KIGALI, RWANDA—Wracked by years of famine, ethnic strife and political unrest, the Central African nation of Rwanda bought a plant last Thursday in an effort to "brighten things up."
"This should help breathe some life into this nation and put a smile on everyone's face," Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu said of the new fuchsia. "It is a very pretty plant."
The decision to purchase the plant followed a week-long emergency session in which cabinet members, military strategists and tribal representatives debated the best way to restore Rwanda's struggling economy and revive the flagging spirits of its seven million famine-ravaged citizens.
"The Minister of Defense suggested painting the country pink, and the prime minister suggested new curtains," Bizimungu said. "Someone eventually suggested the plant, and we all unanimously agreed."
Though support for the plant purchase was universal, the nation was sharply divided over what type of plant it would be: The nation's Hutus strongly advocated the purchase of a begonia, while Tutsis favored an impatiens, touching off a week of plant-related civil warfare in which more than 200,000 Rwandans were brutally massacred. After a week of fighting, the two sides finally compromised, agreeing upon the fuchsia.
On Wednesday, after several days of phone calls to flower shops across Africa, Bizimungu finally found one in Cape Town, South Africa, that sold fuchsias. Accompanied by his top minister, Bizimungu flew there the next day to select a plant.
"There was a very nice selection there, and it was difficult to choose," Bizimungu said. "I saw a lovely hanging plant, very green and full of flowers, but unfortunately, there is a terrible hook shortage in Rwanda, so we selected the other one."
The decision over where to put the plant proved difficult, as well. While many wanted the plant positioned near Lake Kivu on the Rwanda-Somalia border, where it could help cheer up the more than 400,000 Rwandan refugees left homeless from years of civil war, prime minister Pierre Claver Rwigema demanded it be situated in Kigali.
"Kigali is the capital of Rwanda," said Rwigema, who declared himself Plant Minister For Life Monday. "That is where our national plant belongs."
Added Rwigema: "I am confident that the people of Rwanda will find plant ownership to be a relaxing and enjoyable hobby."
According to Rwigema, responsibility for caring for the plant will be divided between the Hutus and Tutsis, with members of the two tribes watering it on alternating days. The plant does not need direct sunlight, Rwigema noted, but requires a thorough "soak," ideally in a bathtub, every 10 days. Due to an 18-month drought that has destroyed all of the nation's crops, water for the plant will be imported from Tanzania. Water supplies will also periodically be confiscated from Rwanda's "least thirsty" citizens.
Citizen reaction to the plant has been overwhelmingly positive.
"War has destroyed everything that once was," said Dinizi Akagera, 33. "There is nothing left."
Gisenyi resident Ayinkele Habiyama, 41, was equally impressed. "Please, let me out of here," said Habiyama, who was arrested and thrown into a darkened, solitary, 3'x3' cell by military police after being caught attempting to eat the plant Wednesday. "I need water and sunlight."