Notes on coming to Rwanda (1)

Rwanda mapAS the plane entered Rwandan airspace, I could see the hilly landscape of the land of a thousand hills called Rwanda. Was I apprehensive as to what new transformation I would encounter? Not at all. Succinctly put, one comes to accept the fact that Rwanda is a country that is constantly on the move; economically, technologically, education-wise and not forgetting infrastructure-wise. This invariably means that, you would always spot something new, which you are sure; was not in place during your previous visit(s). Without being grandiloquent with words, Rwanda reminds me of a Nelson Mandela quote – “it is impossible until it is done.”

Within minutes of arrival, I had chatted with several Nigerians (especially a lady who works up country close to the Congo border.) You see, Nigerians abound in Rwanda as Federal Government experts who train or partner with some institutions; Nigerian professionals and consultants in the corporate world or self-employed Nigerians, example a young Nigerian from the South West who is a fashion designer (the Nigerians who informed me, preferred to call him a tailor.)

While some Nigerians and Ghanaians waited for our pick up to our destination, a Nigerian based in Ghana began conversing in flawless French with some Rwandan ladies. The expression on his face, reminded me of my first time in Rwanda (you are never quite ready for the surprise). At this juncture, I would posit that; it gets to a point; one has to let people make up their minds about visiting Rwanda (and without fail, just one visit would dispel any misconceptions.) My compatriot chatted endlessly and on our way into Kigali, my French-speaking compatriot turned to me and said: “I have heard so much about Rwanda but I cannot believe what I am experiencing. It is obvious I would relocate here”. You see, we were at the airport for a while and the interactions the well-travelled travel operator had, influenced his statement. He had not stepped outside the gates of the airport and he was already intrigued by the hospitality.

On our way into Kigali, I noticed a bit of traffic. I pointed this observation to a Nigerian resident in Kigali and I was informed that the capital is evolving, new structures, new businesses which invariably would bring in more people and this increases vehicular movement.
With an observant writer’s eye, I sought out the little details synonymous with Kigali (orderliness, policemen at strategic locations among others) were all still in place. And not forgetting the neatness of the capital city. That Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa is not by happenstance; but by “collective and deliberate effort through some aspects of the Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and abduct developmental programmes to the country’s needs.” This culminates into what is called Umuganda in Kinyarwanda (Rwandan language). Nigerians might want to call it environmental sanitation but it is much more.

Umuganda can be translated as “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome”. According to rwandapedia; in traditional Rwandan culture, members of the community would call upon their family, friends and neighbours to help them complete a difficult task.

As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and nurture a shared national identity, the Government of Rwanda drew on aspects of Rwandan culture and traditional practices to enrich and adapt its development programmes to the country’s needs and context. The result is a set of Home Grown Solutions – culturally owned practices translated into sustainable development programmes. One of these Home Grown Solutions is Umuganda.

Modern day Umuganda can be described as community work. On the last Saturday of each month, communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. Rwandans between 18 and 65 are obliged to participate in Umuganda. Expatriates living in Rwanda are encouraged to take part.

And with this bit of information, off the team hit the road with some officials of Rwanda Development Board on Saturday, August 29, 2015, for Umuganda and we journeyed to Karama in Nyamirambo in this part of Kigali. En-route the hilly roads and streets, I could see farms, breathtaking landscapes and different forms of houses and I realised that this country is sincere enough about her past, her present and future. And the collective resolve; is ubiquitous.

At Karama, I found it intriguing that shovels, among others, were aplenty and residents were at work. Alas, not only residents but also foreigners and guests living in Kigali.

Shovel in one hand and my camera in the other hand, I moved with my team. Some metres away, I spotted a famous face in the African Diplomatic circle. Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, was busy mixing cement. I was shocked that a minister of such repute would do this (knowing where I come from). Other government officials were busy working in groups. Residents of Karama were working and when President Paul Kagame arrived; he went to work.

But what arrested my attention and that of Teagan Cunniffe, a South African photographer; was of a little girl of about 4 to 5years old; who we saw with a shovel in the midst of some women. Not that she was working; she came with her mother and her aunt (a medical student at University of Rwanda) who became our impromptu interpreter.

• Aina, Kigali, Rwanda.

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