I miss my sunshine: Lessons from Rwanda


I had an exhausting trip from Harare (Zimbabwe) via Lusaka (Zambia) via Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) via Entebbe (Uganda) to Kigali (Rwanda). It took me 13 hours to fly from Zimbabwe to Rwanda when it takes just 6 hours to fly from Harare to Geneva? I therefore questioned how we as Africans could effectively foster the economic integration we talk of when the lines of communication and transport are so inefficient?  A certain individual, who happens to be Zimbabwean, then declared that there was no need for a direct flight from Zimbabwe to Rwanda because “What’s there to gain from Rwanda (economically) that will render a need for a direct link? And how many people will be on that flight?”

 I then made it my business to show how many things Zimbabwe stands to benefit from Rwanda, short and long term. Well here is the thing; our African leaders are closed-minded about what Africa can benefit them and I think that has been one of the major reasons for the failure of economic integration processes. With a myopic view of the world and clear lack of insight into the trajectory of intra-Africa trade patterns, they would rather seek immediate gratification, trading with parasites such as China and Europe in winners take all arrangements characterised by exploitation of Africans as the market determines the commodity prices, than trade within Africa in what would most likely be win-win situations of tradeoffs.

  But to get back to my story, I picked up a few areas in which Rwanda has done pretty well and from which Zimbabwe can draw lessons that could transform our society significantly.

 First; the transitional mechanisms

 Memorialisation

The Open Grave- One of the many mass graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial where more than 250 000 victims of the 1994 Genocide are buried.

Yes Rwanda was the site of one of the worst genocides in the world and in Spring 1994 over just 100 days, more than 800 000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus lost their lives in ethnic cleansing by the extremist Hutus. However, post genocide, Rwanda has done a wonderful job of keeping that memory alive as a constant reminder that it should never happen again. They have created genocide memorials in almost every city – where the history of the country pre-colonial and post colonial, leading to the genocide is recorded for all Rwandans to see. All the victims of the genocide who have been discovered are buried in mass graves at these memorials.  A children’s room showing how even the most innocent of human beings; children were not spared records the stories of how these children were killed. All the pictures of the victims whose surviving families identified are displayed at the museum.The stories are horrific but they make the point that Rwanda must never go that route again.

The human face  to the genocide:The presence of the thousands of photographs of victims of the genocide at the memorial ensures that the victims will not remain anonymous or unnamed. It is a huge step by the state acknowledging the wrong done and giving a human face to the tragedy.

 In Zimbabwe we have done a good job of recording one period of our history-the pre-colonial period and ignoring all the others. Our Heroes Acre is a wonderful symbol of the struggle for independence and a reminder of how we never want to go back that route. Fair enough! But, should we put the victims of the various post colonial landmarks in our history, namely Gukurahundi (the scourge against the Ndebeles (1980-18988), the victims of the land reform programme (Zimbabwean white farmers and Zimbabwean black farm-workers), the victims of Operation Murambatsvina (a clean up campaign that displaced thousands and resulted in the deaths of many from communicable disease because of terrible living conditions), the victims of the Diamond Rush (those who lost their lives in power struggles for the control of the recently discovered diamond mines in Marange) and the victims of electoral violence (2000, 2002, 2005 and especially 2008 elections); then we may just have had a genocide in Zimbabwe, albeit not in 100 days but which still needs proper memorialisation, as Rwanda has done.

 Justice and Reconciliation

In Rwanda, after the genocide, the people with the highest responsibility for the commission of the crimes were prosecuted. A special Tribunal, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) was created specifically for that purpose.  A number of them have been convicted and the Court is finalising its work. Locally traditional forms of courts, the Gacaca Courts were used to establish the truth, find perpetrators responsible and mete out a punishment to the satisfaction of the victim in their communities. Yes the system was not perfect but effectively Rwanda did not allow impunity to reign supreme in its communities in the face of such horrific crimes.

 In Zimbabwe we have set up an Organ on National Healing whose self-created agenda is to force victims to accept forgiveness and reconciliation. Victims have not been properly consulted as to what they want or prefer to give them peace and to allow them to set the parameters under which they could possibly reconcile with perpetrators. In fact anyone who dares talk about the injustices and how they should be addressed becomes a victim of state intimidation and violence. Perpetrators walk free and they have become professionals, repeating their acts of plunder, rape, mutilation, torture, grave assault and arson among others because they benefit from the impunity they are granted by the state. Meanwhile victims have not received any remedy and they bear the physical, emotional and psychological wounds alone and in silence.

 Second; developing the economy

Rwanda’s economy is developing rapidly. Even the World Bank has acknowledged that Rwanda is among the fastest growing economies that have recorded sustained and widespread economic growth on the African Continent. Despite the impact of the global financial crisis, Rwanda maintained a positive economic growth at 5.5 percent. Lesson Number 1 they do not depend on the West. The West failed them and failed to stop the genocide and they learnt their lesson, you depend upon yourself as a country and find means to manage your circumstances in a way that benefits your own population. They have reduced their dependence on foreign aid from 100% in 1995 to 40% in 2011 moving towards 0% dependency. Through tourism, ICT’s and policies that allow investment, Rwanda’s economy is growing and pulling many of its people out of poverty.

 Rwanda produces more electrical power than Zimbabwe does (in our Hwange and Kariba stations combined) and there is room for Zimbabwe to invest in that energy sector to boost the scarce energy resources that we currently have. In Zimbabwe we have successfully created a volatile and investor unfriendly environment. We do not take heed of the advice we receive from others and we seem to think we can do it all by ourselves. Well wake up and smell the coffee, we are living in a global world where things happening elsewhere will definitely affect us so it is not only foolish but also suicidal to swim upstream when everyone else is flowing with the tide.

 Rwanda and Zimbabwe are both members of  the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the only reason I was allowed to get a visa upon arrival at Kigali international airport (against the regulations because I was supposed to obtain a visa before travelling) was because Zimbabwe is a member of COMESA.  Surely we should capitalise on these relationships to our mutual advantage.

 Third; keeping Rwanda clean

Rwanda is the cleanest country I have ever visited on the African continent and mind you I have been to quite a few. Yes, even cleaner than South Africa for those of you who may be wondering. The country of a thousand hills, as Rwanda is known has adopted a citizen policing system to ensure cleanliness of the city. So every Rwandese ensures that the next person does not litter, does not burn things that pollute the environment and maintains clean surroundings. There is no litter on Kigali’s streets and in its residential areas. I even went to their poorest areas and the grass was immaculately cut and neat and roofs were clean. Rwanda adopted a no-plastics campaign which has significantly reduced litter on the streets. They have replaced plastics with bio-degradable khaki carriers, which if for some reason find their way onto the street, decompose by themselves but also which the city authorities can dispose of cheaper and more efficiently. Every last Saturday of the month, Rwanda comes to a standstill as they clean their surroundings as a nation. Now that is what I call responsible citizenship!!!

 Harare, once the Sunshine city has become a mass of dumping. Plastic bags, plastic containers litter our streets. And on this one do not rush to just blame the government. Yes city authorities have the responsibility to collect rubbish in residential areas which they have not done, but it is us the citizens who have been responsible for littering our cities. I commend the citizens of Bulawayo, because they have taken up a clean-city campaign and by far Bulawayo is cleaner than Harare. Harare residents need to drop their dirty habits. Stop littering! Throw your rubbish in bins or keep it until you can dispose it responsibly! Separate your paper and food from plastics and glass when disposing. Create composts with degradable products. Burn the stuff that can not decompose.

 On the other hand let us hold our authorities responsible for what they ought to do but are not doing. What are councillors and mayors for if not to ensure that residents live healthy, fulfilled lives? They must collect rubbish, dispose of it responsibly and if we do not force them to take up these responsibilities then they will continue to sit in their offices, selling off land to corrupt business people and politicians and enlarging their already fat behinds!

 Fourth, development of infrastructure

As much as Rwanda is developing its cities and building new infrastructure, they are doing a pretty good job of preserving the natural look of their environment. They are developing yet ensuring minimal degradation to the environment, cutting off trees only where the buildings themselves stand and retaining all the surrounding trees and vegetation intact. As a result, the place is streaming with modern life in a very green space that looks welcoming and warm. Yes I love modernity but I hope most African cities, in particular my Sunshine city do not further develop- the Swiss way- and become neat, modern but barren and cold hubs of activity.

 You may be wondering where I got all this information. Well I was given access into the Parliament of Rwanda. I met some Parliamentarians as well as the vice President of the Senate (a She-very progressive!!!) who gave my friends and I a guided tour with explanations of how a country that was grounded in poverty and conflict 18 years ago has risen to what it is. Trust me, I have never been allowed access into my own parliament despite my efforts to do so and if I were to ask for information from my government, no one would give it to me and if they did most of it would be inaccurate.

 I drew many lessons from Rwanda and I am sure if I had stayed longer, I would have learnt even more. Harare used to be called the Sunshine city. Zimbabwe was the jewel of Africa. I really miss my sunshine-and I want her back!

About madubesbrainpot

A fighter for basic freedoms and fundamental human rights View all posts by madubesbrainpot

11 responses to “I miss my sunshine: Lessons from Rwanda

  • Tendai

    Unless you used the supersonic Concorde to fly from Harare to Geneva, I’m certain the journey takes much more than 6 hours. :) I think perhaps your tedious journey to Rwanda was more a function of cost and timing of your booking than inefficient transit as you claim. Shorter trips with fewer connections are available to Rwanda, (e.g. Kenya Airways), but these are usually pricier for the average person. In any case, I think the question about better economic integration within Africa is a valid one. You draw interesting parallels between Rwanda and Zimbabwe, and how the latter can learn from the former, and the opposite is true. I think you did not fully expound, however, what Zimbabwe stands to benefit from a direct link with Rwanda, and vice versa – from an economic integration point of view. I was left still questioning what would warrant a direct flight from Zimbabwe to Rwanda. What potential synergies could citizens from both countries extract from the other? Please go deeper in your next article…you left me wanting to read more!

    • madubesbrainpot

      Hi there, yes my flight was $50 cheaper than the Harare-Nairobi, Nairobi Kigali flight but that same flight involved a 4/6 hour transit stop in Nairobi as well which would have made the trip shorter but nonetheless long by any standard considering you would be travelling within Africa. Thanks for your comment and I will look into your suggestions.

      Best,

  • bhabhi

    Thanx for that insightful account. I hope and pray that we can open our eyes to seeing how much we have destroyed that which was so beautiful. We still can build from where we are but we need a definite change of attitude and seek to learn from our fellow africans

  • AmandaM

    Nicely written Rumbie, thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  • splangonie

    thats a great article by all standards known to me, but the question that your fellow Zimbabwean asked you, the one you used in the introduction is perhaps more packed than what it might imply on the first glance, to me, it is a practical question which ofcourse this essay does not fully address. i think, and agree with you, to say we can learn from Rwanda is a good start to looking for practical solutions. But academics have the tendency to simply say we can learn from X, Y and Z but they dont say in practical terms what needs to be done. I am convinced that your next article may fill in that gap

    • madubesbrainpot

      Thank you so much for your comment. It appears there is a real expectation for a part 2 to this piece responding to the economic gain aspect of a direct link to Kigali. I am not much of an economist and may not live up to the expectations of those who understand economics better than I do but from where I stand, given where we are as a nation historically, politically and socially, and given the reasons for our current economic woes, in my mind I was convinced the reasons I gave in this article and the processes that Rwanda ha already gone through in transforming themselves were good enough to warrant a direct link. Looks like I will have to dig deeper to be convincing or maybe I should not try at all and accept that it may not be economically viable for a direct link to exist between Zimbabwe and Rwanda.

  • gugusplum

    I can not applaud you loud enough for writing this article, well well done! I have been using Rwanda as a positive example of a developing African country and you just hit the nail on the head – I still wish to visit Kigali and drink the best coffee at a cafe called Bourbon. I’m such a huge fan of Rwanda and their policies, could it be because of all the women in parliament? I believe so. Thank you for this

    • madubesbrainpot

      Thank you Gugu. I feel that my privilege to travel to these countries should not be limited to enjoying the surroundings and coming back home with fond memories neatly tucked in my brain. I need to share the lessons I drew from the visit and let my fellow citizens understand that some people are doing wonders, building their countries out there while we are bust destroying our own.

      • gugusplum

        And destroy it we are, one wonders how we can bring about such change as in Rwanda on a national scale – you really are privileged, continue to share your lessons with us, we’re learning

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