Saturday, August 02, 2008

Rwanda reflection : "Anna Karenina"

I read “Anna Karenina” while in Tanzania : it is likely to be a while before I again get such a chunk of time for reading. I expected a sharp contrast between the snows of Russia and the heat of East Africa, but I was surprised by some of the parallels between Russia in the 1870s and modern-day Rwanda.
There is considerable discussion in the book about how conservative the Russian peasants are and how hard it is to get them to adopt modern (foreign) farming methods and technology. This conservatism certainly also exists in Rwanda. Modern technology (especially computers and mobile phones) are accepted and coveted, but what might be described as “intermediate” or appropriate” farming technology and techniques is quite hard to implement.
The building of schools and hospitals is another topic of some importance. On one occasion a visitor to a hospital construction site asks about an adjacent building. “That is accommodation for the staff”, he is told. “It was built as an afterthought, without plans and is not quite in the right location”. I know of several Rwandan examples….
There are parallels, too, in the social pressures which are changing long-standing traditions. In the Russian situation, there is discussion about young women wanting to choose their own marriage partners and one of the central themes of the book is what happens when marriages fail and how that is different for men and women. In Rwanda, much of traditional life is already under threat and will continue to be under increasing pressure from western influences. This goes from the relatively trivial (carrying things on the head is almost universal in rural areas but rare in Kigali) to the much more important, where western time-driven values are being strongly promoted by the government.

This is not to say that Rwanda is more than 100 years “behind”. It is to say, however, that the required and indeed actual speed of development is not just rapid but supersonic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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