Rwanda back on top 20 years from brink

| Jessica So 15 May 2018

Two days ago I set foot in Kigali, capital of Rwanda, for a week of work training. I've definitely heard very positive things about the situation of the country before arriving, but my expectations have only been exceeded time after time.

Its airport seems brand new and extremely well furnished; it even has an e-visa lane (just like HK's e-Channel).

The roads are paved, and there are pedestrian walkways as well as manicured gardens planted in the middle of roads.

Motorcycles are extremely common (they even have Uber for motorcycles), and all drivers seem to be obeying rules strictly.

There also isn't, unlike in Dar es Salaam, a need to close one's car windows all the time to avoid snatch thieves. I felt safe.

The next day, I asked a new Hong Kong friend for her thoughts on life in Kigali.

Without any hesitation, she said, "good food and a safe place to live."

All this may seem like par for the course for anyone living in a developed country, but as someone who has had to be on her toes once out on the streets in Dar, Kigali is quite something. It lives up to public opinion as the safest, greenest and cleanest city in Africa.

A logical next thought to all this would be how and why is Kigali so different from most other African cities?

That lies in the story of post-genocide Rwanda.

In 1994, one million people out of its seven million populace were mercilessly slaughtered in less than 100 days.

Their crime: being Tutsi or refusing to participate in an orgy of mass slaughter of Tutsis (Hutus, making up 84 percent of the population, and Tutsis, at 15 percent, are the two dominant tribes).

Thus, although the genocide was aimed at Tutsis, its victims were all Rwandans who opposed or were lukewarm to the mass slaughter (identification of victims was done based on ethnic classification information on identity cards, one of the many systems introduced by the Belgian colonial government in the early 20th century to "divide and conquer" and create animosity).

Yet, only 20 years later, Rwanda is the world's leading reformer in all spheres - political, social and economic.

It inherited a collapsed state and started from almost nothing to reconstitute a society and reconstruct an economy.

All that I have observed, I realized, are snippets of proof that shed some light on the political and social actions that have made post-genocide success possible.

While the brief observations and encounters I had in the span of one day painted lasting images in my mind of smooth roads, manicured gardens and pruned flowers, beautiful street lights and nice hotels and restaurants, I am curious to learn, all through the rest of the week, about the underlying social systems that make this success possible.

It is easy to build roads but difficult to maintain them, just as it is easy to put in place public goods but difficult to build social systems that can ensure that public goods are maintained and sustained to provide the services intended for the people.

Jessica So is a former investment banker,

development consultant in training and global citizen

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