A valued friend of Rwanda cautioned a number of us against tending towards painting a utopia when we write about today’s Rwanda. What leads my colleagues and me to this tendency?
Truly, it would be the height of naivety if any one thought that any country can ever attain the state of nirvana, leave alone one like Rwanda which was practically dead only sixteen years ago.
Yet, to many Rwandans, the fact alone that Rwanda today exists as a nation among nations is nothing short of a miracle.
But, like I always do when I want to get an opinion that is not clouded by any bias at all, last weekend I repaired to the village to seek out the opinion of Sylvestre Semajeri, the neighbour in my home village.
Semajeri was born as the fifth son in a family of seven births and four miscarriages but only he and his younger sister are alive today. All of his brothers and other sisters died either as babies or as toddlers.
Even then, with that knowledge, he and his wife have limited theirs to a family of three children: two sons and a daughter.
Semajeri is confident that their children will live because they receive all the necessary vaccinations and, every time a child is vaccinated, they are given a free mosquito net. This is in addition to benefiting from the programme of periodic indoor residual spraying.
Families have been sensitised about the necessity of family planning and limiting children to a number that they are able to support. The children, just like their parents, are healthy, Semajeri proudly assures me.
Every district has agricultural extension officers at all the sector levels who, in addition to advising peasant farmers on the right crop for their type of soil, advise them on keeping ‘kitchen’ gardens where they grow fruits and vegetables.
For their complete and balanced diet, the family is a beneficiary of a cow that gives them milk courtesy of the ‘Girinka’ programme, in which cows are rotated among families to provide them with heifers. The cows also provide fertilisers.
Semajeri and wife know they are more than capable of providing for their children. In any case, primary school education is free and secondary, too, will soon be.
Not that they wouldn’t afford to pay. After all, gone are the days when Semajeri used to roam the roads vending items of his crop while his wife was left to continue tilling the land as she tended the children.
Today, Semajeri belongs to a cooperative that fetches a better price for their harvest while his wife belongs to a women’s cooperative in which they weave ‘Agaseke’ baskets for export.
The two belong to their sector’s SACCO credit and saving scheme and are exploring the benefits of private micro-finance facilities. They have been sensitised about the value of saving and borrowing to engage in profitable projects.
Being a professional mason, Semajeri also makes money building for the many Rwandans in the Diaspora, and in peace-keeping missions outside, who are developing their area.
Moreover, an increased number of tourists has meant a high demand for accommodation. So, once in a while he goes to Ruhengeri to lend his services to the vibrant hotel-building industry.
When I ask how they manage to keep their compound so clean when they are so busy, Semajeri rattles off again. All Rwandans are awake to the need for cleanliness now, thanks to a government that cares for their welfare.
They also know that cleanliness alone is not enough for their good health and have responded resoundingly to the call for health insurance.
In fact, enthuses he, hardly any other country in Africa has anything as comprehensive as ‘mutuelles de santé’, where every citizen is insured for a token cash payment.
That aside, in his life he had never seen an ambulance. In his area, they used to carry the sick in an improvised ‘hammock’ that acted as a stretcher, on the shoulders of four stout young men.
Other four men accompanied them so as to relieve them when they were tired, as the health centres were far. These days have seen a multiplication of centres and almost every centre has its own ambulance.
Today, Semajeri says animatedly, any health centre can refer him to a provincial hospital which, in turn, can send him to the national referral hospital in Kigali. The referral hospital can send him to the superior King Faisal Hospital where he will have four meals a day, “on the hospital”!
And in case ‘King’ is unable to treat his complication, it will refer him to any of the more competent, private hospitals of, say, Kenya, South Africa or India.
In an effort to recap, Semajeri hurriedly says he can only say that all the above would not be possible without peace.
It is thanks to the atmosphere of justice, reconciliation, zero corruption, transparency and accountability prevailing in the country that the above dividends can be reaped.
Tell me, he asks in conclusion, where can a villager in the remotest nook of a country pick a mobile phone, place a call and ask a question, and they get a direct answer from their president?
Says Semajeri, in response to his own question, with his characteristic finality:
Not even in Heaven!