By Nafisa Ali Tambajang
When you hear the word ‘Rwanda’ what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? It’s probably Hotel Rwanda, it’s a genocide-struck country, it’s a dictator’s paradise, and it’s probably just another poor African country. What is actually in Rwanda? In an earlier piece, I referred to it as the REAL Wakanda. Well, it is more than that! Instead of Vibranium, it is their “Agracio” = Value as one follower on Twitter mentioned to me that keeps this country great.
I arrived at 12:45am 7 May on Rwandan soil and I was very surprised. It was as if I walked into a high-level African state. The passport control men were very friendly and the airport had good and fast Wi-Fi and that was a bonus to me. I was received by a kind lady Consolè who took me to my hotel. As we drove, the many lights took me by surprise and I kept asking her “don’t you guys off light here”, of course in the most African accent. She said “it is very rare”. I was so amused. I prayed that one day my own country has this much light at night.
I heard Kigali was the cleanest city in Africa and knowing that I wanted to be petty and be like “naaa, I’ll come across some trash” and boy oh boy I was in for a surprise. I did NOT. I was astonished. As we got to the hotel my Senegalese friend started asking Consolé a 1,000 questions and I say to him in Wolof “hey bul ma indil problem”. A couple of the questions he asked her is “why is there so much security, why are all you people so orderly, so serious” she responds and says “we know where we came from and we will not go back there”.
It was definitely some kind of a different quiet vibe/energy being there. These Rwandese did not act loud and rowdy like most Africans usually are. It was as if they were all robots of some sort. I thought to myself maybe they’re just scared or something but that was not the case. My ultimate purpose to Rwanda was for the Transform Africa Summit and so the next few days were filled with meetings 8am-5pm about creating one single digital market for Africans, especially member states that signed the trade deal to make business/tech in the region easier.
But in my free time I made sure I would go outside my hotel and see more and I wanted to talk to more people. A friend of mine introduced me to a gentleman and his female friend. After one of my sessions, we headed to an innovation centre and I was BLOWN AWAY and IMPRESSED. Mind you, it is very hard to impress me! Anyway, we got there at 7pm and there were plenty of kids working on 3D projects, business concepts, building applications and so forth. They have a data centre and being in IT, I was eager to get in one. He gives me a tour of the place and I tell him this is incredible! I’m impressed, how did you do it? He said “resilience”.
He is one of nine founders of K Lab/Fab Lab innovation centre. This is a place where youth turn their ideas into reality and they currently have 1,800 students, 200 successful companies that have been opened from the experience they got at K Lab. There are 60 leading companies, three in more than one country and five leading in the Rwandan Market. I thought to myself why does The Gambia not have this? This is a creative way to get idle youths off the streets, create an opportunity and to enhance the skills of those who aspire to be in the IT field. By the way it’s also 24 hours and they have a cute coffee shop with some snacks available. I thought to myself could Rwanda be the Silicon Valley of Africa? We later headed to Hotel Milles Collin and if you’ve seen Hotel Rwanda, that’s where the main character worked. Going there exactly 23 years after the Rwandan genocide where 800,000 people were killed gave me chills. As we went up to the top floor I had an overview of the whole city of Kigali and it felt as if I was in Singapore.
Yet again, breathtaking was what I felt. This was no longer a country of war but a country of a thousand hills and a million smiles. The scenery was so green and beautiful and the weather this time of the year was great. I later told my friend I wanted local food so we went to Chez Robert, a local joint that had a buffet and I was fascinated when the guy even at a local restaurant stood there in his suit and gave me a hand towel warmer to clean my hands before I touched the food. Here we go again with me wishing we had this in The Gambia. The food was very delicious.
I used this opportunity after spending a few hours with my new brother to ask a 1,000 questions like my Senegalese friend. What did I get from our conversation? The people of Rwanda are overall happy with Kagame’s love for country, hatred for corruption, ambition to make sure the country is advanced. In my opinion he instilled discipline in all Rwandese psychologically. Kagame is not preparing one single person from his party. He is preparing a generation; this is what it seemed to me. Him also being a military man of course, security in the country is tight.
To all of you reading this, let me type it loud and clear: Rwanda is safer than USA!
Security checks at every entrance. Period. That country is on lockdown in a good way of course. I noticed a lot of scooter bikes and my friend told me it was a way to create jobs for some of the uneducated people they had and it was also enforced they wore helmets as well as their passengers. I rode one around the city and it was fun. I was also told the reason the city is so clean the government hired people that didn’t have income to always keep it clean. I saw them all over town, men and women in green attire, making sure the environment was clean. My friend called them the unsung heroes and I agree. Rwanda also has their version of sett-settal where once a month the whole country comes out to clean their communities in unity. This was an ancient practice the president decided to continue. As my friend and I continued to drive along, he showed me something pretty cool. He said, “Look at those street lights, there is a telephone there”.
I said, huh? Apparently if you are driving and feel under the influence you can park your car, call the police on the button on the traffic light and ask them to drive you home and they do that free of charge and you don’t get in trouble. We all know even America doesn’t have that. Education for girls is free or if at all they pay is almost next to nothing. My friend told me Kagame is also a feminist and he has high respect for women. My analysis of Paul Kagame after meeting and listening to him speak twice.
He is a visionary, a champion of technology, an action man, firm man and a man that is like I stated earlier, preparing a generation as he has a lot of younger people in his cabinet to help guide him into the next great stage for the country. On my final day, we went to the Kigali city market. I was craving a local market vibe and of course some local pictures for the gram. As we got there I was ‘shooketh’ (slang for shocked) again. An indoor market with parking, a gym, restaurants, banks, about four floors, and clean as Jamaican waters. We walked all around the market and it was all clean. I always had personal dreams about digitalising our local market places so people would be more inclined to visit but seems like Kagame beat me to it. That man is ahead of his time. Nit kain boy sessu c ngurr at least nga develop deka b nak. Wahumala sampa 1,2,3,4 deh in 5 years beh pareh relax. I’m talking building/creating something every year so your people can see proper development. This, ladies and gentlemen, was my experience in Rwanda. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it and I hope I brought a little bit of Rwanda to you.