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Leaving Rwanda

November 28, 2009

It is with mixed feelings that I leave Rwanda tomorrow, taking the morning bus from Kigali to Kampala in Uganda. In purely practical terms, we can’t afford to spend longer in Rwanda – it is the most expensive country we’ve visited and every Rwandan franc we’ve spent, we’ve ha to bring in because there is no sensible way for foreigners to obtain money here.

It’s naturally a very beautiful country, this ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, and it harbours some of the most exciting mammals including gorillas and chimpanzees. But its human population has far to go before it becomes a comfortable society, I think, in this, the most densely populated country in Africa.

Janet, a Tutsi woman who spent the first 20 years of her life in a refugee camp in Uganda, is typical of the healing generation who have returned to the country to help build a positive nation. “We cannot always be looking back and blaming our neighbours for the genocide,” she says. “That way, we will never grow as a country. We have to look forward and encourage international investment so Rwanda becomes less poor.”

It’s not that easy, of course. Janet and her parents, like most other returnee refugees, arrived in the country near-penniless because in their absence, their land and house was taken over by Hutus. The government tries to rehouse people, but as Janet points out, taking back land and property from the people who now live there “would cause a whole lot of new problems”, so that is not the policy.

Most Rwandans lead hard lives, whether they were present during the genocide or outside the country, like Janet, who works in a laundromat in Kigali.

For dinner, it is Nick’s birthday so we visit a restaurant called Heaven, which works with genocide orphans and other disadvantaged Rwandans, training them in the restaurant business. It’s certainly no charitable sacrifice on our part – Heaven is the most delightful restaurant, with fantastic food, service by angels and they even bring me a blanket to keep off the chilly air as we sit outside (Nick’s fine in shorts). These young men and women, who serve us dinner so charmingly, are the future of this tiny, traumatised state. It is up to them whether Rwanda grows into a cohesive society with shared values and builds on its remarkable new ethos of anti-corruption. So much progress has been made since the genocide – new buildings, roads and towns have sprung up, with the president looking to Singapore for a model of success. The governance here outshines anywhere else we’ve been in Africa; Rwanda stands a good chance, I reckon.

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