A small, densly populated country about the size of Maryland or Vermont, Rwanda has a distinctly beautiful, lush landscape graced with grasslands, small farms on rolling hillsides, rugged mountains, lakes, and volcanoes. The country is mostly just south of the equator, but its high altitude helps it avoid temperature extremes.
Despite its great natural beauty, Rwanda was the site of Africa’s largest genocide in modern times. Between April 7 and June 16, 1994, in the space of only 100 days, Hutus rampaged through the country and slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and their moderate Hutu sympathizers. Although the reports of the genocide were horrific, no country came to the Tutsis’ assistance. The scale and speed of the slaughter left the country and its people deeply scarred, and it was not until May 2003 that a constitution, with a balance of power shared between the Hutus and Tutsis, became law.
There are many lessons to be learned from a visit to this beautiful East African country, which spawns both the mighty Nile and Congo rivers. It is lead by a smart and determined president who stopped the slaughter and brought peace, albeit not always with everyone's complete approval.
Additionally President Paul Kagame doesn't always champion freedom of speech to the standard to which Americans have become accustomed. People are sometimes jailed, for instance, for violating strict rules governing dissemination of genocide philosophy. He is all about education and building the economy, however, and has instituted major programs to insure stability for foreign investors and to help them succeed in this small country where average wages are still only a few hundred dollars a year. Kagame seems to be very highly regarded by a large majority of English-speaking people who have actually lived in Rwanda and seen the remarkable progress being made there.
In January 2012, Joyce and Bill Cummings, co-founders of Cummings Foundation, and several friends visited Rwanda to learn about humanitarian efforts to heal the country and provide sorely needed services to those impacted by the genocide and its aftermath. Read Joyce’s travel journal here. That visit led to substantial commitments to the Partners in Health hospitals in Rwinkwavu and Butaro, and to a probable long-term involvement there by Institute for World Justice. They returned to Rwanda in 2013 with Dr. and Mrs. Arlan and Alice Fuller, also of Winchester, MA.
An “Up and Coming” Center of Commerce
The government of President Paul Kagame says it is no longer looking for charity. Instead, it has stabilized the country to such a degree that any business looking to establish itself in Africa should strongly consider Rwanda as an ideal beachhead. With its second international airport now underway, it will soon be the center of East African commerce.
One of Africa’s smaller but most densely populated landlocked nations, Rwanda has demonstrated spectacular progress toward recovering from its horrific 100–day genocide, which occurred April through June of 1994. Under the extraordinary leadership of President Kagame, the government has worked diligently and strategically to rebuild the nation and unify its people. Integral to achieving these goals is the self-sufficiency that comes with a thriving economy.
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB), created in 2008, employs a “one-stop” service model to facilitate new investment and fast track development projects. Today, Rwanda is recognized as one of the easiest countries in Africa in which to do business. John Gara, CEO of the RDB, noted that this recognition “is a result of extensive efforts by government to streamline business procedures, create a conducive legal framework, reduce bureaucracy and improve service delivery, in order to promote both domestic and foreign investment.”
A new, and much simplified, business registration process was introduced in 2006 to encourage entrepreneurship. As a result, the average amount of time it took to start a business dropped from 18 days to nearly instantaneous, and the number of new enterprises skyrocketed. Compared with an average of 700 new businesses annually prior to 2006, Rwanda reportedly registered 18,447 new businesses in 2010. The fee to register a new business in Rwanda is 15,000Rwf, but do it online, and it is free!
By creating a business-friendly environment for both foreign companies and its own citizens, Rwanda is growing its private sector and its wealth at a surprising rate. Neither Cummings Foundation or the Cummings family will become involved in any for-profit business in Rwanda. Bill Cummings has publicly stated, however, that if he was considering becoming in a business outside of Massachusetts, then Rwanda would likely be the first place he would look.
A Benevolent Dictator??
In a well-informed, 54-page report, Richard Johnson, who reportedly served 23 years as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, goes into great detail rebutting perennial charges leveled by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) against President Kagame, who truely saved the nation. Given the significant influence HRW has on international human rights discourse, IWJ offered to post Mr. Johnson’s thorough documentation of the “other side” of the Kagame story.
In late 2013, Rwanda is approaching the 20th anniversary of its devastating genocide, which will be marked in April 2014. Having first visited there in January 2012, Joyce and Bill Cummings were so impressed with the significant progress they witnessed upon their subsequent trip in August 2013. Not atypical, a Rwandan student at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village credits his country’s rapid development to the fact that he and his peers are “the ’sacrificial’ generation, who skipped the grieving in order to start rebuilding.”
Returning to Rwanda in August 2013, they found Rwanda still taking remarkable steps to become the Switzerland of Africa. To all appearances its graft free, pro business, progressive culture is taking a strong hold on things, as the country begins to surge forward. Rwandans are hard working and attentive, and the Kigame regime seems to be performing at a very high level.
Wherever Joyce and Bill traveled around the country, on both of their visits, they found that all of the Rwandans they met very much wanted the same thing – peace. These people, who have lived through such violence and anguish, are prepared to move forward as a united nation, not wanting Rwanda to continue to be known as “the country that had that genocide.” While a very brief excerpt of Mr. Johnson’s report, “The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda,” may be found below, the entire report is available online.
The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda
by Richard Johnson
“I’m a retired American diplomat. My professional experience includes the genocide in Bosnia, and my personal experience includes living in Rwanda in 2008–2010 as the spouse of another U.S. diplomat. My purpose here is not to defend the Rwandan government, which is accountable first and foremost to its own people as well as to a variety of outside institutions. My purpose is to expose and perhaps alter the conduct of HRW.
“With substantial funding and a mission statement whose nobility matches that of any established religion, HRW has enormous influence on Western media and foreign policy makers, particularly with regard to countries like Rwanda which are outside the core areas of Western interest and familiarity. But HRW’s decision-making process is not transparent, the aura of sanctity around its professed mission deters public scrutiny of its policies and practices, and the degree of accountability of HRW to anyone is quite unclear. This situation of unchecked power is one where things can go seriously wrong. With regard to Rwanda, they have.”
Read full Johnson report (50 pages)
For Additional Information:
This organization campaigns against crimes against humanity around the world, and runs the Kigali Memorial Centre in Rwanda (with Kigali City Council) and the Holocaust Memorial and Educational Centre in the UK. Aegis is dedicated to the prediction, prevention, and ultimately the elimination of genocide, and was founded by James Smith, M.D. and Stephen Smith, Ph. D.
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village
Founded by Anne Heyman and Seth Merrin, this village provides orphaned and vulnerable youth, many of whom are survivors of the Rwandan genocide, with a safe and secure living environment, health care, education, and necessary life skills. It uses education and service to model and create socially responsible citizens in Rwanda and around the world. ASYV admits 125 students to its four-year residential program each January, and gives them all a far better than average high school education. It graduated its first class of 125 in January 2013
In January 2011, this new hospital opened its doors in northern Rwanda. The flagship 150-bed facility was built as part of the ongoing collaboration between Partners In Health and the government of Rwanda. With electronic access to educational resources and expert consultation, the hospital aims to be a leader in using information technology to aid patient care. In August 2013 the Butaro Ambulatory Cancer Center opened adjacent to Butaro Hospital, financed by Cummings Foundation.
Kigali Memorial Centre
Built on a site where more than 250,000 people are buried, this centre contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and a very worthwhile exhibition of other genocides around the world. It was opened for the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide in 2004.
Partners in Health (PIH)
Based in Boston, MA, PIH provides a preferential health care option for the poor through service delivery, training, research, and advocacy and works globally to serve those most in need and provide an antidote to those in despair. Founded in 1987 by Dr. Paul Farmer, Thomas J. White and Todd McCormack, PIH currently operates in Boston, Haiti, Peru, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, Russia, and Kazakhstan with partner projects in Guatemala, Mexico, Burundi, Mali, Liberia and Nepal.
Rwanda Gift for Life
This organization strives to provide ways to address critical issues for genocide survivors, including balanced nutrition, trauma counseling, secure home conditions, school enrollment for children, sustainable economic independence, and physical, mental and emotional health. In Rwanda, UNICEF offers programs in health and nutrition; water sanitation and hygiene; as well as education in HIV and AIDS protection.
Rwanda Travel Journal
Extensive notes with pictures by Joyce Cummings from January 2012 journey through Rwanda.
Launched in April 2005, this hospital was Partners In Health's first project in Rwanda. In addition to treating the ill, the staff provides knowledge and skills to improve their lives. Through a training center and garden, patients learn how to grow food on whatever plot of land they have, and are given seeds to get started.
Works for children's rights, their survival, development and protection, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In Rwanda, UNICEF offers programs in; health and nutrition; water sanitation and hygiene; as well as HIV and AIDS education.
The U.S. and the Genocide in Rwanda 1994
This National Security Archive sites offers several government documents regarding the Rwandan genocide. This independent non-governmental research institute and library collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
U.S. Department of State
A good resource for fact sheets, press releases, remarks, and more.
Rwanda - The Wake of a Genocide
Includes background, multimedia reports, selected readings, current news, and ways to help.
Yale - Genocide Studies Program
A list compiled by the Rwandan Genocide Project of articles and research that offer information about the genocide in Rwanda.
In Rwanda, Health Care Coverage That Eludes the U.S.
The New York Times, July 3, 2012
Cummings Foundation imaze gutanga 500,000 US$ yo gufasha Abanyarwanda
Kigali Today, June 1, 2012
Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village helps young Rwandans heal
Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2012
Rwandan students meet WMHS counterparts
Woburn Patch, May 18, 2012
Hoping a trail leads to a tourist future
Boston Globe Travel, March 18, 2012
The Economist, February 25, 2012
James Nachtwey’s reflection on the Rwandan genocide
Time Magazine, April 6, 2011
Rwanda's medical miracle
Times Live, January 22, 2011
Rwanda: How the genocide happened
BBC News, December 18, 2008
Ghosts of Rwanda
PBS - FRONTLINE
A special two-hour documentary to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide examining the social, political, and diplomatic failures that converged to enable the genocide to occur.
A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It
By Stephen Kinzer
For anyone interested in the genocide in Rwanda, this book offers an enormous amount of historical information. This account of President Paul Kagame takes information from extensive interviews with Kagame and the people who know him, and tells the story of his path from a refugee and rebel organizer, to president of the land-locked nation. Kagame's firm policy on reconciliation without retribution in the post-genocide era is examined, as is the strict adherence to laws and maintenance of government free from corruption. Also included in the book is a robust background on Rwanda as a former Belgian colony, leading up to the 1994 genocide. (More)
Mountains Beyond Mountains The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
By Tracy Kidder
A compelling and inspiring book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, is the true story of Paul Farmer and his journey from a Harvard medical school student dedicated to curing infectious diseases and bringing lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need it most, to the founding of Partners in Health.
At the heart of Mountains Beyond Mountains is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.
Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness
By Tracey Kidder
This is the inspiring story of one man’s American journey and the ordinary people who help him, providing testament to the power of second chances. Having survived the civil war and genocide in Burundi, Deo arrives in the United States with two hundred dollars, no English and no contacts and goes on to attend Columbia University, medical school, and devote his life to healing.
Several Rwandan residents who had read Strenth in What Remains reported that it gave a very accurate report of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, even though it principally portrayed conditions in Burundi. (More)
Baking Cakes in Kigali: A Novel By Gaile Parkin
A gloriously written little tale set in modern-day Rwanda, Baking Cakes in Kigali introduces one of the most singular and engaging characters in recent fiction: Angel Tungaraza—mother, cake baker and keeper of secrets. While living on the edge of chaos, her cake baking skills transform lives, weave magic, and create hope amid the madness swirling around her.