Why Is Rwanda Safer Than Its Neighbours?

Article from the series: Staying Safe and Healthy in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo

Rwanda is universally seen as the most secure country of the Gorilla Highlands region, and that is not a coincidence. My people have learned a painful lesson during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and after that shared traumatic experience the country has changed significantly.

Rwandans are constantly reminded of the importance of working together, and instead of guns we are supposed to use unity to protect each other. More than that, our people are instructed to be “an eye on everyone else” when police and military leaders come to community meetings. Every Rwandan is expected to be vigilant and anything suspicious will get reported immediately.

A strong intelligence apparatus further expands that mentality, beyond the nation’s borders as well. President Paul Kagame has studied intelligence for decades, right from his youth as a young Rwandan refugee in Uganda. As part of Yoweri Museveni’s rebel army that overthrew Uganda’s regime in 1986, his duty was intelligence gathering. Rwandans helped Museveni rise to power as a loan that would be repaid when it became time to go back to their motherland — Uganda was the safe haven from which they could attack.

Recently a journalist asked Kagame about the one thing in this world he could not live without. “Information,” answered our president, instead of saying “my wife” or something like that.

If he was asked for the one thing he could not tolerate, he would possibly say “criminals”. In Rwanda, one must be absolutely, strictly accountable for any public money. This attitude extends to the remotest village, and only a very stupid government representative would dare to ask for a bribe. In Kinyarwanda we say udakora ntakarye or, “You need to sweat to get something sweet”.

Because corruption in our country is minimal, it’s difficult to enter Rwanda without documents or sneak in away from the border posts — the soldiers are everywhere. The army is well-equipped, thoroughly trained and professional. Again, this is because our military commanders are former Rwandan refugees who grew up abroad and became soldiers early in their lives.

Their influence extends into the police force too. Very professional and serious, our policemen always look presentable in their sharp uniforms. You immediately understand that if such people are in charge of security of both people and property, there will be no joking or committing sins like crime.

It is definitely much harder to bribe an officer here than in Uganda where they can take anything, even cigarettes, and let you go. Ugandan police can stop you just to get a bribe, but this never happens in Rwanda.

Another huge difference between Rwanda and Uganda or DR Congo is that our citizens have always been quick to follow their leaders. Without such blind obedience those crazy genocidal attacks on neighbours and friends wouldn’t have happened three decades ago — it was bloodthirsty radio speeches by people in charge that devastated the nation. But this traditional willingness to follow commands can also be used for bettering one’s country.

Rwandans love to have friends higher in the hierarchy. That is a source of massive pride, so they do what they are told to do. Everybody wants to look good in the eyes of their superiors, and they keep their inner feelings to themselves.

Ask any Rwandan how they are — even if they are coming straight from their mother’s funeral — and they will claim they are fine. Being such, they can survive in any situation. You won’t ever hear them say “no” to a foreigner as they see you as somebody superior from whom they could earn money.

This is why any visitor will be more than just safe in Rwanda — my compatriots will go out of their way to make you happy!

photo by Marcus Westberg

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