Rwanda is like Malawi. Like Malawi, Rwanda is poor; according to those who classify us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is landlocked, according to those who define us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is densely populated, according to those who count us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is mostly rural and illiterate; according to those who describe us.
Like Malawi, Rwanda has Vision 2020 and dreams of becoming a middle-income country by 2020. Like Malawi, Rwanda wants its development to be ICT-driven. Like Malawians, Rwandans are welcoming and warm-hearted.
However, unlike Malawi, Rwanda has had a very turbulent post-independence history. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a stark reminder that ethnic hatred, if untamed, can lead to national disaster.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is a much smaller country. Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is an extremely hilly country, which qualifies Rwanda as “Pays des Mille Collines”, or a country of a thousand hills.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda, despite its sad post-independence history, has looked inwardly to see how it can help itself. While donor aid to Rwanda amounts for nearly 50 per cent of the national budget, Rwanda does not spend time praising donors.
Instead, Rwanda has used donor aid to invest into areas that matter most. Unlike Malawi where all farmers are expected to plant and eat maize, Rwanda has zoned the country into rice, potatoes, bananas, cassava, maize, and livestock production areas. Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda food insecurity is not part of the national vocabulary.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda generates over US$30 million from its well advertised and managed tourist sites.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda has developed its mineral and gas extraction industries so much that it presently produces its own ceramic tiles (from the Eastern Province), and gas-driven electrical power from Lake Kivu in the Western Province.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, IT equipment, mobile phones, computers and even airtime are not taxed because Rwanda wants all Rwandans to access IT services.
In Rwanda, villages have been reorganised into imidugudu (planned communal settlements), something similar to Ujamaa villages. The leaders of these imidugudu are elected democratically and form part of the national administrative structure.
In the imidugudu, the local people, Abaturage, are encouraged to form and belong to cooperative societies so that they harness their skills and make the best products to sell. Unlike Malawi, Rwanda has no room for troublesome ethnic politics. Children are taught that all the people of Rwanda are Abanyarwanda – not Hutu or Tutsi or Twa.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is strict about its infrastructure. In Kigali and other cities around the country, all traffic lights function, all street lights work, and all motor vehicle lights work. Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, it is a serious traffic offence to tamper with street lights, pavements, and signage.
Unlike in Malawian cities and towns, in Rwandan cities and towns, it is safe to walk around at any time of the day or night, with money in your pockets and expensive phones in your hands.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, the government holds an open annual national debate (Umushyikirano) to hear the views and desires of the public about the development of their country. The views then inform national policies and budget priorities. The annual national dialogue or debate is chaired by the President himself.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda the economy has been growing at an average of 9.6 per year since 1995; and per capita incomes have been rising at 5.5 per cent annually; while rural poverty in Rwanda has been declining annually by 2.4 per cent. The number of poor people in Rwanda went down from 56.7 per cent in 2005 to 44.9 per cent in 2011, while extreme poverty dropped from 41 per cent in 2000 to 36.9 per cent in 2005 and 24 per cent in 2011.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda no permanent dwelling house’s roof is grass-thatched. Nearly twenty years ago, Rwanda used to charter Air Malawi planes; today Rwanda has its own carrier (RwandAir) while Malawi has none. Rwanda dreams to have 20 planes by 2020. Malawi does not even dream.
I thank President Paul Kagame for resurrecting Rwanda and putting the country into the speeding train towards self-reliance and prosperity. My heart is with Rwandans during the 20th commemoration of the Genocide against the Tutsi.
The writer, Levi Manda from Malawi, was in Rwanda in December 2013, and was impressed by what he saw.