A texting entrepreneur embodies spirit of a new Rwanda
Jeff Gasana's goal is to make his award-winning company the leading cellphone-banking service in East Africa.
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"Sometimes we don't eat," says Chantal Ingabire, who sells sodas at a makeshift store in Kigali's impoverished Kacyiru neighborhood.Skip to next paragraph
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Eliab Murwarashyaka came to Kigali from a village in southern Rwanda two years ago in search of a better life, but, he says, he doesn't have the necessary education to get any of the new jobs being created.
He makes 30,000 Rwandan francs ($52) per month working at a bread factory, and sends that amount back to his family in the village every three of four months. Rent has doubled since he arrived. "I don't think I can get married," he says. "I can't make enough money to support a family."
"Those with money," says Mr. Murwarashyaka, "they're going up. The poor are just going down."
Throughout the poorer neighborhoods of Kigali, the anger is palpable, but is often expressed only in hushed tones.
Prosperity with a price?
Like Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, today's Rwanda is gripped so tightly by Mr. Kagame's government that people are afraid to voice criticism.
"You can't say anything publicly in Rwanda if it's critical of the government," says one opposition party member who refused to be named for fear of retribution. "We want freedom of speech, but we don't have it. Even in the ruling party, there's no freedom of speech. In Rwanda, we have only one politician: President Paul Kagame. They want to applaud him and kneel before him....
"People are angry, but they fear," he says, claiming that the country's 80 percent majority of Hutus are being unfairly treated by the president's Tutsi-dominated government. "It's unequal here. It's hard to get a decent job if you're Hutu. It's almost all Tutsis that have good jobs in public sector. Nepotism is rife. Very few Hutus have decent wealth."
The government consistently denies all charges of favoritism, pointing to its ban five years ago of the use of the terms Tutsi or Hutu as evidence of the ethnicity-blind society it says it is working hard to foster.
"It's propaganda pushed by people in exile," he says. "There's no more Hutu, Tutsi in this country. Jobs are based on merit. There's no favoritism at all. People who have the competency get the jobs. There's no nepotism."
Meanwhile, rights groups consistently point out the repressive nature of the government.
"The legislative and judicial branches of government have done little to counterbalance the executive or mitigate the influence of the military in policymaking," according to a 2007 report by Freedom House, a rights advocacy group in Washington. "In practice, power remains concentrated in the hands of a small inner circle of military and civilian elites…. Critical voices in civil society and the media have been almost completely silenced."
Freedom House ranked Rwanda 181 out of 195 countries in its 2008 Freedom of the Press survey. That's tied with China, just above Zimbabwe, and not far above the world's most restrictive authoritarian regimes, such as North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Cuba.
"Tutsis fear Hutus. They have robbed power from Hutus. Their position is not legitimate," says the opposition politician. "They say there's reconciliation, but it's just talk," he says as he nervously unlocks his office door and peers down the hallway outside his office. "I check because every day, people follow me to see who visits me. At any hour, I'm ready to die. I ask God that I die without being tortured."