I’ve been walking through the streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda: A tiny landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of Africa, only the size of Wales but with a population of 8 million.
It is clean and litter free. Plastic bags are forbidden here: you may not bring any into the country.
For the last year or so I’ve cycled for an hour every morning that I’ve been in The Forest, from my home in Burley up through Bolderwood and the Deer Sanctuary, to the Canadian War Memorial. Yet I am still shocked afresh every day at the amount of litter that has been gratuitously thrown from cars. My particular bugbear are the blue polythene bags. It just wouldn’t happen in Rwanda.
Rwanda has an authoritarian regime which, nevertheless enjoys widespread popular support, as the outcome of the presidential election has just shown. The regime is not without its critics (to whom the BBC has given a disproportionate voice). The reality is however, that Rwanda is a haven of order and stability in a troubled region. It is a corruption free zone. You can be in the middle of Kigali at one in the morning, or out in the jungle, and either way you will be perfectly safe. Yet the country borders that basket case, the Congo, the only place on our planet where people still eat one another.
Stability and order are recipes for investment and economic growth, and Rwanda is the easiest place in which to do business in Africa.
It was not always so. Just 23 years ago, the Rwandan genocide consumed a million souls in just 100 days, a greater rate of productivity than even Hitler’s death camps achieved. Whole professional and managerial sections of society were wiped out. Every trapping of civilisation was lost: Rwanda was little more than a charnel house. The social and economic recovery from this national trauma has exceeded all expectations, but it comes at a cost.
I said that the regime was authoritarian. Only so much dissent can be tolerated. The media is not free in the sense that we in the UK would understand the term. The regime is determined to maintain control, and that includes control of the media. This is entirely understandable given recent history: they know the consequences of losing control. It was, after all, the free press and radio that told people where to go and incited them to kill whoever they found there.
Any politician who tiptoes ever so slightly towards ethnic politics will find himself joining the chain gangs in bright pink uniforms labouring at the side of the road. Yes, it appears that penal servitude remains part of the criminal code.
So that’s two things we could do with back at home: banning plastic bags; and hard labour for anyone who drops one.