Rwanda: Comparison with Kenya

It’s been a week since I got here. It’s only natural I compare Rwanda and Kenya in almost every conversation I have. In Kenya this would never happen, in Kenya this is how we do it, in Kenya we do this, we do that, we hate this, we love that…. I hope my workmates are not tired of me yapping all day. I try to keep it to a minimum and to avoid saying just how better we are than them, because we are not. Our technology may be better, the education system may be way ahead, but in the end we’re all just people. Equal yet not equal.

Three things bother me, actually, four things bother me about this country. I love Rwanda so far, but it has a long way to go. Eric, a colleague of mine, told me he listens to East Africa Radio and they always ask, “Rwanda mtaweza kweli?”

The first thing that disturbs me is people’s reaction to white people. Don’t get me wrong, if a white person goes to a remote village in Kenya, everyone is bound to get curious and a little excited. It’s allowed. But here, it’s a little too much. My host (the guest house owner) told me sometimes when she opens the gate, she may find adult women who stop walking to just stare at her. One time they even formed a semi-circle and just stared until she’d closed the gate.

When Julie and the rest of the team, I included, drove up to Rushubi Primary School to prepare the classroom for lessons this year, all the kids in the playground stopped what they were doing to run to her. They had surrounded her so much she could hardly take a step. Some of the little kids were falling over and getting stepped on; it was almost a stampede. Whenever she’s driving, kids who know her shout her name, which is great, and she honks at them. Those who don’t know also call out, mzungu, mzungu and ask for something. Most kids almost always wave, at first I also waved back till I realized, oh, I’m not included in the waves. So now I don’t wave back.


Children from Rushubi Primary School when we visited

Children from Rushubi Primary School when we visited

There is always an association in people’s minds of white people and an unlimited amount of money, which is common all over the world and more so here.

The second thing that bothers me is the newness of things. When I first came here, I was so excited to see almost everything looks new. The roads, the buildings, the fences… when we drove through the countryside, the farms looked like they hadn’t been around for long, the houses looked like people had just begun to live in them. It’s been only 15 years since the genocide so this should not surprise me, the country is still rebuilding. At first it was exciting to see how new and organized everything looks, but now it just makes me a little sad. I like the way there is a permanence to old things. An assurance that since these buildings have been here for so long, they’ll still be here many years to come. If you go to our home in the village, where my grandmother still lives, there’s a feeling that we’re all totally settled and the place has been and will always be there. With new things, you can only hope that they’ll last, that just maybe this is the last time they’ll have to rebuild.


A view of the volcanoes (can you see them in the distance) from the appropriately named Volcana Lounge where we sometimes hang out in the evenings

A view of the volcanoes (can you see them in the distance) from the appropriately named Volcana Lounge where we sometimes hang out in the evenings

The third thing that has me sleepless at night (let’s just say it’s not the source of the sleepless but I think about it whenever am awake) is the education system in Rwanda. This is the third week of January and schools have not yet opened officially. Can you imagine that? While in Kenya, it takes two days for kids to settle in school and learning to start, in Rwanda, schools don’t even open on the first week of January but on the second, and even then kids may not turn up for school for almost two weeks. The primary 8 results are not yet out (by the time am typing this they’re already a week late) and like Kenya they determine which secondary school you go to. The laxity with which they are taking their education is just disturbing.

The standard of education needs a lot of improvement. Rwanda switched to English as its official language but hardly anyone speaks it. The teachers themselves don’t know it very well, so sometimes they teach in Kinyarwanda. Kids in primary five can hardly understand what you’re telling them in English, let alone express themselves beyond, “my name is….” and good morning, good night and bye.

The teachers looked like a sad lot to me. Okay, maybe not sad but there is no enthusiasm in them. If you’re teaching kids, you have to be motivated. They’re paid so poorly ( I don’t know the exact amount, will try to find out) and there may be salary delays. Teachers all over the world may be underpaid, but any government that knows the importance of education should realize that a motivated teaching workforce is the key.

The last thing that bothers me is lack of openness. The fear of the police. The way there are some things you can’t talk about. The way you can’t criticize Kagame. He’s a great man but he’s not perfect. But these things take time.


A message in Kinyarwanda that is displayed in front of all classrooms. I'll get the translation to English later.

A message in Kinyarwanda that is displayed in front of all classrooms. I’ll get the translation to English later.

I just hope there is some way I can contribute towards Rwanda’s development. It needs the support of the rest of East Africa.

Onto Lighter Matters:

I have had some good times here. Remember the cute guy who came to stay at this guest house with his parents? Well, he came with his American girlfriend who’s of Chinese/Japanese origin. Sad, right? I don’t think the gf considered me a threat so we spent the second night chatting with him before dinner. He has the heaviest American accent I’ve ever heard, it’s like he swallows all his words. He was reading some book about Rwanda in ’94 and he’d put a thumb we he’d stopped so I told him I’d give him my bookmark.

At dinner time, we sat next to each other and I noticed how well toned he looked 😉 and his hair is like golden (it’s some shade of brown, I think). After dinner, his parents retired for the night and they live in Kigali. They offered me a place to crash if am ever in town, they’re sweet people.

Then we also left to go to bed and since our rooms are next door, cute guy (his name’s Matt) came into my room and I searched among my books for the bookmark I had. It was written something like: from someone who loves you or crap like that and I thought it’d give a strong hint. I couldn’t find the damn thing!

Rwanda Room

Rwanda Room

Anyway, he said it’s the thought that really matters and thanks and then he gave me his card with his number and email. I asked him what he does for a living and he said he’s a personal trainer and massage expert. I told him if am ever in Oregon I’d give him a call. I’d certainly do with a massage, LOL. Then he gave me a long goodnight hug, sad I may never see him again.

The following day, as they were leaving early in the morning, I woke up to say bye and gave Matt a bookmark I had improvised. You know those decoration cards you find in new wallets? I never threw mine away so I scribbled my number at the back and gave him the bookmark.

Time will tell.

This entry was posted in Relationships, Rwanda, Technology, mobile, internet, Travel, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Rwanda: Comparison with Kenya

  1. Igna says:

    Time will tell indeed. Haha, anyway Kenyans were ushered into capitalism immediately after independence and everyone is in a hurry for everything.

    yeah, things take time


  2. Divas Shadow says:

    These are growing pains. Not so long ago Kenya was just like this. For instance, I am actually from a time where our KCPE results came thankfully (avoided ruining our holiday) after New Years! and also we always opened school on the 2nd week of Jan. Except if you were in a GCE school. Also there are plenty of rural areas in Kenya which still struggle with English, both students and teachers at the 5th grade level!
    Be patient Rwanda will come around – your observations are growing pains of a country! 🙂

    Yeah, the art of patience is something I have to learn. Countries don’t just develop overnight. It’s a lovely country, nevertheless.


    • Anchor says:

      Liked your comment Divas. Indeed Rwanda will come around. I suppose Kenyan’s rural setting still has things Savvy referred to as ‘bothering’, including poor English. Just imagine Kenyans would accommodate French is transition was initiated today!!! Your guess is as good as mine. I’m not so sure about your view that Kenyan education system may be better, I only know that they are simply different. This explains why Kenyan students rush to Uganda for something ‘better’…

      Kenyans go to Uganda in search of cheaper education…. what I mean about Rwanda’s education system is it’s still catching up. You can’t get adequate post graduate places, diverse courses etc. As Divas said, it takes time and we wish Rwanda the best.

      One other thing, may be your stay wasn’t long enough, but Rwanda, as you rightly put it, is rebuilding and nothing indicates that the destruction is awaiting by the corner. Well, no one knew that Kenyans would also kill each other after so much ‘stability’. Lack of open criticism is not just about Kagame, but something inherit in the Rwandan way of ‘doing things’. Unlike in other EA countries, leaders are often too respected, something that explains (partly) the centralised system even in traditional Rwanda.

      I’m sure everything will get better with time, we’ll learn it’s okay to criticize leaders and they learn to accept the criticism. No man is perfect.


  3. QQ says:

    Massage and personal trainer? Haya jackpot! You should by hav let him leave. Tied him to the bedposts If u had to

    I’m going to get handcuffs just in case another cute one comes along 😉


  4. Arthurnyoiks says:

    I think we also had that thing of fearing prezzos and their ‘people’ especially during the Moi regime. Hehe. Anyway, all we can do is wish them the best as they chanuka kama wenzao.
    I also see ulikuwa unatry kurushia mlami. Hehe.

    I guess it’s a stage ‘democracies’ have to go through. Sikuwa namrushia juu ye ni mlami, ni juu alikuwa mcute 😉


  5. Jeanine Wambui says:

    Just finished and tho all this may be true, the writer failed to mention all the positive and potential I saw in Rwanda. First thing, the people. I have never seen such warm and welcoming people… You could go on a public bus and start a discussion where everyone would happily pitch in. |No one is to busy for anyone else…they are one…Unlike here. And Rwanda has so much growth..everywhere there can actually see growthhappening wth ur own eyes. I have also never seen a cleaner place..when I was there, my friends and I went to intentionally look for pieces of trash on the street coz we couldnt believe how clean it was! Every last sato of the month….everyone cleans the abt unity and togetherness…this is just a few of the good things I noticed in Rwanda

    Thanks for correction, it’s all true, what you said. I guess I omitted the things that amaze me, maybe I should do a post about that. Things That Amaze me about Rwanda.

    I’m really more of a subjective writer, it’s just my blog, nothing professional about it. So it’s bound to have some errors.

    Anyway, yeah, never seen a cleaner country! Well, I’ve only been to Uganda besides Kenya and my home country, but Rwanda is so far the cleanest.

    Could be due to the fact that they don’t allow polythene bags into the country, so you never see much plastic trash by the roadside.


    • anchor says:

      A bit of history – Even before the polythene bags were abolished rwanda, Kigali was an exceptionally clean city compared to ‘organised slums’ we call cities in the region. Believe it or not, it’s one of very few cities in EA that has a master plan! If you looked hard between line, you would have realised that being organized, not necessarily in a hurried way, is an ‘in thing’ for Rwandans.

      Thanks for this insight! Clearly we could emulate Rwanda when it comes to planning!


    • Mainaqamau says:

      jeanine mhh nice to knw am heading to rwanda in two weeks….


  6. Savvy,
    Glad you’re having a good time in Rwanda so far! the updates on your adventures are interesting and funny, keep them coming!

    thanks, you’re very encouraging!


  7. JacqueNdinda says:

    The laxity in the education sector really had me worked up!!! Id love to know about the publishing Industry there…magazines and is it?

    I’ll do some research and tell you, though am kinda far from the capital, where everything happens

    The Volcano pic is just amazing id love to visit Rwanda someday… and your apple of the eye … Interesting!!!

    Well, it was just to pass time, the apple, I mean. Nothing serious


  8. Our Kid says:

    Murakoze! It sure is interesting to read this after my one week in Kigali.

    I see you learnt murakoze! And maramutse?

    I think the curiosity about a mzungu is not an extraordinary occurrence and even in Kenya that happens quite frequently. I happen to run a small football club in Kibera and whenever anyone comes over to visit our offices, there are cries of kids yelling ‘mzungu’ and people staring at them like they are not humans. The same thing happens when they go to the countryside. I do understand this though sometimes it cam be trying on the mzungu to have all this people looking at you like you are in a zoo. My friend who travelled to Montana was surprised when people asked if they could pose for photos with him.

    Well, I never ant to be stared at as if am not human

    I think you could also try to write about the positives. I just found too many! (If you know what mean….he he)

    I’ve written about the positives, thanks for the suggestion

    But there is something about the laidback nature of the people, sometimes appearing too slow to do some things. That lack of aggressive behavior that you see in Kenyans. Maybe that explains why the schools haven’t quite been filled to the brim in the new term.

    Kenyans are the most aggressive people in EA, I agree

    I was able to walk around Kigali at 2am so I think the fear of police also contributes to increased security in the country, something that Kenyans cannot boast of. I hear police in Kenya executed three people in broad daylight along Langata Road so I guess if anything, Kenyans should actually fear their police more! In Rwanda, there is more order. Everyone wearing a helmet on a boda boda motorcycle unlike in Kenya where none of the people do that. Those beautiful trees between the rads as you come from the airport, contrasted with Alfie Mutua uprooting flowers and then planting ‘stones’ on our roads and then uprooting them and planting flowers.

    LOL @ uprooting trees to plant stones

    Its those little things that make me quite certain that Rwanda will one day overtake Kenya as an economic giant.

    I don’t think it can overtake us really, considering its size. Size matters.

    About your little side note, SAVVY! Come on.

    Hey, I have to find a way to pass my free time in this town. Don’t judge until you’ve been in my shoes.


    • Anchor says:

      Size rarely matters in such matters…watch my lips. Actually, have you ever wondered who owns Kenya’s economy!!

      Yes you are right, size doesn’t really matter. I hadn’t thought of it that way!


  9. cesky cess says:

    U’re in so much trouble! U really like this guy.

    well, I find time helps me forget such nonsense like ‘liking’ guys 😀


  10. Sad story there! It feels just like yesterday i watched “shooting Dogs”

    there are positives to this sad story.


  11. Pretty nice article. I just came upon your web site and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed reading your weblog posts. I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again shortly!

    well, as long as you are subscribed, you wont miss any posts, thanks!


  12. Anchor says:

    Size rarely matters in such matters…otherwise Belgium would be poor. Actually, have you ever wondered who owns Kenya’s economy!!


  13. anchor says:

    A bit of history – Even before the polythene bags were abolished in Rwanda, Kigali was an exceptionally clean city compared to other ‘organised slums’ we call cities in the region. Believe it or not, it’s one of very few cities in EA that has a master plan! If you looked hard between line, you would have realised that being organized, not necessarily in a hurried way, is an ‘in thing’ for Rwandans.


  14. William says:

    You are well observative,
    you could tell more of what rwanda is tops in. something like what we should emulate from them. then also the opportunities that there are in rwanda.. lol

    if I go back I’ll do my research… lots of people asked me for opportunities in Rwanda.


  15. shique winny says:

    wow..i love your writing @SavvyKenya for a moment i thot i was reading a novel 🙂
    haha! that bookmark stunt was just the winner though it dint really work as expected…you know what they say..”there’s always a next time” which might just be better than the 1st :-p


  16. christietina says:

    I have always wanted to travel to Rwanda some day..I am still looking forward to that time.. Great post you have there!


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