Playing by the rules
The Rwandan government is known to be responsible and responsive—if they see a problem, they try to fix it. And the best way to do this, of course, is to set down new laws. Some of the laws, perhaps most of them, would never be accepted in the United States. But Rwanda is very different—rules are rules, and people follow them. And when you hear about a new law, it's almost never surprising.
Here are some that I am aware of:
Umuganda. Essentially, it’s mandatory volunteerism. The last Saturday of every month, all Rwandans must volunteer in their communities, cleaning up shared spaces, picking up trash, fixing a road, etc.
No plastic bags. Since plastic bags have been identified by other countries as a litter problem (and was becoming a problem in Rwanda as well), plastic bags have been banned. Now, when you go to the store, your groceries are placed in narrow paper bags. The no-plastic bag rule goes for expatriates as well—if the police at the airport see you come in with a plastic bag, they will take it from you.
No cutting down trees for firewood. Erosion has become a big problem in Rwanda, because of its numerous hills, almost all of which are cultivated. With the population size as it is, people have been cutting down trees for firewood; in other places, they will burn the wood and make charcoal from it. The deforestation was so severe that the government has banned cutting trees for firewood, and people now use dead brush or charcoal to cook their meals. (This has been a problem for many.)
If you have a paved road in front of your house, you must grow a garden with flowers. Whether you’re a little boutique selling matches and water, a humble residence, or a large mansion, if you have a paved road in front of your building, Rwandan law now states that you must grow a garden with flowers to beautify the road.
No marriage until 21 years of age. This one not always followed, especially in the rural areas, but I’m assuming this rule was instituted as a family planning initiative. None of my Rwandan friends were married before 21 (the ones who did get married were about 25 or 26) and told me that they thought it would be crazy to get married earlier than 21. Quite different from most developing countries I have seen.
No razor wire or broken bottles cemented on the tops of walls in Kigali. This is the newest rule of all of them—apparently someone in the government decided that these security measures were ugly and unnecessary, so now it’s unlawful, and people are being asked to get rid of this stuff.
Motorcycle taxis must be registered and carry an extra helmet. Across Kigali, moto-taxis (also called “ipikipiki”) wear green and yellow vests and green helmets. They also carry an extra helmet for passengers. Failure to wear a helmet, I have heard, is 20,000 FRw (about $40).
No bottle throwing from cars. Around the country, children often beg for water bottles by the side of the road, which they use to carry water to school, to store oil, or to resell in the market. Matatu passengers used to throw these from the van windows to the kids, but this was outlawed when the government realized that kids were running into the roads to get them, endangering themselves and drivers.
No goats by the road. Same justification as above. The part about endangering drivers, of course.
And then, of course, there’s the biggest rule—No discussing ethnicity. I’ve talked about this rule a bit on this blog. Essentially, the government has instituted a policy that ethnicity doesn’t exist anymore—that everyone is Rwandan. Discussion of the different groups is unlawful and you can stand trial for it. They call it “genocide ideology.” Every expatriate has an opinion on this rule—some say that it’s bad, because you’re ignoring the problem (and therefore, it could get worse, and history could repeat itself), and others say it’s good, because the country was so divided that this is a way to bring some semblance of unity. I do believe it’s a good rule, at least for the immediate term of post-conflict reconstruction, with the caveat that some of the underlying differences must be addressed, such as access to secondary and higher education, as well as to the health care system (Mutuelle de Sante). If the Rwandan government is interested in really moving forward beyond the ethnic divide, I believe an affirmative action system based on socio-economic status would be an improvement (which would disproportionately aid Hutus, and yet would be a way around the ethnic labels).