MULTI-CULTURALISM is often petty. Ours dips rather than dives into other societies which commonly revolve around cinema, cuisine and clothes.
Chinese food, MTV, and Bollywood, these are the emblems around which our globalism is often wrapped. I bring this up not to condemn it, but to acknowledge honestly how much we rely on these devices to get to know one another.
There are a lot of people who would go to an African restaurant in New York and buy it on DVD and cry and weep for ages or even donate to an NGO helping orphans (quite a petty interaction in itself), but there aren’t so many that would live here, there aren’t even so many who visit. There are even fewer who would partake in Umuganda, and even fewer still who would spend a penny of their life savings for someone else’s cause.
In Rwanda, I believe, the restaurant and hospitality services deserve specific attention, as the country’s highly polarized double-economy allows for where in effect the clientele interact.
These two cones of people spiral away from each other because the facilities and services catering to each are exclusive from each other.
We live on contiguous land but we live in different worlds, truly segregated, and as Rwanda races forward in development it’s forgetting to look out the side windows. It is driving past many people, all of them their own, and forgetting to take them along.
The iconography of Kigali’s modernity and ‘globalism, its bank and insurance buildings, the gilded doors of the Union Trade Centre—even the French-Thai Kimihurura restaurant Comme Chez Moi—are all off-limits, and foreign, to the vast majority of its citizens.
They are even exclusive of Rwanda’s own middle-class, where a KIST degree and Frw250,000 a month is nothing to dismiss. That proud graduate can’t take his own girlfriend to the new Italian restaurant—or won’t take her—because even if he has the money in his pocket, its not in his budget.
In a place like Rwanda, cuisine as an ambassador of culture becomes quite significant, if not for the lack of other alternatives. The people in the country are divided between the developers and the developing. One sits squarely on top of the other.
There is a double economy where you can buy five tomatoes for Frw100 ($0.18) in the market, or tomato and cheese at a restaurant for Frw1500. There is little interaction between races outside of work, and even this is between small percentages of the population.
Two worlds reside, somehow looping through each other but rarely entangling or connecting. If there ever was a cheap and popular way to connect, it’s through cuisine. The international civil-society is to blame. Not the ex-patriots but those who employ them.
In Europe and the United States, these are the “heroes of their world,” the brave and risk-=takers, placing their lives in danger far away to do the world a little good. That may be partly true, but the reality in Rwanda is that these “heroes” don’t even need to risk their lifestyle, let alone their lives.
Upon a regular salary, employees of international organizations and foreign governments receive stipends, housing allowances, free airtime, and even “trauma allowance,” – for putting up with living in such a place.
Such the place happens to be where exclusive businesses grow through a society unaccountable for the money it spends.
After all, many of those eating at Papyrus, where it regularly takes over 1 hour to receive your food, are not even paying out of their own wallet, they use the money they are given to spend. What a service!
So it is in fact possible to be sitting for over an hour—almost every time==for your food which will come too late, too cold, and too meager to account for its price. And you wonder how something like this can exist. That, somehow, this business is prospering.
And it’s because we live in a double economy, and the Second Economy is driven not just by the rich, but by those with superfluous money.
If Paris Hilton is famous for being famous, there are restaurants in Rwanda that exist simply to be expensive, and that maybe if you pay enough money, you can pretend you are not sitting in a post-conflict state.
Frw3000 for a beer—more expensive than New York—Frw2500 for a plate of chips (one plate-equivalent of potatoes in market; Frw50); Frw4500 for bland pasta in a bland sauce that came after 90 minutes? It’s a human crime.
The big loser is the consumer
But the real losers are those in the other economy, the ones the Second Economy is trying to serve. Those in the First Economy—the local economy—get more, and sometimes better food for their price than does the Second Economy, but the First is financially prohibited from entering, even visiting the Second.
It’s like saying, “we will help you out of a ditch, but you can’t come up here with us.”
Bring down criminal prices for ‘international’ food. High food prices do a disservice to the nation, for it fails, in even the slightest way, to bring people in any way together, for people to exchange cultures, and thus assimilate towards each other.
The private sector in Rwanda must stop feeding at the carcass of civil-society, and it must engage its own performance contracts to engage in its own people. The beneficiary in the end, is the consumer, who will enjoy better service because of higher competition.