Sunday, May 31, 2009

"We are all Rwandans now"

Part 2 of Alex Wynter's blog based around his visit to Rwanda's Genocide Museum.

Rwanda is now often described as a “development model”, even if malnutrition lingers in the countryside, but that dry phrase fails to begin to do it justice.


CEOs the world over seeking ways to boost their organizations’ productivity could do worse than take a look at the new Rwandan concept of imihigo. An essentially untranslatable Kinyarwanda word, it’s usually rendered as “performance contract”; sometimes just “goal” or “target”.


But signed imihigos carry far greater moral force and, increasingly prevalent in the public sector in Rwanda, they indicate an utterly unshakeable determination to succeed in one’s objective, come what may. And the spirit of imihigo seems visible in every immaculately manicured public garden, every mown verge, every neatly painted kerbstone, every storm drain into which not so much as a cigarette butt has been dropped.


Kigali must be one of the most litter-free cities in the world.       


This all stems, Rwandans indicate, from their feeling that not much short of total perfection can atone for the country’s history and ensure it will be remembered for something other than the genocide. “We want to turn this whole country into a garden,” one Rwandan Red Cross worker told me.


The new dispensation, to outsiders at least, looks simple: the genocide is remembered, memorialized, even to an extent relived during regular commemorations. But as an act of will, the old “tribal” distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi, which Rwandans regard as largely colonial creations anyway, are to be forgotten, expunged, once and for all.


The Rwanda Red Cross (RRC) plays a typically eclectic role in all this. In one branch I visited, Kayonza in the east of the country, they do everything from reforestation to renovation of water sources, from helping people deal with wild animals straying from the Akagera national park on the Tanzanian border to – one of the branch’s proudest boasts – zebra crossings.


They are also still very actively dealing with the legacy of genocide.

The RRC began work with tracing and what are called in the jargon “OVC” – orphans and other vulnerable children – when Rwanda’s new era started in 1994, assisting nearly 9,000 OVC in a variety of ways in 2008 alone, according to the society’s annual report. More than 600, for example, got RRC vocational training in tailoring, carpentry, cooking, mechanics and – in what is still a poor country where broken electrical appliances have to be fixed if possible – soldering.


“Even if you weren’t there during the genocide you still feel the trauma, the branch president, Anita Mutesi, told meYoung children, she explains, somehow absorb the trauma of their parents, including the children of people who took part in the killing, who are cared for equally.


The Red Cross message, delivered mainly in schools where it undertakes psychosocial work, is simple: “We teach them how to live together,” says Mutesi, “telling them ‘we are all Rwandans now’.”


No comments:

Post a Comment