Monday, July 16, 2007

More About Hope in Rwanda

I earlier posted about Nicholas Kristof's optimistic report about Rwanda. Now Jennifer Brea, a freelance journalists who writes on Africa, offers a similar report in on the Guardian's group blog. It is well worth reading in full. Here are highlights:

In 1994, Rwandans decided to commit collective suicide. Neighbours killed neighbours, priests their congregants, and parents their own children until one out of every 10 men, women and children was dead.

Just 13 years later, Rwanda has become one of the safest, best-governed and most optimistic countries on a continent where corruption, insecurity and abysmal leadership are often the norm.

How? As far as I can tell, sheer force of will plus a whole lot of positive thinking.

The genocide was a story of highly organized mass hysteria, Rwanda's "follower culture" taken to its most evil extreme. Today, President Paul Kagame, a former military commander, has mobilized that culture to serve a very different vision. The government wants to position Rwanda as a hi-tech service hub for East Africa and a center for luxury tourism. And an industrious people are all contributing. It's as though all 9 million Rwandans watched "The Secret" and decided to make it the bedrock of their development policy. Group think, with a productive twist.

First there's "Vision 2020," an audacious development policy that aims to see every Rwandan literate, educated and well nourished in 13 years. The headlines in a typical issue of New Times, the daily English-language newspaper, convey the optimism: "No more power shortage", "Promote women", "Population growth controllable", "Malaria no more".

The differences between Rwanda and other countries I've visited are striking. Elsewhere in Africa, roads are edged by gutters clogged with waste and will wash away with an uncharitably harsh rain. In Rwanda, plastic bags have been outlawed, and you have to squint to see a piece of rubbish. Every third Saturday of the month, all Rwandans are expected to spend the morning cleaning streets as a service to the community.

Elsewhere, being stopped by the police means paying a bribe, getting beaten or worse. In Rwanda, when the police - who all wear prominently numbered neon vests - stop a motorist, it's to make sure their driver's license is valid or to issue a warning about a broken taillight. Crime has decreased alongside corruption. I even spoke to one Rwandan who said he no longer feel the need to buy auto theft insurance. "Even if someone stole my car, they wouldn't find any Rwandan to sell it to," he explained. "No one would buy stolen property."

Elsewhere, Africans talk about everything they are denied. In Rwanda, they talk about all they have built. That sense of building something together is tangible. It goes beyond destroying the identity cards that once designated Rwandans as Hutu or Tutsi. Many children were orphaned during the genocide, leaving households headed by teenagers. Kagame regularly calls upon Rwandans with resources to take into their own families as many children as they can afford, and they do.

. . .

Democracy may be the price to pay for the dream. Kagame's portrait graces every home and business. It all borders on cultish; some might even say authoritarian. Also, critics have charged that the rhetoric of one Rwanda obscures the quiet oppression of the Hutu majority. In the same World Bank study that noted Rwanda's impressive gains in governance, on the dimension "voice and accountability," Rwanda ranks below the rest of the region and somewhere above Denis Sassou-Nguesso's's Republic of Congo and Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

So there are shortcomings, to be sure. But Kagame is a vast improvement on leaders who, just before 1994 - year zero - were mass murderers who drove the country into anarchy. Rwandans are committed to never allowing genocide to happen again. The memory of genocide is a powerful motivator.

David Kanamugire, Director for ICT in the president's office, is busy working to secure Rwanda's hi-tech revolution. He believes peace cannot be secured without development. "If I don't work as hard as I possibly can everyday, the cost of failure will be our people killing each other," he told me. "I cannot fail. I will not fail."

But what if any country, no matter how poor, no matter how scarred its past, can build a society that works? What if it really is just a matter of believing in a better future and mobilizing the will to achieve it?



Read it all here.

Jennifer Brea's well done blog on Africa can be found here.

So why should Christian care about this optimistic report from Rwanda? Because it gives us hope that with good governance and security, much good can be done in the developed world. Too often, our own "donor hopelessness" is a big impediment to doing the right thing.

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