Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Land of a Thousand Hills

We arrived in Kigali a few days ago and love it here! The country is absolutely beautiful with lush, green, rolling hills everywhere and the weather has been wonderful – 80 degrees F and sunny during the day punctuated by short rainstorms (currently in the rainy season) and 65 degrees at night. Kigali is cleaner than most U.S. cities and the quality of the infrastructure is outstanding – without a doubt the best roads we’ve seen across Africa. We’re staying at Vipin’s friend’s house with him and his incredibly warm and welcoming housemates, and they have made our stay in Kigali that much more enjoyable. Rwanda is definitely one of the loveliest places we’ve visited so far.

Some interesting facts we’ve learned about Rwanda:
  • With a population approaching 10 million people in an area the size of Maryland, Rwanda is the most densely populated country in continental Africa (though you would never guess by looking around)
  • 80% of the population engages in subsistence farming
  • GDP growth rate of 7% makes Rwanda a top performer across Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Rwanda has the highest number of female parliamentarians in the world
  • The largest solar farm in Sub-Saharan Africa is in Rwanda
  • The country boasts a zero-tolerance policy on corruption
  • President Kagame’s Advisory Council includes the CEO of Starbucks, the CEO of Google, and the British Prime Minister
  • A third of the world’s mountain gorilla population of around 700 lives in Rwanda
  • All Rwandans are required by law to spend the last Saturday morning of every month working on a development project in their communities

Rwanda has come a long way since the terrible genocide of 1994, when almost one million people were murdered over a period of 100 days. Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the country has made significant strides in economic development and is now being called the “Singapore of Africa.” Though 20% of the country’s income still comes from foreign aid, the government is focused on promoting direct investment, and private sector reform has decreased Rwanda’s dependence on aid. One of the biggest success stories so far is Gahaya Links, a company that sells Rwandan peace baskets made by women survivors of the genocide. The country’s economic plan, Vision 2020, aims to increase per capita GDP 4x to US$900 and turn the country into a technology hub for Africa. The focus on investment in the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) sector is particularly interesting to us given our backgrounds in digital media. The government has invested in building out the fiber infrastructure around Kigali and laying cable across the country, and has also purchased rights to the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System, which should significantly expand communication capabilities and decrease Internet access costs. The government also has plans to link up schools to the Internet to help drive education quality.

It’s not all roses here, of course. Three-quarters of the population still live below the US poverty line of $1.25 per day, much of the country is still without running water and electricity (daily power and water outages are common in Kigali as well) and physical infrastructure still has a long way to go, but the country is on an amazing path given its history and we’re so glad to have the opportunity to visit on this trip.


  1. I'm interested to hear more about the after-effects of the genocide. I read Gourevitch's book and this follow-up article: Both good reads.

    Your trip is incredible!

  2. Sam, thanks for the link! Neither of us had read Gourevitch prior to arriving here but it's been recommended by others as well and we intend to read it now. We visited the genocide memorial yesterday and it really brings you face-to-face with the horrors of the past. While we were there we kept thinking how astonishing it is that all of this happened just 15 years ago, which means it's likely that almost every person living in Rwanda today (except perhaps for some young children) was affected by the genocide, and yet Rwanda is one of the safest and most orderly countries in Africa and there is little evidence today of the horrible violence that occurred in such recent history. How a country recovers psychologically from something like this and is able to progress so much in such short order is difficult to understand.

    Thanks for continuing to read and comment on the blog.