The other day, a visiting female technician from Poland said to me “I have been to over 15 African countries, but Rwanda is the best.
I don’t know what it is, because it isn’t spectacular but it works, it just works. The police are not corrupt, the people actually go to work to do their job, the roads are well maintained, and there is hardly any crime. It just works.”
I took that as the compliment it was meant to be, and my chest swelled with patriotic pride, but then I thought for a minute... police are NOT meant to be corrupt, people ARE meant to do their jobs, roads ARE meant to be maintained, and crime IS meant to be low.
However, because Rwanda is in Africa we are judged compared to our fellow African nations, and our peers are not doing well.
In Africa we have such low standards we expect the worst in life; we expect the policemen to beat you for bribes, the taxman to be bribed to find your file, the doctor even has to be bribed to see you, then bribe him for medicine, and bribe the nurse to give you a pillow. So when we have a nation like Rwanda, it becomes a big deal that a public servant does the bare minimum expected of them.
I remember in Britain, I used to regale my English friends with fake stories about how my father used to hunt zebra for breakfast, and they would often believe me.
It is from such a low standard that we are judged; the Western world is still ignorant about Africa.
This brave new African century is still suffering from the effects of the last century.
The end of the Cold War saw many of the Big Men swept from power and democracy started to take hold. A lot of that early promise is now a distant memory, there is actual war in only five African countries but that doesn’t tell the full story; there have been 3 coup d’états in the last year, Mauritania, Madagascar and Guinea.
There has been civil unrest in Uganda, Kenya is still on a deadly balancing point, Congo is still unstable in the East, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Chad, Niger, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Niger Delta and many other countries have conflict.
Quite often, minerals are involved in these conflicts, and state institutions are too weak or corrupt to deliver public services.
It is for that reason that Rwanda does not aspire to be like any other African country, instead we look to other continents for our development model.
Whenever we earn praise from outside, we must put it in context compared to the other nations around us and where we want to reach. Rudyard Kipling said we should treat criticism and praise as the same impostor; we must not let it get to our heads.
We should always remember that we have higher standards; so when a tourist says to you “wow, your streets are really clean!” You should tell them “streets are supposed to be clean that’s why we pay taxes.”
Then watch for the look on their face, “wow, you pay your taxes?” Ruszard Kapucinsky, a long-term correspondent in Africa, once wrote that “in Africa, a dictatorship is where the soldiers beat you for bribes, but in a democracy they ask politely for bribes.” We Africans are better than that.
The Author is a social analyst and a regular columnist