Friday, October 18, 2013

Rwanda Inc or Sustainable Rwanda

Some things I left out of the Nyarubuye trip that were interesting and mostly on the way back and then some other things related…mostly about alimentation:

First, rabbits and fish.

This is a photo of the fish farms now being cultivated throughout Rwanda.  They build these fish farms, then they put rabbits in cages over them.  The idea is that you feed the rabbits, the rabbits poo into the fish farm, the fish eat the rabbit poo.  Then Rwandans can eat both the rabbits and fish as they feed and multiply.  It's pretty awesome.  There are lots of these from some aid workers being created in the DRC and now they are moving into Rwanda.  I think it's an excellent idea.

Second, Imigongo or Kakira.

This is the sign of the Imigongo making company on the way back from Nyarubuye.  We stopped there with Nicole and D to look at them.  They are paintings made from the raw pigmentation materials around Rwandans and are pretty ubiquitous in Africa.  The reds are made from the red of the soil, the whites are made from the white clay deposits that can be found around, and the deep deep blacks are made from burning bananas and then taking the ashes and mixing that with aloe juice.  Imigongo are the names of the pieces of art and Kakira is the name of the process.  They used to be made from the hide of cows stretched and then scraped into shapes and patterns and then painted upon with the pigments.  This creates a three dimensional painting.  This is how they came to be called imigongo which means “back” in Kinyarwandan (from the back of the cow).  But now they are put on sanded boards or particle board which are then sculpted onto with clay and baked and then painted.

After the genocide, many groups of women got together to start making different things that were part of traditional Rwandan culture, papyrus woven baskets and these paintings, in order to keep the pride of their culture alive and also to begin to make money for themselves while selling to others around them and also to tourists.  Most Rwandans have at least one of these types of designs on the walls of their house, there are two in my room, and lots and lots of things have designs similar to them.  Most of us can imagine the designs associated with Africa and they are outrageous and brazen and look deeply deeply modern except that they almost always use red and white and black, and sometimes yellow from flowers.  That is why they have this preference for these colors.  Because they are easy to get and make into paints.

The proprietor of this company took us through the workshop to show us things in various stages of completion.  It was really interesting.  A large group of children was standing on tiptoes to peer in the windows at the muzungu there in the middle of Rwandan nowhere.
Here is the wiki article on it:
This is the entrance to the cooperative:
This is traditional looking imigongo:

and this is more modern imigongo:


Next, Girinka or One Cow One Family.  I was recently made aware of this program, Girinka, which aims to give one cow to one family at or below the poverty level in Rwanda sometime between 2010 and 2015.  It will total about 350,000 cows given out and they have already given out 100,000.  So, here is the way the program works.  They find a family that is so poor that they do not have any cows and the children are suffering from malnutrition.  There is lots of food in Rwanda, everyone grows something, but it, in almost every case, is carbohydrates.  There is not very much protein to go around.  If you do not give a child protein, even if they have enough calories to eat, this is very bad and is malnutrition.  So, they give this family a female cow.  The family is then getting milk from the cow.  Cows here give up to 5 liters a day of milk.  That is a LOT of milk.  Then, the cow gives manure.  This manure is made into fertilizer which is put on the crops so they no longer have to buy fertilizer.  And cows give a lot of fertilizer.  The cows eat papyrus leaves and other things that can be found all over the country and is free and grows like weeds.  So, now the crops are better.  Then, the family will try to find another family with a bull and breed the cow.  The first female calf that is born from this free cow must be given to a neighbor.  That neighbor will now have a cow that will grow up to give milk and fertilizer and then will have a female calf that will be given to another neighbor.  This happens relatively quickly.

The outcomes have been outstanding so far.  Here are the effects:

1.     Cow are really important to Rwandans culturally.  They are the preeminent sign of wealth.  Apart from what they give, Rwandans really like cows and they immediately raise the pride and social standing of a household.  This is one of the reasons that over 90% of the cows in the country were also slaughtered during the genocide, the killing of the wealth and pride of other families.

2.     Second, the pride maintains because even though the family was given the cow in a sort of bizarre welfare agricultural state model, they then have to work hard to get the benefits of having the cow.  So the pride maintains.

3.     The entire family now drinks milk and is no longer malnourished.  They drink so much milk, in fact, that the incidence of typhoid dysentery goes down because they drink less water.

4.     The entire family now eats better because they grow bigger and better crops because of the fertilizer.  Eventually, they can grow more than they can eat and they begin to supplement their income with this extra crop in a country with a year round growing season.

5.     The entire process increases both reconciliation, community involvement, and the quality of life of the entire area through a few different mechanisms:

a.     5 liters a day is really a lot.  Rwandans also have very large extended families who generally live nearby.  Whenever their cousin or neighbor or friend comes over they are also drinking milk.  Their health is also getting better.

b.     5 liters a day is really really a lot. First, as soon as the cow begins to produce milk, the family is able to sell the extra milk.  This is even more income for the family.  Second, as more and more neighbors have milk, the government has set up cooperative milk collection stations so that an entire village becomes incorporated through giving their extra milk and they now sell this to people in the city and everyone makes more money.

c.     Giving your neighbors a cow and having to cooperate in order to breed the cows fosters friendship and cooperation in the community.

d.     As all of the sociological, economic, and political scientific research shows, people who benefit directly from a social program, first and foremost, develop loyalty to that program.  But, as side effects, they develop loyalty to the regime and the state and the party and the policies and the overall idea of democracy.  Social programs increase political stability in a country where a large proportion of the population is benefiting from them (compare this to tax cuts for the rich).

I think this is about the best social program I have ever heard of.  So far, 100,000 have been given out.  And additional 50,000 females calves have been born and have been given to other families.  It's so freaking cool.  Here is an article on the idea if you want to read something more official:


Next, I recently read a book called Rwanda Inc.  It grew out of research that Visa was doing in Africa to try to decide which of new African country it was going to offer it's products too.  At the end of the research, it's says, the choice was exceedingly clear.  Visa is now in Rwanda – the reason I can't use my bankcard, it's a MasterCard – and is helping a lot.  The infrastructure is already there, Rwanda has been running fiber optics for almost a decade throughout the country.  So Visa is cooperating with all three banks operating in Rwanda now.  They are also in cooperation with all three major cell phone companies where you electronically send money to people.  This is particularly important because travel costs are high.  So, everyone, and I do mean everyone, in this country has a cell phone.  There ARE no landlines.  But even the poorest family in the country has a cellphone.  So, when a member of the family is the one that everyone gives money to in order to afford the boarding and university school fees, that person moves to the city to get a good job where he/she is making a great deal more than the rest of the family.  The agreement is then to help the family.  So this person can choose to take an expensive and time consuming trip back to the family and bring cash, or they can just transfer funds to the people via cellphone.  Anyway, those are some of the things that Visa is doing in Rwanda.

If you want to check out the book, look at this:

More importantly, back to the content of the book.  The forward is from the CEO of Visa and it is saying that Rwanda is ready for lots of foreign direct investment.  The book reads like a love story constantly praising this and that social or economic program or policy of the Rwandan government but particularly praising “CEO” or President Kagame for running his country like a successful startup business.  At first the book is repetitive and doesn’t provide much evidence, but by the end I am starting to feel more convinced as I am seeing in print the words for all of what I am seeing on the ground.  Rwanda is developing and quickly.  So, after reading this book, I looked up a few reviews.  One was from the Boston Globe:

This review makes some good points, but it also makes a silly Western mistake.  It argues, “However, Crisafulli and Redmond fail to persuade on the economic viability of a country in which subsistence agriculture supports 80 percent of the population…”

In response I say, first, Rwanda has made the infinitely wise choice to avoid the catastrophes of so many STILL developing or underdeveloped nations by not getting in debt to the World Bank and not following the totally obscene policy and budget strictures WB places on its debtor countries.

Second, subsistence agriculture supporting 80% of the population makes it sound as if the country is in abject poverty.  The truth is, that 80% of the population eats its own crops and then sells the rest to those without farms in the city.  It is a nation of farmers and it feeds its non farming population by itself.  It does not have to trade for food.  So, why is that bad?  It does not have to exchange the nothing it has, or rum and tobacco and coffee for instance in the case of so many Latin American countries, for a bad trade in rotten beef.  Rwanda feeds itself.  Why is that bad?  Additionally, almost all of the farming practices here are increasingly, and in some ways always were from traditional farming practices, sustainable and organic.  The small amount of land that it does use to cultivate the components of coffee and beer are considered some of the best in the world, gain boutique prices on the international market, and are almost always certified fair trade to smaller growers.

And this was all planned.

Rwanda still has a long way to go, but way to go Rwanda Inc for planning infrastructure from the bottom up, for wanting to make it itself, and for neither a lender nor a debtor being.  Otherwise, of course, Rwanda still receives a lot of aid.  But this aid does not end up in the pockets of corrupt politicians, is not used to cultivate big agribusiness to ship silly things long distances to people who can already grow tomatoes or whatever, and for using this aid to, as quickly as possible, feed itself.

That saying that libertarians are so fond of…give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish…

Well, Rwanda seems to be teaching itself to fish.


More on this topic of food.  Heike and Martin and I made a pizza from scratch over the weekend.  It had the local gouda cheese, dough from scratch, tomatoes, more tomatoes, and even more tomatoes in the sauce and on the pizza, onions, oyster mushrooms and then, after the pizza was cooked, minced garlic rolled in olive oil layered the top of the pizza.  It was divine.  Here are some photos of the process.  You do not see me because, first, I am behind the camera, and second, my job was chopping, pizza construction, and dishes and those aren’t that interesting:
Initial mixing:

Kneading and Marting adding flour:

Just done kneading it:

Look at how much it rose!!  Same hands!
Rolled out.

On Saturday, to get the toppings for the pizza, we split duties.  Heike and Martin went to Nakumat, the big western like grocery store nearer the capital, and Dinah, Nicole and I went to Kimironko (pronounced chimirownko).  Kimironko, if you recall, is the place on the label for the grand nuts.

The market was totally crazy.  We walked some distance to get on a bus, small, crowded, stuffy, smelly…then we got off at the market.  It's a big open warehouse looking thing that sells everything.  From the moment we walked in people were pushing and shoving us, Nicole and I, trying to get us to buy things.  On this day I was the rudest to other people that I can recall being in years.  “Oya…OYA…Murakoze…OYA!!!”  (no…NO…Thank you…NO!!!).   We bought a lot of things at very cheap prices.

Even if I could have taken pictures in the crush of people and things I would not have.  There were people everywhere and no room to walk between the large tables covered with beans and rice and vegetables of all varieties and underwear and shirts and shoes and bags…  Even on the ground, there are a few people here that I have seen that have something wrong with their legs.  Maybe polio?  But, they have small and underdeveloped legs it seems.  The more affluent often have crutches or recumbent bicycles they pedal with their hands.  But the poorer, are crawling on the ground.  There was such a person at Kimironko crawling on the ground in this crush and dragging a shopping bag full of things.

So, more on bags.  I needed a shopping bag to carry things in.  Dinah took me to her friend, btw she has friends EVERYWHERE.  The people around here are particularly nice to me, Nicole and the Germans have remarked, and they charge me less for things.  I asked Dinah if this is because she is popular.  She smiled her shy smile and giggled and said yes she thinks so.  So, she took me to her friend and showed me some bags.  I said, I wanted a nicer bag.  The nicest bag.  She took me to a different stall with another friend and showed me what she says she thinks are the nicest bags.  There are a few with all different colors and with beads of painted and rolled paper that look a little like shells around the top.  She says that she loves these.  I looked at a few, there is a yellow and blue one and a red and blue one and a green and yellow one and then also a brown and yellow and green one.  I am thinking of the green and yellow or yellow and blue.  But, I ask her which is her favorite.  She picks the brown one.  It's good that I asked her because she was admiring these bags so much.  When I leave I am going to give the bag to her as a present.


Monday, Heike and Martin and Nicole and I went to quiz night at Sol e Luna.  We won third place which was amazing because we felt like we didn’t know any of the answers.  It wasn’t as fun as last time but hopefully will be more fun again.  I saw the Americans and one of the Italians I met last time there.  The place, it turns out, is owned by an Italian man and his Rwandan wife.  So it is really a perfect mix of Italian recipes and Rwandan products.  Here is the one good photo I salvaged from my roll, this is of the bar and a bartender who graciously permitted me to include her.  All the staff is really nice there.  I got the same pizza I got last time, salami, and it was just as delicious.

A few more food items:  I got this papaya from Kimironko.  It was delicious, but as I was eating it I decided that I would like to share with you all just what I think about papaya seeds:  they are clearly evil things…just look at them… nefarious.

This is a country that doesn’t really eat butter.  They use oil to cook with, and not very much at that.  They use cheese on bread if they use it at all.  But mostly they use the milk.  Butter is right out.  For others who have a taste for butter, having either come from or visited for a while in the West, there is this…
Medium fat spread.  Ugh.  It tastes OK like a mix between butter and margarine, but the texture is weird.

Last, and on the subject of food and then also culture shock:  I am really missing home.  More on this and exactly what I miss next time, but for now, a good friend of mine told me that I was going to miss something American, whether a French fry or buffalo wings or whatever, and that when it happens I should not feel ashamed.  I was skeptical about this to begin with.  But now, 2 and a half weeks in or about 1/6 of the way through my journey, I can say that I would absolutely kill for some broccoli.

Surprisingly, there aren’t that many good memes or jokey images about broccoli.  But these three made me laugh.

I don't know who this is but it made me laugh out loud.


I miss broccoli.

P.S. I hope you guys really appreciate all the photos.  It is really annoying to include them.


  1. I appreciate the photos. I've set one as my desktop at work. Also I love the cow program, it sounds awesome.

  2. I appreciate the photos. I've set one as my desktop at work. Also I love the cow program, it sounds awesome.

  3. I agree, I absolutely LOVE every one of your wonderful photos! I was beginning to think Rwanda was very well suited to my diet until you said you miss broccoli - my favorite veggie! Haha :-)

    Reading about the One Cow One Family triggered nearly forgotten knowledge I learned in college about the importance and role of cattle in various regions of Africa, and differences within tribes. It is so interesting, and that program seems rather genius! Have you encountered any animals of the equine species? ;) Oh yeah, and the rabbits... this is a late response but rabbits leave their young for the better part of the day so it would have been okay to leave mama out and put her back.

    Again, thanks for all the intriguing, touching, and amusing things you are sharing!

  4. I LOVE THAT BAG!!! It's SOOOO colorful! Can you pleeeese bring one home??
    Those seeds do look nefarious! Like many beady little black eyes...