This week marks the 20th year since the Genocide in Rwanda. A lot has been written about the failings of the international community to stop the tragedy and also a lot of commentary about how the country has dealt with the events. As I write this from Juba in South Sudan, a country facing it’s own crises, and showing hallmarks of Genocide from horrific stories of mutilation, torture, mass raping’s, killings of women, children and innocent bystanders. It will be too early what will happen with this country, but thought it would be good to talk and show some pictures of Rwanda, a place I visited four months ago on the start of the Walk the Nile expedition.
Not much is written about Rwanda apart from the Genocide. Few tourists venture there apart from rich tourists venturing to the North of the country to the Virunga mountains to track mountain gorillas. As such I was a bit naïve to what the country was like or what lay ahead. Rwanda ‘A land of a Thousand Hills’ was the catchy national slogan, and as I flew in, it wouldn’t have taken a long boardroom session to work out why they came up with the phrase. There was not a piece of flat land anywhere, and provided lush green hilly landscapes to view.
Rwanda - A land of a Thousand Hills
I was here to plan, organise and manage an attempt for Levison Wood to be the first person to walk the length of the River Nile. There are many sources to this vast and mighty river, and the longest is found deep in the Nyungwe National Park where a tiny trickle emerges from the ground, then develops into a stream, and then into several rivers that wind through the mountains and eventually form the Akergera River that exits the county into Tanzania, then Uganda and out into Lake Victoria. This was the river that dead massacred Tutsis were thrown into and they emerged a month later into the lake.
By following these rivers through the countryside we got to witness areas that very few if any westerners or white faces have been through. The villages were incredibly poor, but we were always treated with open arms and big smiles. Apart from the sheer beauty of the landscapes, the thing that is amazing to see is just how clean even the most remotest of villages. The country is one of the cleanest countries in Africa, and took the decision to ban plastic bags, which when you visit neighbouring countries and see how bags absolutely litter every roadside, this was a major step. The communities also take part in a monthly clean up. On the last Saturday of the month, everyone, whether in the city or in the villages come together and tidy up their streets. It could be planting trees to cutting grass, but the effect is startling. A lot of countries could learn from this as it gets the communities working together and helping bring about a positive change in their country.
The President Paul Kagame, who has been in power since the Genocide said in order to move on there would no longer be Tutsis or Hutus, and you are all Rwandan. There will always be open wounds and emotional and psychological effects that will last for several generations, but by bringing people together like this has undoubtedly has sped up the reconciliation process which I fear will take many more years in a place like South Sudan where Tribalism is so deep routed. It is clear when I visited that the younger generations are very forward leaning, and just want to get on with life and do the best that they can. The majority of the nation is under thirty and it was refreshing and heart warming to witness these smiling children and educated young adults.
It is not all rosy, as through the smiles, it appeared that even with the democratic government, they seemed controlling to a point akin to a communist nation. It felt that people are told what to say about their country and how good it is, and how far they have come and not really express their real feelings. Kagame’s regime may not win favours in all political circles, but to get to the point, twenty years down from one of the worst human atrocities in living memory, is to be applauded and tough decisions and actions need to be taken. I was amazed just how stoic and resilient the Rwandese are. They live in one of the most beautiful but also safest nations in Africa, and brought about a change that can teach many a developed country. It was an honour and a privilege to witness this, and they will only go from strength to strength. In order for South Sudan to pull themselves out of their own mess, they could really do with looking at Rwanda and see that heir is always hope amongst the turmoil and tragedy.