Small country with a big story - Rwanda


After I visited the biggest countries of the East African community, I got to the end to this tiny country, which everybody likes to call the country of thousands hills. When I crossed the border, I suddenly found myself in a different universe. First, I had to get used to the cars driving on the right again, the British didn’t make it all the way here. I was surprised by much more than just driving on the right. Even though, this was not my first visit, I have experienced, learnt and changed a lot in the past three years and so I started noticing different things. It can be the degree I did, the people I met or the way I see the world now, either way, I saw Rwanda in a different light again. (Although I had very similar feeling from my last visit).

The country with terrible history

When somebody says ‘Rwanda’, all that people associate with this country is (if anything) the genocide between the Hutu and Tutsi people. More than few people were telling me, how crazy I must be to go to such a dangerous country. Even more people carefully asked, if the war has ended. Almost nobody was able to tell me anything else about the country beside the word ‘genocide’ which happened (mainly) in April 1994.

Yes, the genocide that had happened here, happened before the one we had in Yugoslavia in the 90’s. And yet, many of my friends from Eastern Europe visit the countries that used to form Yugoslavia every year on their holidays (Croatia being very popular) not connecting it to the horrible history and danger and the same people kept asking me about the war in Rwanda. How come, that we were able to rewrite the associations with certain countries in short time, yet we still have stereotypes about others after almost quarter of a century?

The conflict was indeed a terrible one. It was terrible because within three weeks hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were massacred, killed, injured, raped and mutilated. One can say it was the fastest genocide in the history. But is was terrible also because of the role we (Europeans) play in the division of Rwandese people into Hutus and Tutsis. It was not so much an ethnic conflict rather than it was a conflict between two groups that German anthropologist invented in the 19th century based on mainly socio-economical backgrounds of the families.

Hutu vs Tutsi – The role of European ‘old-school’ science

The first Europeans reaching Rwanda in the 19th century were predominantly German anthropologists. They used Rwandese as some sort of experiments in their science. They started dividing the people based on some characteristics. However, the main division between Hutus and Tutsis was the amount of cows given family or individual owned. If you happened to have more than 10 cows – congratulation, you became Tutsi, if you had less than that, you belonged to the bigger, poorer (and according to the anthropologist less intelligent) population. We are now talking about 19th century. In that time the Hutu-Tutsi identification was fluid, meaning you could upgrade or downgrade based on your socio-economical background. Tutsi formed about 15% of the population.

Today, Kigali is a big modern and clean city.

Later, with the arrival of new colonialists from France, has the division settled and was not so fluid anymore. It basically transformed into a ethnic or clan groups. With the introduction of the ID cards, was the division and separation between the two completed. The ID cards stated to which group you belonged to. You were either the minority that was provided with better education, offered better jobs and so on or the marginalized and stigmatized Hutu majority. Then people just started to be jealous, hating one another as the power was switching between the two. But I am not here to do a history lesson. We all know how the story ended.

I am not writing this to point fingers or put blame or that or this group. People are people, one can always say that if that this would not happen, or that it would happen anyways… Maybe, if the Europeans imported engineers instead of anthropologist Rwanda would have great infrastructure and many factories instead of terrible history, but maybe not.

I have visited many ‘atrocity – tourism’ sites. And let me tell you, the stories about, of and during wars, conflicts and genocides are not that different one from another. In the Genocide memorial in Kigali, Rwanda you can see interesting exhibition on the second floor about other countries, with similar histories. It is always about hatred created between two (or more) groups by someone who is sitting on a golden toilet, manipulating the masses. As much as we think of ourselves as a rational being, we are not, and we can be manipulated very easily. The stories and atrocities in Rwanda genocide are not much different from those in Khmer regime in Cambodia, Yugoslavia conflict or the (in)famous one in Germany. It was never about religion, skin colour or ethnicity, it was about created hatred based on those things. And the perpetrators? I do not want to justify their action neither I want to judge them. Maybe they were frustrated with their lives, maybe there was injustice done to them, maybe they wanted to feel powerful (and taking or keeping a human life is giving you quite some power) or maybe they were just bad people.

The point being, it is not about some ‘simple primitive Africans killing themselves’, all groups did (do) that, we all think we are better than that, but are we? But this is heading to a different direction again. People are people, and sometimes we learn from our mistakes. Rwanda did.

In Rwanda people no longer divide themselves, the country is safe and often a refuge for refugees from other countries.

The country without plastic in the hands of women  

So now, just a summary of ‘what happened next’. Where did I finish? Oh yes, when I crossed the border. The right-driving wasn’t the (only) shock. Shock is, that unlike in the neighbouring countries, here you use a bus card getting to use the bus, here the conductor prints a bus ticket specifically for your journey, here you won’t see goats and whole families on the motorcycles (as can be quite typical for many African countries) but instead you will only see two people on one motorcycle, both wearing a security helmet, but mainly, here you won’t see any plastic.

Rwanda is definitely the cleanest country in Africa, and I think it is very possible that it is also high up in the world ranking. For quite some time now, it is illegal to buy or use plastic bags. In the shops you will only get paper bags. They will even take them away from you at the airport and if you are getting a juice in a plastic cup, you will pay more if you take it away from the restaurant than if you drink it from the same cup inside. (yes, recycling). But mainly – ladies and gentlemen – every last Saturday in the month in the morning, all buses stop, shops close and so do public institutions. The people meet at public places and together clean the streets, fix the roads, or help out with other service work.

Yes. Rwanda is organized, clean and very safe. And the best interesting fact at the end – Rwanda has the highest women representation in the government in the world. Around 60% of the parliament consists of women.

When it comes to education, majority of the people speak (apart from the local language) French (mainly older generation) and (or) English (younger people) and now Swahili is also being introduced in the schools.

So if you are looking for educated, safe, lovely, beautiful and well organized country in Africa – Rwanda is the place to visit!