From Rwanda to Vermont

Last Monday, November 10, Dr. Zac Nsenga who is the ambassador to the United States from Rwanda gave a speech and press conference in association with Vermont’s Center for Social Responsibility. The purpose of the press conference was to “raise the Rwandan profile in Vermont and discussing issues of mutual concern.” Several times throughout the conference Dr. Nsenga compared Rwanda to Vermont. The cows, green mountains, and friendly atmosphere is remarkably similar to Rwanda. He spent three days in the Green Mountain State meeting the Mayor of Burlington and joining a round-table discussion on Rwandan trade and economic partnerships. Dr. Nsenga first discussed his life and the twentieth century history of Rwanda. The small African country landlocked between the Congo, Uganda, Burundi and Tanzania was occupied by the Germans and then the Belgians. The Belgians established a policy which allowed those Rwandans with Cuacasian facial features to work in high ranking positions, creating an ethnic “ruling class”. This class was called the Tutsi, and accounted for about ten percent of the population. The other ninety percent dwelled in poverty without basic human rights and were labeled Hutu. In 1959, the Hutus revolted against the Europeans and the Tutsi. The tensions expanded until the 1994 genocidal explosion. Almost one million Tutsis were slaughtered en masse while the United States and Western Europe ignored the atrocity. The topic of the ambassador’s speech was not the Rwandan genocide, but Rwanda’s economy and its current state. Rwanda has regained the security lost during the genocide. Its capitol, Kigali, is one of the safest cities in the region. A report from the World Bank comparing seventy-four developing nations, reported Rwanda as one of the best governed and least corrupt countries in comparison. Rwanda has not fully recovered from the genocide, but it has made steps. The country is planning to hold a “free, transparent and competitive multiparty election of the office of President and legislative assembly”; a major advancement for the country. Cari Clement, a representative of the Rwanda Knitting Project, was also at the conference. The Rwandan Knitting Projects outfits poverty stricken women in Rwanda with home knitting machines and mohair. With these materials the women make clothing. The non-profit organization then sells their products in the United States and Europe. The program’s goals are to “assist [Rwandan women] in forming cooperatives to manage the business… and to create high-end knitting projects for re-sale.” (Rwanda Knitting Project) So far 60 machines have been sent and the group plans to take one thousand more machines in January. The Center for Social Responsibility and its sister programs (such as the Rwandan Knitting Project) are local non-profit organizations which are seeking donations in order to continue their work in Rwanda. For more information you can check the web at or contact the Center for Social Responsibility at (802)-229-0137.