Kigali, Rwanda- 25 years ago Rwanda descended into the darkest corner of the human heart, a place devoid of empathy or compassion. It led to a 100-day genocide that eviscerated the nation and left a stain that only time can diminish if not fully erase.
A quarter-century later, however, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in its long cleansing and rebuilding effort. In a single generation, the country has brought conciliation to its people, and reached out to the world. Signs through Kigali announce “Remember, Unite, Renew”.
Led by its President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has expanded opportunities in all areas of society. In business, it has the second fastest growing economy in all of Africa (7.5% per annum since 2007). Primary school education is now available to 98% of its children. It is the fifth safest country to walk at night worlwide, and it has the largest percentage of women in Parliament in Africa at 61%.
Rwanda also has a goal of becoming the hub of sports for Africa, which is what brought me to Central Africa for the 15th Kigali International Peace Marathon.
With public service lying at the center of Rwanda’s reunification and rebuilding, the story of 21st century Rwanda can be seen in something as elemental as the cleanliness of its capital city Kigali, where on each fourth Saturday of the month the people come out en masse to clean their neighborhoods.
Umuganda, as it’s called, was introduced after independence in 1962 from Belgium as a way for the people to contribute to the wellbeing of their new nation.
The service was reintroduced in 1998 as part of the government’s efforts to rebuild after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Today, it takes place on the last Saturday of each month from 8a.m. and lasts for at least three hours. In its way, Umuganda is a fitting metaphor for the cleansing of its national wounds.
Studies suggest it can take as many as six decades to repair a broken nation, to return civility, and reestablish a stable political infrastructure. But with programs like Umuganda, Rwanda has laid the groundwork for its future in less than three.
Today, with events like the Kigali International Peace Marathon, the Seruka Youth Cup, and the FIBA Africa Zone V Basketball Tournament going on around Kigali this week, Rwanda is reaching out to its own four corners as well as to the world at-large, saying, in essence, “Remember, Unite, Renew”.
At yesterday’s Peace Marathon, Half-Marathon and Peace Fun Run 10K, I stayed in the Amahoro National Stadium where the races began and ended. My primary task wasn’t to report on the actual races as is my usual assignment back home, but to interview the runners who came from 55 nations to get a feel for the atmosphere of the new Rwanda.
Below are pictures that tell the story better than any words of mine. As Ethiopian Addis Johannes told me after his half-marathon, “come and see what is real in Rwanda.”
We have one more week in Rwanda, but we have already seen a country of resilience and resolve. A country that has elevated aspiration over condemnation, remembrance over recrimination.
Perhaps from the depths of its past we are witnessing a Rwandan model for all the world to follow.