The past week has seen Rwanda on the BBC a lot, sometimes positively other times negatively. We have had young returnee investors interviewed, an infrastructure conference, as well as the usual hullabaloo defending divisive politicians.
This week I discussed with friends how African countries are portrayed in the western media and we were nearly all disappointed.
Traditional stereotypes still apply to most African countries; South Africa – a crime-infested pit, Kenya – Safaris and Masai’s, Congo – war and diamonds, and Rwanda – Genocide.
You will rarely see a piece in the media that doesn’t start from 1994 as the main focal point. The progress made since is rarely mentioned or if it is, then it is qualified in the context of 1994.
This image fits in with the “heart of darkness” image that portrays us as victims or perpetually in conflict.
These stereotypes become a short-hand of understanding what a deeply varied continent Africa is, these stereotypes led the world to ignore a genocide as merely “tribal killings” that didn’t warrant intervention.
So the news cycle rolls on, Rwanda disappears from the news for a while then journalists come back after a 7 year hiatus but with the same perceptions. A news cycle always winds back to the same spot, regurgitating the same news and views.
When African nations are trying to rebrand themselves or show a more honest portrayal they find it hard to overcome decades of pre-conceptions.
In our vision 2020, Rwanda is trying to become a “normal middle-income” country. I ask this; will we ever be normal? Our unique and tragic history makes it hard in the short-term, but very possible in the medium to long run.
In recent weeks I have found myself saying the words “Rwanda is not just any normal country, you cannot judge it like Botswana or Malawi.”
The severity of our history will always dictate caution, we will continue to integrate and reconcile, we will achieve that middle-income we aspire to but we will ever be just another “normal” country.
Look at Armenia which suffered a genocide at the hands of the Turks 95 years ago- the wounds are still there.
I attended a graduation ceremony recently and one of the female graduates was a genocide survivor, she survived rape and seeing her family killed.
She looked like all the other people in the photo, nothing on her face betrayed her painful past. She might have received the same marks as anyone else, but her story made her different.
Around her were middle-class kids, who knew nothing of her pain, and even if they did they could never understand how far she had come. She is an embodiment of Rwanda; she crawled out of a pit latrine 16 years ago to now smile at her graduation.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator