More generally, Rwandan leaders seem to clearly understand what many mayors of struggling American cities have also realized: Image matters in economic development. If Rwanda wants to become a modern center of IT and finance, it has to look like one. And in a continent plagued by corruption, leaders here see Kigali's spotlessness as a symbol of their commitment to fighting graft.
"We want to be clean in everything," Ndayisaba said. "To have people clean in mind, clean just for sanitation, and ... investors get clean money."
so, Kigali is miles away from the chaos that envelops most developing-world
metropoles. Motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous, but so are the extra helmets that
drivers are required to have their passengers wear. Medians and parks along the
main thoroughfares are beautifully manicured. Warning signals built into the
sidewalks at bus stops blink like Christmas lights. The city center is mooned
over by an army of broom-wielding street sweepers. More ominously, soldiers and
policemen line the major streets at rush hour.
The centerpiece of the clean campaign is doubtless umuganda, a monthly day of mandatory community service. The tasks are varied, but often involve litter removal and other beautification projects. Politicians are not exempt: Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni, recently labored with residents of a Kigali neighborhood to prepare construction of a school building. Rwandans must have their umuganda participation certified on a card by local officials. Without that document, they can be denied services at government offices.
Even in poor neighborhoods, which tend to lie at the bottom of Kigali's many hills, the poverty appears less abject than in other African capitals. Streets are free of sewage, and the poor here live almost universally in mud-brick huts, which seem less haphazard than the shacks of other cities. Many households also make some effort to screen their property with plants or fencing.
Kigali, in other words, is upending the images that visitors from rich countries often associate with extreme poverty.
"We are convinced that cleanliness is not only for Western countries," Ndayisaba told me.