“Rwanda is like a glass full of water. One single drop and the glass will overflow.” You remember the author of that infamous statement, made in all seriousness.
Whatever corner of the none-too-cold place he is in, has that author swallowed his words? To jog your memory, the author was the man who reigned over Rwanda until he dropped out of the heavens in a ball of fire.
But our culture forbids talking ill of the dead. So, mea culpa. Unfortunately, one can’t stop oneself from being stricken by a bolt of memory. And, on recalling the absurdity, from laughing out loud.
Because, as example, look at the Special Economic Zone that we first heard of as a mysterious zone, wondering what a bush could zone. Today, it’s an expanse zoning not-so modest a number of different factories, warehouses, et al, a few complete and humming and buzzing with activity, a lot others at different stages of construction.
Beyond and all around as far as the eye can see, the erstwhile wild hills are covered with bright modern buildings, interspersed with trees contentedly swaying in the gentle wind.
In the countryside, villagers may not be living in palaces but that they enjoy simple, decent habitation is in no doubt. With easy access to health, education, energy, sanitation and other amenities, they’ve seen their standard of living take a turn for the better.
Now recall end-1994, those who were here. Save for the city centre and its near-environs like Gikondo, Nyamirambo, Nyabugogo, Kacyiru, Kimihurura, Remera and scanty others, all else was scrubland, with a banana grove around a grass-thatched mud-and-wattle hovel here and there.
Four or five concrete storied buildings graced Kigali city centre as did a few other decent but mud (rukarakara) residences for the rich, the above-mentioned environs.
The rest of the country was dotted with those hovels that were kilometres apart, whose occupants were ravaged by disease, hunger, squalor and hopelessness.
So, when before Rwanda was so small that she could only accommodate a select section of her people while she ‘spilt out’ her excess baggage (another part of her citizens), today the country is not only home to every Rwandan but also to any foreigner who chooses to herein pitch tent.
A walk around that economic zone alone takes you through sign-boards that read like an encyclopaedic display of the whole world business community.
So, cynics though we be, let’s give it up to the leadership of this country for this swift turn-around that has seen a rise in the fortunes of our people. “Swift turn-around” because in the life of a country, 23 years could as well be 23 weeks.
To get the sense of this, you only need to look at the poor parts of the world. Many countries, having suffered upheaval or not, are still lost at sea as to how to get rid of the disease, hunger, squalor, graft, internecine acrimony and all other miseries that seem to hold them in a vicious, unbreakable vice.
“These Rwandans and how they like blowing their own trumpet!” you’ll say. “Wasn’t it being reported the other day that ‘Despite several advancements, [their] country still has severe malnutrition among children”?
Yes, ‘The East African’ newspaper reported that but, on that, whom was it quoting? President Paul Kagame himself, who is so exacting you’d be tempted to think he sounds the alarm before the fact. Which, even if not exactly before the fact, is an expression of the fact that if malnutrition can be minimised, why shouldn’t it be eradicated totally?
Especially since “...several advancements...” precedes the “malnutrition” phrase.
To think closer back, I remember one time a foreign neutral observer, in one of these unique annual leadership retreats, pleading with President Kagame not to castigate government officials. Because, explained the observer, “….these guys work very hard surely!” But to the President, that’s an expression that, if they can attain better, why can’t they, best?
No, for sure – without appearing to denigrate the high integrity of the reporter – that quoted 2015-statistics child malnutrition is not so severe as it may sound. Moreover, 2015 is eons ago in this land!
The report is captioned with a slum that’s adjacent to the up-market housing estate of Nyarutarama. The slum, whose name is equivalent to what in Nairobi’s Kibera slum they call “To Whom It May Concern”, is truly alarming, though not to the point of its namesake.
But, interestingly, the resident ‘guys’ of this slum are resisting a free offer of an 18m-Rwf-worth flat each. Instead, they want cash in compensation for shacks that, combined, are hardly worth ten million. But cash, anyway!
Such a mind-set has survived the passage of time and pervades all aspects of life in the citizenry and needs much effort to bend towards change. But this top leadership, having no luxury of time for any malady persistence calls for no single-minute let-up on that effort.
And, certainly, with unity of purpose and all hands constantly on deck, what appears impossible can turn to something of a walkover.
Welcome to a new Rwanda that wants better for, and more of, you.