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Green Growth? In Rwanda?

Concordia’s newest field school course, on the road in Africa’s most densely-populated nation

Rwanda Field School Renovation is underway at the amphitheatre of Kigali’s Genocide Memorial, home of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival – the field school’s first destination

Why would anyone choose to travel 12,000 kilometers to learn about sustainable development?

“I want my students to experience what it looks like to take climate change and sustainable development seriously, on a national scale,” explains Brandiff Caron, Assistant Professor at Concordia’s Centre for Engineering in Society. He will teach the course.

“Rwanda has quite a story,” he continues. “It’s unique. Not only in Africa, but perhaps even in the world.” Offered for the first time in July 2020, the intensive, for-credit course features a 3-week study tour in this East African nation.

Today ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’ is a safe, politically-stable, youthful nation, with a rapidly-growing population of more than 12 million. More than half were born after the catastrophic 1994 Genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis, when one million Rwandans perished.

Twenty-five years after the Genocide, Rwanda is reinventing itself as a modern knowledge-based nation. Under the banner of ‘Green Growth’, ambitious national planning for climate-change-resilient poverty eradication and socioeconomic transformation aims to create ‘The Singapore of Africa’ by 2050.

“Stand anywhere in Rwanda. Look around. And you’ll probably spot an engaging development case study,” says Caron. “Rwanda offers so much to be unpacked and learned from. Sure, there are still many challenges to be tackled. But it’s quite a story in the making.”

A system of paved main roads and highways, a nationwide 4G mobile network, and Google Maps works everywhere! . . . all contribute to Rwanda’s surprising accessibility. Well-designed infrastructure will make it feasible for the Concordia study tour to include many short trips by minibus, providing unique access to key Rwandans who are developing interesting projects in urban and rural areas.

“Another reason for visiting Rwanda,” adds Caron, “Is that, because of historical connections between Rwanda and Montreal, Quebec and Canada, we know people there.”

Hands hold a smartphone with the camera open In Montreal, Rwandan-Canadian children and young people play important roles in Kwibuka 25, this year’s Genocide commemoration activities

Among those connections: the National University of Rwanda was established in the early 1960s with support from the Government of Canada and Université Laval; many Rwandans found safety in Canada during dangerous periods of the early post-colonial era; the Rwandan-Canadian community in Montreal has been a research partner with Concordia University continuously for the past 15 years; now many Rwandan-Canadian Montrealers are returning to play a role in Rwanda’s transformation, and their presence in Africa offers potential for building even deeper, mutually-beneficial Transatlantic connections.

Situated in Concordia’s Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science, the Centre for Engineering in Society has always focused on issues of technology and development in the classroom. With the recent addition of ENCS485 to the course catalog (this course is open to undergraduate students from any of Concordia’s faculties) it now is possible for Concordians to experience a wide-ranging introduction to issues surrounding technology-enabled development on the ground, in a beautiful, welcoming country.

“The history of the relationship between technology and development is riddled with stories of failure,” says Caron, a science and technology studies specialist. “It can be disastrous to reduce a complex socioeconomic problem to a technological fix while ignoring the ways a technological artifact interacts with its social context (often unanticipated) to determine a technology’s meaning, use, and benefit.”

In contrast, Rwanda’s leaders are taking pains to ensure that technological innovation is informed and shaped by the national identity of a post-colonial, post-trauma people with a documented thousand-year precolonial history. A strong emphasis on ‘Homegrown Solutions’ and ‘Made in Rwanda’ seeks to incentivize, contextualize, and focus technological development in relation to Rwandan needs, values, traditions, and ways of knowing.

“New technologies can improve lives. Or not. My hope is that our visit to Rwanda this summer will help students discover ways to think broadly about the role of sustainable technology in our own communities: what it could be, and what it should be.”

Rwandans working the fields on a hill Rwanda has committed to an inclusive rural revitalization in which no one will be left behind.

Program dates: July 11, 2019 - July 29, 2019

Learn more about the program and the application process for students

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