The First of Five Illusions a Naïve Visitor to Rwanda Falls for

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ILLUSION 1: Rwanda is an environmental haven

By David Himbara

Hey, I admit it. I am some kind of addict. But not to drugs or ganja or booze as my Rwandan biographers would have it. I am addicted to writing about development and to my family. So here I am writing away for a few minutes in the middle of my sunny holiday.

Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, and the short drive from there to downtown Kigali, a naïve visitor will have gulped down five illusions. But first, what is an illusion? An illusion refers to perception of something that does not correspond to what exists in the real world. Illusions fool people, including you and me! Magicians use illusions. That is why they are also known as illusionists. Magicians do not perform miracles —they just appear to do so via clever tricks. So what the illusions does the naïve visitor to Rwanda fall for — the things that appear real but are actually fake?

At the airport, plastic bags are taken away from everyone. The justification for this is that Rwanda is an environmental haven and example of best practices to the rest of world on saving mother earth. Even the Doubting Thomas among the visitors gets impressed by the time he/she has reached the Serena Hotel, not least the palm tree-covered highway, and the neat and orderly passers-by and the incredibly clean-looking environment of city of Kigali.

The Rwandan Capital City of Kigali is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen

photo’s courtesy of Charity:water

THE REALITY:

The Rwandan Capital City of Kigali is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen. A city of about one million people, the size of Detroit in United States or Birmingham in the United Kingdom, Kigali does not have a central sewage or a single treatment plant. Every private, commercial and industrial building still uses latrine either in its primitive form of a hole in the earth, or in its modern form – the septic tank, itself often shoddily-constructed. In either case, the human refuge ends into the soil, and subsequently dumped into River Nyabugogo/River Akagera system and off to Uganda, Sudan and Egypt. The Rwandan countryside repeats the pattern sending tons of human refuse into national, regional and international water systems.

WHAT TO DO?

President Paul Kagame, please find US$50million to acquire a treatment plant and a centralized sewage system for Kigali City. As you are well aware, various studies have made convincing options to get the job done. Meanwhile, as you know Your Excellency, the open sewers in parts of Kigali City often send unfortunate old and young Rwandans to their death during the rainy seasons as they become raging rivers. Stop being an illusionist Sir – make this thing a reality. Why don’t you use part of the US$400 million bond to fix this disaster? The Kigali Convention Centre can wait a bit longer and come later into a genuinely clean city after this thing has been fixed. Otherwise right now Kigali is in reality the most environmentally-degraded and dirtiest habit even by regional standards. Right next door in Burundi, Bujumbura has a centralized sewage system – Kigali is a latrine city by contrast. Of course, Sir, the Sewage thing may not be clamorous and show-and-tell kind of thing, but it is essential. Don’t you agree?

Dr David Himbara was the Principal Private Secretary to President Paul Kagame in 2000-2002 and 2009. He was the founding chairperson of the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU), the founding chairperson of Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and the founding chairperson of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR).  A Rwandan-Canadian, David Himbara is an independent reform strategist and an Adjunct Professor at the University of the Witswaterand, South Africa which he has been associated with on-and-off since 1994. Himbara left Rwanda and returned to South Africa in January 2010.

Continue reading:
ILLUSION 2: Rwandans are now reconciled
ILLUSION 3: Rwanda is a role model in empowering women
ILLUSION 4: Rwanda, towards a knowledge-based economy
ILLUSION 5: Rwanda is zero-tolerant for corruption

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