Paul Anticoni, World Jewish Relief’s Chief Executive on his recent visit to see our work in Rwanda
I last visited Rwanda in 1997, still a dark period in the country’s life. Wounds were raw, scars of conflict apparent and international agencies ruled the roost rebuilding destroyed infrastructure.
Almost 20 years on, the change is remarkable. A new airport, a modern Kigali, mobiles everywhere and a country going through rapid economic growth. Firm government has brought strict order, growth, control and national cohesion. But the wounds are still there, still painful and every issue, discussion, timeline seems to navigate around the genocide. The country moves on rapidly, but the memories are as vivid as ever.
The genocide frames everything. People seem more willing to tell their story than previously. Someone spontaneously told me the horrific narrative of them fleeing from the militia, hiding in a church, seeing their sister dragged away and then fleeing into farmland.
Rwanda’s “Vision 2020” strategy seeks to transform the country from a low-income agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy with a middle-income country status by 2020. These goals build on remarkable development successes over the last decade, which include high growth, rapid poverty reduction and reduced inequality. Between 2001 and 2014, the World Bank records real GDP growth averaging about 8% per annum.
Our project with UNM, funded by Comic Relief, attempts to encourage and assist young survivors to significantly improve their income through horticultural improvements, productivity, cooperative work and business assistance.