It is February 2009, and I am sitting on the patio of a coffee shop upstairs in a mall. The scene would be totally unremarkable except that this mall is in Kigali, Rwanda, and I'm talking about the economics of toilet paper.
It's hard not to gaze out at the vista of Rwanda's famous rolling hills. Half of them are swarmed with favela-like shanty buildings, and the rest are dotted with modern stucco mansions under construction. Kigali is a city in stunningly rapid transition.
Along the sides of the freshly paved streets winding up to this mall are workers in prison jumpsuits digging ditches—a sight that's only ominous when my guide tells me they're imprisoned murderers from the bloody 1994 Rwandan genocide out on a work-release program. It's important to Rwanda's President Paul Kagame that everyone in the country literally and figuratively helps rebuild the war-torn country. Everyone. "Hutu" and "Tutsi" are taboo words these days. "We are all Rwandans" is the country's modern-day mantra. Seeing them holding shovels and other crude, blunt instruments that were not too long ago used to bash in Tutsi skulls is chilling, but I seem to be the only one bothered by it.
Sitting with me is Jean de Dieu Kagabo. He's 28 years old. He lost his parents in the genocide and its aftermath, along with nearly 1 million of his fellow Rwandans. He saw things no one should see. And now, some 15 years later, he's a Central African consumer package goods mogul with several ...