Rwanda’s development was completely visible immediately after we stepped out of the airport in Kigali. Though it was night, the streets were all equipped with functioning streetlights, LED lights acted as lines on the road, and there was little to no litter or debris on the roads or sidewalks which we traveled. With the sun out the next day we could see the streets were very well maintained, the gutters and sidewalks were clean and maintained, and most of the houses had tin or clay roofs (one of the pinnacle signs of development out of poverty). There were many skyscrapers, construction cranes were everywhere and complimented the Kigali skyline, and large international organizations and businesses were very much established in the city center. See below for a few photos of the growth. The most shocking thing we experienced throughout our five days in both rural and urban Rwanda, was that we were without power for about a total of ten minutes.
This is a stark contrast from the Moshi community in rural Tanzania, and needless to say, we were quite speechless. In fact, we were nearly experiencing reverse culture shock. The development simply blew our minds. We had read that Rwanda was working quickly towards development, but we did not truly know what that meant, or what that looked like.
In The Bottom Billion, by Paul Collier, he discusses that small landlocked countries, such as Rwanda, need to rely on free trade, good infrastructure in neighboring countries, and good policies in neighboring countries in order to develop. Since Rwanda basically has none of these due to poor neighboring country policies, infrastructure, and few roads for transportation, its final option for development is to create and enforce good internal policies, attract foreign investors, and develop a niche for its self, such as financial advising or information technology.
While creating, implementing, and enforcing good financial and investment strategies is very difficult, Rwanda has done a phenomenal job; even in the shadow of the 1994 genocide. According to the World Bank, Rwanda ranked 158th in foreign investment in 2007 and in 2011 it ranks 58th. In 2010, Kigali had an economic growth rate of 10.7%, which far exceeds the urban average of 3.5%.
The economic growth has also spread from the urban areas to the rural areas. Nearly every house we saw on our drive across Rwanda had a clay or tin roof. Thanks to foreign investment, the highways through Rwanda were amazing. Also, Rwanda recently completed a project laying fibro-optic cable throughout the rural areas so individuals in these communities could have access to internet. Many Rwandans are still in extreme poverty, and, as it is with most developing countries, electricity is not common in some of the rural areas; however, major strides are being taken in order to improve the economic condition of every Rwandan.
Most of the skyscrapers in Kigali will be filled with international businesses that will provide financial advising and information technology support to both developed and developing countries. Rwanda is creating a niche for its self in the international market. It has built a lot of momentum economically and is drastically improving economically, especially when compared to its neighbors.
The only possible deterrent to Rwanda’s economic improvement is not the global recession, it is Rwanda’s past. The president of Rwanda is the person who led the Rwandan Patriotic Front into Rwanda to end the genocide. In two years time he will have completed his two eight-year terms and a new president will be elected. The Rwandan Patriotic Front was a Tutsi lead army. While Rwandans legally cannot identify themselves as Hutu or Tutsi, most of the leaders in Rwanda right now are a product of that army.
Most Rwandans now say, “There is no more Hutu or Tutsi. We are all Rwandans now.” However, the stories of the genocide are still very fresh in everyone’s minds. As we mentioned in the Update, we visited one of the cities on Lake Kivu, Kibuye. The hostel we stayed at in Kibuye, St. John’s, was run by a Catholic Church. The Church shared grounds with the hostel, so we decided to visit.
We found out that Kibuye was one of the first places that the genocide hit. The Tutsi people in Kibuye were very scared because some cities had been hit by the genocide before them and they heard about the horrors that took place. Some Tutsi people elected to try to escape to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which meant either taking a boat or swimming across Lake Kivu. Other Tutsi people sought refuge in the local church, St. John’s Cathedral (see below for photos).
People estimate that 350 – 400 people were seeking shelter and safety in the cathedral. The doors were locked to the building in order to ensure safety for the Tutsi who were inside. One night the stained glass windows broke and grenades flew inside. The doors were broken down and all the Tutsi inside were massacred. No one knows exactly how many were killed that night because the bodies could not be recognized.
As an outsider, sitting in this beautiful church with a breathtaking view of Lake Kivu while imagining the horrors that occurred 17 years ago, was an experience that we cannot describe. As a Rwandan, living those horrors and experiencing events very similar to this one would be very difficult to cope with.
While the history cannot be changed and the pain remains, hope still exists for the Rwandan citizens. They are working very hard to develop their country into an economical force, and they are doing an amazing job. The faith that international investors are placing in Rwanda is another wonderful sign of hope. To this point Rwanda has served as an example of what true forgiveness looks like and being able to experience the strength of the Rwandan citizens has been incredibly inspiring. We are grateful to have been able to experience Rwanda and the Rwandan citizens. Their stories are powerful, their strength is amazing, and their hope is thrilling.