Why Does Everyone Want A Piece of Rwanda?

There is perhaps nothing intrinsically inherent in Rwandese like the love for their country. Ask anyone inside or outside Rwanda (no matter their differences in say political ideology) and the answer will most likely be the same – I love my country.

The need to love our country or “gukunda igihugu” as it is known, is something we have mastered and come to cherish. Since the days of our fore-fathers, the mantra has been that we won’t be there as Rwandese without Rwanda. Rwanda gave birth to the Rwandese and so as a matter of fact Rwandese are obliged to respect the motherland – “urwatubyaye”.

This alone does not even explain the unending love Rwandese exhibit for their mother land. Having been at the receiving end of some over the top divisive politics, hate speech and near deliberate misses from the international community – a combination of which helped fuel the worst genocide in modern day history – Rwandans have learned to love and respect themselves. They have for instance learned to say “Never Again”. They love the country with a thousand hills, they love the country in which beautiful smiling children wake up every morning ready to go to school despite some of them coming from families where unlike in most western capitals, the idea of 3 meals a day is prospective rather than assured. They love it here because this is their country and they continue to hope that  things will only get better.

There is no doubt that Rwanda is a fascinating country. The progress this country has made since the genocide is remarkable. This, partly to some good and guided leadership provided by President Paul Kagame, his team of ministers, the Rwandese people and of course the donors. Or should I say Rwanda’s development partners (I know the government and third world countries these days prefer this other second phrase when talking about those who donate money or lend to them).

With success comes fortune, visitors, and a host of associates. Today, Rwanda receives more foreign visitors each week than it received every month before and immediately after the genocide. It may seem like an exaggeration but it is indeed true. Make no mistake some of these are people Rwanda needs. I am talking about committed do-gooders. The wonderful folks from all over the world, who come ready to unleash their philanthropic love on the people of “Rwagasabo”.

But they are not alone. Alongside theese do-gooders the Rwandese have been subjected to a host of other moody clients. The sort, who see Rwanda and Rwandese as a means to an end. A way to be in the black. Some form of making a mark, a buck or very often a name. They sit and read. They try to imitate and pretend. They are here to be with us. They try to gain our trust, pretend to dislike the things we don’t like even when they have no reason for such but simply to create rapport and be part of the great force that is “Les Rwandese”. They write, comments, stories, publish blogs and get involved in discussions about Rwanda. They conduct research and dedicate most of their time to the country. They are our “friends” but only just.

Make no mistake, we love them. Oh yes we do. Rwanda has come from so far and has surprised many. It is not surprising therefore when people come from all over wanting to have a piece of it. However, being us (Rwandese) we also demand that whoever wants to involve themselves with Rwanda first  get their facts right. Secondly, we demand too that they make their arguments sensible. And thirdly that they keep their pieces strictly within reason. This is the gist. It is not how much you are willing to sympathise with us (Rwandese) but also – and quite sensibly – how much you are willing to help make the situation better.

A friend of mine at The Hague came across one blog today morning and so passed it over to me to “have a read”. Its title: Fighting the “White Saviour” Mentality. The blog entry was by a one Rena Deann Ali (An American) and a Facebook friend of mine. Interesting.

As her intro Rena wrote: “I came across this status update on Facebook earlier today. This is from a woman that many Americans think is doing a great work in Rwanda. In the interest of privacy, I’ve hidden the names of both her and the people she was discussing.  My intention is not to demonize this woman in particular, but to point out the wrong attitudes and behaviors that are often displayed by Americans and other Westerners wanting to “do good” in Africa.” Never mind that Rena is also American she appears to be somehow wary that she might be about to demonise someone hence the disclaimer right in her very first paragraph.

So What Is This About?

It turns out Rena was referring to Suzette Munson. Suzette is an American lady (I have never met her neither have I Rena) who like some Americans travelled to Rwanda and having witnessed the dire needs of this beautiful country’s people, decided to do something about the situation rather than sit and write about what she had seen (she could have easily opted for the latter and many before or even after  her have).  No. Suzette instead set up Love 41 as an online retail business with a mission to give 100% of profits to orphans, widows, and street kids in Africa.

According to an interview she gave to Ryan Eggenberger Love41is an online store with the end goal of helping the poor in Africa. “We sell leather products that I’ve designed: bags, bracelets, earrings, t-shirts, scarves, belts, etc. And this is just opening the door. We will soon expand into mens and kids.  All the profits from Love41 go back to helping orphans, widows and street kids through education, job creation, and love. We’re getting them out of poverty. The website itself elaborates on this.”

There is actually a record of her work inside Rwanda. I spoke to three government officials who told me they were aware of Suzette’s wonderful work in the country. So besides being “part of a fairly wealthy American family” like Rena says, she definitely is or has so far made a difference to the lives of some Rwandese people. Already Suzette has adopted two boys in the country and is helping them grow including visiting them regularly as she can’t move them over to the US.

One look at this and you will think, well what then is the fuss here? Well, at about 12:48pm in Kigali yesterday, Suzette updated her Facebook account with the following status:

She was out visiting someone’s home (probably a friend or something I don’t know) when she came across an ailing man. Concerned as any sensible person would, Suzette arranged to have this person (an old man who according to her looked like he was dieing and must have weighed like 70lbs) to hospital. At the hospital,  the doctor there apparently tried at first to play ping pong with her and her patient claiming they had run out of space and had no more beds left to admit the ailing man (it is not common practice in Rwanda to get doctors behaving like this but you do occasionally get rogue ones especially deep in the countryside who act like part time thinkers)

The lady even spent her whole day there waiting and pleading with the head doctor to provide some service (seeing that this was the best hospital around that area). Just imagine how many people in this world would spend their entire day attending to and advocating for the admission into hospital of an old dieing Rwandan man they have never met or seen? Incredible devotion if you ask me.

Not so according to Rena. “Not so fast…while this man’s life may be saved, the dignity of many others has likely been shattered,” she wrote.

To illustrate her point, she continued: “Consider the scenario: A white family from the United States is coming to bring gifts to the sponsored children of a poor Rwandan family.  The parents of these children are likely feeling some measure of shame because they are unable to afford to give their children the types of gifts these Americans have brought.  Who do you think the child will respect and admire more – his parents, or the gift givers?”

“Next, they come into the home and find a gravely ill man.  Their immediate reaction is to insist that he be taken to a hospital. This is belittling to the family who has been caring for this man until this time. Suddenly their care and judgement are being questioned as people who just stepped into the situation are determining what is best for him.  Finally, even the staff at the hospital is marginalized in the attempt to help this man.  When told that the hospital does not have the capability to take on another patient, they continued to insist that the man be cared for at that facility, and refused to let up until they got what they wanted. But at what cost?”

“It’s true, an extra bed was found for the man.  But it is unlikely that he was initially turned away because of fear of nonpayment — after all, he arrived in the company of a well to do white family. Likely the hospitals resources were already stretched thin, and they knew the best care for him could be found somewhere else.  But their knowledge and experience were ignored in the quest to do something good for this man.”

“This is the fallacy of trying to “do good” in Rwanda, or elsewhere in Africa without proper knowledge or understanding. When the experiences, knowledge, and competencies of a people are ignored, you diminish their worth in your eyes, in the eyes of others, and sadly sometimes in their own eyes as well.  Rwandans do not need to be saved by Americans, or any other Westerners.  They should be treated with respect they deserve as human beings and children of God.”

Rena, are you completely out of your mind? How gullible can one be? So in your sane mind, this poor dieing man should have been left on his death bed to probably perish in the next few days all in the name of preserving the dignity of his family (who quite clearly did not have the money or facilities to care for him (for otherwise why was he at home and not in hospital given how ill he was?) or the hospital staff (who despite first claiming they had run out of beds finally managed to find that extra one for the ill man)?

I wonder why you chose to conclude that there is a worry that the young children receiving gifts from the Americans will respect them more than their family. I have received gifts from so many people (outside my family) since I was born but it has never occured to me that I should disrespect my guardian or relatives.  You don’t get it. In Rwanda we love family. Poor or rich, your parents will always be your parents. This is the mantra that children are brought up with. You accuse the gift givers and Suzette of taking away the dignity and reputations of so many but in stating why, you too conclude by assumption and quite wrongly that, such actions are likely to harm the family dynamics in terms of respect. I suggest you do some research before coming up with some shocking and presumptuous blog entry about someone who as a Rwandan I find very helpful. Leave alone myself, I am sure many more Rwandans, and indeed level headed people out there, agree that life is worth more than dignity. What is dignity without a life?

I see you have been following this lady for some time which is good. Good to have an American following up another American for the Rwandese. Yes you did highlight her mistake when she wrongly claimed and published on her website that 70 percent of Rwandans were alcoholics. This was wrong. And once it was made clear to her that this was not the case, she apologised. But to still use that bit of comment (a comment she has since changed by the way) against her and in an incident where her deed was this time around in the best interest of a Rwandan family, and particularly an old man in dire need of medical attention, spells vendetta.

Rena, you are free to try and seek homage from the regime’s self appointed online critics – the sort you wheedle and get in cahoots with so as not to be subjected to their harsh and constant slanderous attacks. You are free too to try and paint yourself as being pro-Rwandese which is a very good thing. You are free to express your solidarity with the Rwandese in the promotion of their  dignity – Agaciro – like president Kagame called it. But this, dear friend, must be gone about in a sane and sensible way. Every attack against whoever ought and must remain within reason.

Do not be like those biblical Pharisees who being so gullible, thought Sabath was more important than Man.

…over to you people.