Rwanda – The land of thousand hills and a million smiles

Smitha Nair

One of the first things that comes to mind when you hear ‘Rwanda’ is the genocide of 1994 that wiped out a million people of the Tutsi tribe. But what grabs your attention when you first land in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, is how clean it is.

Rwanda hillsEverywhere we went, the streets were surprisingly clean – spotless clean. The idea of cleanliness seems to be ingrained into the minds of Rwandans. It also has a lot to do with a sense of pride that Rwandans have in their country. Citizens do not litter, plastic bags are not used, and every effort is made to maintain cleanliness.

Rwanda clean road

And then, there is Umuganda. In Kinyirwanda, the local language, Umuganda means coming together for a common purpose.

As Aniket Ukey, a 21-year-old Indian living in Rwanda for the past seven years, tells us, “On the fourth Saturday of every month, Rwandans come together to clean the streets. Everyone from the President to locals have to come out and participate.”

Rwanda parkThe streets are cleaned, ditches are drained and anything that is required to clean up is done. Tourists are politely reminded to stay off the grass. So if you are tempted to walk on the grass on the many lush green traffic islands in Kigali, be prepared to be reprimanded.

The biggest weapon in the Rwandan arsenal perhaps is their smile. This is a country that has seen the worst of it, only to emerge stronger, more determined. The average Rwandan will greet you with a smile and a ‘You are most welcome’! They are aware of their gruesome history, but are determined to create a pleasant future.

Rwanda women 1Kigali also has the distinction of being one of the safest cities for women in the world. The focus on women’s safety is prominent because Rwanda is a country run by women. 64% of its parliamentarians are women. Something Indian lawmakers can surely learn from. Clearly, the tiny, land-locked country is leading the way in gender equality.

It’s only been 23 years since the genocide, but Rwanda’s turnaround has been amazing. Locals give much of the credit to how President Paul Kagame runs the country – with an iron fist, and with a plan. As Rwanda moves forward into the future, it does so in the shadow of its cultural and linguistic similarities, leaving behind the differences that ripped them apart in the past.