Rwanda to perform a collaborative JRP with the Defense and Education Ministries of Rwanda. ALLIES members developed a plan of action that aligned with BGEN Safari’s vision.
The goal of this JRP was different from previous ALLIES trips because of the expectation for enhanced collaboration between Rwandans and the American participants and the development of a sustained relationship between Rwanda and ALLIES. This vision affected the research, since the group received an unprecedented amount of support from the Rwandan Ministry of Defense on logistical issues such as transportation, lodging, and interview arrangements. The discussion of findings and writing of the paper, however, is being conducted solely by ALLIES members. After sixteen days of meetings, the research group had spent approximately 75 hours interviewing more than 60 Rwandans in 23 interviews.
The JRP team was a mix of liberal arts (Tufts University and Boston University) and academy students (US Military Academy and US Naval Academy), from all different years, studying diverse subjects from literature to music to political science. Our research topics reflected this diversity, ranging from the civilian perception of the Rwandan military to the role of women in civil-military relations, from balancing order and civil liberties to the role of the defense forces in economic development.
In Rwanda, what we found is that many of the discussions start with the genocide and, given the lack of international intervention during the genocide, they are followed with the country’s search for homegrown solutions. In all of our interviews, everyone discussed or referred to the genocide in 1994 or the civil war, which began its last phase in 1990.
But the activity in Rwanda has also moved far beyond dwelling on the genocide. Development and efforts to build unity are underway with noticeable results in infrastructure and institutional development. Within the vast changes that Rwanda has experienced over the last two decades, the JRP team sought to discover the dynamics of interaction and cooperation between the military and civilian sectors of society. Military and civilian coordination is directed by the "J5" - the sector of the Ministry of Defense that coordinates cooperation between military and civilian counterparts. A meeting with this office marked our first stop once we all had arrived in the land of a thousand hills.
During our first conversation, we learned that the military works with the civilian sector on projects on a regular basis and the relationship between civilians and military is one understood by the military as characterized by seamless interaction. At the army battalion outpost we visited, civilians worked alongside soldiers building a guardhouse structure. The annual army week features military personnel going into the community and implementing development and education programs country-wide alongside civilians. The military operates in many sectors in addition to the traditional defense capacity.
We found that the dynamics between the civilian and military sectors defies the traditional academic theoretical constructs of civil-military relations. In Rwanda, the line between civilian sector and military sector is fluid both in practice and in perception. Even if a person is not wearing a uniform, he or she can still fulfill the mission of the military and contribute towards the success of the goals that the military aims at: security, stability and progress. A mother who convinces her son to turn himself in to the military rather than continuing to fight in a rebel group is considered as valid a part of the military effort as a soldier. Certainly this mentality and approach to civil-military relations opened our eyes to a different reality than the understanding of the military as exclusively a defense force.
The spectrum of people we met was wide and diverse. We talked with a group of musicians, which included a well known hip hop singer whose CD we found at the bookstore and a poet turned actor. These artists opened up to us about how the genocide affected them personally and professionally. They have used their music to help their country foster reconciliation and positive behavior, such as keeping the city's streets clean. Also, the military soldiers described how music builds the army's morale.
We visited a reintegration and demobilization center in the northwest city of Ruhengeri. We listened to testimony from former members of rebel groups who had been fighting in the bush in eastern Congo for over a decade.
As we participated in interviews as a collective group and together designed a document summarizing of our findings, our JRP group played out our own microcosm of civil-military relations. I know that personally speaking I got more out of the experience by having military students on the trip because of the additional perspectives. When I had the opportunity to interview a female Major in the Rwandan Defense Force about her experiences, I would pair up with Emily from West Point to open up my conversation to the added ideas and interpretations from her point of view. Certainly both civilians and military students joining in conversation together is an effective exercise, since the issues of peace and security require critical thinking from both military and civilian sectors .
By Amy Ouellette (A’12)
JRP Rwanda Participants
Alex Dobyan, Tufts University ‘15
Amy Ouellette, Tufts University ‘12
Linda Zhang, Boston University ‘13
Eric Davids, US Naval Academy ‘14
Jordan Rettie, US Naval Academy ‘14
Emily McCarthy, US Military Academy ’13
T.S. Allen, US Military Academy ’14
Dr. Hugh Liebert, Assistant Professor, United States Military Academy
Benjamin Paganelli, Lt Col [ret.], USAF, VIA Unlimited