In the past few weeks I’ve heard a couple of people applaud Rwanda for being a clean and beautiful country with no corruption. Now, I only spent two and a half days there, but I have a bit of a rebuttal. I mean, yes – the streets were very clean and the undulating countryside really is pretty – but I would hardly say that cleanliness leads to no corruption.
To me, a street without beggars and children just reminds me of something I read in a New York Times article about Iwawa Island. The article details the fact that, in an effort to preserve the appearance of a developed country, Rwandan authorities routinely scoop up homeless and petty criminals and send them to rehabilitation centers without a trial. Hardly a good thing to have on a country’s record.
And to say the country is not corrupt ignores the intense oppression the ruling party employs. The RPF win every election – because there’s virtually no opposition (all three opposition parties were ruled out of the elections this past August). While I was there I read in the newspaper that the interim editor-in-chief of a newspaper critical of the government had been killed. Two things worth noting: he was the interim chief editor because the former chief editor fled into exile; and the police arrived within minutes of the killing but never found a suspect. Just after I left Rwanda, the vice president of an opposition party was found decapitated in the forest (officials arrested one suspect but released him soon after and haven’t investigated any further).
And then there’s the ethnic part. Even though the RPF outlawed the ethnic identity cards that were a hallmark of the genocide era, there is still a stark contrast. Hutus are marginalized in civil service. And no Tutsis have ever faced justice for crimes committed in the civil war. There are allegations that the RPF killed 30,000 civilians as they swept across the country – but the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s investigations have routinely been obstructed by the government. This in addition to UN’s recent findings that the Rwandan government committed crimes against humanity (and maybe genocide) in the DR Congo.
I guess these are just some things to think about. The country has a lot of potential, I just think it’s far from a great example right now. Clean streets, sure. But there are quite a few concerns that the government needs to look into if it wants to really be seen for its progress.