Saturday, July 18, 2009

CNN on Rwanda

Catch interview with President Kagame on CNN this Sunday!

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Obama reached out to Africa earlier this week with a wide-ranging address praising the continent's steady achievements, but he called its persistent violent conflicts "a millstone around Africa's neck."

"Despite the progress that has been made -- and there has been considerable progress in parts of Africa -- we also know that much of that promise has yet to be fulfilled," Obama said in a speech to the Parliament of Ghana, a western African nation seen as a model of democracy and growth for the rest of the continent.

Ghana, with a population of 24 million, was once a major slave trading center. Obama visited the Cape Coast Castle, a British outpost where slaves were held until shipped overseas, along with his daughters.

CNN spoke to author and foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria about Obama's trip and the status of Afric

CNN: "When President Obama was in Africa last week, he visited Ghana, but you think there's another country that's a bigger and better success story?"

Fareed Zak
aria: He was smart to focus on a success story, of sorts, like Ghana. But I would say the biggest success story out of the continent is Rwanda.

You remember what happened in there just 15 years ago -- over a period of 100 days 800,000 men, women, and children were killed -- most of them slaughtered with knives, machetes, and axes by their neighbors. It is perhaps the most brutal genocide in modern history.

By the time it ended, one tenth of the country's population was dead. Most people assumed that Rwanda was broken and, like Somalia, another country wracked by violence, would become a poster child for Africa's failed states. It's now a poster child for su

CNN: Meanin
g what?

Zakaria: Well, the country has achieved stability, economic growth, and international integration. Average incomes have tripled; the health care system is good enough that the Gates Foundation cites them as a model, education levels are rising.

The government is widely seen as one of the more efficient and honest ones in Africa. Fortune magazine published an article recently titled "Why CEOs Love

CNN: Why has Rwanda succeeded when so many other African countries ha
ve failed?

Zakaria: Much of it has to do with its president
. President Kagame was the leader of the forces that came in and ended the genocide. He has led the country since then and implemented some controversial programs to help build stability in the country following the horrific events of 1994.

He had to find a way to reintegrate the perpetrators of the brutal genocide into their original homes, often living next door to their previous victims.

Rwanda is very unique in its post-conflict makeup. As the New Yorker writer, Phillip Gourevitch, points out, in Germany, the Jews left for America and Israel. In the Balkans the warring groups spilt up geographically. In Cambodia, the class that perpetrated the violence was easily identifiable and separated. In Rwanda, however, the killers and the victims live side-by-side, in every village and community. Can you imagine Nazis and Jews living next door to
 one another?

CNN: So what did Presid
ent Kagame do?

Zakraia: The only way President Kagame could see to make peace was to reintegrate these communities. He came up with a specially crafted solution -- using local courts called Gacacas.

In each village, the killers stood before their neighbors and confessed, and in turn were offered forgiveness -- part court, and part community council. It has made for a fascinating historical experiment that seem
s to be working.

CNN: Can it really be working? How can killers be allowed to roam around the country free from prosecution? It d
oesn't seem fair.

Zakaria: We have President Kagame on the show this week and I asked him that very question. It is obvious he has thought deeply on the issue and couldn't come up with any other option. As he states, "If we incarcerated everyone who committed a crime we wouldn't have a country."

"There are many killers; there are hundreds of thousands because the genocide that took place in our country involved a huge percentage of our population, both in terms of those who were killed and those who killed. And if you went technically to try each one of them as the law may suggest, then you would lose out on re
building a nation."

CNN: But is the fact they've emerged from the genocide with some political stability enough to call th
e country a success?

Zakaria: It might be fragile. Beneath the veneer of reconciliation, there might well be much hatred. And it might be that Kagame is holding it all together because of his personality and toughness -- perhaps like Tito in Yugoslavia. But he says his goal is to build institutions and have this process outlive him.
Hope you will be able to watch the interview with him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What a trip's official: I think I might be the worst blogger there ever was!  I'm fully prepared for no one to read this, so maybe I can be a bit freer with my words...  

We've had the most precious time these last ten months.  They've been trying, oh so trying, but our new friends and colleagues have made our time in Rwanda so fruitful.  Dan and I are leaving Rwanda in just a days to head back to the US where Dan will begin business school at Duke.  We're also expecting our first little baby in December, so lots of changes for our teeny family.  We will miss Rwanda immensely.

Our last few months have been chock full of meaningful friendships, good time just the two of us, great sightseeing, hosting dear friends from home, and a little bit (make that a lot) of morning sickness.  We head home with a few fewer suitcases than we came with, a little doggie who's become a member of our growing family, and most importantly, lasting friendships with Rwandans whose life stories we couldn't have dreamt up.  

A visitor from home...

My work at King Faisal Hospital since January has really paralleled our experience in Rwanda--tough but rewarding.  Hospitals aren't easy places to manage with the mix of clinicians and administrators, all working for their patients but on completely separate tracts.  I was asked to come to the hospital to help publicize our care nationally and internationally, but realized when I got here that there was some "tightening up" to do from the inside out before we started blasting the hospital's story to the world.  Don't get me wrong--there are MANY great things going on here (we just facilitated 35 cornea transplants last weekend) but I don't think that any KFH staffer would disagree with me when I say "we need better patient care in the hospital."  

So far, my favorite project has been teaching customer service classes here.  Dan drew up a National Customer Service Campaign for Rwanda, and we've simply followed his lead.  Rwanda's customer service stinks.  In these classes, I always say "Do we have diamonds?  No.  Do we have oil?  No.  We don't even have wood.  We get it from Congo.  Then what do we have?"  People are stumped at this point.  "OUR PEOPLE!" I say.  And they cheer.  The importance of good customer care in a country where tourism will float the economy for decades to come isn't really measurable.  Kind of weird that we're starting at a hospital, but you gotta start somewhere.  Our staff has responded in noticeable ways that make me so happy--you can see them saying "Karibu" ("Welcome") and smiling at patients where this didn't happen before. 
Some of KFH's wonderful faces

Other really interesting projects include starting the organ donation "conversation" with a country so foreign to the subject, connecting US-based companies and hospitals to King Faisal, bringing over some great interns from the US, a LOT of policy-writing and editing, and helping to build general capacity among staff.  And soon, we'll have a great new website here (this project began the moment I got here and has taken a full 6 months to even begin to choose the designer because of the procurement process).  So stay tuned in the coming months for that new website (and don't even think about checking out the existing website...).

Enough about my fun job.  What will we miss about Rwanda?  We'll miss gorgeous weather all the time.  Simple, witty truths spoken by good friends like Chantal who, in an African way doesn't need many words at all (she told me recently that "money itches her" when it's in her pocket).  We'll miss the long, lazy Saturdays that we'd never had before we came to Kigali, and the conversations that come with them.  The 2-inch gecko that hides every time I walk by the guest bathroom--I hope he makes it to adulthood when new folks move in.  Smiles of the children who realize you're actually smiling at them first.  And the giggles that come after our saying "good morning" or "good afternoon" (or anything!) in Kinyarwanda.  I'll miss the wonderful mix of humor and strength of the women here--those women who bear babies, hoe the fields, cook over charcoal stoves, and take care of their little ones while their men are doing God knows what.  Laughing with Dan about the absurdities of life here for a muzungu.  And much, much more.  We love this place, and there is surely something more special about it than meets the eye.  You just have to stick around for a little bit and get into the nitty gritty with folks to see it.

So we go with heavy hearts but knowing we'll be back very soon, God willing.  We're so, so thankful for the opportunity to have been able to learn much, when we thought we were going to give much, over these short months.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Catching Up

After a few prods from close friends to write more, I'm back in the game!  I'm sorry for my lack of postings.

Mom, Dad and Stuart (my little, not-so-little brother) were here in Rwanda with us for Christmas.  We jaunted all around Rwanda and saw Akagera Game Park, Diane Fossey's mountain gorillas (the thrill of a lifetime!), the Genocide Memorial, and generally spent good, quality time together.  The fam's visit was a shot in the arm, as Dan and I were beginning to experience the early stages of "culture shock" whereby EVERYTHING seems hard, nothing is easy, and we get annoyed easily.  That, and it was simply good to see my precious family.

Just before my parents and Stu got here, Dan and I acquired a puppy.  Story:  Dan drives past two little boys swinging puppies by their necks.  One of the puppies looks thirsty.  Dan comes back to the house to tell me about it.  The end.  

Her name is Kyovu (Kee-O-Vu, the name of our neighborhood).

She's adorable, but sooo naughty.  She doesn't know she's the best-treated street dog in Rwanda, but she is.  She's recovered nicely from parasites and tick fever and has taken well to chewing shoes, digging up our beautiful garden, and bringing presents in the house from the compost pile.  Her licks are beginning to outnumber her nips on the heel, so we think that's a good sign.  (Chantal told me the other day that Ignace, our wonderful night guard, said that when Kyovu gets to heaven, she will wonder why things are still the same as when she was on earth.  He thinks she has already gone to doggie heaven.)

My work at King Faisal Hospital is in full-swing.  It's been a whirlwind so far, as the hospital is doing great stuff but they lack folks to tell the world about it.  With time and effort (and a LOT of love), the place will become a world-class hospital.  Thank goodness my mother has her PhD in nursing and my dad sits on our home-hospital's board!  They are great resources for me.

Last night, a 20-year-old guy came to the house looking for someone we didn't know.  It became clear that he wasn't going to find who he was looking for, and Dan started talking to him, wondering what was so urgent about his quest.  His name is Billy.  His parents were both brutally killed in the genocide, his house burned to the ground.  He was only 6.  He and his two sisters hid in their grandmother's house for the duration of the genocide and miraculously survived.  Today was the gacaca trial--the time when a village comes together to try perpetrators of a crime--and this was his parents' murderer's time to confess or defend his innocence.  Billy needed money to take the bus to the trial.

We went on faith that his story was a true was hard to mistake his authenticity, and Ignace assured us that "his story is too serious to be false."  Dan prayed with Billy, gave him some money, and wished him well.  We've been thinking about him all day today.

I'll let Dan tell you the end of this sad, wonderful story!  We have gained a friend in Billy (who has called Dan's phone three times since I started writing this entry, presumably to continue telling him about the outcome of the trial).  This place is so hard and so beautiful all at once, as evidenced by the last 24 hours with our new friend.  

We're grateful for the opportunity to be part of Rwanda's continued rebirth!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dan's Fun Job

After my very first blog post, in which I talked about looking forward to a slower pace of life in Rwanda, we received a great, encouraging email from a friend who has been faithfully serving in the developing world for several decades. Among her words of wisdom, she offered this insight about my hopes for more free time: "I doubt that will last long; the needs in the field are so great!"

Those words have rung true these past few weeks, as things have gotten surprisingly busy here. The primary culprit is my very exciting but consuming job with a new government institution called the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

The RDB was created this past fall to "fast-track" Rwanda's development efforts. If that sounds like a broad charge, it's because it is! We report directly to the President and are responsible for solving problems hindering the country's strategic growth and development--everything from big infrastructure projects to education and workforce development to private investment, building a better business climate, and more. We should create the conditions for the private sector to grow, creating more jobs and expanding opportunities for all Rwandans. The RDB is modeled after a similar entity that proved successful in Singapore.

President Kagame has asked an enormously successful American businessman named Joe Ritchie to serve as the CEO. Joe has been involved in Rwanda for the past five years, serving on the President's Advisory Council and pitching the country to private sector leaders around the world. He's hard-charging and eccentric, with a brilliant business mind; I've already learned a lot from him.

Perhaps more exciting though, is the opportunity I have to work with a young Rwandese leader named Francis Gatare, who is the #2 at the RDB. Because Joe is not yet living in Rwanda full time, Francis is the guy really running the show day to day. He is smart, humble, and committed to his country; he could very well be President of Rwanda in 10 years. He's also totally overwhelmed. Like most organizations here in Rwanda, the RDB has a few very capable people at the top of the organization, then the talent pool and staff capacity drops off dramatically below them. So a guy like Francis always has more work than anyone could handle.

It's really been great fun working in a Chief of Staff/Senior Advisor role for the RDB: trying to take things off Francis and Joe's plate, helping with policy strategy and research, interfacing with Western investors, and generally trying to keep the trains running on time. Campbell and I even got to help host a dinner for Tony Blair, who has committed to support Rwanda! My experiences in DC and New Orleans are actually serving me very well, and I feel like I'm making a difference.
Campbell and I are here in Rwanda because of Christ's call to love and serve the poor. I'm not working in a slum or among the rural poor, but I have the privilege of helping to tackle some of the country's BIG strategic challenges. Challenges, that if met, can further transform this country and improve the lives of millions of its poorest citizens. How cool is that?!?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Dispatch from Middle Earth

Today marks three years of marriage for Campbell and me. Remarkably, our anniversary has sparked a huge celebration across the country! The entire country has declared a holiday, and people everywhere have taken to the streets to observe our special day with singing, chanting, and whistles! It’s quite an honor really.

Okay, so they are actually out protesting the ongoing controversy surrounding the arrest of Rose Kabuye. All the businesses are closed, and thousands of people are marching through the streets across the city. The U.S. Embassy has advised that we generally keep a low profile, but everything is very orderly and peaceful. (Don’t worry, Mom…there’s no danger). The emotions around this case are deep-seated. These protests have provided an interesting window into the deep, strong feelings that persist from the genocide, lurking beneath the surface.

The whole Rose incident actually deserves a more thorough post (as does the story of my participation in the protests, which is really very funny). I’m sorry that our computer problems have prevented me from sharing more information, but the following article captures many of the key details and why it matters:,0,2297389.story

Campbell shared a bit about our trip up to the Northern Province of Rwanda. Musanze may well be the most beautiful place I’ve ever been (click on the pictures for more amazing views). We spent the afternoon at the Virunga lodge, a super high-end retreat ($1,000/night!) that is perched on top of a mountain. One side of the mountain looks down onto a huge crystal lake, while the other side faces a series of volcanic mountains. It is truly spectacular. We hiked for a few hours (I kept waiting to find Frodo, Gandalf, and co. coming around the bend) before enjoying dinner in this magical spot.The drive up to Virunga took us through several rural villages where we encountered waves of children that would run after our car, laughing and calling out, “Muzungu, muzungu!” I don’t think this will ever get old; just thinking about it makes me smile!

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I have to apologize for the lack of postings these days.  Our brand new computer (two weeks old!) has completely crashed so we're fairly limited in good internet access without a laptop to haul to one of the hotels around here.
Dan and I've just returned from a fun weekend in Musanze with a group from the US.  They're fantastic people! While in Musanze, we had the chance to visit the new Kids Across Africa (Kanukuk folks) camp site...We drove there in two cars over bumpy roads and weren't at the site for more than three minutes when children from every hill came running as fast as they could down to see the crazy Americans.  

Dan is spending his days working with Francis Gatare and Joe Ritchie at the Rwanda Development Board.  He's meeting with potential investors in Rwanda, writing press releases, giving his two cents where appropriate, and generally helping where he can.  The work is hard, fun, frustrating, gratifying, and tiresome.  All in all, though, he's able to help the people of this country in a strategic way and for that, he's grateful.

My job at the bank has been put on hold for a little while until the new CEO gets here in February.  This has been somewhat disappointing but... Francis Gatare articulated to me that the biggest hospital in the country, King Faisal Hospital, needs a serious communications plan. They need help communicating to the world what they're capable of and generally communicating to each other within the walls of the hospital.  I've agreed with the humbling notion that I'm not an expert in hospital administration.  I am thrilled, though, for the opportunity to help the healthcare in the country in some small way.

Now for the title of this entry.  We've come to form sweet friendships with some good friends here in Kigali.  

Chantal helps at the house--she cooks, cleans, but mostly answers my ridiculous questions about everything Rwandan.  She's become a close friend.  She's my age, had four children but now has three, and I love her.
Samuel is our trusted taxi driver.  He has one daughter (who's nine--she's studying computers and is SMART!). Samuel also answers all of Dan's and my questions about everything Rwandan and transports us places until we get a car.  
Tom Allen is our den dad.  He tells us answers to questions we didn't even know we had.  He's the one in an earlier entry that I talk about--that big-time LA attorney who quit his life in Hermosa Beach to move to Rwanda.  
Enoch.  I haven't even met Enoch yet, but he's Chantal's little boy.  He hadn't ever killed a chicken before (and hadn't eaten chicken in 3 years) until this photo was taken a few weeks ago. We sent our camera home with Chantal to capture the momentous occasion.
Domasin is the gardener/guard/everything else guy.  He knows everything.  Last week when Dan ran out of the house to protest Rose Kabuye's arrest in Germany (this is definitely another whole entry) Domasin knew where Dan was, what was happening, and who everyone was protesting against.  Domasin and Chantal were also the ones who saw Dan's face on TV that night and told us about it the next day.  One more thing about Domasin--he hates the chickens in the yard. He's tied a cord around one of their feet so he can catch them easily when they're digging up something (like our newly-planted herbs).  We see Domasin running across the yard chasing the chickens at least 4 times a day. 
I think that's all for now.  There are so many more faces to post... We'll be doing that in the next few days so friends can see the dynamic folks we're here with.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"It's Real"

So Dan and I continue to play like sponges and soak up the beautiful music, smiles, weather, and overall warmth of Rwanda. We're learning new Kinyarwandan words each day--I learned "murabeho" yesterday: "goodbye."

Sunday we went to an Anglican church for worship and it was wonderful! Our days are filled with meetings, site visits, good conversations, and lots of de-briefing at night. 

Yesterday was quite a day for Dan and me. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be drafting the Administrator's speech for an upcoming USAID conference, and was in desperate need of some "material." Many of you will know that I dread drafting these things, and I actually really stink at anything verbal except for talking too much. I got my first C in Reading Comprehension in the second grade. So yesterday I needed all the help I could get.

Dan, I, Tom Allen, Glen, a USAID colleague, and another new friend, Elizabeth, went to visit Nicholas Hitimana's for-profit venture called Ikirezi. Ikirezi is much more than the organic-geranium-plant-growing, essential-oils-for-export venture it appears. Through growing cooperatives, 830 widows of the genocide work alongside each other to cultivate their eight rows each of geraniums just as they do their relationships with one another. But it's not that easy. Many times, widows of genocidaires work directly with women whose husbands were brutally killed by those same men.

After Dan and the rest peeled off to visit another site, I had the privilege to speak with Odette. 

Everyone in Odette's family except for two of her five children were killed in the war. Her parents, three children, and siblings died in a church up the road where Hutus and Tutsis were ordered by Hutu extremists to separate, so that they could execute the Tutsis. When the Hutus refused to leave their neighbors', spouses', and friends' sides, thousands died.

Odette and some of her family had retreated to Uganda, where her husband died fighting for the RPF, the rebel army which would come to take back Rwanda from Hutu extremists and put President Kagame into office. Odette had nothing.

She came to Links Ministry, Ikirezi's sister organization, looking for enough income to buy soap to bathe herself and her children. Today she's the treasurer of her geranium-growing cooperative at Ikirezi; she's generated 4 seasons' worth of money, her remaining children are in school, and she can buy them clothes and food.

After telling me all of this, Odette asked if she could explain to me (through Nicholas) how she "came about really forgiving those who killed her family, and not having anything left in the back of my heart." She explained that she hated westerners and Hutus for what they'd done to her family and her friends. But one day, during a meeting with the women of her co-op, a Hutu from the North came, knelt down before this group of women, and, weeping, begged forgiveness for what his people had done to theirs. She continued to forgive those Hutus around her, and she says God's since replaced the fear she had of them with love.

She just has one last "test" for this healing, she told me. She has to go to that church up the road...and she's so afraid. But she'll go--she says that forgiveness hasn't been easy, but when one gets healed by God, that "it's real." I'll say.

Pray for Odette and for this country.

All for now! Murabeho.