9 January 2013

Rwanda: 2013 Is the Year of Light


For the more historically inclined among you, one hundred years ago, Rwanda was part of German East Africa and stainless steel had just been invented in Sheffield, Great Britain [as the UK was known then].

Fifty years ago, the forbearers of the Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army were taking on the Belgian directed forces of President Gregoire Kayibanda in an unsuccessful bid to return home [this goal would be realised 31 years later] while Kenya gained independence that December. Twenty years ago, the Arusha Accords were signed and ultimately an ineffective UN force was deployed to Rwanda. Czechoslovakia also split into two in the 'velvet divorce' to become the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President of the US and radical Islamist group Al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Centre in New York. How time flies. Looking forward, this could be quite an interesting year as a voter or a rural dweller about to enjoy the benefits of electric power.

Rwandans go to the polls to vote for members of the House of Deputies this September. I wonder whether women will retain or even exceed their 56 per cent majority this year. Hard to imagine that one hundred years ago, women everywhere [with the exception of New Zealand, Australia, Finland and Norway] were barred from voting. Of course, it was a less democratic time then. Nonetheless, it is still heartening to consider the progress made since 1913 on that front. Whether this domination has translated into tangible benefits for the women of Rwanda is a discussion for another person on another day. The last time I commented on the issue, I ended up being mentioned unfavourably in a research paper footnote. For this reason, we shall skip to the happier and less controversial subject of increased production of electricity.

In March, the methane gas project will begin production of an initial 25 megawatts of electricity, which translates into cheaper tariffs and a boost to the ongoing rural electrification programme. Rwanda's countryside could do with more night-time illumination. On top of the lasting damage being done to the eyes of primary school students reading and doing homework on candle and lamp-light, there are other less obvious costs to living in the un-electrified countryside like the recent death by a hippo.

This newspaper carried the unfortunate tale of a farmer in Kayonza District who was killed by a hippo from the neighbouring Akagera National Park while guarding his farm against wild animals [such as the killer hippo]. Unfortunately, he was guarding his farm in the dark with nothing more than a brave spirit. Imagine if the farm were electrified, he could have had a spotlight to light it up. Maybe even an electric fence. At the very least, he would have been able to spot the hippo in time and run to safety.

Nighttime darkness combined with some rather slack security patrols, is proving costly to cattle and pig owners in Huye District. According to residents of the district, 30 cows and 50 pigs have been stolen and taken to Rusizi for sale in the last couple of months. How the livestock thieves manage to get their stolen cows and pigs to their buyers 150km away on a journey that involves a rather windy road through the Nyungwe National Park is not properly explained.

The local leader quoted in the cattle theft story preferred to dismiss the residents' claims as exaggeration. No wonder, how could the entire security apparatus in the district fail to prevent or halt the theft of property that is both slower and larger than a motor vehicle? In Huye, it would seem one can move a small herd at night without being detected and that, dear reader, is in no small part because these thieves are working in the un-electrified dark. With increased lighting, the lives of farmers everywhere will improve.

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