Sunday, July 13, 2008

2 years in Rwanda

On the 8th July it had been exactly 2 years since I arrived in Rwanda, so I think a short retrospective is in order.

It took me a long time to settle in here. When I arrived the culture, the political system and the country were opaque and almost impossible to understand. After about 6 months I felt that I at least understood how the "machinery" of the Rwandan government, society and economy worked. It took about a year for me to feel at ease with the people and come to love the country.

Rwanda is a unique place. From a state of collective trauma, the country is helping itself to emerge as an efficient and confident state. The post-genocide phase was a success. But as much as Rwanda inspires hope, it also causes dismay. There is little self-criticism, little open debate of the country's problems and much self-denial. The post-genocide phase was indeed a success, but the next phase in the country's development is overdue. Rwandans needs to accept that like any other country, Rwanda has problems; Like any other country, Rwanda has corrupt politicians; Like any other country, Rwanda's justice system is flawed; Like any other country, Rwanda has problems with racism; Like any other country, Rwanda has disadvantaged minorities, be they social, sexual or ethnic. Rwanda needs to match its political and economic courage, with social courage.

What luck for Rwanda that it has a small but growing number of hard working, well-educated and forward-thinking people. How unfortunate that the Rwandese culture is so unwelcoming to outsiders. It is easy to judge when a Rwandese begins to trust you: he/she will tell you the problems that every Rwandese knows his country has, his real opinion about the government, the real view about the genocide, will stop lying about minor personal facts, and if he/she really trusts you, you may just be invited to there home one day. Unfortunately, that kind of trust is rarely there. But perhaps, that is simply because it needs to be earned first.

Rwanda is certainly one of the most beautiful, fascinating and unusual countries that I will ever live in. I hope it realises its potential.


Ellen said...

I've spent a lot less time in Rwanda than you, but even in my limited experience I can see that your assessment is dead-on. There are Rwandan people I consider friends, yet there's always some distance. It feels like they need to trust me more before they can reveal themselves and their problems. Sometimes I felt as if Rwandan people are reluctant to admit the problems of their country to a Western person because many of them seem in awe of the "developed" world. It's like they're embarrassed about being part of the "developing" world or that they need to apologize for that. Sometimes it helped to laugh about problems the US has–if I as an American could criticize my own country, they seemed more willing to admit that Rwanda has a problem or two.

Richard said...

Hey there,
may b a little bit defensive of my own countrymen but here say that Rwandans are reluctant to trust outsiders - especially the western world. but it is true that all we have previously experienced of the western world was creation of conflicts, opportunism to create tensions and I believe until all that changes, it will be the same. I myself was educated in UK but it takes a long time before the locals can trust you so apart from our experience, it is the same everywhere you go - you simply have to earn their trust, I mean do you trust every 1??
But Rwandese people are also proud, they do not tell their problems to everyone until they feel they are real friends.