I have been following the coverage of the August 9 Rwandan election with great interest. Critics and observers have suggested that the election may not have been free and fair. If the reports are true – up until now, the most serious allegations remain unsubstantiated
However, the narrow coverage being presented by the Canadian media has sold short a heroic population that has proven itself equal to the challenge of moving beyond the politics of genocide. If one were to read the reports about contemporary Rwanda, one would wrongly view Rwanda as yet another “African” country with a despotic leader and a repressed people.
I write to you because that is not the Rwanda I know from my two visits there. Rwanda is a beautiful country with a tragic history. It would have been easy for Rwandans to have thrown in the towel after the 1994 genocide, but instead, the everyday heroes of the country are working with their neighbours in order to modernize their highly agrarian economy, and to forge a future free of ethnic divisionism.
When I think of Rwanda, I think of a country that is among the safest on the continent – where I feel safer on the streets at night than I do in many North American capitals.
This is the case because the majority of Rwandans are embarrassed by their past. They do not enjoy being viewed by the world as barbarians who committed genocide. The result, fueled by a resolve for change, has been a social transformation that is unprecedented on the continent and perhaps the world.
Rwandans have bought into the idea that, through hard work and determination, they can rebuild not only their economy, but also their reputation on the world stage.
Hard work and honesty have become the mantra that has helped to rebuild the war-torn country of only sixteen years ago. On the last Saturday of every month, Rwandans, young and old, take to the streets and partake in community service designed to foster pride in community and country. And it has been working.
Obviously, I paint a picture that glosses over some of the complexities of Rwandan life. Not all Rwandans have moved on and forgiven. Rwanda is not without its problems.
Moreover, my purpose is not to defend President Kagame or his government.
I write to you because I feel that Rwanda and Rwandan’s were sold out by the media. Perhaps I am demanding too much of the media, but the least I can demand of myself is to challenge a story I feel fails to capture a reality that I know. Indeed, despite the intentions of the journalists writing these news stories, which I am sure are admirable,
I fear that the consequences of their words are far greater than they possibly can imagine. The journalists are using language we all understand to describe a situation in which the general definitions do not apply.
In Rwanda, it is a big deal when opposition politicians make passing remarks about the genocide with language that borrows from the rhetoric of genocidal regimes. In Rwanda, the stakes are higher, and so the consequences are higher.
Am I implicitly suggesting that security and prosperity are more important than traditional democratic values? Or, am I suggesting that security and prosperity are at the core of democracy?
Regardless of what I am implying, Rwanda’s is a complex history and a complex present. My hope for Rwanda and Rwandans is that this negative coverage does not detract from the concrete progress that has been fueled by honest, hard, work.
The author is a Canadian working on a project to bring young Canadians to visit, discover and learn about Rwanda