The Changing Mind of Rwanda

There are no dogs in Rwanda. You don’t notice it yourself. You are aware something is not right. Then someone tells you. The dogs fed on the cadavers and had to be killed.
Rwanda is one of the top tourist destinations in the Region/ The New Times/ File
Rwanda is one of the top tourist destinations in the Region/ The New Times/ File

There are no dogs in Rwanda. You don’t notice it yourself. You are aware something is not right. Then someone tells you. The dogs fed on the cadavers and had to be killed.

The world has entered an era characterized by rapid population growth, ethnic strife, total global competition for resources, and breakthroughs in technology that can be used for good or bad. The greatest challenge that faces leaders of nations is how to build societies’ stock of progressive human values: interpersonal trust, propensity for civic engagement, self-esteem, forgiveness, optimism about the future, and perhaps most important, tolerance for those unlike oneself, that is, openness to those who attach meaning to life in a different way.

There are no perfect examples of this kind of society. Still, there are nations that have much to teach us, and learning is especially interesting when it comes from an unlikely place. Rwanda may be such a place. It is landlocked, overcrowded, poor, and possesses no valuable sub-soil assets. The world knows it mostly for its cruelty in 1994, when almost a million Tutsi were exterminated over a three-month period.

While Rwanda represents the worst in Africa, indeed the worst in human nature, it also, represents its best. This country of a thousand hills, of mountain mists and small cooking fires, is growing. Real wages in its key export sectors are up over twenty percent per year. It is a democracy. President Paul Kagame was elected with a strong majority; the cabinet and parliament represent the ethnicities proportionately; the constitution, perhaps the most progressive in the world, insists that women have thirty percent of all cabinet, parliamentary and mayoral positions; and in reality, 56 percent of the parliament are women—the largest in the world! The country spends more on education than military, and Rwanda is one of the few countries in Africa to do that.

Intrepid tourists now come to see the gorillas. There are few amenities. They crawl under the brush in the mud to get close. The silverback grooms one of his wives, who in turn, grooms an adolescent, who playfully prevents a smiling infant from approaching a homo-sapiens. An adolescent climbs a tree, pounds his chest, and falls comically.

I wake up in the morning and run on the streets and see the well-dressed children of this prosperous suburb of Kigali. They braid their hair, and attend school with backpacks and lunches. The neighbourhood has satellite dishes and birthday parties. The university announced hundreds of new graduates. The press is proliferating. Some of the Rwandan Diaspora is returning: to work, to teach and to invest.

President Kagame has now built sidewalks, asked people to keep their country clean, and to forgive one another. Some say they will because he asked them to do so, others say because they could not have been spared in the genocide to do otherwise.

To Be Continued…

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