A couple of weeks ago, I watched with unveiled amusement as a couple, no doubt from somewhere upcountry, stood their necks tilted upwards and staring in admiration at the recently opened M Peace Plaza.
I remember thinking at the time that they had all the right to gawk and stare for as long as they wanted - it was their city. And where else could they have seen such a wonder – poor souls!
I also remember imagining what sort of story they would be telling when they got back to their village. Who would have dreamed that Rwanda would be what it is today, two decades ago?
Rwanda’s story at the time was a tragedy that almost no one had any desire to associate with, apart from of course Rwandans themselves.
With no natural resources to talk about, and its economy based on the largely rain-fed agricultural production of small, subsistence and increasingly fragmented farms, Rwanda was doomed to become one of those inconsequential African countries who earned themselves the unenviable label of “failed state.’
This did not happen though, thanks to those patriotic Rwandans who believed then and continue to believe today (because the struggle for better things is still going on), that everything is possible.
Rome was not built in one day, so the saying goes! But surely Rwandans have proved that where there is will, there usually is a way!
Through hard work, sheer determination and a visionary leadership, Rwanda is slowly but steadily rising from its dark past, into the shimmering glory it’s now enjoying.
The shimmering glare is beaconing all and sundry from all corners of the world as if saying: ‘Welcome to the new Rwanda’.
The transformation of Rwanda from what it was two decades ago is miraculous to say the least. Children born during that period can hardly imagine what their city looked like then, thinking, no doubt, that what they see today is what it has always been.
They would be unable as even some adults are, to imagine a small, dirty, poorly planned and disorganized Kigali, littered with used plastic bags.
I vividly remember that in 1995, there were only a few dilapidated tarmac roads in the city centre, and that only a few roads such as the one to Kacyiru ministries, and the one that goes up to Kigali International Airport, were paved in tarmac.
During that period, traffic lights at junctions were scanty and some of them were simply non-functional.
I left the gawking couple to their amazement and continued with my walk, but the two had set me on to thinking, and asking myself why this miraculous transformation had waited until only two decades ago to take off, and not long before that?
Why is it that, barely two decades past, the city of Kigali is considered one of the most developing urban centres in Africa and a beacon of success on the African continent?
And why have all the main towns all over the country undergone tremendous transformation in a matter of only a few years?
Some say this miracle is the result of a consensus among the people of Rwanda and its good governance policies. This could well be it, but the leadership insists that development can only be attained through steady hard work.
As President Kagame said recently, “our progress is not a result of miracles. It is a result of hard work.
Development is not about miracles, it is about fulfilling our potential. There are enough lessons that show us what is possible”.
In my thoughts and imagination, I saw pictures of two very senior Genocide fugitives Felicien Kabuga and Agathe Kanziga coming back to Kigali through Kigali International Airport.
I remembered that the airport itself has been so modernized, and saw their faces as they searched for the way out.
At Sopetrad and Payage on their way to town, I saw them bewildered as the double-carriage road did not exist during their time.
Downtown Kigali I imagined their sight blurred by the multitude of skyscrapers, and that they would be made to think they are back to Paris or Bruxelles.
And then I imagined that when they finally get to their home villages, such senior citizens as Madame Agathe and Felicien Kabuga will be amazed by the multitude of high rise buildings mushrooming over night all over the country, and then learn the lesson that peace and human coexistence are the most precious assets for all communities.
That all groups can flourish by living in peace and mutual respect, because war destroys both.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Kigali.