Kigali, capital of a nation elevated. What of Martelly’s Rwanda model for Haiti?

Downtown Kigali

Downtown Kigali

“A nation elevated”. That’s how the Rwandan foreign minister’s described her country on Monday, the 20th anniversary of the genocide that left more than a million dead.

There’s something in what she says. Consider the nuanced way they’ve lightened the deep purple, the colour of Rwandan remembrance of the madness and bloodlust that swept the country. Think of Kigali’s multiple memorials, museums and centres dedicated to the genocide.  Think of Paul Kagame, the strong (human rights critics say authoritarian) man at Rwanda’s helm; his government’s ambitious Vision 2020 plan and the singularly successful reform of business regulation.

Here are some of the similarities and differences I found between Kigali and Port au Prince when I briefly visited Rwanda in 2011, the year Mr Kagame’s government rated itself. The finance ministry’s report examined each Vision 2020 goal to ascertain if it was “on-track”, “on-watch” or “off-track”. Hard to imagine the Haitian government doing the same. That said, Haiti’s President Martelly is on record to say that “the Rwanda model is a model we’re following very closely”. Both countries have suffered huge setbacks but some say the similarities are very superficial.

Kigali and Port au Prince are similar:

– in being very hilly cities

– in having the bigger houses and government offices generally high in the hills (though, it’s a temporary arrangement for Port au Prince)

The two cities are very different:

– in size. With just a third of the population of Port au Prince, Kigali is barely a megacity

– in the sense of chaos/calm. Though Mr Kagame’s critics say Kigali dare not be unbridled

– in Kigali, the poorer people tend to live in the valleys; in Port au Prince, their plastic tarp shacks straggle up and down the hills and everywhere

God knows, the Rwandan president had little enough to start with. Just 14 years ago, his country’s gross domestic product was just $567; in 2013, it was three times as much. It’s a lesson of sorts. Is Mr Martelly listening?

Jack Kerouac

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac