Earlier this year I visited Rwanda during the commemoration of the 1994 genocide in which nearly a million were slaughtered as the international community stood by.
The stories and images of the dead, and the testimony of survivors and perpetrators had lasting impacts; and one of those was a desire to do anything I can to help this remarkable country and its people.
We spent much of our visit, organised by
CPA UK, looking forward to where Rwanda wants to be in future. Thanks in large part to international aid, Rwandans have access to schools and healthcare, roads are tarmacked and 72 per cent of the population have access to clean water (with 30 per cent having access to clean running water). The country is also self-sufficient in produce.
Although over 90 per cent of Rwandans have access to education, politicians are concerned about the quality of teaching. A decade ago, Hackney’s schools were underperforming and now we have some of the best in the country. There are lessons that we can share with Rwanda.
Recently I worked with
CPA UKon the reciprocal visit from four Rwandan parliamentarians. I arranged to focus on education, media relations and dealing with addiction.
Twenty years ago the genocide was fuelled by local radio stations and it is not surprising that President Kagame’s government has clamped down on media activity and dissent. One of Parliament’s tabloid lobby correspondents and I led a session to explain the benefits of a free press and transparency. Rwandan politicians face little serious scrutiny from the media and we discussed the importance of properly trained journalists.
Perhaps more enthusiastically, the Rwandans joined me at a local primary school in Shoreditch, meeting the school council, observing lessons and learning how Hackney has turned its schools around.
The visit was as important to the school, which celebrates its international make-up, as it was to the Rwandans.
My constituency is the Ellis Island of the UK, and the visiting parliamentarians met a pupil whose mother left Rwanda 15 years ago. The family will be relocating to Rwanda before Christmas. The diaspora communities in Hackney have strong connections with their mother countries and contribute thousands of pounds to them via remittances.
We also met local charity, the Spitalfields Crypt Trust which works to tackle addiction. While Rwanda is advanced in the provision of psychological support, it has little experience of tackling addition which is beginning to emerge as an issue.
And Rwanda has benefitted from many millions in international aid. This long-term financial support from the UK and international bodies means that it is important that British parliamentarians scrutinise how that money has made a difference; for example through the International Development Committee’s recent inquiry into Aid to Rwanda. I strongly support our aid programme and it is important that we monitor the value for money of British tax pounds spent in aid.
The relationships developed through reciprocal programmes such as this must be long-term. A visit either way is not a one-off but part of a sustained relationship through which we can learn from each other and share experiences. In this global village the benefits of long-term shared learning are self-evident.
Rwanda has a long way to go; but ongoing support and constructive challenge will play an important part in its future.