Land of a Thousand Hills

American economist Thomas Sowell once wrote “You will never understand bureaucracies until you understand that for bureaucrats procedure is everything and outcomes are nothing.”  The less I write here about Ugandan bureaucracy, the better.  Suffice it to say that, like Thomas Sowell, I am coming to understand bureaucracies.  Our little family is experiencing an unexpected extension to our stay in Kampala as we attempt to satisfy the considerable (and implausible!) documentary requirements of state officials. Although frustrating, this additional time has allowed us to reinforce old relationships and establish new connections with the Christian lawyers of East Africa. Next week, I will be begin assisting the Ugandan Christian Lawyers Fraternity (UCLF) nearly eight years since the time I first walked through their door as a wide-eyed Africa novice starting a seven month internship. At that time the UCLF’s Director was a certain Annet Ttendo. Sitting across from her that first morning in Uganda I had no idea of the incredible journey that God had in store for both of us.

Reconnecting with UCLF has been exciting, but so was the opportunity to talk and share with our Kenyan and Rwandan colleagues. A conference arranged by the British based Lawyers Christian Fellowship allowed Christian lawyers from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique and the UK to meet at Jinja, Uganda for seminars and fellowship. From this conference I found myself invited to Kigali, Rwanda to visit the Lawyers of Hope.

Red dirt and rolling hills, tranquil papyrus fringed lakes and terraced tea plantations formed the backdrop while our Jaguar Executive Coach chugged up hill and down slope trailing puffs of diesel. The serenity outside of the window revealed little of Rwanda’s traumatic past. Upon crossing the border from Uganda, first impressions show this diminutive country to be well organised and debris free, in contrast to its larger neighbour states. Indeed, Rwanda’s reputation for litter free landscapes, verdant valleys and precipitous peaks has earned it monikers such as ‘land of a thousand hills’ and ‘the Switzerland of Africa’. Much of East Africa’s perennial bustle was absent despite intensive farming and the presence of hillside toiling labourers. No roadside food vendors, no honking taxis, no begging children and belligerent hawkers. Arriving in Kigali by dusk further enhanced this impression, as the coach glided to the bus park on perfectly tarmacked streets bordered by pristine pavements. There were even street lamps! I found myself wishing that other African countries could come and learn from Rwanda.

Yet it is easy to allow the appearance of order and cleanliness to obscure some of the injustices that lie below the surface. A visit to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial was a sobering reminder of how swiftly injustice can accelerate. When I did meet with some of the Lawyers of Hope (LoH), they were quick to remind me of the issues they have to deal with on a daily basis. Child rights abuses, gender based violence, inheritance disputes, detainees’ rights ignored and land wrangles are all frequently occurring and LoH run a number of well organised projects to address these injustices. In particular, LoH focus their resources on protecting children from abuse, neglect and exploitation by empowering local communities to establish child protection committees and supporting existing community leaders and institutions. You can read more about Lawyers of Hope on their website including some stories of people they have helped here. I am thankful to Safari, Egide and Juves who welcomed me so warmly and provided so much stimulating discussion and inspiring ideas. The time spent with LoH, UCLF and the Kenyan Christian Lawyers is valuable and prompts the realisation that we are all working as part of God’s greater justice mission.

After spending several days in Kigali, the novelty of order and regimentation began to fade. I found myself almost yearning for the lively, noisy, dusty roadside chaos of the rest of Africa. As the return coach meandered through coffee crammed valleys I was able to reflect on the promise and challenges of Rwanda. It has taken time and hard work to develop to such a high level following the genocide of 1994. Given more time and the efforts of our kindred spirits at LoH it is my hope that Rwanda will be an increasingly impressive example of social justice to its larger sub-Saharan peers.

 

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