I’ve just returned from a whirlwind fact-finding tour of Rwanda with the International Reporting Project. I can now report with great confidence that these Rwandan school children are enjoying themselves.
Beyond that, I have to admit I am still trying to process the experience. Rwanda is a tough country to get a handle on. Here are some reasons why:
1. Rwanda has been ranked by the World Bank as one of the best countries in Africa, or anywhere, for doing business.
2. Rwanda has been ranked by Reporters Without Borders as one of the worst countries in the world for free speech and media independence.
4. Rwanda’s political system is frequently ranked as not free and de facto one-party rule. As the U.S. State Department notes, President Paul Kagame won 93 percent of the 2010 vote in a “peaceful and orderly election” — preceded by assassinations, terror attacks, closure of two newspapers and the disqualification of opposition candidates.
5. Rwanda has seen some of the most consistent economic growth anywhere in the world, averaging a 7 percent annual increase in GDP since 2005. Here’s a chart.
6. Poverty rates are high in Rwanda, with nearly half the population living in extreme poverty, according to the United Nations Development Program.
7. The government of Rwanda wants to transform this tiny nation into the Singapore of East Africa, a knowledge-based economy and financial hub for the region. Yet nine out of ten Rwandans are subsistence farmers, many of them semi-literate or with only primary school level education. Many depend upon foreign food aid, according to USAID.
8. Rwanda today has the highest percentage of women, a majority, holding elected office of any country in the world. In the 1994 genocide, sexual violence was at an all-time high with an estimated 250,000 women raped (and often murdered).
9. Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Sub-Saharan Africa but most of the 11 million people live in rural areas and the country, whether seen up close or from space, is still very green.
10. Because of the 1994 genocide, it is against the law in Rwanda to identify yourself as an ethnic Tutsi or Hutu. Yet the (Tutsi-dominated) government recently required that the tragedy be described as the “genocide of the Tutsis.”