Inflammation and stories on Rwanda

Rwanda's Innovative Technology
Rwanda is a country located in the Eastern part of Africa that has been on the rise since the 1990s. The country has become a leader in innovation and technology, and it is one of the most innovative countries in Africa. Here are 10 facts about Rwanda’s innovative technology.

10 Things About Rwanda’s Innovative Technology

  • Rwanda’s innovative technology inspires the country to dream of “Made in Africa.” The Mara phone—the first phone in Africa—aims to create high-quality smartphones designed to promote digital inclusion. Using technology to improve the lives of people in Africa, Mara Phones produces high-quality smartphones designed to promote digital inclusion. Founded in 1996 by Ashish Thakkar, Mara Phones is a subsidiary of Mara Group, a dynamic African group with operations in the banking, technology, real estate and infrastructure fields.
  • Rwanda is using its technological potential to move the country from a developed nation to a developed country. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda is intent on turning Rwanda into the technology capital of Africa, like Singapore. For years Kagame has been drawing parallels between the two countries, following in the footsteps of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the man credited with transforming Singapore from a developing world status. Together with his successors, they have experienced global renown as the ‘master builders’ of the 20th century.
  • The Rwandan government has Stellar Ambitions, including a satellite program to help monitor water supply and anticipate natural disasters. In 2019, Rwanda launched its first telecommunications satellite, Rwa-Sat-1. The satellite now collects data from terrestrial sensors to inform the government about agriculture, meteorology, national water resources and disaster risks.
  • Today, Rwanda is part of just 13 African countries that have enacted explicit legislation on e-waste. In 2016, Rwanda’s law cratered common regulations for dealing with outdated electrical devices, as well as assigning duties in this area between the nation’s different organizations. By 2020, the so-called Enviroserve Rwanda Green Par e-waste management plant opened. Enviroserve offers services, such as remodeling, refurbishing and recycling of hardware, e.g. outdated mobiles, computer systems and other appliances. Furthermore, Rwanda has been championing the regional e-waste program of the East African Communications Association (EACO) alongside Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania, according to the World Economic Forum.            
  • Rwanda became one of the first nations in Africa to launch a national drone delivery system. Rwanda has been able to reduce service time delays and costs by using drones instead of conventional delivery methods to deliver medical supplies. To streamline blood deliveries, Rwanda’s government signed a deal with Zipline, a drone startup based in San Francisco, in 2016. Zipline’s autonomous drones would transform blood from a distribution center to a hospital.  
  • One of the forerunners in Africa in the development of smart cities is Rwanda. Kigali’s modernization is a part of a larger initiative by the Rwandan government to broaden and streamline access to public services. The government’s Irembo platform aims to develop e-government services that will enable citizens to submit requests for birth certificates and register for driving tests online. The Rwandan government established a partnership with Nokia and SRG to implement smart city technology in order to “improve the lifestyle and social sustainability of its citizens.” For instance, in 2016, the city began deploying buses with free Wi-Fi and cashless payment services.
  • The government of Rwanda introduced AI-powered chatbots to health care to help Rwandans have easier access to consultations with doctors or nurses. This is possible thanks to Rwanda’s cutting-edge technology. Today, patients can complete about 4,000 consultations per day from any location in the nation with just a mobile device. Babylon’s nurses are using the tool to increase productivity and help them make better choices for their patients.
  • To improve the technological aptitude of its youth, Rwanda has implemented a number of significant initiatives and policies. The “One Laptop Per Child” project, which distributes laptops to all of the nation’s primary schools, is one such initiative. The project has already given 203,000 laptops—which government funding paid for—to 407 schools. The Carnegie Mellon University branch in Rwanda is a partner in another impressive project. Through this collaboration, the University will offer Rwandan students instruction in IT, electrical and computer engineering as well as a degree.
  • A number of cutting-edge startups that have support from the government are based in Rwanda and have a positive impact on the nation. In contrast to other African nations, Rwanda’s government has complete authority over the nation’s technological infrastructure and operations. Long-term, this may stifle innovation, but it has helped the nation concentrate its efforts and resources on crucial areas that might be crucial to its future growth. In order to produce laptops that are “made in Rwanda,” the government, for instance, recently agreed to a contract with the South American business Positivo BGH, World Geostrategic Insights reports. The contract stipulates that the business will make 150,000 laptops annually.
  • Together with OneWeb, Rwanda launched its own satellite, the Icyerekezo. Rural Rwandan schools will now have access to fast internet thanks to the satellite. Icyerekezo (meaning Vision) is the moniker that students from Groupe Secondaire St Pierre Nkombo on Nkombo Island gave to the satellite. With the help of this exciting partnership, schools in isolated areas will have access to the internet, allowing them to take part in the ICT initiatives in classrooms all over the nation.

A Major Driver

The government of Rwanda made the deliberate choice to prioritize Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a crucial component of the nation’s development agenda, which has led to the country’s innovation and technological advancements. A major driver of the expansion of the telecommunications industry in Rwanda has been the rise in demand for ICT services and the pressure to make the economy more competitive.

– Frida Sendoro
Photo: Flickr

Rural Development in Rwanda
Rwanda’s agricultural sector is the main driving force behind its economic growth and development. About 70% of its population is directly involved in agriculture. With few natural resources and a small mining industry, the landlocked country relies heavily on agriculture. Despite the large involvement and employment of people in agriculture, Rwanda’s agricultural sector accounts for only 33% of its GDP. Smallholder farmers are responsible for producing 75% of Rwanda’s total agricultural production. Most of them are in rural areas, which constitute nearly 98% of the total land area. Although 61% of Rwanda’s soil is ideal for agriculture, several challenges have affected its agricultural sector. Here is some information about how a company called OX Delivers is aiding rural development in Rwanda and improving life for those in rural communities.

Challenges in the Agriculture Sector

Land degradation and soil erosion are existing challenges to Rwanda’s agricultural sector. Land degradation is largely due to human activity as farmers use land multiple times to cultivate different agricultural products. On the other hand, steep slopes partly create soil erosion. It is particularly challenging for Rwanda because 90% of the country’s territory comprises slopes, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Erosion displaces soil due to the heavy rain that carries away soil particles from one area to another. Large involvement and dependency on agriculture result in forests becoming farm fields. According to World Wildlife Fund (WFF), agricultural crops like coffee, soybeans and wheat that replace trees cannot hold onto the soil which increases soil erosion. Rwanda’s principal crops include coffee and wheat among many others. Most smallholder farmers also struggle to find and access markets for their goods. Rural areas often have poor infrastructure. Roads of poor quality present challenges in making markets more accessible to smallholder farmers. Changing its agrifood market structure is an important task for Rwanda as the country aims to transform its agricultural sector into a value-creating and market-oriented food sector.

Terrace Fields and Market Access

Rwanda has been able to solve its own challenges in the agricultural sector. An innovative solution to land degradation and soil erosion is changing the structure of fields. Instead of working on the steep hills and farmlands, farmers in Rwanda have adapted reverse slope bench terracing. It is a soil and water conservation measure that moves soil to build a reverse slope with bench-like structures. Stable soils characterize the terraces which reduce the risk of landslides. Smallholder farmers also use grass and small trees to stabilize the bench-like structures. Farmers have benefited from higher yields as a result of farming crops on steep slopes.

Delivery companies like OX Delivers are also transforming Rwanda’s agricultural sector. OX Delivers was established in 2020 to improve farmers’ access to rural markets in Rwanda. It uses fully-electric trucks to transport goods in rural areas where transportation is challenging due to rough terrain. OX trucks are reliable for their clean and affordable transport. The company has identified the high transportation costs associated with rural areas and thus, charges customers for only what they need.

Customers, most of whom are smallholder farmers, pay on a per kg per km basis. Customers book space on a truck with the drivers and make payments face-to-face. According to the founder, Simon Davis, OX Delivers is able to charge affordable prices as running on electricity costs 50% less per day compared to diesel engines. What makes OX Delivers unique is that it is solely focused on rural development in Rwanda. The company serves rural smallholder farmers and small-scale traders looking to access markets in Rwanda.

An Improved Agricultural Sector

Innovative solutions like the reverse slope bench terracing method and the electric truck services are transforming Rwanda into a nation with a rich market-oriented food sector. These solutions help to counter problems like soil erosion, land degradation and lack of access to markets in Rwanda. Rural smallholder farmers are able to contribute to rural development in Rwanda by not only farming for their own consumption but also by supplying to markets. Small-scale traders are able to increase their profits as electric trucks improve their access to markets. Farmers are also able to grow their production by successfully farming on steep slopes. With more participation in markets, they can increase production, profit from commercial activities and improve their household incomes.

– Hans Harelimana Hirwa
Photo: Flickr

Green Urban Growth
Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is on the cutting edge of African development. In May 2022, the Rwandan government launched the second phase of the environmentally friendly, $175 million Rwandan Urban Development Project. The project consists of reinforcing nature-based infrastructure and protecting the city against extreme weather conditions. A hub of architects and entrepreneurs is working out of the newly built MASS Design Group’s largest office in Kigali. The recent increase in investment in the once war-stricken city aims to set Rwanda on the path to green urban growth.

A Critical Eye

President Paul Kagame received many criticisms for taking the position of an authoritarian strongman. While Rwanda appears to be a safe space for foreigners, Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa Director at Human Rights Watch recently told CNN,  “Rwanda is a safe country for Rwandans if you keep your head down and don’t ask any questions or challenge anything. The moment you step up and start to question something or have an independent opinion and express it, Rwanda becomes a very difficult country to live in.” It is impossible to ignore the claims of citizens and spokespeople in the region. For Western and Asian allies, however, Kagame remains a “liberator” with intentions of expanding economic prosperity in the region.

Sustainability and Reframing

The Rwanda Urban Development Project focuses on developing the natural infrastructure of Kigali and surrounding cities. A green micro-mobility company called Guraride, which began a bike share scheme in Kigali in 2021 is just one of many firms setting up in the city. Guararide CEO, Tony Adesina, explained, “We’re looking at a situation where Kigali becomes the Silicon Valley of Africa.” President Kagame has made aspirational claims of making Rwanda a middle-income country by 2035.

In the decades since the atrocious 1994 genocide, the government has brought the country out of the ruins by taking several measures. For one, Rwanda now has close financial ties to China; in 2008, the country outlawed the use of non-biodegradable plastics a notable step towards its desire to be a green country. Moreover, it has closed gender gaps with 61% of its parliamentary seats, which women hold. The World Bank continues to report “strong economic growth” in the region, and a poverty decline from 77% in 2001 to 55% by 2017. With the decline in poverty and awareness of the need for renewable energy, Rwanda is a beacon of hope for the naysays of energy reform and a model country on the path to green urban growth.

Eco-Development

A coalition of architects, engineers, city planners, researchers, designers, construction and film industry has come to the MASS Design Group’s central hub. Entrepreneurs like Tony Adesina are attracted to the area because of the government’s inclination towards allowing tech-based and eco-friendly development. As increasingly severe weather conditions erupt around the world, Rwanda is taking the initiative to develop green solutions to the unique problems weather causes. Launched in 2017, The Green City Project in Kigali is an example of this initiative. It aims to be a green community in the Kinyinya Hill area of Kigali; allowing developers to use innovative climate-responsive building techniques and collect rainwater, as well as increase vegetation, tree cover and renewable energy sources. This facility is a harbinger for more green projects to come around the world, as the move to green urban growth becomes evermore important.

The region of Kigali represents hope for war-stricken countries. Often through struggle and war, many creative solutions emerge out of necessity. Western counterparts regularly overlook developing communities in Africa and view them as “reporters” of what is happening, rather than true artists and creators themselves. Though others should not ignore the iron fist of the Rwandan government, an encouraging move toward sustainability that the nation has taken is the bottom-line approach necessary to tackle environmental and economic issues.

– Shane Chase
Photo: Flickr

Entrepreneurship Protects Human Health
According to a 2022 George Washington University School of Business article, an entrepreneurial mindset capable of applying analytical tools is key to innovations in health care and primarily those relevant to technology. The emergence of COVID-19 is one among many instances that highlights the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation in relieving the world from soaring economic costs, especially since the pandemic cost the U.S. economy more than $202 billion alone. Here are some examples of organizations that show how entrepreneurship protects human health.

EarthEnable

Around 75% of Rwanda’s population is unable to access clean floors, which facilitates the prevalence of parasites and bacteria among the general population, and subsequently, undermines public health. In Rwanda, diarrhea claims the lives of 1.8 million people each year as a direct symptom of dirty floors, especially as many households do not assume the financial capability to renovate their floors.

To strengthen Rwanda’s health care system, EarthEnable, a for-profit hybrid organization in Rwanda has adopted earthen floors as an affordable and sustainable solution to dirty floors. Earthen floors consist of domestically sourced natural materials containing water, clay, sand and laterite, collectively forming a durable surface. While some people enjoy free access to the latter, others must pay $63 for the average household of 25 square meters. Payments occur over three installments to tailor for different financial circumstances.

In the first quarter of 2022, EarthEnable installed kempt floors totaling 376,080.85 square meters, demonstrating its impact across approximately more than 14,987 households and paralleling benefits to 62,944 individuals. While the organization currently operates in 20 different Rwandan districts, plans for further expansions are due to take place in 2022-2023. Such entrepreneurship protects human health and allows Rwanda’s population to lead a prosperous life.

Innovations in Health Care

Inclined to support health-related innovations, Innovations in Healthcare devoted its operations to finding solutions to current healthcare challenges since its inception in 2011. Assistance from the World Economic Forum, Duke Medicine and Mckinsey & Company, facilitated research and development before the nonprofit’s launch.

The organization’s 100+ global network of innovator organizations work to supplement access to inexpensive and high-quality health care. Entrepreneurs with competitive innovations undergo selection to join the innovators’ network and benefit from the necessary guidelines to advance their work.

Innovations in Healthcare currently operates in more than 90 different countries, where the organization leads and supports a variety of programs. Accelerating Saving Lives at Birth is one such program, which focuses on empowering maternal and newborn health on the global level. With funding from USAID among five others, the program facilitated more than 50 innovations, seeking to accelerate the sustainability and effectiveness of saving lives as part of its birth portfolio.

The Making More Health Venture4Change is another program that seeks to bridge the gap between rural and urban areas by providing affordable hygiene solutions. By offering entrepreneurial training and utilizing students’ knowledge to develop the latter solutions, the program can implement eminent impact. This is especially important since more than 50% of the global population lack access to safe sanitation according to a UNICEF report.

Moving Mountains Kenya

Health care in Kenya suffers from an array of challenges, including inclined maternal and child deaths, and rampant levels of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis cases. A by-product of such health issues is increased social and economic burdens, evident in the fact that 83% of Kenyans lack the financial strength to meet health care costs, pushing an additional 1.5 million people into poverty per year.

Stimulated by the belief in improved health care for achieving equality, Moving Mountains works to lead and support programs and projects devoted to enhancing Kenya’s health care, in line with what the community and government deem suitable. The nonprofit has been operating in Kenya for 20+ years and its impact has extended across several communities, which their medical camps can demonstrate.

The organization’s medical camps aid the communities of either the highly populated and underprivileged Nyanza Province in western Kenya or rural communities near and within Embu town. In the camps, medical students and professionals work alongside Kenyan and public health staff to provide free-of-charge medical checkups, diagnoses, treatments and referrals to domestic hospitals for Kenyans. Each camp seeks to attain significant and tangible developmental impact, relying on process analysis to verify its influence.

Looking Ahead

Entrepreneurship protects human health through its ability to develop new ideas and solutions that cater to many health care challenges. Entrepreneurship is a significant component of the work of several nonprofits and for-profit organizations such as EarthEnable, Innovations in Healthcare and Moving Mountains.

̶  Noor Al-Zubi
Photo: Flickr

UK-Rwanda DealOn April 14th, 2022, the United Kingdom signed a deal with Rwanda to send illegal asylum seekers to the African country and process their asylum claims there. The U.K. paid Rwanda £120 million (about $144 million) and promised to fund the logistics of the process. Though the Home Office claims the deal will disrupt the business of people smuggling, Rwanda’s past human rights violations led to many critiques that the humanitarian risks of the U.K.-Rwanda deal outweigh its potential benefits.

The Deal Set in Motion

The first flight to Rwanda was scheduled for June 14th. However, charities such as Care4Calais and Detention Action, along with individual asylum seekers’ lawyers, fought the flight on legal grounds, leaving only seven out of the initial 37 destined to board the plane. The Supreme Court, however, upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision to reject a motion to cancel the flight.

Before the flight could take off, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) issued an interim emergency measure after an Iraqi asylum seeker’s request. As the ECHR is not an EU body, the U.K. is still a member despite Brexit and must abide by the court’s decision.

The ECHR demanded that the U.K. and European courts take more time to decide whether the deportation was lawful. As per the U.K. legal system, the logic behind the measure applied to the rest of the passengers and the flight was canceled

Human Rights Risks of the UK-Rwanda Deal

The Geneva Convention 1951’s principle of non-réfoulement states that countries must accommodate those who flee persecution and cannot displace or return them to dangerous territory. The ECHR issued the interim measure because it considered that the Iraqi asylum seeker could face a “real risk of irreversible harm” in Rwanda, BBC reports.

Countries repeatedly infringe the principle by finding ways to remove migrants from their territory into a neighboring state, imposing additional entry requirements, or refusing access altogether. But transferring asylum-seekers to a country with a severe history of violating human rights 4,000 kilometers away would set a new precedent.

The U.K. has denounced Rwanda’s human rights violations and its refusal to investigate allegations of torture and deaths in custody in the past. Moreover, in February 2021, the British High Commissioner to Rwanda advised the government against choosing Rwanda as a candidate for deporting immigrants. The High Commissioner’s memo reported that Rwanda allegedly “recruited refugees to conduct armed operations in neighboring countries” and reinstated the country’s numerous human rights violations, according to AP News.

Yet, since April, Downing Street denies any human rights risks of the U.K.-Rwanda deal, going as far as to say that the East African country is one of the “safest countries in the world.”

An internal government memo two days before the deal’s signing further explains Downing Street’s claims. The message warned that if the U.K. chose Rwanda, it would have to close a blind eye to Rwanda’s human rights violations and prepare itself to face challenges from Parliament and NGOs.

Situation in Rwanda

Although Rwanda’s GDP has been growing since 2010, the country has made little progress in reducing poverty in its rural areas – yet about 70% of Rwandans are subsistence farmers, according to BBC. Kigali saw its poverty rate decrease due to investments in the tourism industry, but extreme poverty rose in the Southern Province. Moreover, around 57% of Rwandan households face food insecurity and the pandemic exacerbated the effects of the crisis, with even more Rwandans falling into poverty.

About 150,000 refugees from other African countries currently reside in Rwanda. According to a 2019 paper on the influence of Congolese refugees on Rwandan communities, the refugees’ presence brought both direct and indirect benefits. Rwandans living closer to a refugee camp had more chances to have wage employment rather than living as subsistence farmers and females had more chances for self-employment. Hence, Rwanda’s economy can benefit from migration.

However, the deported asylum-seekers to Kigali would likely fail to integrate as the intra-region migrants did. Most refugees already living in Rwanda don’t have a job and rely on welfare, according to BBC. If the system is overwhelmed, the risks of the U.K.-Rwanda deal mean that asylum seekers and Rwandans may fall into poverty. The Rwandan government initially stated it could accommodate 1,000 migrants from the U.K. – a claim the U.N.’s refugee agency questioned – before recently admitting the country only has space for 200. Nonetheless, the government assured that it would expand its capacities, a claim that, if not upheld, jeopardizes Downing Street’s ability to reap the deal’s economic benefits.

Future of the Deal

Despite being fully aware of the humanitarian risks of the U.K.-Rwanda deal, Downing Street chose to pursue the policy. The Supreme Court’s judicial review of the policy is due in September, according to BBC. Until then, it remains to be seen whether the courts deem Rwanda a country where asylum-seekers can find refuge without violating their rights and further worsening the host country’s situation.

Elena Sofia Massacesi
Photo: Flickr

improvements in RwandaRwanda is the fourth-smallest country in Africa, located in the Great Rift Valley in the central part of the continent. The nation has a population of about 13 million people and is home to two main ethnic groups: the pastoral Hutu and the agricultural Tutsi tribes. In 1990, tensions rose between these two groups and sparked a civil war, resulting in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The genocide led to the massacre of approximately 800,000 Tutsi civilians by Hutu extremists, marking one of the worst genocides in history. Since then, Rwanda has been in a state of repair and has made great strides in many areas of development. In particular, the Rwandan government notes 10 impressive improvements in Rwanda.

10 Improvements in Rwanda

  1. Poverty is on the Decline. In 2001, the poverty rate in Rwanda was as high as 77%, dropping to 55% in 2017. The introduction of the first five-year Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy in 2008 and a second five-year plan in 2013 largely account for this reduction.
  2. Increasing Life Expectancy. The Rwandan Civil War had a significant impact on life expectancy, which fell to a mere 26 years in 1993. Since then, the government has committed to improving the health and quality of life for its citizens, achieving a life expectancy of 69 as of 2019.
  3. Rwanda is a Leading Country in Gender Equality. In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, Rwanda ranked as one of the top five leading countries in gender equality alongside Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Since the civil war, the nation has pushed for more female leadership in politics — as of November 2021, the Rwandan parliament has a 61% women-led majority, the world’s highest rate of female representation in parliament. Rwanda also has one the highest rates of women participating in the labor force at 84% in 2019.
  4. Unemployment is Decreasing Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic. Before the pandemic, unemployment in Rwanda was steadily declining, dropping to less than 1% in 2019. Like many countries, lockdowns and other preventive measures for COVID-19 originally caused unemployment to skyrocket back up to 1.35% in 2020. However, Rwanda quickly bounced back — employment rates rose from 43% in the second quarter of 2020 to nearly 49% in the third quarter.
  5. Maternal Mortality Rates are Falling. In 2019, the maternal mortality rate in Rwanda decreased by nearly 23% “from 1,270 per 100,000 live births” in the 1990s to 290. This significant decrease is largely due to innovations in the medical field, which allow for better storage and delivery of blood supplies, preventing postpartum hemorrhaging deaths in women.
  6. Inequality is on the decline. Inequality is defined as “disparities between individuals or groups in areas such as income, wealth, education, health, nutrition, space, politics and social identity.” Historically, Rwanda was home to some of the highest rates of inequality in Africa. However, this is changing. Over the past two decades, Rwanda has noted significant improvements in terms of access to utilities. Access to health care is also improving although there are still disparities between urban and rural communities. From 2006 to 2017, inequality declined from 0.52 to 0.43 as measured by the Gini index.
  7. The Rwandan Economy is Growing. Prior to the pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing “an economic boom.” From 2000 to 2019, the economy grew by an average of 7.2% and the country’s GDP rose by about 5% annually. Rwanda has put in place measures to control COVID-19 within its borders, resulting in an unsurprising 3.4% GDP decrease in 2020. However, the nation hopes to resume growth following the distribution of vaccines.
  8. Land Restoration. Rwanda also notes great improvements in terms of the environment. In 2012, the Rwandan government initiated the Green Fund, “the largest investment fund of its kind in Africa.” So far, the project has created more than 10,000 jobs and encourages rural communities to participate in agroforestry and reforestation.
  9. Malaria Progress. Medical improvements in Rwanda have reduced fatal malaria cases significantly in recent years. In 2017, the country experienced upwards of 4.8 million cases, but in 2020, cases dropped to 1.8 million. Malaria-related deaths also reduced from 700 in 2016 to 148 deaths in 2020.
  10. Health care is Universal. Mutual Health is the name of Rwanda’s universal health care system, which was created in 2008. As of 2019, Mutual Health covered close to 96% of the population, lowering medical costs and providing services for even the most impoverished citizens of Rwanda.

Rwanda: A Success Story

The COVID-19 pandemic has created many new obstacles for Rwanda, but the “Land of a Thousand Hills” is advancing nonetheless. Since the civil war and the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the country has committed to recovery and restoration and has certainly exceeded all expectations. These many improvements in Rwanda are due to the great resiliency of the nation’s people, a nation that will continue to rise above all obstacles.

– Hannah Gage
Photo: Flickr

Penal Reform International in Rwanda
In response to the 1994 genocide, Rwanda incarcerated up to 125,000 Rwandans (most of them Hutus) in facilities meant to hold 12,000 prisoners. Since the prison system could not sustain such a high number of inmates, it reestablished the traditional Gacaca courts for the sake of efficiency. However, the Gacaca Courts fell under international scrutiny for their failure to provide fair trials for the accused; the poor conditions at detention centers; and the election of poorly trained community judges, which held heavy prejudice against the accused. Penal Reform International, a nonprofit organization that works toward prison reform on the global stage, attempted to help Rwandan courts and prisons develop a more humanitarian legal process with respect for the tenets of international law. Below is information on Penal Reform International in Rwanda and how it has positively affected the country’s civil courts.

What is Penal Reform International?

Established in 1989 as an international nongovernmental organization, Penal Reform International’s mission is “to [reduce] the use of imprisonment around the world, through promoting alternatives to imprisonment, and to developing and promoting the implementation of international human rights standards on criminal justice and prison conditions.” It also uses paralegals – legal advisors – for those who have experienced incarceration and are awaiting trial with the goal of educating them on their rights within the country’s legal system.

Penal Reform International’s paralegals receive training in “international human rights instruments; National criminal law and procedure (including the Constitution and the Penal Code); The judiciary and the court systems; Prison conditions, systems and infrastructure; Health and safety awareness.” In cases such as Rwanda, having expertise on legal rights amid overcrowded prisons is valuable and extremely beneficial to prison reform as well as for the implementation of prison standards in accordance with international law.

Reforming Rwanda’s Courts and Prisons Through Education

Penal Reform International’s mission revolves around using paralegals, which, thus far, have “[organized] and conducted awareness sessions for over 3,000 detainees awaiting trial,” specifically targeting groups that are vulnerable to the spread of diseases within these prisons and informing them of their rights within Rwanda’s legal system. Penal Reform International in Rwanda has also “distributed 7,300 booklets on the rights of detainees in all Rwandan prisons,” which, in effect, not only educates the inmates of their rights but also advocates for more humanitarian methods within the Gacaca courts. As such, both the inmates and the judges in office are now more aware of the legal standards that international law demands.

The organization’s use of legal education as an instrument for court reform has been beneficial as it has reduced “unlawful and pre-trial detention,” and allowed for better-informed pleas, quicker file management and the overall improvement of communication from actors within the criminal justice system. As a result of Penal Reform International’s mission, the Rwandan courts have been able to lawfully issue court summons for 1,055 citizens using proper adjudicating techniques, obtain 1,100 court judgments for the purpose of constructing an able defense for appealing inmates and successfully lodge 455 appeals.

Stopping Overincarceration

Overcrowded prisons violate numerous human rights laws, confining inmates to dangerous living conditions which are unsanitary, leading to diseases and starvation. Nevertheless, Penal Reform International has helped release many Rwandans from these conditions. In just a year, from October 2009-2010, it assisted in “the permanent release of 625 detainees” along with deriving 168 provisional releases. In 2010, due to organizations like Penal Reform International, Rwanda’s prison population decreased to 43,400, a significant change from its earlier population of 125,000 inmates. Penal Reform International accomplished all of this by improving prisoners’ abilities to represent themselves in court and educating them on their rights. Ultimately, through this work, Penal Reform International’s mission has helped solve many of the problems stemming from over-incarceration in Rwanda.

Due to organizations like Penal Reform International in Rwanda, the absence of humanitarian legal values in underdeveloped countries has evolved to a system that is international judicial bodies both accept and praise. As Penal Reform International’s mission continues to thrive, so will underdeveloped countries around the globe.

– Jacob Crosley
Photo: Flickr

Flaxseed Oil
Around 689 million people, or 9.2% of the global population, currently live in poverty with less than $1.90 a day. In 2017, Global Citizen reported that “at least half of the world’s population did not have access to essential health care.” Global connections between health care and poverty are distinctly universal, even in the United States. A study by the Institute for Research on Poverty further indicates that practically 70% of the U.S.’s uninsured experience poverty or are on the brink of poverty. Consequently, poverty and low-income status have links to a variety of negative health consequences due to poor sanitation, such as shorter life expectancy. One way to improve sanitation in areas with high poverty is to use flaxseed oil.

Poverty and Sanitation

Research shows that 673 million people continue to defecate in public, such as in city gutters, behind bushes or in open bodies of water; the impacts of poor sanitation are severely detrimental. Poor sanitation exacerbates stunting and contributes to the spread of diseases like cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid and polio. This issue is causing diseases such as intestinal worms, schistosomiasis and trachoma. Predictions have determined that poor sanitation causes 432,000 diarrheal deaths per year. Factoring in deaths from all of these diseases, countless people die every year in connection to poor sanitation.

A National Center for Biotechnology Information study found that there is a relationship between sanitation and types of floors. High levels of bacteria such as E. coli are more common in houses with dirt floors in comparison to houses with concrete floors. Proper floors and resources are a solution to this issue; however, concrete is expensive which means it’s hard for the poor to access it. This is where flaxseed oil comes in.

Flaxseed-Supported Floors

After Gayatri Datar traveled to Rwanda with her classmates from Stanford University, she wanted to address the prevalence of dirt floors as around 75% of the population had dirt floors, making people susceptible to certain illnesses. Datar partnered with Zuzow, one of her former classmates, and together they created “a flaxseed oil that, when poured over an earthen floor, dries to form a plastic-like, waterproof and sustainable resin that glues the surface together. The flaxseed is currently imported from India, but EarthEnable [Datar’s organization] is planning to harvest it in Kenya to keep the entire project more local.”

This flaxseed oil is a cheap and effective alternative to concrete floors. The flaxseed oil sealant costs between $2 and $5 per square meter, or around $50 per house, and residents pay it in either one sum or in six monthly installments. The cost is less than the $162 cost of the concrete floors used in Piso Firme, one of the first floor-replacement operations in Mexico.

Connecting Solutions

TECHO – a nonprofit organization – has been doing something very similar. It has “built one-room houses with hard floors, insulated pinewood walls and tin roofs for almost 130,000 families in Latin America since 1997.” All of this together has resulted in a “big drop in childhood incidence of diarrhea in these homes, down 27% or double the improvement Gertler measured for Mexican children whose dirt floors were replaced with concrete.”

Though simple, identifying contributing factors to poverty and poor health can be a meaningful step to increase the quality of life for millions. While EarthEnable and TECHO continue their work, they quite literally work to establish a stronger foundation for those experiencing certain forms of poverty.

– Noya Stessel
Photo: Flickr

School Feeding Program in RwandaRwanda is a small, densely populated country in Africa, located just south of the equator. Though the country has made great strides in poverty reduction since the 1994 genocide, 55% of the population still lived in poverty in 2017. The COVID-19 pandemic halted a period of economic boom and, as a result, the World Bank expects poverty to rise by more than 5% in 2021. International aid and development programs in Rwanda are more important than ever, especially when it comes to providing reliable, nutritious food sources. Chronic malnutrition affects more than a third of Rwandan children younger than 5 and the World Food Programme (WFP) considers nearly 20% of Rwandans food insecure. One key initiative aiming to eradicate malnutrition in Rwanda is the WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda.

History of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

The WFP’s Home Grown School Feeding initiative works with local governments, farmers and schools to provide nutritious, diverse daily meals for students and enrich local economies. These Home Grown School Feeding programs currently operate in 46 countries with each program tailored to the needs of local people.

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda began in 2016, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mastercard. The program serves daily warm meals to more than 85,000 learners in 104 primary schools. The program benefits both students and their families in several major ways.

5 Benefits of the Home Grown School Feeding Initiative

  1. Improves Nutrition. Agriculture is the basis of Rwanda’s economy, but desertification, drought and other problems are decreasing harvests. As a result, many families struggle to grow enough food to feed themselves. The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda provides students with meals of either maize, beans or hot porridge. The school-provided meal is often the only regular, nutritious meal available to many students.
  2. Improves Hygiene. Along with kitchens and ingredients, the WFP also supplies schools in Rwanda with materials to teach basic nutrition and hygiene. One strategy includes installing rainwater collection tanks and connecting them to handwashing stations. Additionally, WFP workers build or renovate bathrooms at each school. Connecting the school to a reliable water supply also benefits the local community by decreasing the distance villagers travel to access water. School handwashing stations are also open to the community, improving health and hygiene for everyone.
  3. Improves Focus, Literacy and School Attendance. According to Edith Heines, WFP country director for Rwanda, “a daily school meal is a very strong incentive for parents to send their children to school.” In primary schools where the WFP implemented the Home Grown School Feeding Program, attendance has increased to 92%. With the implementation of the program, students report increased alertness in class and better grades and performance. One child from Southern Rwanda, Donat, told the WFP that before his school provided lunch, he was often so hungry that he did not want to return to school after going home at lunchtime. Now that his school provides lunch, he looks forward to class each day. Literacy rates have also improved dramatically at schools where the program operates and the WFP reports that student reading comprehension has increased from less than 50% to 78%.
  4. Teaches Gardening and Cooking Skills. The WFP develops a kitchen garden at every school involved in the Home Grown School Feeding program. Children participate in growing and caring for crops, learning valuable gardening skills that they can take home to their parents. Children are also instructed in meal preparation and in proper hygiene.
  5. Diversifying Crops at Home. Students also receive seedlings in order to provide food at home and to diversify the crops grown in food-insecure areas. Crop diversification can help improve soil fertility and crop yields. Sending seedlings home also promotes parent and community involvement in the program, ensuring the program’s long-term stability.

Looking Ahead

The Home Grown School Feeding program in Rwanda has improved the quality of life for many children living in poverty as well as their families. By fighting to end hunger in food-insecure areas of Rwanda, the WFP has improved hygiene, nutrition, school attendance, literacy, crop diversity and more. The continuation of the program in Rwanda and in other countries around the world will enable further progress in the fight against global poverty.

Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Rwanda’s Ecotourism IndustryThe Rwandan genocide in 1994 was a national tragedy resulting in an estimated 800,000 deaths in a period of 100 days. However, 27 years after the massacre, the small, landlocked nation of 12 million people is thriving. A mix of social and political factors has contributed to a thriving nation. Rwanda’s ecotourism industry also plays a significant role in alleviating national poverty.

A Closer Look at Rwanda

Over the past quarter-century, Rwanda changed its course, moving positively toward economic growth and increased prosperity. According to the World Bank, poverty in Rwanda declined substantially from 2001 to 2017, dropping from 77% to 55%. Since 1994, Rwanda has maintained political stability. Stability allowed the country to develop a cost-free and compulsory primary education system with “one of the highest primary enrollment” rates in sub-Saharan Africa.

The country instituted a universal healthcare program and made great strides in legislative gender equality. In 2019, women made up 61% of Rwanda’s parliament. The percentage of female parliamentary representation is substantially greater than most western democracies. Continued economic and social growth is necessary in order to continue poverty reduction progress.

The Role of Rwanda’s Ecotourism Industry

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people and involves interpretation and education.” Ecotourism can be a tool to unite communities, build environmental awareness and grow underdeveloped economies across the world. Over the past 27 years, Rwanda capitalized on this opportunity and created a growing ecotourism industry.

Tourists flock to Rwanda to wander through hiking trails in the country’s four national parks. Others are drawn specifically to the bamboo forests where visitors can see mountain gorillas, an endangered species, in their natural habitat. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world. The tourism sector in Rwanda is “more than 80% nature-based,” indicating that ecotourism forms a substantial part of the tourism sector.

Tourism in Rwanda

Rwanda’s tourism sector experienced its highest annual growth in 2019, netting more than $498 million and attracting an estimated 1.63 million tourists. For the past seven years, “tourism has been ranked as the first foreign currency earner in Rwanda,” contributing 14.9% of Rwanda’s GDP in 2018.

Rwanda’s tourism sector has increased jobs and significantly contributes to the overall growth of the country’s economy. Tourism in Rwanda employs more than 3% of the labor force. For the Rwandan government, tourism is a critical tool for alleviating national poverty, explicit in both policy and poverty reduction strategies. Not only does tourism create jobs but the wealth generated from a booming tourism industry can help facilitate a country like Rwanda in its ability to access clean water, reliable energy and sanitation services.

“Africa’s tourism industry continues to flourish and supports more than 21 million jobs, and for the developing countries, tourism is an enormous tool for sustainable development,” says Mukhisa Kituyi, former secretary-general of UNCTAD.

How COVID-19 Impacts Rwanda

Pre-pandemic, Rwanda was experiencing an economic boom. In 2019, the economy grew by more than 10%, on its way to grow further in 2020. Instead, due to COVID-19, Rwanda’s economy shrank, with a projected decrease in GDP of 0.2%. As a result of COVID-19, the World Bank projected that poverty rates would increase by 5.1%, placing an additional 550,000 Rwandans in poverty in 2021. Overall unemployment rose from 13% in February 2020 to 22% in May 2020 and 60% of workers who remained employed saw significant salary decreases.

As the pandemic forced global recessions and travel restrictions, Rwanda’s ecotourism industry took a major hit. Tourism was expected to decrease by more than 70% worldwide in 2020. Rwanda’s finance minister, Uzziel Ndagijimana, confirmed that in March and April 2020, the tourism industry missed out on roughly $10 million in revenue.

The Road to Rwanda’s Recovery

Since reopening in the summer of 2019, Rwanda’s growing ecotourism industry shows signs of recovery. While international tourism rates are down, domestic tourism rates are up in comparison to past years. According to Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper, The New Times, increased domestic tourism is expected to restore a revenue sharing program where the Rwandan government will redistribute the earnings from domestic tourism to communities living in and around the visited national parks. This policy is likely to enhance the growing ecotourism sector and aid communities that have suffered economically throughout the pandemic.

-Zoe Tzanis
Photo: Flickr