Rwanda:After the genocide, Rwanda imposes order with a price

Published on by KANYARWANDA

After the genocide, Rwanda imposes order with a price

Hundreds of young people, arrested for petty crimes, stand in formation for the arrival of a government minister to Iwawa Island, in Lake Kivu, Rwanda.NEW YORK TIMES / JEHAD NGA
Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 30, 2010 at 7:10 p.m.

IWAWA ISLAND, Rwanda -- A few months ago, Gasigwa Gakunzi was hanging around a ramshackle house where poor children pay to watch television when the Rwandan police arrested him for loitering. The next thing he knew, he said, he was taken away from his family and carted off to this remote island in the middle of Lake Kivu.

Gasigwa, 14, now spends his days learning how to sing patriotic songs and march like a soldier. He sleeps in a huge sheet-metal shed with hundreds of men.

"Please call my father," he whispered. "He has no idea where I am."

Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children, have been rounded up from the nation's neatly-swept streets and sent -- without trial or even appearing in court -- to this little-known outpost for up to three years to be "rehabilitated," learning skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and motorcycle maintenance.

It is one of the country's newest self-improvement projects, and it seems to be a fitting symbol for what many political analysts say Rwanda has become: orderly but repressive.

Under President Paul Kagame, this tiny African country, which exploded in ethnic bloodshed 16 years ago, is now one of the safest, cleanest and least corrupt nations on the continent. Roads are smoothly paved; there is national health insurance; neighborhoods hold monthly clean-ups; the computer network is among the best in the region; and the public fountains are full of water, not weeds. All of this in one of the poorest countries in the world, where the average income is less than $3 a day.

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