More than two decades after a devastating genocide, Rwanda is making progress in the fight against poverty. But millions still struggle to meet their daily needs—and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens many more.
A history of ethnic tension culminated in the devastating genocide of 1994, in which more than 800,000 people were killed. In the aftermath, many millions more found themselves pushed into poverty and struggling to meet their basic needs. In the decades since, Rwanda has instituted reconciliation measures to help bring healing and forgiveness between different ethnic groups in communities across the country. For many places, these measures have been successful and progress steady.
Agriculture counts for much of Rwanda’s economy. A recent focus on information and communications technology and a strong tourism sector have helped the economy to grow. From 2001 to 2014, these strong economic gains meant that the poverty rate dropped from 59 to 39 per cent (measured by the national poverty line). But that momentum plateaued between 2014 and 2017 and poverty has risen in the past few years.
President Paul Kagame was re-elected in August 2018, following an amendment to the constitution in December 2015 that allowed him to run for an unprecedented third seven-year term. While his admirers say he has done more than anyone to lift millions of Rwandans out of poverty, critics point to the suppression of criticism and the free press, violence against political opposition and a resurgent poverty rate.
As with so many developing nations, the battle against the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is only just beginning for Rwanda and the virus’s full effect remains to be seen. But distancing and isolation measures have hit the poorest people hardest and, in many cases, they can’t work at all. Thousands of families face a renewed threat of hunger and the choice between risking disease and trying to survive without a sustainable income.
For children in need, access to the basics of life—education, shelter, medical assistance, good nutrition and safe water—is difficult. It is these children that local churches are focused on, as they live out the love of Jesus and share a hope more powerful than poverty.