PEACE, FORGIVENESS, COHESION

Rwanda, like the phoenix, rises from the ashes

Country is way better than decades ago. It is not by chance or by luck.

In Summary
  • Rwanda has gracefully come out of probably the darkest period in its history. But a lot continues to happen to entrench unity.
  • Any form of harassment is inexcusable, for these were some of the triggers of the 1994 genocide.
Modern buses on pothole-free roads alongside well-manicured boulevards and clean sidewalks
Modern buses on pothole-free roads alongside well-manicured boulevards and clean sidewalks

A country that has been to hell and back. A people who have been through a torturous and treacherous path. A country that is recovering and re-engineering itself to secure a future devoid of the harrowing triggers of the past.

Like a phoenix that has risen from the ashes, Rwanda is today way better than decades ago. It is not by chance, neither is it by luck.

As I routinely take a leisurely walk from my hotel room on the neatly paved pedestrian pathways, I keep pondering over this.

 

My walks are punctuated with occasional friendly banter with welcoming stares and handshakes from the ordinary folks.

Peace, forgiveness, cohesion. The man who grew up in a Ugandan refugee camp holds much sway in what continues to happen in Rwanda – President Paul Kagame. He, arguably, has managed to instil these in the minds of Rwandans.

With these, Rwanda has gracefully come out of probably the darkest period in its history. But a lot continues to happen to entrench unity.

Any form of harassment is inexcusable, for these were some of the triggers of the 1994 genocide in which children were maimed and killed, women raped and slaughtered, men hacked to death. A bloodbath it was.

Rwanda is a story of tragedy to triumph. From despair to determination. From disorder to discipline. A story of a people that had been torn asunder by toxic politics and self-centred leadership.

We may not be where Kenya is in terms of development and democracy, but at least we are making strides to get there.
Joseph

Its capital Kigali is a clean, developed city; a bustling, hilly metropolis whose key landmark is the Kigali Convention Centre. This $300 million architectural masterpiece lights up the night with Rwanda national colours of blue, yellow and green.

“Rwanda was dead. I wondered whether I would ever set foot in my motherland after the worst atrocities that befell my fellow countrymen and women,’’ recalls Joseph, a taxi driver in Kigali.

“We may not be where Kenya is in terms of development and democracy, but at least we are making strides to get there.”

Joseph, my guide, stopped the car and asked me, “Do you have a strong heart?” I paused, stared at him in bewilderment. “Why do you ask,” I enquired.

As he prepared to respond, I broke the eerie silence and gave him a reassuring response, “I have a strong heart. I will deal with the emotions, if there will be any.”

And for two hours, we walked side by side.

Occasionally, he would take quick glances just to ensure I still had the mettle to carry on with the museum tour of displays of weapons encased in glass, video footage, photos that shed light on the Rwandan genocide.

The semi-lit room filled with human skulls and bones can be tormenting, but it is an emotional awakening.

There, I shuddered, stared in utter disbelief that human beings could display such savagery. I observed a minute of silence when I set foot inside the children’s memorial.

A heart-wrenching moment. It looked like a photo album. One photo caught my attention. A two-month-old lad whose life had been violently snuffed out. A tear dropped.

Modern shopping mall opened by President Kagame in 2016—Kigali Heights.
Modern shopping mall opened by President Kagame in 2016—Kigali Heights.

Rwanda is 22 times less the size of Kenya – at 26,340km square. Its population is ore than 12 million with an average Rwandan living on less than $2 a day.

Rwanda is a phoenix rising from the ashes of carnage and brutality.

Abraham Olweny, a Kenyan living in Rwanda, quips: “Kagame is a strict disciplinarian, a go-getter and when he sets out to do something, you will in a moment see things happening.”

Olweny happens to have taught me media and journalism back in Kenya, more than 20 years ago. He is currently involved in a water project here, funded by the World Bank.

Infrastructural investments have been a key driver of the country’s growth. The economy has strengthened. GDP has grown from $416 in 1994 to $2,090 in 2017.

Bugesera International Airport – to the south of Kigali – has been under construction since 2017. It will be the largest in the country.

Having learnt from the past, and especially what bad politics can do to a country, Rwanda, under Kagame’s leadership, guards its political stability in so many ways.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important reminder of the ever-present danger of ethnic cleansing anywhere in the world.

Leadership matters, which is why for now, Rwandans rejoice but are also nervous of the path ahead, especially after Kagame exits.

Former NTV business news anchor and currently a communications consultant

A drive through central Kigali .
A drive through central Kigali .