It is not possible to go to Africa without becoming immediately smitten with it. “Africa,” of course, is a bit overbroad — I speak more of what it means to visit any developing country, of which the African continent is teeming. Developing countries are such dynamic places; as they endeavor to grow into safe, stable, and successful communities, it’s impossible not to root for them.
But they do have so much to overcome. Though often blessed with an abundance of natural resources, many African countries have generations-long histories of exploitation and heartache, either from external colonization forces or internal ethnic tensions, or some combination of the two.
Rwanda is no exception to this. This small but verdant country sits tucked away near the geographic crossroads of this vast continent: just below the Equator and wedged in between the large English-speaking East African countries of Uganda to the north and Tanzania to the east, and the French-speaking tiny Burundi to the south and enormous Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Rwanda has no oceanfront; all connections to the world need to pass through at least one of its neighbors.
The upside to this situation is that Rwanda’s geographic isolation protected it from some of the earlier ravages of colonization. But by the beginning of the 20th century colonization had begun to take hold, and by the end of World War I it was firmly under Belgian control.
Colonization can be something of a double-edged sword. While it often brings handy western technologies, it does so with the loss of local autonomy — or worse. In Rwanda’s case, what Belgium wrought was much worse, taking a largely stable society and turning its peoples against each other with the most catastrophic results. Thus Rwanda is not just a developing former colony struggling to attain its place among modern countries; it is also a young country struggling to heal a most grievous internal wound. By many accounts it has done remarkably well. But at the beginning of this decade Rwanda is at a crossroads: can it continue to progress towards prosperity and stability, or will it give in to the darker forces that have pulled it into pieces before?
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