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Josh Ruxin Headshot

Spring Cleaning in Rwanda

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A group of soldiers huddled around an unexploded hand grenade in the road near my home in Kigali, Rwanda. Given the grenade attacks of the last few weeks, I panicked. Had there been an attack in the neighborhood? No, there hadn't; one of my neighbors had placed the grenade in the road for soldiers to remove. Since the recent attacks, police have been routinely searching homes for illegal munitions (http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=14214&article=27475) , so those still holding arms, grenades and other potential sources of terror have been doing their spring cleaning early.

The grenade attacks were unsettling to this country, characterized by the international community as stable and secure. I personally agree with this assessment. I have lived and worked in Rwanda for five years now, and it's a country where you can walk anywhere at any time without fear. This is often surprising to Americans who may only know Rwanda as the site of the genocide which began nearly 16 years ago next week.

There are many hypotheses swirling around about the source of the grenade attacks, and I've got no light of my own to shine on them. What is clear is that the presidential election scheduled for this August has stirred up strong emotions. I'm not, however, one of those who believe that whatever might be simmering below the surface is ever going to boil over. On the contrary, I believe that over the next several years, Rwanda has an opportunity to say goodbye to the past by giving everyone something to lose. People with some wealth and opportunity (and more and more Rwandans have both of these things) are more likely to be deeply invested in the future, and are less likely to turn to the politics of hate. The Rwandan government has embraced this approach to security, and thus far it has worked.

For those who still tremble when they consider Rwanda's genocide, it's hard to describe just how much reality differs from their perception. Road infrastructure, waterworks, electricity, and communications infrastructure, in the form of mobile phones and the internet, have not only improved in Kigali, they've made their way out to nearly every corner of the country. Across this region of Africa, relations have dramatically improved and the fear of bloodshed keeps being pushed farther and farther outside the realm of possibility. Yes, the catastrophe in neighboring Congo persists, but for the first time in years there are glimmers of hope and stability, even there.

In Rwanda, skyscrapers are dotting the horizon. Business deals abound. Roads have been built to Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania to provide future gateways for the increasing flow of products. It doesn't look like a place where you'd expect to find grenades going off.

Here's hoping it stays that way.