Ideas, Stories, and Profiles

A few months ago, I decided to take a hard look at my consumerism and its consequences on those directly and indirectly affected. We can all say that we are seeing Rwanda grow at a rate that I am, personally, failing to keep up with. Failing quite miserably, at that. There is such a massively unspoken need to consume and prove that you consume. The sense of shame that comes with not fitting in with these spending habits is, if you haven’t already noticed, affecting the mental health of many.

I was looking at my old phone, and it still serves me well: I can place all the calls I need to place, take photos, access my email, you name it. But there is something this now-raggedy phone cannot do for me. It can barely communicate my financial and societal status at least to the expectations. Mind you, this is not because the phone is not functioning, it is just “outdated.” It no longer speaks "money." It's a language, by the way. Don’t even get me started with taking the bus or, god forbid, walking.

We no longer visit each other’s homes because we have to check out the newest restaurant in town. We cannot wear the same shirt two weddings in a row. We have a new slogan: consume, consume, and consume some more.

The pressure of consumerism is not as subtle as we think. Human beings are very good at recognising and communicating with non-verbal cues. It’s really fun to watch the difference in the treatment of a TECNO phone owner and an iPhone X owner. We have accepted that one's value is proportionate to the money they seem to have, or their proximity to it.

This is my problem: How did we make this our new normal? Are we aware of how we, as individuals, play a key role in maintaining this system and widening the gap between the rich and poor? Have we, also, started to dehumanise the poor if we are so easily able to ignore their plea? I don’t know. I am not talking from a perspective of solutions here nor am I trying to start a conversation. A friend of mine told me, a few weeks ago, that domestic workers are starting to demand “too much.” She mentioned that her worker was no longer satisfied with the monthly fifteen thousand she was getting. In the same breath, my friend mentioned how fun it was to go Gisenyi over the weekend for the “music festival,” where she spent a hundred dollars in one day.

I am not judging anyone here. It just got me to thinking (and saying out loud); do we realise how inhumane we are becoming? It’s also a rollercoaster ride that we cannot afford mentally, you know? Young people are feeling more and more inadequate because they don’t travel as much or dress as well or drive as fast. We are getting crushed by the many ways to make money. The thirst for power is overwhelming and anxiety is on the rise.

Apparently, this is good. It means that Rwandans are getting richer and spending more. It’s a good thing, right? We are also participating in consumerism with equally less care towards the environment, the poor, and our own mental health.

I have decided to change my lifestyle. The little things, really. Cutting down my spending, my urges to consume, and my conviction that it is where I derive value. As a millennial, I am tempted not only to consume but to prove that I am doing so. Of course, capitalism greatly benefits from this behaviour. Also, did I mention that I would be able to save and save a lot?

Who is forcing us to become like this? Does anyone know? It's so important for us to trace down this behaviour because, soon, it will start killing us. I meet many young Rwandans whose cognitive dissonance alone can harm them if they choose to keep up this showy, pitchy, and screamy lifestyle. We've got to have some alternatives and we need to act on them fast.

So next time, if you want to hang out with me, I will probably invite you for a nice walk, a sit-down at the roundabout park, or a visit to my house.

Have something to add to this story? Write to

You have successfully subscribed to The Kigalian
Welcome back! You have successfully signed in.
Great! You have successfully signed up.
Success! Your email is updated.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.