Junmey Wang
Student Writer

Every person you pass by has a story if you’d stop – and listen. This is a work-in-progress – a project to share the voices around us that are awaiting to be heard. The stories you’ll read here help us explore universal truths and our common humanity, bringing to light the points in which our varied paths intersect and diverge. This is an invitation to reclaim the conversations and moments that we easily let slip in between the cracks: the ones that make us real.

irebepicIrebe Umusangwa
International Business Major

I’ve been asked, “Do you have wild animals as pets?”

“Do you live in huts?”

“Do you wear shoes in Africa?”

A lot of Western media reinforces stereotypes of Africans: on TV, they are portrayed as poor, helpless kids with flies buzzing around them.

I don’t appreciate how Africa is commonly objectified and judged by Western standards. Many claim that my country, Rwanda is not a democracy, that my President, Paul Kwagame is a dictator.

(An example of such claims was made by Freedom House, an American NGO based in Washington, D.C)

Last year, 97% of Rwandans voted yes to changing the constitution so that my President could govern a third term: that process was democratic. People love him. They are happy. He’s all about making changes. We have this initiative called Vision 2020—the aim is that by the year 2020, we’ll be a middle-income country, and we will not need foreign aid. For me, democracy is power to the people: the people decide. That is exactly what has been happening in Rwanda.

And still, non-Africans insist we’re not a democracy. If you don’t know our history, if you don’t engage our culture—who gave you authority to say what we are or what we are not?

If you look at Rwanda, there’s so much more to it than the 1994 genocide. People are moving forward, we are engaged in a process of reconciliation, and we’re an example of peace to many countries. It’s incredible—how after 22 years, we are in such a better place than we used to be.

Rwanda has the largest percentage of women in parliament—over 60%—in the world. We are progressing in so many aspects. Many people have been lifted out of poverty. It’s one of the most technologically-advanced places in Africa. And yet, on social media, poverty in the continent is all that is shown.

For so many centuries, African countries have been colonized, ruled under monarchs, absolutes, dictatorships. For centuries. So how can the West impose expectations on these countries? How can it be an authority on where Africa should be at this point, politically?

There’s still a long way for African countries to develop and grow—and for Western countries to respect us.

Author’s Note:

On June 2, 2015, The Freedom House published a piece entitled ’Game Over’ for Democracy in Rwanda, describing Rwanda as “one of the most repressive countries in Africa,” and that there was little hope for the country’s democratization in the near future. Part of the piece reads:

“…Rwanda is already embarking on a constitutional amendment that would allow President Paul Kagame to rule the country indefinitely.

…The country best-positioned to leverage its influence and tell the Rwandan regime that enough is enough is the United States. Washington’s influence with Rwanda is fourfold: 1) it is the largest donor, contributing $110 million a year on average; 2) it trains, equips, and transports Rwandan peacekeeping forces; 3) it has provided Kagame with immunity against a lawsuit regarding alleged acts committed prior to his becoming head of state; and 4) it gives Rwanda diplomatic support at the United Nations whenever the regime gets into trouble.”