After passing through the Nairobi airport for the third time it was time to begin the last leg of my journey and off I flew to Kigali, Rwanda. I had no idea what to expect – would it be like Uganda? Would I feel the underlying tension of the genocide that occurred about 20 years ago?
Was I in for a surprise!
The first thing I noticed was that no visa was required to enter Rwanda and that the immigration officers did not sit in glass booths like they do everywhere else in the world. Instead they sat out in the open in small kiosks. Then after looking at my passport it was stamped and handed back to me with a smile and the statement “Welcome to Rwanda.” It was then and there I knew my experience was going to be different.
After collecting my luggage I was met by my guide Patrick (I seem to meet a lot of Patricks) and we headed out for a tour of Kigali. The first thing I noticed was how amazingly clean the city was. Patrick told me there were several reasons for this. One is that the residents of Kigali took pride in their city.
But I also learned that the entire country has banned plastic bags! The ever-present plastic bags that fill the streets and choke waterways with trash elsewhere are gone. If you land with a plastic bag in your hand it is confiscated. And while paper bags may be more expensive and less durable one could only imagine the improvement if the entire continent of Africa banned plastic bags – not to mention the entire world.
But there is another reason the city is so clean — In Kigali, the last Saturday of the month is a compulsory cleaning day that everyone takes part in, including the President. As was explained by my guide, this promotes teamwork and gives everyone a personal stake in the beauty, progress, and success of their city. All businesses come to a stop in Kigali for the day. Besides keeping the city neat and tidy, this cleaning day has helped Rwanda recover from genocide and civil war in multiple ways by creating a sense of purpose and togetherness amongst Kigali residents.
As a statement from Paul Kagame, Rwandan President clearly states: “Keeping our streets clean, keeping our homesteads clean, ourselves clean, is not something we need to go out looking for… It is something we have within ourselves, why not start from that? It becomes a culture, it becomes a way of life.”
Think if we had “cleaning day” here in the U.S. It is an inspiration that can revitalize and reinvigorate cities facing economic decline. The first signs of decline are a dirty and poorly maintained city. A compulsory day of cleaning helps residents work together to maintain their city and play a part in the revitalization of the area.
We could learn something from Kigali. That first day told me Rwanda was going to be a wonderful experience.