Kigali, Rwanda–Back in the capital last night, a few of us rushed to visit the Kigali Memorial Center, which was opened four years ago on the tenth anniversary of the genocide.
The memorial is built on a site where 250,000 victims of the genocide were interred by Kigali authorities after countless unidentified people in shallow graves were found buried all across the city.
We began the visit with a somber viewing of one of 15 giant vaults that hold the remains, bowing our heads in silence for a moment to think about the enormity of what was in front of us.
While on a guided tour of the exhibit, I received a call from Clinton’s staff that the President would give me the interview I had requested right away. So still in my field clothes from the day ‘s various outings around Rwanda, I was taken to Clinton’s hotel.
Read about the interview (and click on an MP3 file at the bottom to listen to the interview) in the extended entry.
“By any measure their progress has been extraordinary,” Clinton said. “It’s a tribute … to the people, their willingness, their determination to get beyond the past without denying it … That’s what the whole genocide memorial is about … all the education programs, the way they present it, the way it’s never swept under the rug.”
Clinton spoke of his deep respect for not only the leaders of Rwanda but also people at grassroots level.
“For years now, the people that I have dealt with, both in the support I’ve tried to give early on for the building of the memorial to the genocide, and then when I got involved in AIDS, and then in building up the health care system and … the economic projects which you’ve seen–I’ve been really impressed by the quality of the people that we’ve worked with at the grassroots level. All the way from the coffee farmers and the cassava farmers and the community health workers to the governmental officials we’re working with. It’s been an exceptional thing. They’ve done remarkably well.”
An indicator of the progress of the country, Clinton said, was that when he first came to Rwanda in 1998 the per capita income of the country was U.S.$300 per year. It’s now $1,000. “That’s a stunning increase in a decade,” he said.
But Clinton also sees challenges ahead for Rwanda.
“Can they continue this sustaining growth and reconciliation process so that they grow economically and politically at the same time? In order to do that I think they have to continue their education system, continue to get more private investment in here, and develop the most sensible energy policy they can going forward.”
Rwanda needs to become more energy independent, he continued. Solar energy and harvesting of the vast quantities of methane emitted by Lake Kivu could make big contributions. [Lake Kivu emits the gas, it is believed, because its water interacts with an active volcano.]
Another concern Clinton has for Rwanda is the high population growth rate. “When you get to 2.9 percent then you are dramatically increasing the population every decade … They were just under eight million in 1998 and now they’re just under ten million,” a rate of expansion that would make it difficult for Rwanda to sustain economic growth while maintaining ecological balance.
“They’re going to have to … get many more people into education, [and retain] young people in the education system longer so that they delay the age of marriage and the age of first child-bearing in order to have some more balance in population growth,” Clinton said.
A condensed version of more of the interview will be published on National Geographic News.
Audio file of the full 27-minute interview: NG_Clinton_interview.mp3