Rwanda: To Hell And Back
Wikipedia reads, Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda is a sovereign state in Central and East Africa and one of the smallest countries on the African mainland. This small landlocked country is deprived of the commonly known natural resources but is emerging as one of the most prosperous countries in Africa and the world. But, if one looked at the recent history of this country, she would be totally filled with disbelief. Rwanda has been to hell and back. Before talking about the recent growth and development of the country, you should take a look at the history.
In the year 1994, the Rwandan genocide appeared in almost every news station around the world. It was one the worst atrocities in the mankind history. In just one hundred days the Rwandan government killed almost a million people. This means that every one in five Rwandans was murdered. For over a decade, Rwanda was a synonym for humanitarian catastrophe, starvation and it portrayed the darkest side of human condition. But twenty three years later, Rwanda is turning into something much different. Rwanda is becoming a hot topic in the financial world. A country which used to appear in humanitarian aid commercials, now is starting to fill financial newspapers.
Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda has become the new African rockstar, being received at prestigious places like Harvard and Brookings institution. Everyone does agree that it’s kind of authoritarian as winning elections with over ninety six percent of the votes doesn’t really sound democratic does it? Despite all of this, who would judge a man who is taking Rwanda out of poverty? The figures speak for themselves. Since Paul Kagame has come into power, Rwandans have tripled their income and the percentage of the population that lives in extreme poverty is reducing year after year. Kagame was raised in one of the refugee camps in Uganda and lead the attack (along with other refugees) on the Ugandan government and won, while the country was going through a civil war. He came back to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda with 2500 soldiers and became the vice president. He later on became the president in the March of 2000 and with his charisma and political expertise united the people of Rwanda.
What is the country with the biggest share of female politicians inside its parliament? You might be thinking right now about Norway, Sweden maybe Great Britain. Well, if that’s what you are thinking then your answer is wrong. The answer is Rwanda.
Remember this date, April the sixth 1994. On this date, the plane that the Rwandan president was flying in, was hit by an anti aircraft gun. No one really knows who organised this attack but the Rwandan army, whose soldiers belonged to the Hutu tribe blamed the Tutsis. Tutsis were in a minority living in Rwanda in an apartheid situation. Local media addressed them as cockroaches and many had escaped to refugee camps in the neighboring countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Congo and Burundi. But no one could have predicted that the mounting prejudice could have unleashed such a carnage. While anti Tutsi messages were broadcast on the local radio, the Rwandan army was passing out clubs and machetes to the civilians. If any of the Hutu would show mercy to his Tutsi neighbors, he or she would risk being executed as a collaborator. This explains why some Rwandans clubbed their Tutsi wives to death and why some Catholic Churches turned into human slaughterhouses. Within a hundred days more than a million Tutsis were clubbed to death.
Now you might be wondering why did the Hutus hate the Tutsis so much? Were they really that different? Well the answer is, no. As you know, many African countries have diverse cultures and races living together. For example South Africa has nine official languages while Uganda has over fifteen. None the less, Rwanda’s territory was homogeneous for centuries, one single language, one single culture. The Hutus, the Tutsis and other tribes lived in relative harmony. But, in the twentieth century, Belgium colonized this country. One particular policy followed by the government was to label each individual according to the tribe they belonged to. This way it would be easier for the colonizers to identify who was who. In the initial years, Tutsi was the tribe responsible for running the government institutions created by the Belgians. Then one day, the Tutsis started asking for independence. That’s when the Belgians started supporting the Hutus with racist propaganda. This way, when Rwanda became a sovereign state in 1964, the Hutus and Tutsis had already become fierce enemies. In the new order people have stopped identifying themselves as Hutus or Tutsis and have started calling themselves, Rwandans.
Rwanda stepping out of Misery
Paul Kagame had returned to Rwanda. The Genocide was over. Rwanda now, had a new government. A Tutsi led government with Kagame serving as the vice-president. But, hold one just a second. The story doesn’t just end here. Imagine the scenario; for one he had to lead a divided country where genocide survivors had to live next to people who had killed their friends and family while Rwanda was one of the ten poorest countries in the world with few to no resources to export.
The new Tutsi government wasn’t the most transparent or fair government and even the soldiers who had returned wanted revenge. The unfair trials and executions went on for another year. If this wasn’t enough, many ministers tried to fill their pockets with the little money that Rwanda had. But, Paul Kagame had the charisma and the popular support to rise even higher and thus in March of the year 2000, he became the President of Rwanda. Kagame, with his goals to unify the people of Rwanda and pull his country out of poverty, started traveling — a lot. He formed an advisory team the traveled to China, Thailand and Singapore. Yes, you guessed it right. These countries that one thing in common. They were emerging nations with a past of poverty. Kagame arranged meetings with politicians, economists and civil servants and wrote down scores of ideas for reforming his country. This gave rise to Rwanda’s vision 2020 i.e. to make the country a middle-income nation in just two decades. This mission came with 44 clear and accountable goals. For instance, it said that one in every three Rwandans must have electricity at home.
Of the many goals mentioned in it’s vision, gender equality is the most highlighted one. It is required that more than fifty percent of government positions be held by women. As mentioned before, Rwanda currently has the most number of women in its parliament and the gender gap is lesser even as compared to some progressing nations like Denmark and Sweden. What’s more? Rwanda is investing the little money they collect in taxes pretty wisely. Rwanda is highly stressing on better roads for the eighty percent of its population which lives on subsistence farming. This has increased the agricultural productivity and now Rwanda has also started exporting its produce to neighboring countries. Rwanda is also providing cheaper healthcare and education to the families of tax payers.
All of this explains why Rwanda, after 23 years of the genocide has an average growth of eight percent in its GDP per year. This kind of growth is comparable to the emerging nations like China and India.
Well, on my trip to Rwanda I witnessed the product of this struggle and found that Rwanda is just as safe, as progressive and as modern as one of the emerging economies of the world.