Joni Mitchell never lies

They paved paradise And put up a parking lot With a pink hotel, a boutique And a swinging hot spot Don’t it always seem to go That you don’t know what you’ve got Till its gone They paved paradise And put up a parking lot

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique

And a swinging hot spot

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you’ve got

Till its gone

They paved paradise

And put up a parking lot

These haunting lyrics are from a 1970 classic by folk singer Join Mitchell called "Yellow Taxi". This song is about the destruction of what was seemingly ‘old and boring’ because of modernity and ‘new-ness’. Although she was trying to talk to the hippie generation of back then, the central message of the song is still one that is extremely powerful.

Very often man has decided to develop the ‘latest thing’ while ignoring the really important things that sustain him. Then, later, as things go haywire man realizes that maybe he made a mistake and instead of looking for ‘modernity’ he should have protected what he had. A case in point is the environment. Its amazing how we ignore this most precious aspect of our very existence. We push and prod it to distraction and then when it bites back we shake our heads in confusion and run around looking for a solution.

Since the European Industrial Revolution and last centuries Green Revolution man has been making things worse and worse. We’ve polluted the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat. Why? Because we thought that because we produced more we could be happier and more able to tussle it with the ‘harsh environment’. Well, we were mistaken. Yes, we produce more but it was on the backs of little children and women who work in unsanitary conditions. Yes, we can harvest more but it’s on the backs of the poor rural farmer who can’t possibly compete with the larger agricultural concerns. Man, because of his destructive nature is now faced with a threat that may be his undoing. Climate Change.

However, this phenomenon that I choose to call ‘negative change’ isn’t one that is just environmental in scope; its goes beyond that. I was having a talk with one of my elders and we were talking about how much Rwanda is changing with regard to the helter-skelter economic development that we are experiencing. He was of the view that maybe, just maybe, our development is going on a bit too fast and that we were causing irreparable damage to our nations very lifeblood-the land. I was of the view that he was just a sour old man who wanted to live in the days of yore. But some of the things that he said got me thinking. "Are we really thinking about what it will mean for our culture with the influx of foreign investors" "For our standard of living"? "For the people who will be trodden on by all this development"?

My argument that only manufacturing industries can cause the acid rain and polluted waters and, because Rwanda was trying to attract service sector investment, we had nothing to fear. However, he asked me what happened as a result of production. "Waste", I said. "That’s right, he said, where are we going to put all the waste"? That was a tricky question. Everyone in the know understands that the old garbage dump at Nyanza, Kicukiro barely keeps up with the increased demand. So, where indeed shall we put all the garbage that the new industries will produce? I have no idea at all; maybe someone should tell me. And trust me; it’s not just the environment that caused us worry. It’s the whole phenomenon of fast track development. I mean, skyscrapers are being build all over the place but no one is wondering what these developments are replacing because, for sure, these glitzy towers aren’t being built on empty land. Something is being destroyed to build these buildings...I’m worried that these razed buildings are actually a part of our history. Yes, they may be a part of our rather negative past but does it mean that they should be obliterated? I don’t think so.

Life in Rwanda is pretty good you know. I mean, sure we are poor but can you say that we, as a nation, are psychologically in bad shape? Yes, in some ways (our past forces us to be) but in other ways, we are quite a happy people. After a days work at a poor paying job we go home to drink a cold Primus or Urugwaga with our mates, eat a meal of potatoes and beans and sleep. No stress about what the next day will bring, no sleepless nights writing a report on your laptop and no diseases of affluence like diabetes and high blood pressure. Anyone that has lived in the ‘developed’ world knows that, although they have unlimited wealth, it’s hard to be really happy and relaxed. The pace of life is just too fast.

I’m worried that in the rush to be the new Singapore we might lose what makes Rwanda such a lovely place. Clean, green hills, fresh air and smiling people.

Ends

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