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Rwanda: Millennium Village
After 1994 genocide, a country journeys back


Janet Tobias

In 2004, Janet Tobias co-founded Ikana Media, a digital consulting and television company. Prior to this, she worked for Sawyer Media Systems, a San Francisco-based software and media company, which was an early developer of Internet video portal software. Between 2000 and 2002,Tobias was the executive producer of the Emmy award-winning "LIFE 360," a weekly PBS series that combined documentary with dramatic and comic monologues. Tobias started her network news career at "60 Minutes" as associate producer to Diane Sawyer.

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Length: 13:03

As you drive from the airport into Rwanda's capital, Kigali, you immediately notice there is something different about this African country. First, there is almost no trash on the streets. Then you notice that almost everyone obeys the traffic laws; motorcycle taxi drivers and their passengers always wear helmets; and women walk alone safely after dark.

People are quick to tell you that everyone in the country right up to President Kagame spends the last Saturday of every month doing public service projects. And they are keen to boast about the number of women holding important positions. Rwanda is the first country in the world where women are in the majority in parliament.

Rwanda feels like a country on the move. It is hard to believe this is the place that most of the world still associates with genocide and ethnic strife.

In 1994, Rwanda was ripped apart by violence so apocalyptic that nearly 1 million people died in the span of approximately 100 days. Rwandans now appear bent on taking responsibility for their fate. Repeatedly, I heard people say that they were responsible for what went wrong. But now they will be responsible for what goes right. They will be an African success story.


Rwanda feels like a country on the move. It is hard to believe of a place that most of the world still associates with genocide and ethnic strife.

My original impetus for going to Rwanda was to look at the Millennium Villages Project, an ambitious poverty reduction plan for Africa launched in 2004 by The Earth Institute at Columbia University.

The brainchild of economist Jeffrey Sachs, the project aims to show that extreme poverty can be eliminated or at least drastically reduced within five years if you rigorously apply the latest science and technology to agriculture, health, education and infrastructure.

The first millennium model village was started in Kenya. Since then, the project has expanded to 80 villages across 10 African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

The village project in Rwanda interested me in particular because tackling poverty in a country with such a devastating recent history seemed like the ultimate test.

We first traveled to Mayange, a village cluster of 25,000 people, in the spring of 2006, soon after the project had been launched. We returned in May 2008, when the village was about half way through the five-year plan to turn its fortunes around. As the video story reveals, we saw substantial progress in crop diversity and production, health care and education throughout the Mayange settlement.


The first Millennium model village was started in Kenya in 2004. Since then, the project has expanded to 80 villages across 10 African countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

A major achievement has been reducing the incidence of malaria. This is a health care cornerstone for all 80 millennium villages in Africa. Since 2004, 340,000 insecticide-treated bed nets have been distributed to deter malaria-carrying mosquitoes. And in Mayange today, new cases of malaria are rare.

Since my first visit, the Rwandan government has made a commitment to expand beyond Mayange, choosing 30 sites across the country to develop new villages with the potential to improve the lives of 800,000 Rwandans.

In the 10 countries where it is in operation, the Millennium Villages Project has trained 800 community health workers and refurbished or constructed 49 hospitals, clinics or health posts.

Although the project is clearly improving lives in Mayange and other villages in the scheme, some have criticized Sachs' vision for tackling Africa's crippling poverty. Among them is former World Bank economist William Easterly.

Easterly believes that Sachs' micro approach of investing large amounts into small areas to rapidly reduce poverty was tried in Africa in the 1950 and 1960s, and it failed. Easterly prefers a macro approach where funds are used to tackle one issue at a time, such as eradicating a particular disease, and implemented on a broad scale.


A major achievement in Rwanda has been in reducing the incidence of malaria. This is a health care cornerstone for all 80 Millennium Villages in Africa.

A report published in the Wilson Quarterly in 2007, also questioned how effective the five-year plan could be. Citing the example of the first model village set up in Kenya, one U.N. official close to the project told the journal that Sachs and his team had made "all the classic development mistakes. If you give away tons of fertilizer, it's predictable that much of it will end up on the open market. If you put millions [of dollars] in a small place, you're going to have problems," said the official, who talked on the condition of anonymity.

From the beginning, Rwanda's millennium village took a different approach from the one in Kenya. Fertilizer, for example, wasn't given out free; rather, villagers purchased it through loans.

On a continent where billions of dollars of aid have had questionable results, the final test for Mayange and the other millennium villages will come when all the metrics are gathered at the end of five years across all 10 countries.

-- Janet Tobias

"Rwanda: The Millennium Village" is part of FRONTLINE/World's Social Entrepreneurs Series, made possible by the Skoll Foundation through a grant to the PBS Foundation.


Zoe Corneh - philadelphia, United States
This whole project that's going on around the world about the 8 Millennium Goals really inspired me. I'm actually doing a projrct about this and it's one of the dreams to help others around the world some day. However, it is ready important to take on issues that are effecting our nations and societies. And some of these crisis will never end if we as a nations do not do anything about them. It is also important that we now pay attention to some of these issues like improving Maternal Health for Pregnant women.

Jonathan Zilberg - Fort Worth, Texas
It is interesting to read the critical reaction from the commentator in Berkeley in that the article is clearly at pains to provide criticism of the project contrary to the comment. Moreover, the presentation is certainly not "flat and devoid of any substantive analysis".
In fact, it goes a long way towards laying the ground for future articles or reports which do consider in depth the important issues the Berkeley critic raises.
Thank you for a highly informative article about these small scale projects and particularly of hope and radically positive change in Rwanda.

dalhatu jamil - lagos, nigeria
this is very interesting,i hope you keep it up.GOD BLESS

Investing large sums of money will never eradicate poverty but instead it will cause many people to be dependents and therefore money should first be used to improve African education standards in order to eradicate illiteracy such that poverty and diseases can find their way out of Africa.

kampala, eastafrica
this is really amazing however while the teams involved make these achievements,they should also help in ''conserve environment & aids''sensitization issues to the local public.special thanks to the government & all parties involved.

we must follow their way

kampala, uganda
a very good looking country ;very well organised .i salute all the rwandese people. bravo pres p kagame

Candidly speaking, I feel very much delighted that such a humanitarian gesture could be taken to Rwanda. After the genocide claiming up to one million lives, it is very much in place that should be assisted. I live in Sierra Leone, so I know what is war, especially senseless and babaric wars.I congratulate Frontline for the prompt intervention, and pray that never will we allow politicians to divide us for personal gains.

Brooklyn, NY
I agree with the viewer from Berkeley,CA. In theory (and practice), the Village project in this instance seems to be working, but surely there are significant points of opposition to consider here? Where is "the other side of the story?" I would be delighted to find out that the project is scalable, easy to expand and maintain (through local leadership training and sustainable business/community practices), and that it affects neighboring villages and village relations very well, but I find that doubtful. I wish this had been a more comprehensive report.

Maher Helmi Wahba - Alexandria, Egypt
Vote for prohibiting clay/mud-fired brick for construction. Vote to stop baked clay brick factories which emit hazardous CO2 gas into the atmosphere and contribute in global warming. Projects using new brick technology are now available and ready to produce bricks made from biomass waste.

Southport, CT
This was of great interest to me. I wish more of this could be done.

Berkeley, CA
This piece sounds like a public relations promo for the Millennium Village project. It is all positive with no discussion of whether this project is scalable, whether the inputs of (GMO?) seeds and 'nutrients' will continue when the project ends, how the project is altering social relations within the village and between the village and its neighbors, etc. Yes this is an example of how one village getting lots of aid and attention can improve, but the presentation here is flat and devoid of any substantive analysis.

rebecca palmer RN - ridgefield, ct
An amazing way to show what can be cone with excellent leadership.