Discovering the ‘Rwanda of Europe’

What have you seen in this country that is similar to your country? This is the question I was asked by most people during a dinner to close a one-week exchange training programme with other journalists from nine countries that convened in Switzerland early this month.

“There is a time people said that your country Rwanda is the Switzerland of Africa”, added by Marc-Henri Jobin, head of the editorial committee of the training center for journalism and media (CFJM) in Lausanne.

Unusual practices in Switzerland

One of the myths that I had about Switzerland was that it did not have army forces, only to learn that it has but it doesn’t operate like other countries’ army forces.

During the European civil war in 1815, Switzerland agreed to be a neutral country, ever since, the country’s army never takes part in armed conflicts in other countries. Its main role is to rescue citizens in cases of emergencies and also takes part in peacekeeping missions around the world.

A group photo of journalists from Switzerland and other countries after one of the training sessions.

All males at 18 years old must do a four month army training and 2-week training from 20 to 45 years of age. There are penalties to those who skip the training but this is not mandatory for females.

There is a common practice in Switzerland which is not in Rwanda, it’s not an obligation but everyone does it- death announcements in the media, mostly print.

A group photo of the author, Swiss fellow journalist Laurence Difélix and Rwandan-Swiss Odette Habiyakare.

In all newspapers, there is a section called Avis Mortuaires (mortuary notices) where they announce deaths.

Announcing new borns is also done but it is not common compared to death announcements.

Comparisons

While in Rwanda, people are advised to not drink unboiled water, the Swiss can drink it directly from the water facets in bathrooms, as it is considered safe for drinking.

The time I was there in June, the sun was still out at 9PM which is impossible to see in Rwanda as you cannot see the sun after 6PM because day and night are equal.

The author in snow after hiking Gornegrat mountain.

Every photographer in Rwanda knows how much of a struggle it is to take images of places, people or buildings especially in Kigali without authorisation; but this is not the case in Switzerland for you are allowed to take as many photos for whatever purposes.

Rwanda is divided into 30 districts which are not independent while Switzerland is divided into 26 cantons. A canton is independent from one another, it has its own flag and administration but they all report and depend on the federal governance of the country.

You may need a translator if you are a citizen and speak only one language because Switzerland’s four national languages are German, French, Italian and Romansh while Rwanda’s national languages are Kinyarwanda, French, English and Swahili, although speaking Kinyarwanda is enough to communicate to nationals all over the country.

The Roman Catholic St. Nicholas Cadedral in Fribourg was built in 1283.

Rwanda has recorded significant gains in gender equality over the last 25 years after the genocide against the Tutsi while Swiss women, since 1959 have struggled to have equal rights with men. Recently, women paused work and convened on the main streets for a nationwide protest.

According to their national statistics institute, women are paid 20% less than men in similar positions despite having the same levels of education.

Photograph of International Monument to the Protestant Reformation in Geneva.

Tourism

Rwanda is known as a country of a thousand hills while Switzerland is one of the European countries with a thousand mountains. I was excited to hike on the mountain of the Gornergrat, a rocky ridge in the Pennine Alps, which stands at 3,135 meters altitude.

I enjoyed hiking up this mountain besides all the challenges I faced including finding it hard to breathe.

The author poses for a photo near the Broken Chair monument at the office of United Nations in Geneva.

The author poses for a photo in front of United Nations office in Geneva.

Beside Gornergrat mountain, the country has many other touristic areas. The tourism sector is one of the main drivers of the Swiss economy. I visited the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Nicholas which was built in 1283 in Fribourg.

As a protestant, I also visited the International Monument to the Reformation in Geneva, usually known as the Reformation Wall. It dates from the beginning of the 20th century and was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin who led the Protestant Reformation in Geneva.

A selfie with tourists at the Gornegrat mountain.

It honours many of the main individuals, events, and documents of the reforms.

Geneva also hosts the headquarters of most international organisations and it is where the monument to remember the genocide against the Tutsi was built in 2019 as part of the 25th commemoration. It is located on the public road in front of United Nations office.

Inside one of the rooms of St Nicholas Cadedral in Fribourg.

Transport and security

Public transport is known for being affordable. The train however is the most preferred mode of transport in Switzerland because it is not bogged down by traffic jam and also connects cities in different countries.

Using your smartphone app, you can tell what vehicle will pass you by at the exact time.  However, what was surprising is that there is no free internet on their public transport vehicles.

The author poses for a photo at the Gornergat hotel at 3089 meters altitude.

There is no traffic police or army personnel on the streets of Switzerland, at least where I stayed. I was told cameras do the work. Some pedestrians in Kigali and vehicle drivers disrespect zebra crossing but in Switzerland it is different because the law punishes pedestrians who violate traffic rules.

The busiest airports in Switzerland are in Zurich, Geneva and Basel. At Geneva airport, I found only one security checkpoint for arrival and another one for the departures.

This is different from the Kigali International Airport where even entering the airport to pick travelers, requires one to pass through a serious security checkpoint and four more checking points if you have a flight. Each security station checks for specific items in a specific way.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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