The stories and images of Africa that reach the US tend to be overwhelmingly negative. The Western media and advocacy groups typically portray the continent as the heart of darkness—a place where warlords, corrupt dictators, diseases, and endemic poverty reign. (Think Kony 2012) Since Rwanda’s 1994 genocide has achieved some notoriety in the West, the East African state is especially vulnerable to such assumptions.
To be sure, conflict, malgovernance, disease, and poverty continue to ravage the continent, and minimizing the scale or scope of these challenges would be irresponsible. Yet it is also crucial to recognize that the story of Rwanda, or really Africa in general, is far more complex than a poor continent that needs to be rescued by the international community.
For example, Chris and I have spent the majority of our evenings this week sitting at poolside tables at upscale Kigali hotels including Milles Collines (Hotel Rwanda). These hotels are in many respects nicer than places we would normally hang out in the US. Live music, attentive service, fancy foods and drinks—a truly classy “vibe”. Or take the coffee shops where we go to use “fast” internet. The views are spectacular, the food’s rather expensive, and everyone seems to be sitting on their smartphone or laptop. There are some foreigners like ourselves at these places, but mostly its Rwandans. While these up-market “hangouts” represent only a fraction of Rwanda’s story, they are part of it nonetheless. Hopefully we will continue to explore and experience new and different aspects of Rwanda’s story over the next three weeks.
My motivation for this post stemmed from watching Africa United yesterday afternoon. It hasn’t been released yet in the United States, but you can buy it on Amazon. I would highly recommend it, as it tells a uniquely African story from an African perspective. Chris will be writing a full review up momentarily.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t note that the weather here has been ideal—probably 75 degree and sunny every single day so far!