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CJ's Adventures "Be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

The Rwandan Country side

RWANDA | Friday, 10 April 2009 | Views [418]

The Rwandan country side from all viewpoints is very Eden like. Like the foothills of Alberta the landscape slowly changes from the flat savanna to gradually larger rolling mounds until you enter Rwanda and are fully surrounded by the lush green velvet of the rift valley. You can see the difference that climatic conditions make going from the dryer grasslands of the semiarid savanna into the semi tropical area of Rwanda which borders on the tropical rainforests of the DRC. The earth in Rwanda is very red and it is easy to see why colorful clothing is so popular in Africa as color permeates the area on every frontier. The red soil is contrasted with the lush green and the blue sky while the flowers accent with splashes of yellow.


Rwanda is everything and nothing like I expected, although my experience was only three hours long and a more significant amount of time would be needed for my impressions to be solidified. At first glance you might not be able to tell that the country has survived one of the greatest atrocities of our generation. If you know the history then you may look for the stadium in the skyline, as I did. The stadium stands out with its tall pillars on each corner of the large oval, one of the largest buildings in the city. This was one of the only refuges in the city during the genocide and was precariously protected at that. Hundreds of people lived in this stadium for weeks without adequate access to food, water or sanitation. In many ways it sounds not unlike the stadium story in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, only the duration was significantly longer and the reason much more manageable and possibly preventable.


The airport, one of the brutal battleground of the genocide after the crash of the president’s plan, has a smooth airstrip (‘a’ as in one) with a small paved square off to one side in the middle of the strip… had to get rid of the spider that was inside my mosquito net... It is at this point when small signs of war start to emerge. The airport is lined with military helicopters mostly hid behind the small levy like hills that bank the airstrip. All planes must use the stairs to disembark, as there are no terminal gates, and then walk to the airport. In many ways it felt like I had just landed on a semi tropical island with the cute little airport and the customs officers who kept saying how I needed to stay in Rwanda and see the gorillas rather than go to Tanzania.


I hired Mr. Johnson to take me to the border and upon commencing our journey one thing really struck me. There was no garbage anywhere to be seen, not even a single piece in the ditch. In all of the developing countries I have been to there has been a garbage problem. India felt kind of like a garbage dump everywhere you went and often times smelled like one too. Ghana had huge piles of garbage that would speckle the streets and highways in addition to the general litter that was present in most areas. Mexico City had a serious graffiti issue. Garbage seemed to be a secondary element and although very much present, seemed subdued by the rundown walls and buildings covered in the in-artistic graffiti. In Nicaragua I remember driving down a highway that should have been labeled ‘dump lane’ and the ditches were colorfully adorn with the countries unwanted items. But in Rwanda there is not a speck to be seen.


Another intriguing observation that might make someone question the fact that the country lost 1/8 of its population to genocide is the level of development (or appearance of development). All of the roads are smoothly paved and have a section for walking on both sides. The people take full advantage of this and the roads are bordered with the colorful kitenge cloth women wear. Most houses are quite nice. They are either made of pressed mud with windows and a door in the front or they are made with bricks. Many have nice wooden window frames with glass and a wood door. Along the route to the border, many have beautiful flower and shrub gardens in front. One shrub garden that we past spelled “Welcome” in shrubs.


Johnson, a man in his thirties (32 to be exact) was telling me about the country he had only been able to return to after the genocide. Growing up as a refugee in Uganda he has a great appreciation for living in Rwanda. As he said, of all of the African countries, Rwanda is the best to live in. The government looks after the people. All of the roads are paved and maintained and there is a strictly enforced policy of no corruption. The government has hired many female police as it is believed that they are less willing to take bribes. The male police (from what I saw) wear a badge on the left of their chest which reads ‘No Corruption’ in the three languages. I suppose that this would be of little use if you couldn’t read. Billboards at the border talk about creating a nation as a family rather than fostering corruption. As Johnson told me, if a police officer is caught in corruption he is sentenced to three years imprisonment and will never again be able to find a job in Rwanda. A number of government officials and some police have been reported, found guilt and served time. There are also billboards advocating for the public to report corruption. Such advances with an issue that cripples the development process in so many countries seems almost futuristic.


It is the little things that start to give away Rwanda’s history. We passed a paved platform with a white wall on the one side topped with a cross, marking a mass grave on the side of the road. Closer to the border we see a number of refugees who have just recently returned and are still living in tents, waiting for the government to finish building them new houses.


There is a saying that “the road to heaven is paved with good intentions.” I recently found out that ‘the roads of Rwanda are paved with guilt money,” or at least this is the opinion on the pastor working with WomenCraft. Western countries seem determined to clear their conscious by providing huge amounts of support to Rwanda. It is very important to note that Rwandans are a resilient people who have essentially solved their internal political problems without help from the west. They have also completed considerable amounts of reconciliation work and rebuilt a more peaceful social structure. However, it is evident that the money put into Rwanda has provided the means to build the physical infrastructure and social programs that have enable Rwandans to focus on creating a stable democracy that boasts the most female representation in the world. Women have high profile position in Tanzania and it is the mothers of this country that control the important ministries like the ministry of police. If only this same dedication to aid and development funding could be seen from the west in other developing countries.


Crossing the Tanzanian boarder clearly demarcates the differences between the countries. Once in Tanzaina we are driving on dirt roads only wide enough for one car. We are crossing the river on a little ferry that is attached to a rope. The men move the ferry by running on the rope that circles onto the ferry floor. The houses no longer are clean and fresh red mud but are rather dark mud that looks worn with weather and age. The people appear in older and more ragged clothing and there is a general sense of greater poverty than in Rwanda. Yet Tanzania boosts a history of peace and democracy. It is a leader among African countries as it demonstrates how the post colonial African state can achieve social cohesion and political representation. It would seem that there is no reward for this. As a pastor told me today, it would appear that Tanzania needs to have some form of terrible civil strife to receive any development attention from the west. The irony is that Tanzania would be less likely to have a war destroy any infrastructure funded by the west and it is a very politically stable area to invest.

Tags: getting there, rwanda


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