Model student Rwanda – Opportunity for the African continent?

Many politicians use in their speeches the already standardised phrase of “currently the greatest challenge for the EU”. This refers to the flows of African refugees crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa and entering EU countries in Italy and Spain. They arrive on the East African route, which starts in Kenya and ends in Alexandria in Egypt, on the central and western routes, both originating in the Gulf of Guinea and leading to Libya (Tripoli), Algeria (Algiers) and Morocco (Spanish exclaves Ceuta and Melilla). About 150,000 Africans reached the EU in 2017. They are taking on hardships, thousands of boat migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, and inhuman conditions prevail in the North African collection points. The International Organization for Migration has saved more than 1000 people from dying of thirst in Niger. Their miserable situation in their home countries is driving Africans to Europe into an uncertain future. Their only capital is hope.

But do refugees really come from all African countries?

Have you ever heard of refugees from Rwanda or met someone from that country?

It should be; in March 2017, the World Happiness Report presented by experts in New York placed Rwanda in 151st place out of 155 countries surveyed.

However, there are no Rwandans in the migrant flows.

But Rwanda? There was something!

That’s right. It was there 23 years ago that the worst crime against humanity since the Second World War took place. In this small state of Saxony’s almost double expansion, about 1 million people were killed between 6 April and mid-July 1994. This means that in 100 days members of the Hutu majority killed almost 80% of the Tutsi minority as well as Hutus, who did not want to participate in the murder. To better understand the terrible events, let us make the following macabre calculation: kill 1 million people in 100 days. That is 10 000 in one day. What human brain can imagine such a thing? We all know the Saturday picture of Dortmund’s football stadium filled with 70,000 people. According to Rwandan calculations, none of them would be alive after 7 days. Every single one wiped out. Shot, stabbed, beaten to death with clubs, chopped to pieces with machetes, drowned, … . There are secretly recorded film strips of the Rwandan massacre. The cause? When one ethnic group is played off against the other, this leads to tension. If they aren’t solved, you’re beating your brains in Africa.

It all began when German colonial rule in East Africa gave the Tutsis preferential treatment. These were Nilots of Hamit origin who had immigrated to Rwanda. Because for racist reasons the Germans were closer to the Hamites than the Hutu of Bantu origin, they transferred the administration of this colonial area to the Tutsi. In the following decades, even after the end of the colonial era, the tensions that arose grew into violent clashes and civil wars that brought the Tutsi and the Hutu to power. Again and again there were flight movements to the neighbouring countries. Reforms announced in the 1990s were not implemented. Political conflicts turned into military conflicts. From Uganda, a Tutsi rebel army (RPF, Rwandan Patriotic Front) set out on a campaign against the Hutu rulers. Civil war again. Belgium, Zaire, France interfered.

When on 6 April 1994 (Hutu) President Juvénal Habyarimana, accompanied by Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, returned from a conference in Dar es Salaam with his plane, he was fired at with a ground-to-air missile during his approach to Kigali. The plane went down on his own property, which he had previously declared a no-fly zone. All inmates died. Half an hour later, the genocide began. Blood flooded the “land of a thousand hills”. Instead of intervening, the number of blue helmet soldiers was reduced. The UN failed all along the line. Later, US President Bill Clinton admitted that he had not done enough to prevent the murders. In 2016, Foreign Minister John Kerry bowed guilty to the dead in the Kigali Genocide Museum. The museum was built on the bones of 250,000 dead. The murderers were in bloodlust: manhunts, lootings, rapes, torture, mutilations (cut hands, feet, breasts) and burns.

The Canadian General Roméo Dallaire had commanded the UN peacekeeping forces (UNAMIR) in Rwanda since 1993. His mandate, which he exercised under Chapter VI of the United Nations Charter, did not allow him to take action against the warring parties. The use of weapons was only intended for the self-defence of soldiers from Ghana and Bangladesh. Belgian blue helmets were flown out. Dallaire later accused Kofi Annan of complicity in the genocide. Belgian and French elite troops flew out foreigners.

The military victory of the RPF under its leader Paul Kagame, today president of the country, ended civil war and genocide in July 1994.

The country was in chaos. Thousands and thousands of Tutsi and Hutu had fled to the neighbouring state (today DR Congo). So did the perpetrators. In May 1994, the UN Security Council decided to deploy UNAMIR II, a force with a combat mandate. The UN bureaucracy was unable to put the decision into practice by the end of the civil war.

The genocide of 1994 destabilized the entire region. Some 2.5 million refugees fled to neighbouring countries. Huge refugee camps were set up near the Congolese city of Goma and developed into training camps for Rwandan militias. Escaped gangs of murderers united there with the intention of reconquering Rwanda. As a result, half a million more threatened refugees flocked back to Rwanda.

I visited the country in July 2016 when the 28th Summit of the African Union (AU) met there.

Kigali received them with the handover of the new Congress Palace, whose colorful moving lights iridesce from a hill over the city at night. The AU has succeeded in drawing up a charter for democracy, good governance and democratic elections. Its aim is for the member states to incorporate the formulated values (democracy, human rights) into their constitutions and gradually implement them. This is an urgent task because Africa’s population will double by 2050 and 20 million jobs will be needed every year. The aim of the Kigali Conference was to finance the Confederation from its own resources, as development partners still account for 76% of the budget.

Kigali amazed me. “Keep Kigali clean”, this demand is addressed to citizens and guests. Kigali is the cleanest capital of Africa. No paper in the streets, no plastic waste. No graffiti on the walls. Plastic packaging is forbidden. The country has the strictest cleaning law in the world.

Also the country roads are clean. Everyone is helping. On the last Saturday of each month, people flock together for community service, sweep the streets, paint the schools. The people are still poor. 80% work in agriculture and most have less than 5 dollars a week. The president announced that a computer will be available for each student by 2020. This is illustrated on the 500 franc banknote. By 2020, the country’s computer and communications technology should be at the highest international level.

In Kigali, traffic flows have been modernised. Traffic lights guide pedestrians across the streets at 30-second intervals. Police officers with laser pistols monitor the traffic. The participants follow the rules. Our driver, who accompanied us for two weeks through the country, was fixed at 50 km/h. In this time we “caught” him only once on a country road with 70 km/h.

The German minister responsible for development aid, Gerd Müller (CSU), was so enthusiastic about what he saw that he announced: “Rwanda is not a developing country”. He added: “Rwanda is much further than we are and much further than its African brothers”.

The country has strengthened its political position – also through the policies of the somewhat autocratic president. He banned the use of the terms Hutu and Tutsi and called on the traumatised population to see themselves as “Rwandans”. The death penalty was abolished. His policy of reconciliation produced positive results. National reconciliation became possible because it was left to the traditional Gacaca village courts. They made it possible to hear the perpetrators. 15 000 Gacaca courts heard almost two million cases. The proceedings were officially concluded in 2012.

A constitutional referendum in 2015 gives President Paul Kagame the theoretical chance to remain in power until 2034.

The economic successes are also impressive. Rwanda has experienced a temporary economic growth of more than 8 % and the incomes of the population are rising, although not yet everywhere in the country. Unemployment and crime are falling. The “Land of a Thousand Hills” is using its specific conditions for this purpose. Thousands of young men have registered their bicycles as taxis for people and goods. They can be recognised by the coloured bodices on which their registration number is emblazoned. Since there are hardly any horizontal roads in the country, you can see two-wheeled vehicles loaded with heavy sacks that are pushed up mountain roads by two or three people. The result is artistic superstructures. We overtook a bicycle on which 14(!) empty beer crates were firmly lashed.

Anyone who owns a motorcycle also registers it for transportation. The riders are also on the road with the identity number on coloured bodices. Motorcycle taxis often transport four or five people.

Many African and non-African countries regard Rwanda as a role model and its president as a visionary.

The security situation in the capital and in the country is striking. At the time of the AU summit, security forces were guarding roads and public buildings. But also otherwise: When entering a hotel, the visitor walks through a security lock. Before visiting a department store, the car floor is examined by mirroring.

A wealthy middle class has developed. The 60-year-old president would like to encourage foreign investors to engage in activities in Rwanda. Scarcely 40 German enterprises followed so far the call (among other things MAN, DHL, a Fleischer, …) and united to an federation.

In a report recently broadcast in the German media, the Black Forest woman Katrin Stelzer explains how she makes fruit brandies from the country’s numerous tropical fruits. Her company “Rwanda Schnaps” has trained local workers and imported copper distillers from Germany. Since there is no glass production in Rwanda, she also buys the bottles in Germany. Their business is booming. Besides the favourable production conditions, she emphasizes:

“Everything is super safe here, so I’m more afraid in Germany. Everything is clean. Everything flashes and flashes here”. However, she criticized: “Sometimes tax laws are simply changed and taxes are levied arbitrarily. The government is authoritarian”.

Markus Bär, the representative of the Deutsche Kreditbank für Wiederaufbau, praised the extensive use of public funds for road construction.

I asked Christian G. about the significance of his project in Rwanda, which he is carrying out within the framework of the Sparkassenstiftung.

What is the significance of your project for Rwanda?

“All our projects are integrated into the national development strategy Vision 2020. For project reasons, we mainly work in the sectors of education and financial economic development.

What is the impact of the project (IT system for microfinance institutions, microfinance academy, introduction of the dual system for microfinance staff, monetary training of the population, advising the government on restructuring the public banking sector)?

“The impact is difficult to assess, we are still in the process.

Christian, presidential elections were recently held in Rwanda. What was your impression?

“Paul Kagame of the RFP, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, received 98.79% of all votes cast. For weeks there have been massive campaigns all over the country, leading to a kind of mass hysteria. His two opposition opponents had no chance. The president was stylized as a pop icon and saviour figure. I received at least 10 SMS ads for the RFP in the last three days before the election.”

What is it about microcredit?

“Microcredits are an instrument of poverty reduction. Many people have an income below the poverty line. Women in particular benefit from microcredits. With these “mini” loans, people can become self-employed. They receive the capital they need for this without enormous bureaucratic effort.”

Many things can change quickly in Africa. In Rwanda, too, not everything that glitters is gold. Showpiece states get into crises and suddenly become unstable.

Based on its experience with the genocide, Rwanda also wants to help other countries. In Southern Sudan, despite the presence of UN blue helmet soldiers, development aid workers were raped by government troops in the summer of 2016. The UN force was undisciplined, worked without a plan and clear mandate and did not intervene in the case mentioned. Its Kenyan chief was dismissed. For the 5000 blue helmets deployed in crisis areas, there is no central leadership and no corresponding command. Now, on behalf of the UN, an 800-man blue helmet force from Rwanda is preparing for its deployment in Southern Sudan. Well trained and with a clear objective.

Rwanda, a country in positive change. Not without contradictions. I climbed the 7th floor of a skyscraper in Kigali with the local young entrepreneur Francine. As a child she was shot during the genocide on the run, lost both parents, arrived in Kenya and received with a lot of luck an education. In this skyscraper she had her business, in which cups and badges of honour were sold. She proudly showed the furniture and introduced her staff. She also runs two other businesses. She also runs a clothing shop and offers her knowledge to other self-employed people as a freelance accountant. She has a small rented apartment for herself and her son as well as a small car of her own. This makes her one of a slowly growing group of women who have risen to the middle class through their economic independence. Christian G. from Germany, who previously lived in Kigali, asked Francine to become his wife.

From above, on the 13th floor, there was an interesting overview of the capital. Behind the glass blue skyscraper facades lay the city districts with the rusty brown tin roofs of old houses. Old and new are close together in Rwanda.

No Rwandan refugee flows arrive in the EU.

By the way: in the Bundestag elections on 24 September 2017, only 0.3% of eligible voters had African roots.

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Last Updated on 2019-10-20