Random Rwandan Ruminations
There are about a dozen things I could write in depth about, but all of them need more reflection and less reactivity. I'm trying to gather pieces of a complex puzzle in less than a week, which is an impossible task. All I can really do is get a small sense of things and go from there.
I'm trying to hear as many stories and perspectives as possible. I've met with a lot of the Millennium Village people here and feel like I've got a good handle on what's going on with that. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with an Episcopal laywoman who is working for the Anglican church in one of the outlying dioceses and heard about Rwanda from her perspective. Today I went to church, coffee and lunch with Kimberly Buxton, who is working with Partners in Health in Rwinkwavu (I was hoping to go out to the site with her tomorrow, but those plans aren't going to work). Tonight, I'm having dinner with someone from REACH, a faith-based organization that is doing reconciliation work here (the Diocese of SW Florida has been involved in working with them).
Everyone has a different perspective ... which is really valuable. Some of them jive together. Some don't. I'll need awhile to put it all together.
So in the meantime, two random slices of life/other thoughts.
*Just to let you know the little I am learning about Kigali. It's a city of about a million people, but it's really a lot of sprawl -- there is definitely no downtown or skyline. It's very hilly. Most of the roads are unpaved, though major arteries are paved. There are plenty of stoplights but none of them work because the electricity is too expensive (they say they turned them on when Bill Clinton came).
The primary way people travel is walking, because that's the cheapest way to go -- and when you have close to 70% unemployment you really gun for cheap. The other popular mode of transport is thousands of little motorbikes that you climb on the back of and hold on. Traffic here is like NYC ... the lanes are more suggestions than anything else. And the motorbikes are always zipping in and out of everything.
The combination of all this -- lots of pedestrians (who just wander into traffic with great regularity), zipping motorbikes, permeable lanes and no stoplights makes traffic an interesting experience. But like in most places like this, people seem to have an intuitive sense and so nobody gets hurt.
*There seems to be a real catch-22 with developing industry here. Labor is incredibly cheap (which has its pros and cons, obviously). But raw materials are incredibly expensive. Why? Because there is little infrastructure here to produce and refine raw materials, so they have to be imported. A major source of revenue for the Rwandan government is tariffs on imports -- which drives the prices of materials WAY up.
The argument for this is that the tarrifs protect domestic industry that would have a hard time competing against cheaper foreign goods (This is where Andrew Langan will get interested). Problem is, there is no domestic industry to protect and the high cost of goods with which infrastructure could be built to actually BUILD domestic industry prohibits domestic industry from developing.
This is a great example of how a comprehensive approach of aid, debt relief and trade is important. You need aid ... but the ultimate goal is to have a society that doesn't need aid. Aid industries should be in the business of putting themselves out of business and aid should be used in ways that promote local development. That's why microfinance -- when done properly (and I'm still learning what that means) is such an intruiging option. But in this system, protectionist trade policy is actually preventing economic development -- and all the aid and debt relief in the world isn't going to enable Rwanda to stand on its own two feet economically if those don't get eliminated or at least phased out.