Returning From Rwanda

25/04/2016 12:08

No one in Rwanda spoke of the genocide of 1994. That was the first thing I noticed.

President Paul Kagame has been the head of state since the genocide, and he has been instrumental in ushering in change. He's taken big steps to challenge ethnic division, transforming the country into one nation of Rwandans.

Although far from perfect, there is no feeling of tension in the country - at least none that was noticeable. Rwanda may have endured one of the worst human atrocities since the Second World War, but there is a real sense of social recovery in process.

The overriding picture from wherever you go is one of poverty, with communities outside the main population centres living with no electricity, or any meaningful utilities. 40% of the population survives on as little as 39p per day. But that is changing.

Rwanda is largely rural, and there has been a major intervention from the Rwandan Government to establish a Crop Intensification Programme and a holistic approach to increasing food productivity involving the reorganisation of land use and fertiliser application, among other solutions. Now the people of Rwanda have the means to feed themselves, and make a living from the land they live on.

There are also schemes in place for Rwandans to save some of the money they earn, almost like a basic version of the credit unions we have in Scotland. These schemes also provide loans which people can apply for after they have been in the "credit union" for a certain period of time and have built up some savings. These loans go towards upgrading their basic business needs. One woman I met, who had a soya bean processing business, had recently invested in a kitchen blender in order to speed up her processing. It might seem basic, but it was a revolution in her business.

Women have played an integral role in Rwandan society. With over 60% of Parliamentarians being women as well as being the vast majority of savers in the 'credit union' system nationally, women in Rwanda have been the pillar in stabilising and enabling growth within the country. One of the companies I visited, TradeMark East Africa, is in construction and is building the country's Border Posts. At the Taveta-Holili development, two thirds of unskilled labourers were women. It is clear that the country is making great strides in equality.

The feeling of optimism in Rwanda is tangible. This is a country with a past they will never forget, however, the feeling to move forward is evident. And it means men, women and children - a united Rwanda - is beginning to reap the benefits from realising their potential.

Even against the backdrop of real and ubiquitous poverty, it is difficult to come away from this experience feeling anything other than deep optimism about the future of Rwanda and its people.