“We die of hunger while they build this….place.” -Serafine
From my limited experience here, I have learned that Kigali is a city of facades. Tall fancy hotels, paved roads with hand-painted curbs and colorful murals line wazungu-ridden areas. The nightlife is booming (and expensive). The coffeeshops come in multiples as one asks “Which Bourbon are you going to? Which Camellia?”
However, for many of Kigali’s residents, the fancy facades may only remind them of the extreme dicotomy of their lives and the ones that swirl around them, spending more on a meal than they may make in a month. When Lizzy and I first walked to the Genocide Memorial, we passed down some of the first streets that I’d seen in Kigali with dirt, deep divets and dingy signage. This was the East Africa that I knew. Where you buy detergent in “one-serving” little packages hanging inside a small shop. Where the storefronts and inside counters are decked with clear plastic containers packed with fried balls of dough (mandazi) and sambusas. Where the children look like they’ve worn the same pants for a month and they stare at you bug eyed as their fear prevents them from exclaming “Mzungu!” Or perhaps it doesn’t and you are ushered past to a sing-song choir of “Hello mzungu!” While this isn’t all of Kigali or even Rwanda, it feels more real than the $2 take-away latte that I buy across from my work. And, while it may not be the most attractive by Westernized standards, I find these streets gorgeous. There is color. There is slow conversation. There is phsyical activity. There is life. What is more beautiful than real life?
This shrouded side is easy found and plenty visible outside the bustling city. However, espeically in Kigali, there are sad developmental undertones. Many of the houses that we pass are covered with a red “X” spray painted haphazardly onto their front. This “X” symbolizes that the house is not up to the modern standards which the Rwandan government set for the “beauty” of Kigali’s future. Therefore, the house will be destroyed in the upcoming years. You have to make room for more fancy hotels after all.
One shining example of this dichotomized society is the newest, hyped addition to the Kigali skyline: the Kigali Convention Center (pictured above). While trying to make Rwanda a site for regional and international conferences isn’t bad, the fact that the government is pouring billions of dollars into building a fancy-ass building while people still struggle to provide basic needs for their family is more than sickening. Guess which roads are the quickestly paved in Tanzania and Rwanda? The ones that tourists and the President use most often. It’s not all that different from when the bike lanes in Chicago feed mainly into Oak Park and Lincoln Park, basically ignoring the poorer, minority neighborhoods. In this disgustingly condescending video, you can see how Rwanda is being portrayed to investors and foreignors alike.
In calling Rwanda “unafrican” by being clean and economically viable, it insults every stereotype that African countries are trying to fight against. When Westerners assume Africa is only poor, disorganized and dirty, the are denying Africans the respect and dignity that they deserve, seeing them only as people that need to be “helped.”
This is why campaigns like “Africa is Not a Country” have been started. They want to showcase the amazing range and depth of talent that is not shown enough in our perceptions of this continent.