We are in Kigali, Rwanda. We came here courtesy of well wishers who have paid for everything. For Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66, our commander-in-chief and leader of our expedition and Native Authority Mandela, it was the first time they had been inside an aeroplane.
Rwanda is like Malawi. Like Malawi, Rwanda is poor, according to those who classify us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is landlocked, according to those who define us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is densely populated, according to those who count us. Like Malawi, Rwanda is mostly rural and illiterate, according to those who describe us. Like Malawi, Rwanda has a Vision 2020 and dreams of becoming a middle income country by 2020. Like Malawi, Rwanda wants its development to be ICT-driven. Like Malawians, Rwandans are welcoming and warm-hearted.
However, unlike Malawi, Rwanda has had a very turbulent post-independence history. The 1994 genocide museum in Kigali is a stark reminder that ethnic hatred, if untamed, can lead to national disaster. Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is a much smaller country. Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is an extremely hilly country, which qualifies Rwanda as pays de milles collines, or country of a thousand hills.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda, despite its sad post-independence history, has looked inwardly to see how it can help itself. While donor aid to Rwanda amounts to 50% of the national budget, Rwanda does not spend time praising donors. Instead, Rwanda has used donor aid to invest into areas that matter most. Unlike Malawi where all farmers are expected to plant and eat maize, Rwanda has zoned the country into rice, potatoes, bananas, cassava, maize, and livestock production areas. Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda food insecurity is not part of the national vocabulary.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda generates over US$30 million from its well advertised and managed tourism sites.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda has intensified its mineral and gas extraction industries such that presently Rwanda produces its own ceramic tiles, from the Eastern Province, and gas-driven electrical power from Lake Kivu in the Western province.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, IT equipment, mobile phones, computers and even airtime are not taxed because Rwanda wants all Rwandans to access IT services.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda does not have traditional chiefs, partly because chiefs were blamed for fanning ethnic hatred that culminated in the 1994 genocide. The villages have been reorganised into imidugudu, something similar to ujamaa villages. The leaders of these imidugudu are elected democratically and form part of the national administrative structure. In the imidugudu, the local people, abaturage, are encouraged to form and belong to Cooperative Societies so that they harness their skills and make the best products to sell. Unlike Malawi, Rwanda has banned any reference to one’s ethnic origins. Children are taught that all the people of Rwanda are abanyarwanda, not Hutus or Tutsis, united by umunyarwanda.
Unlike Malawi, Rwanda is strict about its infrastructure. In Kigali and other cities, all traffic lights work, all street lights work, and all motor vehicle lights work. Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, it is a serious traffic offense to tamper with street lights, pavements, and signage.
Unlike in Malawian cities and towns, in Rwandan cities and towns, it is safe to walk around at any time of the day or night, with money in your pockets and expensive phones in your hands. Unlike Malawi where NGOs worry more about criminal and prisoner rights than crime victim rights, in Rwanda the police have been ordered to shoot and kill, not injure, all criminals. Criminals, potential and hardcore alike, know the Rwandan government is serious about this and they have responded by joining acceptable professions.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda, the government holds an open national debate or dialogue annually to hear the views and desires of the public about the development of their country. The views are incorporated into national policies and budgets. The annual national dialogue or debate is chaired by the president himself.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda the economy has been growing at an average of 9.6 percent per year since 1995; per capita incomes have been rising at 5.5 percent annually; while rural poverty in Rwanda has been declining annually by 2.4 percent. The number of poor people in Rwanda went down from 56.7 percent in 2005 to 44.9 percent in 2011 while extreme poverty dropped from 41 percent in 2000 to 36.9 percent in 2005 and 24 percent in 2011.
Unlike in Malawi, in Rwanda no permanent dwelling house’s roof is grass-thatched. Nearly twenty years ago, Rwanda used to charter Air Malawi planes; today Rwanda has its own aircraft while Malawi has none. Rwanda dreams to have 20 planes by 2020. Malawi does not even dream.