I'm sitting here in my living room in Kigali – Rwanda being one of my three current "homes" in addition to Burundi and the US. I'm sipping coffee on a Sunday morning and reflecting on my past week here. It's been busy with meetings, presentations, keeping up with things in Burundi, and a visit to the genocide memorial yesterday. One thing that I often think about is the fact that a lot of African countries are misunderstood. Rwanda is one of them.
People basically know about it because of the genocide but beyond that, people have little awareness of what the country is about seventeen years later. People that spend time in sub-Saharan Africa are aware that it is rapidly becoming one of the shining stars on the continent in spite of some huge disadvantages. In addition to the unbelievable challenge of overcoming the massacres, intense ethnic hatred and/or distrust, massive population movements both into and out of the country, it also has some basic economic obstacles. It is landlocked. It has no port and has to import almost everything by truck from the coast through Kenya or Tanzania. It has some tourism (gorillas) but it's insignificant. It has relatively few natural resources and it has the highest population density on the continent with all its available arable land already cultivated.
|photo of Kigali from the Hotel des Milles Collines (made famous in the film Hotel Rwanda)|
But the country has shown a willingness to make some bold moves to not only get to where it is but also to lay the foundation such that the progress continues. It's just not clear how dependent it is on the president. One important thing they've done is create a functional legal system. Without the accountability of a legal system with integrity, you can't go anywhere. The funds that go into the government coffers are used relatively efficiently. That encourages donor investment. People pay taxes. And the government aggressively delivering. It is improving the country's infrastructure at an impressive pace.
|one of the many examples of the unexpectedly modern - the lobby of the Mille Collines|
Yet it's still a developing country with a lot of huge challenges ahead. Anyone who's picked up a history book knows how quickly things can take a turn for the worse, particularly in this part of the world. It's also in the middle of a rough neighborhood. I met with the head of security for the US Embassy on Friday and we discussed potential insecurity in other countries that may have a ripple effect on this country (particularly in the Congo and Burundi).
So we push forward with cautious optimism.