Since the Coronavirus first hit Rwanda in mid-March, I have been frequently asked two kinds of questions.
The first kind has come from well-meaning but ill-informed people outside Africa: “So how are you doing in Rwanda? How bad are things there? Are you safe? Are there food riots?”
The underlying assumptions seem to be that if I am in Africa, that must mean that we are all now suffering through a chaotic and ineffective government response to Coronavirus; a sharp spike in both cases and deaths as things spiral out of control; and as a result, widespread hunger, social instability, police brutality and mass insurrection.
Since I came of my own choice to live and work here in Rwanda just over a year ago, I have got used to inquiries about home invasions, extreme traffic congestion and, of course, wild gorillas roaming freely around the streets of Kigali, like cows in India.
But this new line of Corona questioning sadly symbolises a much broader ignorance and lack of respect that the rest of the world has been showing for what Rwanda and Africa are doing to combat this terrible pandemic.
Many global leaders and media outlets have focused on “model countries” - such as Iceland and New Zealand - who have done relatively well in handling the virus. And in Africa, the spotlight has mostly been on the larger, better known countries, such as Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.
But here in little Rwanda – which is often called the “Switzerland” or “Singapore” of Africa - we have actually done a much better job of fighting the virus than many countries and, in fact, every other country in the world, except for one.
According to both Johns Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center and Covidvisualizer.com, there are, as of 26 May, only two countries - with reliable testing, tracing and treatment data – with zero deaths so far.
Vietnam, with an 83% recovery rate. And Rwanda, with a 71% recovery rate.
Why Rwanda? How Rwanda?
Firstly, and most importantly, we have a responsible, organized and efficient government which has ample experience of keeping Ebola and other health threats at bay and which was fully prepared for Corona.
When I flew home from my most recent work trip to Europe on 10 February, there were masked doctors and immigration agents waiting for me and other travelers in the Arrivals area at Kigali Airport.
As certain large countries discounted or lied about the imminent threat from Corona – and are now paying the tragic price for that – the Rwandan authorities began to implement public awareness and safety measures, such as hand washing in public spaces.
And once the first case was reported, new stringent health measures went into full gear and we were the first country in Africa to completely lock down a week later.
What amazed me was how quickly people in Kigali began to adapt to these strict controls.
I don’t believe it is just about Rwanda’s traditional respect for hierarchy and authority. I also perceive a deep sense of trust for the government and concern for our fellow residents.
Clearly, some people needed monitoring and reminding what to do and what not do by the police and even drones. And day workers were naturally very concerned about feeding their families without a regular source of income.
But the government began to distribute food and other essential supplies to families in need as soon as possible, complemented by private food drives to help neighbours.
There were admittedly some mistakes and delays but it seems people did get enough food and there were certainly no riots in the street or mass flouting of the regulations.
Every morning during the lockdown, I would check the latest official updates and fear the worst. But instead of any deaths or many ICU cases, I saw testing, tracing and recovery levels start to increase – aided now by five Belgian robots - and community spread decreasing to the point where the lockdown was able to be partially lifted on 4 May.
It is certainly nice to be able to leave my house again and walk my dogs, who naturally ensure a safe physical distance from others. And yet I and everyone I know is ready to restrict movements again if there is any renewed spike in cases.
And if you have made it this far through this article, you may still wonder what is the second kind of question that I have often been asked in the last few months.
Both Rwandans and expats here in Kigali have frequently asked me: “Are you still in Rwanda or did you go home?”
And my answer is always “Yes”. My home is here in Rwanda. I feel very safe and happy here. And why would I want to be anywhere else right now?
The views expressed in this article are of the author.