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December 12, 2013

Into Africa

Driven by equal parts passion and ambition, young Americans are taking a career path less traveled to Rwanda, turning life experience into a world of good, almost 20 years after the genocide.


Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Torgovnik

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Under Kagame's strict rule, political dissent that could promote a return to ethnic divisiveness is suppressed, plastic bags and litter are illegal, and any identification of the "H" or "T" ethnic groups is frowned upon. "We're all Rwandans now" is the mandated refrain. Police disperse even a small crowd, as any public gathering might be perceived as a threat. The country boasts modern highways and high rates of literacy. It has the world's highest percentage of women in government (64 percent). Its health-care plan, which insures nearly 98 percent of citizens, is considered the gold standard for the developing world, and the economy has improved more than 8 percent a year over the last decade. But there is still great poverty in rural areas, and 43 percent of children under age 5 are chronically malnourished. The government has been criticized for imposing restrictions on civil liberties and violating human rights, and next door in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world's deadliest war has raged for almost two decades, a reminder of the fragile stability of the region.

A mainstay of Kagame's plan has been to reconstruct the country into nothing short of Africa's greatest success story. To that end, Rwanda discerningly opened its doors to outside aid, investment, and ideas. "Having come from the history we inherited, we needed any help that we could get," says Clare Akamanzi, chief operating officer of the Rwanda Development Board, which is leading the country's drive for private investment in information technology, business, and tourism. "We didn't have the necessary expertise, knowledge, and resources. But we were determined to make it."

Photo: Daisy Freund on a moto taxi, a ubiquitous mode of transportation in Kigali. "I ran a restaurant in Rwanda," says Freund, who managed Heaven restaurant, opened by two other Americans. "If that doesn’t give me confidence, I don’t know what would."

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