Popular films like The Last King of Scotland, Hotel Rwanda, The Constant Gardener, and Blood Diamond tell the story of contemporary Africa for most Americans. Savage dictators, genocide and civil war, boy soldiers—you know that story. In 2005, Lord of War added its two cents’ worth to the grand narrative with a fictionalized representation of the Liberian warlord (and war criminal) Charles Taylor, taking its title from the Taylor character’s self-description in his slightly fractured English.
Most likely no African grassroots development organization, like the one to promote women’s health now forming in the village where Karimu works, will make a splash on the big screen any time soon. Yet the stories of these little organizations with large dreams, such as Les Enfants de Dieu in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, deserve telling. In my June 16 post I recounted the harrowing survival of the 1994 genocide by its Project Manager, Rafiki Callixte, whom Marianne and I met in 2009. Our son, Peter, had recently completed four months of work under Rafiki, teaching English to the one hundred and thirty young “children of God” no longer living on the streets since Rafiki and his colleagues took them in.
With Rafiki now in California for a week, we’ve had a chance to hear again about the remarkable work of Les Enfants de Dieu, whose deeply democratic management by the boys themselves particularly impresses me. (Originally the children of God also included girls but, as Rafiki told us somewhat delicately last year, “the bushes did much shaking” so he and his colleagues found a home elsewhere for the girls.) Yesterday Rafiki reminded Marianne and me that he had obtained the computer in his office only after a visitor to Les Enfants de Dieu asked the boys how they had acquired their striking self-assurance. “It happened when we told our Project Manager that he could not buy a computer,” one of the boys answered.
Absolutely true. From among their own ranks the boys elect Ministers to lead seven departments dealing with different aspects of life at Les Enfants de Dieu. In 2007 the Minister charged with approving expenses, supported by his Secretary General, had turned down Rafiki’s application for money to get a computer on the grounds that buying food had to take priority. Therefore the visitor, who saw Rafiki doing his paperwork with a pencil, bought him the needed computer—a full year after the boys had said no.
That seems like an admirably democratic model for Africa or for just about anywhere else.—Don Stoll