Significance of my trip to Rwanda.
By Onyeka Onwenu (MFR), Goodwill Ambassador for Friends Africa.
That is Rwandese for ‘How are you?’
Am sure if someone mentioned Rwanda to you, your mind would automatically conjure up images of genocide, marauding gangs, roads littered with dead bodies and rivers inundated with the bloated bodies of innocent victims, of one of the worst killing orgies the world has witnessed in modern times.
You might even think of the Hollywood film, Hotel Rwanda, shown so many times on cable channels and movie theaters.
I bet you would not think of clean, tree lined streets or manicured lawns, hedged with beautiful flowers. Nor would you associate the country with a place where things work, where public servants truly serve and workers are polite, well trained and purposeful in their approach.
I found all these during my recent visit to Kigali, Rwanda, as a Goodwill Ambassador for Friends Africa. I shall tell you more about them and what they do shortly.
From the moment I landed in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, at their small but beautiful airport, I knew I was in for a treat. It had been a long journey from Lagos to Kigali, with stopovers in Cotonou, Nairobi and Bujumbura. My Kenyan Airways flight had been delayed in Lagos and so we missed the connecting flight from Nairobi.
A three hour wait was further compounded by the fact that we could not land in Kigali, due to bad weather. We turned back to Bujumbura and after another two hours, we succeeded on a second attempt. The alternative would have been to go back to Nairobi, Kenya and perhaps come back to Kigali the next day. The thought was daunting and so I was grateful that the pilot made a second attempt and even more grateful that he landed successfully. Thank God.
No one had prepared me for Kigali, I simply relied on reports, gleaned from the media and from meeting Rwandans at different developmental fora, in recent times. These impressions were that the Rwandan Government of Paul Kagame has managed within a very short period, since coming to power 2000, to put the country in the forefront of Education, ICT advancement and Women empowerment, in Africa.
Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs Minister is a woman. So are the Ministers of Agriculture, Gender and Family Planning, Health, East African Community, Trade and Industry, Office of the President, as well as Ministers of State for Social affairs and Community Development, Energy and Water. The Rwandan First Lady, Her Excellency, Mrs Jeanette Kagame, is a beautiful, brainy, confident woman who holds a degree in Business and Management Science. She serves on the Boards of numerous International Organizations, including Friends of the Global Fund Africa, the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise and the Global Coalition of Women against HIV and Aids. In 2007, the World Health Organization appointed her as the High Representative of the Africa Aids Vaccine Program (AAVP). Her achievements in these areas are outstanding.
May I add here, that if she had been a Nigerian First Lady, people like Reuben Abati of the Guardian Newspapers would have made much effort in warning the President not to waste tax payers money on funding the First Lady’s office as she should remain in the kitchen, making sure that the President’s quests are well taken care of.
What I saw in Kigali though far exceeded my modest expectations. There was order and a sense of purpose on people’s faces. The streets were very clean. There were trees and flowers everywhere. Surprisingly, for an African capital city, I saw no plastic bags or bottles littering the streets. I was later told that plastic wrappings were not allowed into the country.
Rwandans are so health conscious that the Serena Hotel where we lodged had a special buffet section for people who wanted meals with no sugar and limited salt.
Rwanda is today in the forefront of African development and socioeconomic transformation.This East Central African country of eleven million people is quite a gem, a beacon of light in a continent usually associated with backwardness and underdevelopment. •Ms. Onwenu, the foremost female artiste in Nigeria (of the past 20 years) and a leading voice on empowerment, development, broadcasting, political advocacy and transparency in Africa, has been a contributing editor since 1999 of USAfricaonline.com , the first African-owned, U.S-based professional newspaper published on the internet. She has a forthcoming commentary on the 2011 elections in Nigeria.
Related insight: Eight lessons of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. By Chido Nwangwu, Publisher of USAfrica multimedia networks, Houston. https://usafricaonline.com/2009/11/01/chido-8lessons-rwanda-genocide/