Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rwanda Calling

I wrote this after a friend of mine, who runs a business website called Moneyweb (SA) and also produces print insert of a business section of a local newspaper in South Africa, suggested I write an article for them. It appeared in the Citizen, a SA daily in early May 2006.

It was picked up here by the US Embassy staff (Odd hey? Shows they scan far and wide for news) and resulted in a lunch date at the embassy.

Also ended up getting me invited to attend the annual Rwanda Investment conference in June 2006 where I was fortunate to meet with President Kagame over tea.

Rwanda Calling
By Michael Mocke
Sunday 16th April 2006

Bodies litter the streets; blood seeps from the hacked off hands and slashed legs of helpless and wounded Rwandans. Moans, barely audible, fall from the lips of a mother who lies next to the smashed and lifeless body of her baby.

Armed militias arrive at a homestead gate and the head of the house promises money, if only the in turn they promise to use a gun when they kill him and his family. The militias take the money, if he’s lucky they use the gun on him saving further bullets they then hack the rest with machete, who will be left to die over the remaining hours of daylight.

Dog’s scurry from corpse to corpse, tugging at flesh and yelping with savage delight while in the distance - more screams, (human) and howling, (dogs) can be heard over the clatter of gunfire

800 000 (Minimum estimate) die, a massive 10% of the population obliterated in 100 days, 3 million Rwandans are displaced and over 1.2million children are left orphaned. (On this visit to a South African run Aid management outfit I see 220 Orphans and over the road a Catholic convent is home to yet another 300 odd)

That was Rwanda April 1994!

And you thought you knew Rwanda! – Think again. 12 years later this miraculous and tiny nation will amaze you.

Just on the size of the Kruger National Park (SA) and home to 8 million, the most populous country on earth is thriving.

Rwanda has undergone a transformation not unlike our own in South Africa. In fact, the two countries share almost the same birthdays of their new dawn.

April 94 is a month both countries remember, and peg down as the start of their transformation.

Here however, it’s a solemn month marked by deep and sad mourning. Purple, the colour of their grief, is worn everywhere and bunting lines the streets while memorial after memorial is held over a period of 7 days. (7th – 14th April).

A deeply religious nation (Catholic), even preparations for Easter take a slightly lesser role than to those of the Genocide remembrance.

But for the rest of the year it’s about business, and serious business. Here there is only eagerness to work and staff can be found at the office by 7am eagerly readying their desks for a day of work, and just as easily can still be found at the office come 7pm that evening.

It is true that sometimes that work may be a bit misguided and directionless, and to someone trained in office procedures, or from more commerce orientated countries there are often massive frustrations.

But the willing to learn and implement what is taught, is immediate and done with quick acceptance.

For a country that only a few years ago was farming to feed their family belly, let alone provide crop for market. Rwanda has burst from the starting blocks, and now embraces a Government backed vision known locally as “Vision 2020”. Once complete, this ambitious plan will see Rwanda as the backbone to this entire region at the heart of the African continent.

2020 is about readying the country, by setting the steps for positioning Rwanda as a leader of the information society and economy.

To this end a Government backed, and commerce supported, initiative of four 5 year National Information and Communications Infrastructure Plans, is underway.

Step One’s goal was to “Create the support the development of an economic base and establish an environment of accelerated growth and development aimed at transforming the country into an information rich and knowledge based society and economy”, and is now complete.

The country is now in year 1of step two, where the support and strengthening of the initial step will be cemented.

The objective is simple, move the Rwandan economy from an agricultural economy into a predominantly information and knowledge based economy.

To understand the full impact of this, think call centers, IT hubs and perhaps even manufacture?

Call Centers in fact are yet another parallel to South Africa as both the move toward identifying their respective countries internationally as a base for customer inbound call centers of major foreign corporations.

In Rwanda, one may argue, this will be even easier than for South Africa. Most Rwandans speak very good French or English. Many both! (Those that fled the Genocide and even before - went either to the DR Congo, Then Zaire, and were integrated into a French lifestyle and schooling, while others fled North and ended up in Uganda, were English was the main foreign language learnt) the result is that most speak an almost accent less English or French while all have to re-learn their mother tongue of Kinyarwanda.

The other plus, is that the country is very central in time lines and is for now easily accessible, although a recent spat with their former colonial master Belgium has resulted in the only direct flight from Europe (SN Brussels, risen from the former bankrupt SABENA) being terminated, in a tit for tat aviation tiff.

A Rwandan Cargo plane was prevented from leaving Brussels some months back due to the authorities concern for safety. In retaliation, (Although this is denied) the Rwandans grounded the SN Brussels passenger flight a few weeks ago resulting in the latest standoff.

But using the Nairobi gateway there are daily flights into Kigali, while South Africans can fly direct on Wednesday (SAA) and Sunday (Rwandair) and the CEO Mr Manzi Kayihura, of Rwandair told me recently “Watch this space” in a direct response to “When can we see more direct flights from SA”.

Back to the ICT and vision 2020 - The Rwanda Information and Technology Authority RITA website lists the following as key;-

the implementation of special ICT promotion packages, policy instrument and incentives;
the development of the necessary human resources in ICTs and other professional areas;
the implementation a number of national ICT applications across all sectors,
the mobilization and the deployment of the necessary financial and technological resources to support the implementation of targeted programmes and initiatives;
the modernization of the civil and public service, -- one aspect of this being the computerization of their activities and operations;
the development of standards, best practices and guidelines to guide the deployment, exploitation and development of ICTs in key sectors and
Provision of the necessary legal, regulatory and institutional framework to support ICT development in Rwanda.

Many of these are already underway, and/or in place – importing ANY technology such as modems, computers related equipment from PC’s to Servers and even cell phones (If they are invoiced as “Used for DATA”) are given rapid entry and are tax exempt, or very reduced tax applies.

They have their work cut out mind you, neighbours to the East and North have quickly latched on, and it seems that there may be a race to see who will be first with the best infrastructure and economy in place by 2020. In the end it’s all about setting up an ICT spine that will provide the country with its platform for the future.

Recently I was fortunate enough to address students at the local school of Finance and Business in a talk, “Beyond 2020”.

I argued that as Rwanda rushes to meet the requirements of governments’ vision, and skills are developed to build and implement such technological feats, such as telemedicine and rural connectivity. This last week saw 20 open heart surgery procedures take place with the images beamed around the world,– will the average person be able to use the most basic levels of this great technology? – my message was, can, when we get to 2020 Rwanda be sure it will be able to provide the support and administration “back office” to plug onto the spine? A problem most with who I speak encounter in their offices – students can wire up a full network (LAN) but ask for a basic word document or spreadsheet – even a report on sales or inventory and there is difficulty.

However, there is no doubting the commitment to this vision. Already all around the capital, Kigali, new buildings are going up at a rate that makes the recent South Africa building boom seem in a construction slowdown.

Plush new office blocks rise from the open lots while housing development also knows no limits! Along the route I run I am often convinced that I may be in parts of Johannesburg, as Tuscan style villa next to Bali wanna be’s rise up over the local Golf Course, that is a weekly host to yet another corporate sponsored tournament.

Often, I am convinced the next turn that brings me around yet another hill will reveal the ocean – not for nothing Rwanda is known as mille colline! (Land of a 1000 hills) –. For why else would people be building these palaces of opulence? Perhaps it’s to be able to look out and sea (Excuse the pun) another wave of opportunity.

For South Africans, the similarity of the two countries is not only reserved for April 1994 and their potential to be Call Centre hubs. It also goes to a particular yellow branding that is “Everywhere you go”. MTN have indelibly covered the country with airtime kiosks and even branded the local post office “Iposita” as MTN Iposita. A major roundabout (Of which there are many) is known as the “MTN Roundabout” it also happens to be on the very road the president would travel, and does, when he takes his daughter to school.

Oh! By the way, this is not a motorcade President! HE (His Excellency) Paul Kagame is quite willing to drive his own daughter to school, a security details no doubt in tow, but even when the President is on the move its more like Mbeki on route to JHB from PTA, a few flashing lights and an outrider or two. Nothing like the stories of mile long processions that we hear other African Presidents are known to favour.

But back to MTN, the Rwandan arm is jointly owned by MTN SA and the government, or rather a company called Tristar Investments, which is to all intents and purposes Government. Some will argue it’s actually the investment arm of the ruling party.

Having started in the country in 1998 MTN’s growth has been explosive. Currently the network supports 250000 odd subscribers at an ARPU (Average Revenue per user) of an estimated $18.

Its small potatoes when compared to the neighbouring Ugandan MTN operation, where they have just short of 900 000 subscribers or in Nigeria, where they boast a subscriber base of 7 667 000, a 38% growth from March 2005, and that’s just an estimated 47% of market share.

In Rwanda there is competition on the horizon for MTN. A license was awarded last year to Terracom, a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) operator, - don’t panic it basically means instead of assigning a specific frequency to each user, it uses the full available spectrum, while individual conversations are encoded with random digital sequences, allowing more subscribers to connect at any given time. Its technology that the allies perfected in WWII, (MTN uses GSM)

Terracom is part Government owned and when the license was awarded they were also given the local fixed wireless operator – again the Government but privatized – RwandaTel, as part of the deal ($20Million).

Part of their strategy is to provide free “on network” calling to their subscribers for a basic monthly “Network fee”, while at the same time offering cheaper rates to call to other networks (MTN) and international traffic.

Its early days and the network must grapple with early start up issues. But if other countries are any example, when the competition comes, so the base broadens – everyone wins!

Another familiar name to South African investors is Southern Sun, who until recently managed, the local Intercontinental in Kigali. Also the Gisenyi Kivu Sun (Gisenyi is a pebble throw from the DRC’s Goma province on the Western border of Rwanda 3 hours from Kigali)

It seems the deal, that was originally struck (October 2003), gave the management a 13% management fee irrespective of the profitability of the unit.

As a result while the unit plunged into losses, the management company continued to take their cut leaving the owner (Government) with a nasty bill every month. Needless to say South Africans could do with cleaning up their image here a little!

It did not take long for all to start squabbling, and last month the South Africans team saw the porters deliver their suitcases to the nearest taxi and flew out with, perhaps a few sample soaps and shampoos. (Part of an ongoing row they had with the Revenue authority was over the tax on importing the sample soaps and shampoos’ – they maintained they needed the quality of the branded soaps at NO tax charge, while the Authority claimed – “have it made locally and there will be no taxes”)

The latest news is that the Serena hotels – no strangers to East Africa and hotel management in the region, are looking to buy the hotel for $18million but the government is holding out for $22million – who’ll blink first?

Just why the retailers such as Shoprite are not here yet, is less clear. A new mall that will open within two months, has the space for a minimum sized shoprite, rumour was rife it was to be Shoprite. The latest is it will be a Dubai group.

One thing is for sure, beat the frustrations of customs and clearing of goods and put them on your shelves and the Rwandans will happily remove them for you, at full price and from the till.

On that note! Crime is … well what is crime? There is no visible policing but the discipline of the Rwandan is that everything just gets done as it should – I suppose there is petty crime, but I have attended meetings and we will leave the car, locked – yes, but with laptop and other items left in the car and the local colleague is horrified you imply it may be persuaded to leave the car!

While on a trip up country a visiting Kenyan Mzungu (Whiteman) said it best – In Rwanda stress is removed from the equation. That’s exactly true, there is frustration perhaps, but I easily head out each morning at 530 for a run with cell phone to act as stopwatch and iPod to keep me company. There is not the faintest thought that I will encounter any grief along the way.

Consumerism is defiantly on the up here. I spent time on the shores of lake Kivu over Easter, where I met the local head of the largest Toyota franchise in Rwanda, they have 350 New Hilux’s on order and when they arrive they will be gone, such is the demand of all things luxury! (Keep in mind any import vehicle, and they are ALL imported, carries a whopping import tax that makes vehicle prices extraordinarily high)

Where can the South Africans play? Well one area seems ripe for entry – the local building supply arena - think Cashbuild, Iliad and Massmart (Builders warehouse etc)

There are other areas, but for now I’ll keep those to myself.

Then there is tourism – travel to Rwanda currently, is for three main purposes – Gorillas, Volcanoes and possibly a little game viewing East of Kigali at Akagere, but in truth we have the Kruger, and others that are superior.

After that there really is little to entice you to stay, but the country could so easily develop destination tourism and after the early morning trek to see the silverbacks, a slide down the mountain to either Gisenyi or Kibuye, where lake Kivu is just aching to welcome sun worshipers and jet skier, (Those damn taxes again!) and water skiing.

Of the 23 lakes in Rwanda Lake Kivu is the largest at 2699sqm, it acts as the natural border between Congo and Rwanda, and is the highest in Africa at 1459m above sea level.

Moves are afoot to tap the vast wealth of methane gas reserves that lie beneath the deep lake that has an unnatural emerald green mystery to it. If tapped the story goes the resource could power the entire US for a month!

The gas from Kivu could easily provide electric power for much of Rwanda, and allow it to revive its devastated forests.

The Lake has vast quantities of three dissolved gases

1) Carbon dioxide
2) Hydrogen sulphide and
3) Methane.

Carbon dioxide and the hydrogen sulphide gasses mainly come from volcanic activity, while methane comes from lake bed bacteria.

The idea is to tap the methane and burn it to produce electricity. A gas reserve that experts believe could supply the country's electricity needs for 400 years.

Don’t get too excited about investing in that guest house on the shore just yet however! One fear is that unless the methane is able to be tapped, risk of a massive gas explosion potentially killing people who live near the lake does exist.

The new Scientist claims there is precedent. In 1986, Lake Nyos, Cameroon released a cloud of carbon dioxide that had been building up below the surface resulting in the suffocating of more than a thousand people.

Relax! Swimming and water sport are completely safe on the lake and thanks to the methane content Kivu is croc free and can only support a small fish called Izambazo. A welcome companion to the evening Mutzig (local beer) while overlooking the shores of the distant Congo.

But don’t let Rwanda fool you. Like anywhere in Africa Life can, on a moments notice, chew you up and spit you out without a moments warning. But for those with the stomach for her adventure and a passion for her spirit you may just be able to tame Rwanda long enough to turn a profit and perhaps do some good.

The only questions is – when are you coming?

Rwanda, Kigali
16 April 2006

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kigali by Day! 20 April 2006

I get quite a few mails asking for what my daily routine is like.

Well it goes much like this, most days

At 05H00 I slam my hand down onto the alarm clock and buy another ten minutes of sleep! After a persistent polyphonic nag I get up and pull on the running gear – or though, to look at the weight I have picked up, I wonder if this helps.

A quick check that I have all the gear strapped to me that makes me the power athlete I am! Heart rate monitor that frequently tells me I should be dead, Cell phone, to clock the time and then of course the tool that has changed forever the life of a runner, the iPod (Mine is the tiny shuffle- sort of how I run!)

On the shuffle I listen to music ranging from Bob Marley – No woman no cry, to Barry White and at the turn, I tend to have Shozaloza urging me on for the homeward bound leg.

Claude is instantly at the door to escort me to the gate, where he looks at his mad “Boss”. As he endearingly has termed me, skip over mud puddles.

When I get back, it’s straight to the coffee machine and a good cup of really excellent Rwandan coffee. Each morning making a mental note to get this brand into the flasks of Mugg & Bean.

I laze around for around 30 minutes and when I have the connection ,(I use EVDO) Evolution Data Only as my wireless connection – Kigali, Rwanda is right up there when it comes to hi-tech! I stream SA's Highveld radio for my morning fix on the SA news and humour.

I also quickly scan mail that I have set up, that searches topics of interest and mails that to my inbox twice a day. For me – Formula1, Latest SA news and as it’s topical to this project, world news on the telecoms industry.

Then a rather elaborate process needs to take place. Claude and I have it down to a telepathic communication skill now.

I walk to my bathroom en-suite where my towel is, BUT the shower I use is down the stairs, off the lounge in a small side bedroom.

At this moment Claude who must have the most acute hearing or a spy camera – dashes around from the front of the house, slides around the corner narrowly missing the tomato and carrot crop planted on my arrival, and screeches, in his bright yellow sandals, to a halt at the switch of the pump that carries the water from the two 1500ltr storage tanks, to the luxury of my hot and relaxing morning shower. Only hot because Claude has somewhere in the early hours got up to ensure that the geyser is plugged in.

Power is such a premium here that Geysers and lights are never left burning. I in fac,t have even had the “Power saver” globes that Ed – our CEO and Uber Overlord had kindly carried up from SA put in everywhere in the house (These are available here just a little on the pricey side thought around R20)

My shower, and shave, are done dodging mosquitoes as for all the routine I have imposed on myself, I refuse to add to the global warming by spraying insecticide – risking instead the 10% chance of getting Malaria - Besides far more adventurous to return and be able to say – I spent a quarter of a year in deep “AahFrica” and survived a malaria attack!

Then I head back up the stairs, and on route to the kitchen stands the cook, as ever with an egg, (Iggy) as he calls it, in one hand and a knife whose size, that a few years ago would have me trembling in fear - as it is more machete like than cooking knife to crack the shell.

I have, for just on 90 days, tried in vain to demonstrate that I prefer paw-paw and a little cereal but Jean is determined to break my will and make an omelet! Every day we battle it out, up to now I still am in the lead, but I have no doubt soon I will need to concede a round.If only to see his face light up.

When I emerge from the bedroom – a blurred flurry dashes past me as Fedirinah heads for the wash basket, and even before I can make it to the kitchen (5 paces) she already has the clothes through the first soak and is happily humming as she sloshes them in the soapy water.

I have the paw paw and cereal and put out what will be this nights menu, Inyama (Meat), although not every night, and either potatoe for fries or mash, some veg and a tin of tomato beans – I used to leave it for the cook but I soon learnt that this was not the wisest idea.

A gentle hoot will signal the driver has arrived and pop star like or even presidential, I make my way to the car as the briefcase is already there. Now that Claude has seen I take a daily protein bar to work, that too will be in the side pouch of the case.

A Tupperware that I will have filled the night before with some salad or leftover dinner, is whisked out the back way and arrives at the car in synch with the briefcase almost in military precision. A few moments later I walk down the stairs and into the waiting car whose door is held open and gently closed as I settle in – Mwaramutse is the greeting I give to the driver Frank, who invariably will ask me the latest football scores – Now added to my Google search to satisfy my new CNN role of sports reporter.

On mornings that Frank cannot collect me, I am collected by David who no matter what I say answers Oui! He speaks no English, and the drive to work is almost comical - He has no English, I no French. So we listen to the local radio news in Kinyarwanda – this of course he understands, and I am proud to report I can even follow if there are certain words that help me string the bulletin a along.

The road to work is interesting and always something to see. A Mzungu (White person) yesterday – a lady dressed as if she was on the way to the ballet in NY with flowing hair, sat ever so delicately on the back of a scooter as it chugged up hill.

Once at the office it’s not unlike any other. Same greeting, same issues – sales numbers, latest technical issues and of course reading some email and meetings around various pressing issues.

Some days I stroll to a bakery cum coffee shop around the corner. I chuckle as I pass a security guard who sits sentry over an empty house, with overgrown lawn that I swear, since I have arrived, I have never seen a soul - but guarded this house is! And by a 12bore shotgun!

The bakery makes the most incredible “quarter pound” butter croissant, liberally doused with chocolate. They alos produce all sorts of other really yummy delights.

Perhaps part of the reason of that earlier weight problem that running is not solving.

On other days I stroll with some of the guys from the office to a nearby “Local” restaurant. Karibu (Swahili for welcome) I Think! Here for 1700Frw (R20) you can get a plate of food taken from around 10 – 15 different platters. The idea is to see how much you can get onto the plate.

On these days eating at night is not necessary!

I try to take a small helping, but this is impossible for each platter has something I want on my plate. Rice in a tomato type colour, or some fries and even a pasta dish – this is Carbo heaven! There is always a meat dish, and never is there not a dish from the Congo, of what is most closely associated to spinach, but is finely chopped and has a bitter after taste. It is delicious. Then there are salads ALL with onion and more diluted mayonnaise that can be possibly healthy for any artery.

The quietest time at the office, and a time I enjoy most is from 17H00 – 19H00 the office is quite and everyone – yes we are still happily working away – None of this 5pm and hit the road, that we are used to in SA. Everyone is wrapping up.

I particularly enjoy it because I get to catch the SA business news on Moneyweb.

At 19H00 Frank will arrive and we head home where Claude is waiting to open the door and starts the routine of closing curtains and putting on the odd light, or may even still be finishing off the ironing – They have worked out his ironing please me, and so he has pulled the short straw.

I will warm up the food and put out a plate each for Claude and I. He then heads off to his lonely meal, and I to mine – Mine invariably over a magazine that I have sourced in the town on that day.

Shortly after arrival a young street newspaper seller collared me. I bought from him the Time magazine – Ever enterprising he asked where I worked and now each week he presents himself to the security guard, who brings up the magazine to my office – now stretched to the Economist, Newsweek, Time and most recently he even found the latest copy of Fortune! All far more difficult to do now, as the direct flight from Europe is suspended.

I can never refuse him, and if I am short of cash in the wallet – Ntakibazo. (No Problem) and off he goes until a few days later when he will pop back with the next edition and I will square him up for both.

Back at the house. Some nights we watch the football (In French!) Although the local TV does sometimes have it with English commentary – currently we are watching the championships league.

My best is, as a ball hits the back of the net (As in Arsenal’s case last night) The whole village below can be heard erupting over the sound of our TV as many Kigalians will have found their way to friend with TV or to a tavern in the area.

Claude will always discreetly disappear at some point (On TV nights while I am watching, or on the nights I am at the keyboard of the laptop, when I leave the room) and, as he cares little for the ozone, will spray the can of baygon in the room to ensure I have a trouble free sleep.

And that is a day in the life of a Mzungu in Kigali

Michael Mocke
Rwanda, Kigali
20 April 2006

The Rwandans who read this I know will forgive my spelling and indeed, pop in to chit chat and correct me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

One man's JAM is anothers HOPE

The little white Suzuki motorcar bounces, or should that be leaps, from pothole to pothole as we drive off the well tarred main road that leads to Butare and head towards the JAM (Joint Aid Management) project that I am on my way to visit.

A white Suzuki to most Rwandans is immediately identifiable as UN and is routinely made available to the NGO’s. In fact even this little box I am in has UN license plates.

Import of vehicles carries a hefty tax in Rwanda, but for vehicles under 1500cc only 5% applies. Perhaps this is the reason so many of these tiny workhorses are running around Rwanda – although one would imagine that the UN would have some dispensation on import tax for their cars – or how else would they afford the huge gas guzzlers Land Cruisers that the UN glitterati themselves run around in.

Along the road we pass a homestead of box houses, all neatly placed and with well tilled sustainable gardens that sprout various food sorts.

These belong to the widows and children of the genocide, here they are able to try and pull together a life shattered and ripped apart 12 years ago.

A little further a huge heart shaped roof in terracotta red leaps out from around the corner it’s a Catholic Church convent and orphanage opened by the Pope in 1990. (Nicola said tells me it was 1994 after the genocide – but a little research corrects that)

Where I am going however is on the left, and across the road from the Catholic Church’s sprawling compound.

JAM is a Christian humanitarian organization and specialise in various areas of sustainable development and relief. The Rwanda arm is under the auspices of JAM South Africa and on the ground the training center is managed by Nicola Langton who is the Michael Schumacher of Gitarama and as if to prove the title, she skillfully misses yet another pothole while chatting about the JAM and their projects – I fear to reply for each time I try another pothole thuds me back into my seat almost as if to say “Listen! Don’t speak”

We finally arrive at the entrance to the complex. On the right are children ranging from toddlers to probably some as old as their mid 20’s, all playing football on a wet and grassless pitch.

As in all Rwanda someone is standing sentry at the gate and it is swung open by a smiling guard with white flashing teeth and a wild and happy shaking of his hands.

We dive by a tractor and two Nissan pick-up’s all in various states of disrepair and I enquire? “The pick-ups died last year – Funds you see” Nicola says “Adding “There’s just not enough money to repair them” About the Tractor she is more enthusiastic – “The tyres are in customs and we will clear them soon!”

How much is the budget for the project? “$18000 per month” I calculate quickly in my head. It works out at $2.70 per child, per day and that INCLUDES salaries

We drive on and pass the kitchen where the center prepares 220 odd mails three times a day to feed the local Orphans housed in the complex.

To the right of that is the training centre where children from the area come daily for courses form carpentry to needlework and sewing.

Here, the children build their own school desks and chairs and even are able to provide desks and chairs for other NGO’s in the area.

In the sewing and needlework classes, the children are given skills that are not only practical but stretch toward developing longer concentration and focus times of the children.

No GAP store here, no quick trip to the local store for the latest Diesel or Nike branded merchandise – here they churn out their own clothing and help the others repair theirs, stitching up the odd torn garment or replacing a button perhaps?

It’s a Sunday (In fact it’s Easter Sunday) and the children are at various levels of activity.

There were those playing football dreaming of their heroes, Beckham, Ronaldinho or perhaps even a local star. Others are lazing at the dinning hall chatting or pranking about.

A little toddler waves frantically as he sees Nicola arriving back from her few days away, he can hardly contain himself in his effort to get close to her.

My visit is unfortunately fleeting, but in the short time I am there I can feel that in the air is a palpable hope, that each child must cling onto, in the belief that one day they will be able to leave and start building a life of their own using hopefully the skills and life lessons learnt here.

In fact, Nicola tells me, that one of the problems most orphanages face in the country is that children don’t want to leave, and fear what awaits them.

As we head out again I see again something that is a frequent sight, a loving and gentle touch or pat from one of the older children as he walks past his young “brother”. As these children all share the same parent, fate and genocide that took theirs from them.

Michael Mocke
16 April 2006

Sunday, April 16, 2006

More on Easter Sunday

A really great weekend, drove up to Kibuye with a friend from an Orphanage in Gitarama, Nicola works for a SA based charity who manage training centers around Africa.

Kibuye is about 2 ½ hours from Kigali we left on Saturday morning - any trip in the country will take you past some memorial and it must be commented on - this one is past the worst of perhaps all the atrocities. The Catholic Church in which 11400 people seeking shelter where massacred, the priest implicated in the murders havicorralledled the congregation only to close the doors and alert tmilitiatia. Sadly for the church this is not the only such incident involving clergy from the church during those 100 days.

Perhaps why such an immediate effort was made to get the Pope here so soon after the Genocide - in fact it was he who would first call the killings genocide.

From there onto the Guesthouse and a day of fun and skiing. The idea was to drive back. Crazy! Who could leave such tranquility? Checked in and stayed the night.

Met some great people, a couple from Columbia University, who will be staying in Kigali for a few years and have just seen in their first month!

Extremely interesting, He got a model village getting built very near where the NEW Kigali will rise - a new modern business district and airport is planned and work starts very soon according to reports I read.

Some interesting views on the country's Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, amongst others.

Also met a local security company owner, (Italian with a German accent hey it's Africa baby anything goes!) who tells me he is bringing in the (Boer Bulls) (Its a breed of dog for those not familiar with the term) from SA - Very sad! As you can gufavoritemy fovorite breed and I feel that the last thing Rwanda needs is MORE dogs!

And now something on the lake (I included this in a article sent to Moneyweb, I took the research from the pages scientistw sceintist) - of the 23 lakes in Rwanda Lake Kivu is the largest at 2699sqm, it acts as the natural border between Congo and Rwanda, and is the highest in Africa at 1459m above sea level.

Moves are afoot to tap the vast wealth of methane gas reserves that lie beneath the deep lake that has an unnatural emerald green mystery to it. If tapped the story goes the resource could power the entire US for a month!

The gas from Kivu could easily provide electric power for much of Rwanda, and allow it to revive its devastated forests.

The Lake has vast quantities of three dissolved gases

1) Carbon dioxide
2) Hydrogen sulphide and
3) Methane.

Carbon dioxide and the hydrogegaseshide gasses mainly come from volcanic activity, while methane comes from lake bed bacteria.

The idea is to tap the methane and burn it to produce electricity. A gas reserve that experts believe could supply the country's electricity needs for 400 years.

Dont get too excited about investing in that guest house on the shore just yet however! (But if you are interested speak to me!) One fear is that unless the methane is able to be tapped, risk of a massive gas explosion potentially killing people who live near the lake does exist.

The new Scientist claims there is precedent. In 1986, Lake Nyos, Cameroon released a cloud of carbon dioxide that had been building up below the surface resulting in the suffocating of more than a thousand people.

Relax! Swimming and water sport are completely safe on the lake and thanks to the methane content Kivu is croc free and can only support a small fish called Izambazo. A welcome companion to the evening Mutzig (local beer) while overlooking the shores of the distant Congo.

Back in Kigali 2006/04/16

16 April 2006 - Lake Kivu Easter

Yup! That IS a Volcano you see
in the distance as night falls

The local Guesthouse and some visitors enjoying the lake

Me about to Ski - and YES I did!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

8th April 2006

We start a difficult month here as the Genocide mourning period begins on Friday - it’s for a week but the month is set aside for grief and there is no major or in your face marketing or advertising that takes place out of respect.

As a result it was a public holiday here yesterday - a very solemn day as it is as I said, the start of an official week long mourning session as today, 12 years ago, was the start of the genocide. A palpable quiet has descended on the country and a sense of numbness that I am told to expect to last the month?

I had a fun day on Wednesday – I had, at a earlier meeting with the local commerce college to supply them telecoms, been asked if I would be prepared to do a lecture on business and marketing in particular - a beautiful college on a hill and under the shade of amazing trees sits this campus that is so tranquil. An offer I could not resist

It fitted in with one of those give back projects I wanted to do and their dean was delighted that I would be prepared to talk, so for three hours we had a great session – I spoke for about 45 minutes and the quizzed me for the next few hours.

About 60 students participated all 3 and 4th year.

Afterwards the local “entrepreneurs Chapter” asked if I would attend an evening session of theirs – naturally I said Of course!

Rwanda is still fun and there are days that I just find myself chuckling at some of the events and then others when I am so frustrated I can scream. But on the whole still happy and enjoying the challenge!

8th April 06

A picture - Spot me if you can

Friday, March 24, 2006

Picture time

The pool at the Intercon and the local butchery has some really cheap and good meat plus
We dance the night away at the local Golf course - The twins are Canadian visitors traveling through Africa - they have just come from Kenya

I need to get across town
- hop the scooters at R2 a ride
Most passengers DONT wear
helmuts a good idea as they are

Later in March

This Muzungu feels quite at home!

Why does a land like this so captivate me? What is it about this tiny country that has me so in awe?

Perhaps I need the edge the angst that lies beneath the surface here. Whatever it is it completely embraces me.

Today there was a soccer match at the local stadium, 1-0 to the local team Hoorah! The result was a city that erupted into a cacophony of sounds, from hooting taxis taking their fare back to the various villages, (Suburbs), to the sound of the many whistles favored as a means of ‘Blowing their trumpet”, and I even thought I heard a Vuvusela. But by far the most definitive sound is the transistor radios that burst into life, and who’s crackling sound carries up the slopes to the patio where I am sitting enjoying the evening settle.

12 years ago these radios where the call to arms of a rebellious and militant group, who in the end whipped up such emotion that it would lead to a rampant killing spree that would leave 1 million slain.

Now the radios crackle away all day long, playing music and hosting social empowering talk shows.

Of course I speak no Kinyarwanda, and for all I know there may well be coded messages again inciting hate and anger, but one gets the sense if that were happening the strong arm of the law here would be onto it in a flash! Few would dare mess with Kagame.

The Hon Excellency Paul Kagame must truly be a remarkable man! All around are the visible signs of his character as it gets stamped on this tiny nation. But it is not him that makes the difference, he may set the example, but each and every Rwandese, or at least those I meet, are embracing his vision and making it theirs and the results are an ever growing sense of national pride coupled with faith. Faith in each other and faith in the future.

I made notes about the threats facing the country, and if the ear is long enough to the ground, and, like the African dung beetle, one listens through the noise of diplomacy and politeness, then yes, from deep below a soft tap tap tap can be heard. A trained eye can read between lines and observe the threats that lie below the surface – an upcoming election in the DRC will be sure to send out a louder boom in the next few months, and perhaps the results there will lead to the stirring up certain old wounds here.

The Burundi situation will be constantly on any sensible persons radar, and as the rebels there first agreeing to talk, then not to talk, then do, then again… don’t! So that front must be one of concern. Perhaps deep in the “collines” of the country there are pockets of regret that a former “war” was lost, but on the whole there is no sense of that in Kigali

I have yet to see evidence of what it is that keeps this nation so in step, so disciplined – but the Rwandese are disciplined! Each day, as I head down the hill into the valley below and then up the other side to where the office is located, I pass children all walking up one way to cross at a designated spot that is paved for pedestrians. There is a rule forbidding walking over the middle verge of grass, or of jaywalking, and so in a steady stream of people everyone files dutifully up the hill to cross at the demarcated area before moving on to the schools or business on the other side of the road.

Every day is different every day is a blessing.


3 March - About 14 March


I suppose I imagined the biggest barrier here would be language. And believe me there are times when I think that I will never get a point, or an idea across using a series of arm shaking and face pulling trying to convey my requirement.

But strangely language is not that bad, as most times with rudimentary English or a smile one can get by.

For me the most difficult thing to cope with up here is the complete, and I mean COMPLETE lack of any logic to processes or procedures – at least logic by my or South African standards.

For example if a dustbin has a lid that will open facing front then you can be sure it will be placed facing back.

Or like the shelf I have set aside in the kitchen for cereals and teas and coffee storage. The logic of if something is opened and on a tray at the kettle and therefore in use simply cannot register and tonight the coffee jar will be place not on the storage shelf with other dry ration goods but perhaps with the cleaning materials today and tomorrow with the vegetables.

A shirt that today is hung tomorrow is folded, socks that today get placed with underwear, tomorrow will be in the bedroom down the passage – regardless of the fact that NO one else is in the home!

Tea that is served daily with honey will suddenly come with sugar. Knives and forks stored in the draw in the kitchen will suddenly be stored at the dinning room dresser.

At the office it is worse! A meeting that can last 2 hours where, step for step the arrangements for a launch are planned and discussed and every detail of who must be included, or what must be done will suddenly and with out any warning be implemented on a completely different understanding.

But for all that it remains delightful in its strangeness.


I really have neglected to jot as I notice the last entry – What have I done since last I wrote. Well let’s see, I did drive down to Butare the country’s intellectual capital, for here is the largest university in Rwanda.

Historically Butare was the largest and most important city in Rwanda, prior to 1965, before the more centrally located Kigali stole the privilege. Today Butare is the site of several academic institutions, including the country's main university. (This from an advert of the town – “It is also an attractively compact and sedate town of shady avenues emanating from a main street, lined with comfortable small hotels and breezy terrace restaurants” - Yes, well not quite!)

The most prominent tourist attraction in Butare is the National Museum, not to be confused with the Genocide museum in Kigali. The National Museum is more about the country’s history (Post Colonial) as well as the subsequent development of Rwanda as a modern African state

Nearby is Nyabisindu, formerly known as Nyanza, this was the traditional seat of Rwanda’s feudal monarchy. This town hosts the Royal Palace, a domed construction made with traditional materials. It has been restored to its 19th century state and is now also maintained as a museum (I regret to tell you this from the tourist brochure as I was on a whistle stop of the area but do plan to return)

I am on the road to attend a local dinner we will host for the officials of the “province”. Needless to say I arrive and the dinner is poorly attended due to an earlier visit by the Prime Minister, who was on route back from diplomatic talks with the Burundians – Butare is a stone throw from the border of the two countries.

A Prime Minister, we all must agree takes precedent, so we host an evening of minor officials and at 11pm I, and my driver, make our way home along the winding and hilly roads of Rwanda – we frequently veer from the wrong side of the road to clear out of the way of an oncoming cars and on two occasions come across a foot patrol of the Rwandan military, who have obviously been out in the hills.

Dark clouds or a hazy horizon that will soon clear?

The biggest fear, or threat on the horizon, is the upcoming elections of the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Earlier I outlined the steps to the genocide and then subsequent peace. Of those that where routed and chased from the country (The Hutu Rebels or former governments militia), many fled in to the neighboring DRC and Burundi.

These rebels are still camped out in the bush and are frequently involved in skirmishes with their host countries military, as well with the odd Rwandan patrol that pops over and rattles their cage. (Although this will be strongly denied).

The President is often calling these rebels back saying that this country belongs to all and that there is no need to hide or fight, they are welcome back and once here they can contest, as any other party does, the country’s elections.

In fact the very PM visit I talk of a few paragraphs earlier was a visit to prepare the way for the President to visit the Burundian’s where he called on those rebels in Burundi to lay down their arms and come home. Prompting for Burundi to be able to declare, “There are no refugees in Burundi as they are not fleeing from anything as their own country, Rwanda, is welcoming them home.” A polite way of saying. “Go Home! We don’t want you”

So back to that threat – for now Kabila is only to happy to let these rebels stay and help him to win his election – but like Mosevini before him, once the election is over Kabila will have no need for these rebels and will throw them to the wolves and they will be forced into a very dark corner, the fear is they will cross over into Rwanda on the western front (So to speak) and play the game of insurgents, perhaps destabilizing the area to the west of Kigali?

I visit South Africa, Kigali style!

I have just returned form South Africa – oh sorry did I say South Africa! Tut Tut I meant of course the Intercontinental. It’s the local 5 star hotel and is staffed and run by the SA Southern Sun team on contract, the mood and culture is very much one of SA, and you could almost be in Sandton. (Although the rumour is that the contract was reviewed and the SA contingent has been unceremoniously dumped and will pack their dumb valet’s and head out within the week!). Leaving the Intercontinental group for the UK owners to decide how best to manage the remote hotel.

Interestingly the hotel is state owned or rather around 50% of it is the rest is the Intercontinental, as it is here with MTN and many other major concerns, as the governments moves to privatize the country – rather startling however this week I hear that while the “State” indeed owns these assets they are actually first stripped out and then placed in a holding consortium owned by the ruling party? A comment that I need to further check, as it is or was only a passing comment – but as we all know a rumour is only a fact waiting to happen!

In the mix with His Excellency!

On the way home from the hotel this morning my driver was flagged to the side of the road and we were passed by the Presidents motorcade – encouragingly no less a fanfare as getting passed by Mbeki’s motorcade on its run on the Ben Schoeman! Two Land Cruisers in the lead with discreet flashing lights, followed by a Mercedes that is not seen in SA it’s a 4X4 type box and obviously well fortified (Can cars be fortified?) and a following Land Cruiser. Courtesy has the locals all moving over, and the motorcade whizzes by with very little fuss.

Rain and Mosquitoes = Malaria

We are in the rainy season – spectacular storms and of course increased malaria activity! On Friday night as I arrived home the heavens opened and the house “security” lad had to open the gate in a torrential downpour. Needless to say by the time the driver had left Claude was soaked through. I felt compelled to make him a warm cup of tea and the jacket that I had purchased for him, some weeks earlier was wet and damp. I of course had the benefit of going indoors and drying off and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed clothes – I am resigned not to let this guilt overwhelm me, as so it would be if Claude was in any other country.

However the next morning I was told, as leaving to the office, that he wanted to go to the doctor - as he was feeling ill – I resolved to also get him another jacket, one that would keep the wet out! (More a raincoat)

Once home that afternoon (Sat) he was still out, and when he did arrive it was to give news that he had malaria, the third time for him! Of course all this is communicated via hand signal and various facial contortions. It works and we get by!

He is on medication and will have to pay Frw16500 (That’s around R180) He only earns Frw40000 (R450pm)– Which is extremely good for this sort of position.

I do love this place – There is certain instability, an edge, an angst that lies below the surface and that I find very alluring. It suits me, and I find I can cope with that and try keep above it while loving to delve into it with the curiosity that I possess.

Kigali/MJM 20060319

Monday, February 27, 2006

27 Feb 2006 2nd Jotting

Some pictures - I have added comments below every two pic's

Hmmm - Yummy but not good for the diet! There are two of these types of pâtisseries nearby the office!

There are ATM's! and although a bad picture - Benoni meets Kigali, Rwanda

An early morning mist blocks the view of the valley (From the patio, house) And the offending screwdriverreferredd to in an earlier jotting. (Note the teabag is Rwandan!)

My bedroom - BC (Before container) and AD (After Delivery) - Wait till you see the latest pic now with colonial look mozzie net very - I had a farm in Afrika (Sp deliberate)

Kigali, Rwanda
27 Feb 2006

27 Feb 2006

I give up!

I have tried for three days to correct the jotting of the 25 Feb 2006. Yet every time I try update, or run the spell check, either the power goes and I loose the connection or it just cuts me off. So this seemed a far easier option to make the erratum here.

Firstly, forgive the countless spelling in the last jotting. I had typed it directly onto the blog site, then once I ran the spell check the trouble started, I have of course learnt the lesson and all jottings will first go via Microsoft WORD!

Also, I wanted to add beneath the events timeline a short note, so it appears here instead – I am comfortable as an outsider my history and timeline are as accurate as can be however, I apologize to Rwandans reading this who feel I have misreported in my dates or event timing, or for that matter in my accuracy of information)

P.S.- It seems that the add ins were accepted but the spell check remains a no go, sorry for that you will just have to now not only endure bad writing but also atrocious spelling.

Kimironko, Rwanda (The G's are prounonced as a G)
27 Feb 06

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

25 Feb 2006

NOTE - Sorry for those who popped in to read this during the weekend. I typed straight into the blog site and then could not get the online spelling to work! Also could not copy to spell check in Word. So now you know - Not only can I not write I cannot spell either LOL)

Sadly I have just not had the time in the last few days to jot. So while I have a network connection I will just quickly note a few comments and thoughts.

Firstly I wrote in a previous jotting that there is a law that forbids driving of any sort on the last Saturday of a month. Well that's today - Its called "Muganda" which means general cleaning.

Essentially between 7am and 11am no one may be on the road in any form of motorized transport, that means taxi's as well.

Citizens are urged to use the time to do a general clean in their immediate vicinity so for example in the spirit of good "guestlyness" I ventured out onto our street at 9 and helped my various neighbours pick up some litter and in general just socialised on the pavement.

The funny side of course is if you ARE caught by the men in their "Shouting Green" jackets you are immediately apprehended and fined (Frw50000, about R500!) AND to add insult to injury you are not permitted to use the vehicle until the Muganda is over, and the fine is paid! Therefore you will need to trot down to the local authority and there you get to collect your keys and a receipt.

On the way in just after 11 to the office I was chuckling to see a handfuls of scooter drivers all pushing there metallic steeds up hill or downhill (As they may not even sit on the beast and freewheel)

what's quite pleasant to see that although it is damn inconvenient the people who have transgressed seem reasonably accepting of their fate.

Last night was a little "Tonk" and the effects are felt in the mouth and the head this morning. The guys from the office decided to take me to a local hotel/tavern nearby the airport - Very popular among the locals on a Friday night and the dish of repute is a plate of "Fry's" very McDonaldish and they order a fish (sorry but left camera at home so no pic) that is a little like a red snapper in appearance BUT is much larger and is roasted and is garnished with onions and tomato. But the treat is the marinade they use, very yummy and very moreish.

The tradition is to "Tuc In", so not much politeness. The poor fish is soon reduced to the bones and head only, as hungry hands pull shreds of the flesh and wash it down with a Mutsig (pronounced Mutsing), the local beer.

After that we went of to the Kigali Golf Club and joined others on the terrace overlooking the well tended greens and drank yet more beer. This time Bell! A Ugandan beer.

To understand a little about the country naturally you need to know their history - so here just some bullet points to give you background.

- Germany "looses" the country at the end of the 2nd worldwar and it is given to Belgium as a "protectorate"
- In 1959 there are civil unrest and a minority tribe Tutsi's are generally run out of Rwanda
- They take shelter in the then Zaire and Uganda
- Those in Zaire are treated as citizens of Zaire given full citizenship and intergrated into the countries lot, generally getting good education and like I guess expats anywhere work hard and develop a strong intellect and work ethic
- And end up "becoming" French speaking Rwandans
- Those who flea to Uganda are treated as refugees, and are essentially left to camp along the border of the two countries
- They end up becoming "English" Rwandans (The current President among them)
- In the early '60's there is independence and the Belgium leave - literally overnight.
- No internal security is in place and the pace hots up as far as eradicating the Tutsi's
- More mass exodus' take place.
Over the next 30 years the country is one massive pleasure ground for a then ruling Hutu based population and the general ethics is one of nepotism and abuse (And killing) of those not deemed part of the country.
- In Uganda - after Idi Amin (Remember him the guy who proclaimed himself - His Excellency President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular.) Had attacked Tanzania who then in turn responded using help of Ugandan opposition and....
- Yup you guessed it the Rwandan Guerrillas on the border who were persuaded to fight for the current incumbent of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. and made promises that if he was put in power he would reward them. NOTE - As I type Museveni is elected for the third term and today I hear on the BBC that he has already secured 60% of the vote
- Museveni get in Amin flee's and the Rwandans in Uganda of course now have arms and support and they turn their attention to going back home.
- The plot is hatched and a advance guard head for Kigali and the plan is that they will in a three day campaign overthrow the country and allow all those exiled to return.
- Not all plans are perfect and they are ambushed on day 2 and there leading general is killed.
- My understanding it then takes another 6 years of bloody battles on the Ugandan and Rwandan border
- Finally some peace is agreed and the deal is that some 600 odd of the Ugandan group can stay in Kigali as part of a pact to start a process of reconciliation
- Of course not everyone agrees!
- The 600 are not monitored very well and actually end up being a few thousand quartered in the barracks they are allocated
- The then Rwandan President is blown out of the sky and that triggers a major reaction and the Rwandan Army try ambush the "600" in the barracks (I am sure I am right in saying that the barracks they were using was actually the parliament building - still pock marked and bullet scarred) Of course they find a massive and well armed rebel group and the rest we know as the genocide!
- A major, who soon is a General Major, leads a massive army armed with weapons from Tanzania, and the supporters of Museveni, and it is not inconveniently that they also have Libyan weapons, having captured them from Idi Amin's forces, who were backed by the kindly, and ever so decent Mr Gaddaffi.
- That Major is today the President. President Paul Kagame. A man, who to a outsider and "Muzunga" like myself is doing the most remarkable job!
(I am sure that I am as accurate as an outside can be - who's not a historian - to the locals I apologize for any careless errors)

So the point I was actually making is that I am drinking with a group of "English" Rwandans - therefore they are partial to the Bell beer having mostly grown up drinking it. (gee I guess I should have just got to the point and said that!)

So after another few rounds of beer, I finally excuse myself and a colleague takes me home.

I have said in the previous jotting I would talk of frustrations and I will, but for now I must dash, but a quick one - On the second day and having learned to live in fear of the washing lady of the house (Picture in an earlier Jotting), for her sole purpose it seems it to get a piece of clothing removed at any cost and wash it! I go to the cupboard to take out my best and most comfortable Nike shoes (Light and ever so trendy) only to find they are not there.

A quick look around the room confirms my suspicion that they must have made their way to the wash! Indeed, there outside hanging from the line are what where perfectly clean shoes, now brown and stained from the water.

What can I say - Welcome to Africa baby!

Kigali, Rwanda
25 Feb 2006 (Edited 27 Feb 2006)

22 Feb 2006

Today started of wonderfully cold and wet and overcast - it brought with it relief, relief from the heat of recent days, and for the local farmers, relief for their crops. It rained most of the day and at one stage the downpour was the equivalent of a highveld thunder shower. Now however, the sun is out again, and the heat starts to bake us yet again.

I will write in the next jotting about the frustrations here - they are not insurmountable, or enough to have me packing bags, and they are not complaints (In fact some of them lead to hilarious moments). But they are here - language barriers are the biggest yet at no time have I felt that I cannot make it through a situation or get to a result that will see me walking off with the product I entered the store to buy.

Although there is one moment where it took a full 45 minutes to acquire a screwdriver, for a demanding task at the house of leveraging open a crate that had come off the container.

Needless to say the store keeper took one look at the colour of her new found client and immediately decided to charge me Rwf7500, use the calculator on the link to the right and you will soon see that that is about R75! Daylight robbery.

She didn't figure on this Mazungo (Local for Whiteman) being a tough customer, so I managed to bargain her down to Rwf2000 - Still I hear you laugh R25 odd Rand for a screwdriver!

Well! With the screwdriver in hand I made it home, only to find the crate open and the contents placed neatly on the table - I should have guessed - its Africa baby, put nothing past this wonderful continent!

A little under the whip here today so I'll save the best for later - How I acted my way through trying to get 5 unpackers to off load a lorry and the house staff to open the contents.

Chers amis et famille bons, thats il pour maintenant. Je retournerai pour rendre plus de jottings plus tard. (A link on the right will help you with translation - just wait until I start with the local language - Kinyarwanda)

22 February 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

20 Feb 2006

Today is a public Holiday - there are municipal elections and as a result the town is very quiet. I heard today that there is a "law" that on the last Saturday of every month it is forbidden to drive between 7am and 11am. If you are caught then you are roped into sweep the streets!

Hmmm I think that may well be a plan in SA!

I am in at the office as we took the opportunity to have the office painted yesterday and today as everyone is off. So some pics are of the office undergoing the paint job and the rest are just general snaps

The local "woolies" inside and from the outside

Office and a scene from a promo that took place on the day I landed plus the painting of upstairs

The Have's

The Have Not's

Some sights of interest (As you can see MTN - our competition are "Everywhere You Go" The middle pic is due to open and will be a rather grand mall

Saturday, February 18, 2006

19 Feb 2006

Today (Sunday) I just crashed, one of a "sense" exhaustion - I Suddenly realised that the constant barrage of data to the brain really has left it tired, not to mention I just am also extremely tired after a LOOooong Week.

Went out in the morning and browsed town plus took in the Genocide Museum and that may also have contributed to the need just to take the PM and rest so had a really good afternoon nap.

As I expected the museum is extreemly heart wrenching and an emotional experience, but one that has to be done. Fortunately my inquisitiveness had prepared me, as most of what I heard/saw is what I have already read or got info on. Let me tell you that the French should hide their faces in shame! and the history on display makes no bones about where they (Rwandans) point the finger!

An interview with The President, in a local newspaper extracted from a French publication, also leaves it very clear that relationships with the French are strained, cordial but strained.

Still enjoying every intake of each experience and am so happy to be here - I realise that one must not come here thinking you can be "Hope Rwanda". But that if you do little things and expect nothing by the giving, and why should you! Then in a small way I will have played a role.

Example - the young girl, Fredirinah, who works at the house is 18 (I gather), is one of three who were orphaned in her family she is very sweet and humble and kind. She probably lives on a paltry amount (Note to MJM, establish how mush she gets) and I get the impression she lives in a room in town, with the two younger siblings. She would welcome the smallest contribution (Be it soap, some bread to take home - its not asked for mind you, and I am never made to feel "obligated". I do however know that she pays R50 for her room each month, Can you imagine R50!

The security lad, Claude, (29) more of an Askari than security, only gets home two days in two months! Imagine that in JHB! Its the norm so one must not interfere - I learnt that on the farm (Dullstroom). He also is always on duty and is NEVER sullen. I noticed he had a "Learn English in 10 days" booklet and I took it to the office to make copies for the rest, at the house (3 Staff in total). The best is that often I will hear a dull mumbling from below the window as he is eagerly reading and learning. This evening he came with a tray of coffee and in perfect English, said "Good afternoon!" - very sweet :-)

The parallels between SA and here are remarkable. Both are trying desperately to heal the wounds of one group dehumanising another (Here it was in both directions over the years). Both are succeeding on the face of it and only those close to the heart will know the truth of the real situation. I, as you know, believe with all my heart that we are succeeding at home, and must of course believe that of here as well.

My original impressions, as I wrote elsewhere, is that there is an indifference here to others (Visitors). I think that indifference is more of a desensitized lull. Almost a numbness, and I am sure many must still live in a state of some or other trauma. The museum has a section where it points out that no one currently in the country does not have a parent, child, relative or friend that either lost someone or was responsible for that loss! :-(

Perhaps that is what I am finding in the work place here. What I take for a haphazard way of doing things - lack of planning, almost a rabbit running for cover mentality. Is actually just the way of wanting to get as much done as fast as possible to get to another side of their fright!

Well that's it for now.

Kigali, Rwanda
20 Feb 2006

8 Feb - 14 Feb 2006

Where to begin? Well no place like the beginning! The first surprise I had was as I entered the airplane that would carry me to Rwanda was that there were far more white faces than any other? The flight, even more surprisingly was headed first to Kigali and then onto Entebbe (Uganda).

Arriving at the Kigali airport Rwanda was the first realization that in Africa every thing has its own law. As we were approaching the runway and with possibly less than a few meters before we were to place our wheels on the tarmac, there was a sudden roar of engines, the flight lurched forward and off we went again – rather nerve racking!

After about 10 minutes and many puzzled looks on passengers’ faces the captain came over the PA system and advised that on the approach, the tower had given a tail wind speed significantly different to that of the aircraft onboard computer guidance systems. The aircraft by the way was the latest airbus, almost brand new and obviously on this route due to the incredible demand of seats to this region. An example of the incredible demand that airlines are facing for flights out of SA and up north are that flights to Nigeria (I am told) are full until August!

The sudden take of proved to be a blessing for a fist time visitor like myself, for as we headed out again so the captain had to do a series of maneuvers that kept the plane constantly banking either left or right, and so the aerial view I was treated to gave me an incredible first time birds eye view of Kigali – Awesome.

I guess the awesome part is hard to explain, not awesome as in spectacular, or as in impressive – just awesome. I have flown into Kenya, Maputo and have spent time in Swaziland as well as Lesotho and none of these left me with the sense of awe I felt at the sight of Kigali below. Then I realized why! Kigali was the theatre of such a terrible massacre 10 years ago and that any images travelers have of Rwanda and the capital are of this tragedy. Yet when you arrive you suddenly feel such a great energy in the fibre of your whole being that you almost feel that you are part of a collective movement that is WILLING this place to overcome and prosper – and it is!

In fact, one comment I want to make right up front is that I think it is time that all who write, talk, or share their experience on Rwanda now finally stop using 90% of their time explaining the history of violence and concentrate on the good the now the happening! I intend to do just that! (Other than by way of explanation or reference to a particular comment or point that I may make)

I am lucky that I am traveling with a native of Rwanda – although DRC born he is Rwandan but for the displacement of his family years back.

He quickly guides me into the customs hall, which is a relief from the baking sun, that drives down almost boiling the blood as the doors to the plane open – It’s HOT and HUMID and the comfort of SAA aircon is very soon gone.

In the hall we fill in our arrival cards and I look tentatively around for the expected “Image” of Africa, uniform clad soldiers wielding an AK, there are none, not a single one in sight, in fact, as the last week goes by I can count on one hand (Possibly if truthful I might need two fingers of the second hand) the police or military presence – its just not here its very obviously out there but its not tough guy in your face. Traffic police well now that’s a whole new discussion – it seems every street corner is given its allocation of two (Always two) traffic police in a “Shouting Green” jacket – shouting green is how one of my colleagues, who I am to meet later, describes them. The best way to describe it here is the luminescence lime green often worn by emergency personnel.

These traffic police are deeply respected. NO ONE leaves a stationery position without insisting their passenger is buckled up and, as in SA the very sight of these guys sees a cell phone drop surreptitiously form view. They are not, I hasten to add, aggressive and in fact always seem courteous and respectful to their fellow country men. As a “Muzunga” (White man) I often am left feeling as if they could not care a less that I am in the car as we pass by – that’s one immediate feeling I get here there is no feeling of needing to be condescending nor for that matter do you ever feel condescended to. You’re here and just get on with it mate seems to be the attitude.

I digress. Let’s return to the airport. We quickly are let through passport control each kiosk is manned and the reception is courteous, passports are stamped and I am able to add another exotic name to my growing collection.

Down a flight of stairs to two baggage travelators, and like ANY airport – it has even happened to me at Heathrow London. The allocated conveyer belt does not star t but rather the one next to it and out comes the baggage.

We are met by one of our colleagues and taken first via the house that I am due to be staying in. My first impression will either be one of horror or of relief – it turns out to be of relief. The house is perfect and adequate.

As is expected in Africa, the surrounds might be alarming as there is shack dwellings on the doorstep and yet the neigbour behind is a modern building at least 6 stories high, while the home immediately in front of the house is a very simple structure (Almost single garage like) and double up as a convenience store for the area – like a “Spaza”

The house inside is perhaps a little erratically furnished, but it has all the comforts needed and we have our own generator to supply power when the electricity supply is cut, as can happen I have found intermittently during the day and evenings. But never any less inconvenient that in Johannesburg lately.

The bags are dropped, and we are off to the office – but before I drive you there I must note one interesting ritual, when arriving home and you are of certain standing, you hoot and your doorman/security opens up a large front gate – every house of standing has one (Gate and “Batman”), its almost a status thing a bit like our electric gates I suppose.
I soon learn he is always present, be it midnight or 5am a gentle hoot and the gates will fly open!

I am taken to the offices. While we drive I am able to take in the sights of the area – It’s not really easy to explain, but something’s are immediately evident, as a very organized discipline exists and certain courtesy’s apply in traffic and while I suppose its erratic, it’s organized and “Fair”. Besides it’s far less aggressive than going face to face with a JHB minibus taxi. European visitors might be horrified but it does not startle me.

I suppose I also expected hordes of begging and bustling, but its not here - yes you do, as you move around town, encounter the odd beggar or street child trying to tap your conscience but not at any large scale.

Also encouraging, on the way from the airport is that I notice an avenue (“Rue”) planted with palm trees every few meters and remember thinking – “Oh yes, as always a row of trees to wow the tourist and the rest is bound to be dry drab and dusty” NOT! I am soon to learn that many roads are not only planted with trees, but also have lawn paving. On one occasion I am firmly but politely reminded that I dare not walk on the grass as it’s an offence. I am encouraged to see that this law is rigidly up held by all. By the way another thing that is absolute remarkable is that there is little or almost no litter!

The office colleagues greet me warmly - naturally I suspect some edginess – the rest of the day is spent setting up email, the IT team are incredibly skilled and it’s the Presidents goal to make the country a science and technical miracle. In no time I am hooked up to the office server and the outside world is connected to me yet again.

We are tired from our flight and we get driven home where we decide to go to a restaurant for the evenings meal so the customary hoot and the gate is opened and Claude (The name of our security man) runs ahead opening house doors and switching on lights. I decide on a quick shower to freshen up and the driver has stayed on to take us to the restaurant. It turns out to be less than 500 meters from the home and I enjoy the first of many Mutsig’s the local beer brewed in a province called Gisenyi – where I go later in the week.

We end up at a very pleasant restaurant called Sol & Lunar and it’s as Italian as any I’ve eaten at. Pizzas are good and surprisingly cheap.

By now I have completely taken to my new surrounds and once home it’s no time at all before I settle into sleep knowing that this is exactly where I am meant to be at this moment in my life.

Waking is a little more of a shock as soon I realize I am away from my comforts – a kettle, hot water on tap etc.

It’s all here; I just have to learn how to use it all. Finally I locate the kettle – everything is packed away after use – a habit the house staff seem to have adopted -and I soon learn that everything will constantly be packed away as I use it.

The house lady, when she arrives later has a distant look of remorse that I dared make myself a cup of coffee (After finally and thankfully locating the Nescafe left by the team the last time they were here 2 weeks prior – The point I am making is that the sugar and coffee and biscuits and tea and…. You get the picture! Are all still here.

It off to the office again, as I walk to the door the pitter patter of feet trails me and every item from yesterday is almost in the wash before our driver has reversed us out of the gate.

Here I do find a general lack of disorganization and not long before I realize it’s not that the office is unruly, but just perhaps un-coordinated!

For me - to the point of mild frustration

Friday comes and we are taken to a province/village called Gitarama about 1 hours drive out of Kigali. The objective is to see our dealer presence. We are lucky! The car we go in is air-conditioned and we are soon driving through what is Rwanda – a series of rolling and undulating hill and mountains. All along the way people are walking along the road and the roads are perfect, if narrow in some places. Hillsides are one mass of agriculture as the slopes bar none are each cultivated in almost patchwork like quilts of crop. Gitarama is little more than a street rather densely populated and naturally with arteries leading of to smaller areas of shops and kiosks.

It seems everyone has a store and often 3 stores alongside will each offer the same product or service. We meet our dealers and see the progress of the rollout of the painting and branding underway and as the night falls we head back to Kigali – again that courtesy of the road, oncoming cars will turn on indicators to allow you to almost mark your sight, so that as you drive by you are certain you are on the right side, and that their headlights will not have blinded you.

On the way I had seen fruit on the side of the road and ask our colleague Bonny to stop on the return. I also notice when going there that every street side market sells Amarula? I keep my comments to myself and as we head home and find a street seller we soon find out that its local honey. Again, as in so much else and as expected in Africa there’s a trade in everything, so the amarula bottles are taken up this road by sellers who get them in town and sell the empties to the honey tradesmen to bottle.

Home and to bed after a tiring day, not from exhaustion, but from realizing that everything that hits my senses is new and must be processed before understood.

The day is not to end however and we go via the Intercontinental that is so new and modern I swear I am in Sandton. A few beers and we are persuaded to go to another venue “Republica” where soon we are washing the tiredness down with beer and yet more beer – I choose from the menu a goats meat dish, it is tender and delicious and the night is a disaster, as we only get to bed at 5am – however thanks to the altitude I am surprisingly sober or at least I think so.

Saturday I go to gym and then try my luck alone at the local market where I buy provisions such as veg and fruit for the house and surprise myself as I haggle and negotiate with the stall holders.

Sunday is yet another trip away from the house this time we are headed to Gisenyi, 3 hours away and we will spend the night. I have no idea what to expect and as we drive up again I see the same patchwork farming along the road and the road takes us right past Ruhengeri the village made famous 20 odd years (To the day) by the work done by Dian fossey. We have no time to stop and besides to get close top the families of Gorillas a permit is needed and must be booked in advance – a small matter of about a two hour walk up the mountain also means that this experience will have to wait.

Gisenyi! No forewarning would have ever prepared me for what I see- the village is 5ks away from the havoc of the DRC and all I can say that except for the rural ness of an African village that I suppose I do expect a view comes into sight that leaves me breathless- Gisenyi is on the shores of Lake Kivu a volcanic lake some 200 meters long and 40 odd wide. It’s like looking down at Clifton or perhaps something on the coast of Natal but because it’s so unexpected its impact is a 1000 times more incredible.

It helps that it’s been raining and the air of mystery and mist surround the view. Hillsides appear and disappear as the mist swirls around the village – I am taken to where I will spend the night and it’s all the none other than a southern sun, recently (2 years) rebuilt and it’s immaculate and the pool is meters from the shore of the lake.

We are spoilt. We are wined and dined at the home of a resident whose house, furnishings and garden would shame any house in Clifton, sadly the pic I have, Right, is limited but you get an idea on the view – The owners (Whose wife I decide to rename and title the “Baroness of Gisenyi”) are more “real” than any Clifton socialite could ever be, we sit ever so colonial on the patio and sip G&T and later are called to the table for a meal that sees me having 3rd’s (Its appropriate to note the hosts are native Rwandans, having been exiled to Kinshasa years ago and then having their considerable house – I see picture A Palace! Looted and then leaving to live in Goma where a Volcano erupts demolishing the entire village and their house in the process)

Please if you do nothing else this year try make this place a must – its spectacular and I imagine that within a few years this peace and beauty will be shattered! Not by war but by masses of tourists who will flock to what is a cheap and spectacular venue.

And so that is where we are at – I have returned to Kigali and today had the luxury of spending the day at the house unpacking contents from the recently delivered container.

And finally to record my thought and observations of what is going to be one of my life’s highlights so far. Even more so than London, London is always there - has been always there but Rwanda is fresh, happening and new and lets be honest could in a flash again be a whole new story to tell.

I get the distinct feeling that as I go to the forests visit the Gorillas and head up North Eats to the main national park I will carry on with my lessons and enjoyment but for now I can only say pack you bags and come – this country and its people are doing incredible things and they need your support.

You may read this and say “Where are the horror stories?” There naturally are difficulties – try buying a screwdriver from a native Rwandian who only speaks Kinyarwanda! Or getting the staff at the house to NOT make yet another omlette or even having a shirt ironed with the correct seams! No that is not possible LOL but nothing that makes it worth complaining about.

Take care all and luv ya all madly

16 Feb 2006