Alexis’ corner of Rwanda
October 7, 2010

Kirehe is the driest district in Rwanda and although we are in the ‘short wet season’ (September to December) there has been precious little, much needed, rain until yesterday when the heavens opened with two short but torrential storms accompanied by rolling thunder.

Luckily I managed to avoid both of these on my moto drives to and  from Nyamateke, where I spent three hours or so with the  headteacher, Wellars,  sorting out an  Action Plan for the remainder of my placement.  It looks like over the next three weeks I will be providing him with management support for writing a new school development plan and possibly some help with ICT if he can get his laptop up and running.

That will take us up to the end of the school year. Thereafter, during the month of November, I will spend the final four weeks of my placement providing in-service training sessions for his staff, a mixture of education methodology and some English sessions based on themes of their choice.

Today I go through the same action planning process at Nyabitare but I suspect it will be a much slower process as Flora, the head, speaks French but very little English.

Daniel, my usual moto driver, got a puncture yesterday so I was picked up by Alex (Alexis). I had met him a few times but only been on his bike once before. This was a free ride he gave me one evening when he saw me walking into Nyakarambi. As he was headed in the same direction direction he kindlystopped to give me a lift, insisting there would be no charge. 

Alex is very proud that he owns two cows. Cows are extremely significant in Rwanda. They are tangible assets, a sign of prosperity and of course a source of milk.  As we were driving along he suddenly pointed out a small clay brick, cement rendered property with a corrugated metal roof. Next to it stood a rustic wooden  shelter, home to his pride and joy.   

This was Alexis’ corner of Rwanda, just off the dust track, part of a small settlement on the edge of a banana plantation, with wonderful views across the valley.   

He pulled over, parked up his moto and led me across to take a look at his long horned cow and calf. I was taken into his house and introduced to his wife and two young boys. The oldest of them had recently started school in Nyakarambi.  Alex explained who I was in Kinyarwanda and primed him to greet me in English which he did with, “Good morning teacher!”   

Alex’s wife then appeared with two jugs of piping hot boiled milk, from the family cow, and a plate of rice and beans which Alex and I shared. The milk was served in large mugs with a heaped spoonful of sugar.

Alex passed me the family photo album, largely pictures of his wedding and some of him going through exercises in combat gear. He told me had been in the army for 15 years and is now 30. It is therefore highly likely that he was a boy soldier with the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) during the aftermath of the genocide, which was probably borne out by another photograph in the album, that of Paul Kagame.    

It was a very kind of Alex, who I barely know, to take me to his home in this way and I felt very privileged to have met his family and to have shared lunch in this way. I took a few photographs of Alex and his boys. He is very relieved to have sons as apparently girls are too troublesome!

With this most unexpected and enjoyable interlude to my journey over we carried on to Nyakarambi.

VSO Rwanda: Provisional flights & the Presidential Election!
July 28, 2010

I have received an email with provisional flight details for my VSO stint in Rwanda.

All things being well, I will be flying out of Heathrow at 06.50 on Thursday 2nd September and arriving at Kigali Airport (right) following a transfer in Brussels, at 18.50 the same day.

My return flight out of Kigali is scheduled for 20.45 on Saturday 4th December, touching down 10.00 on Sunday 5th.

So I should be back home in plenty of time for the build up to Christmas!

I had my first rabies shot yesterday, following on from yellow fever on Monday and swine flu last Friday. The nurse said my immune system won’t know what’s hit it! There are still two more rabies and a Hep B to go before I leave a months from now.

The international spotlight is turning towards Rwanda once again with elections due on 9th August.

Last weekend the Telegraph Magazine (24th July) carried an in-depth interview article with President Paul Kagame which concluded with the unanswered question is he, “a benevolent dictator, the strong hand needed to pull Rwanda forward into a better future, or is he an incurable despot?”  

In the autumn of 1994 Rwanda experienced the fastest genocide in history. Over a 100 day period Hutu fanatics slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

At that time the international community stood by staring in disbelief but failing to react until it was too late. In the 16 years since, western aid has enabled the country to make an equally staggering recovery and Rwanda is now considered to be a model for all developing African nations.

Rwanda is now considered to be the safest and cleanest country in Africa. It has experienced one of the highest rates of economic growth. Corruption levels are said to be low and it is the only country in the world with a majority of women in parliament.

The death penalty has been abolished, there is a national health system and 95% of children are in school. There is an aim for every pupil to have their own laptop by 2012!

The infrastructure is developing at an amazing pace with skyscraper buildings rising in the capital city, a good network of major roads, widespread internet availability and a national law banning plastic bags, on environmental grounds.

Amazingly this has been achieved in a nation where communities of survivors from the genocide live side by side with the killers.

Kagame is a Tutsi from the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) whilst 85% of the population are Hutu. He has simply addressed the problem of ethnic hatred and ethnic politics by making them illegal.

The Hutu – Tutsi divide and indeed the very words are no longer acceptable. The government mantra is, “We are all Rwandans now.”      

Politicians or citizens engaging in divisionism, as it is now called, face lengthy imprisonment or worse.

Some Hutu critics of Kagame, who maintain divisonism is merely a strategy to allow a Tutsi minority ruling elite to maintain control of a Hutu majority population, have been forced into exile, mysteriously disappeared or become the victims of unsolved assassinations.

Human Rights Watch are critical of Kagame’s authoritarian style of government claiming that denial of the Hutu political voice will only suppress tensions in the short-term and could be bottling up a resentment that may  manifest itself in another future genocide.

Rwanda still remains heavily dependent on the services of humanitarian NGOs (non governmental organisations) and financial aid from the international community. Whilst Kagame accepts this with a degree of gratitude there appears to be an underlying tone of resentment.

This is borne out of the west’s lack of intervention at the time of the genocide and an assertion that only five percent of agencies involved, “are doing it altruistically.”  Kagame however appears to be a very astute operator and uses the guilt of the western world to his country’s advantage.

Whilst his fiercest critics brand him a war criminal and liken him to Hitler, he has at the same time received huge international acclaim for his achievements and enjoys the support of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and the Chief Executives of Google and Starbucks.

Beneath the surface the political situation may be more fragile than it seems and it will be very interesting to keep an eye on the forthcoming elections. However I suspect and hope that they will go off peacefully.

You can be assured that VSO will also be watching the situation very closely and I have every confidence that if there is any hint of political instability, surrounding the elections, that may compromise the safety of its volunteers I will not be boarding that flight in September and those already in place will be evacuated post-haste.

Watch this space………..