Of course we look before we can leap, we aren’t stupid you know


A drone on a ramp at the Muhanga droneport ready to take off. / Faustin Niyigena/ The New Times

‘Look before you leap”, was the sage advice that the writers at The Economist gave us Africans.

Never mind the fact that the very same writers called Africa ‘The Hopeless Continent’ in the year 2000 and then went straight the other way and called the very same continent ‘The Hopeful Continent’ in 2013.

This despite the fact that while they were busy calling us ‘hopeless’, the average GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa was above 5 per cent per annum, HIV statistics were falling and more students were graduating from university than ever before.

But they didn’t let facts get in the way of a story they wanted to tell.

The Economist was given a right battering because of its ‘hopeless continent’ headline, but the publication has simply refused to learn from its chastening experience.

In its latest edition, The Economist columnist ‘Schumpeter’ warns us to ‘Look before you leap; the notion of leapfrogging poor infrastructure in Africa needs to come back to earth’.

Piggybacking off the recent unveiling of the Zipline medical drones in Muhanga, Southern Province, the writer attempts to make the point that, even with the drones crisscrossing our airspace delivering blood to hospitals and clinics, brick and mortar infrastructure, such as roads, water mains and electricity lines, are still needed to fully change people’s lives.

If he/she had kept it at that, I would have been in total agreement. Of course, we cannot build a sound economic and social system without both futuristic and traditional infrastructure.

That is why, for example, while we are planning for the droneport, we are also building the Bugesera International Airport as well.

We are not choosing one over the other; rather we are planning for, and doing both.

However, Schumpeter decided to write a 900 or so word article telling us Africans to ‘go slow. Here are some of the gems that I found noteworthy along with my counterargument.

“CAN entrepreneurs make up for a lack of roads”, Schumpeter asks.

No. But no one is asking them to do so. If we look across the continent, you will see just how serious African governments are in building the backbone infrastructure. 

With the help of either our Chinese partners or the usual lending institutions i.e. the IMF, World Bank and the AfDB, governments across the continent are building dams, power stations, hospitals, universities, stadiums and highways.

What the governments are asking entrepreneurs to do is simply use these facilities to increase jobs and the tax base.

“Just as drones can make up for poor roads, the (leapfrogging )theory goes, mobile phones can overcome a lack of well-functioning banks, portable solar panels can stand in for missing power stations and free learning apps can substitute for patchy education. But the hype about machines saving African lives ought to elicit caution”, Schumpeter opines.

Well, in my experience, the leapfrogging theory has worked a treat in Rwanda. Today, with a mobile phone, you can deposit and withdraw money from your bank account directly to your mobile phone.

You can pay for your electricity. And, one of my favourite functions, you can order food straight to your house, by using a mobile app.

With solar panels, people living off the national grid are now able to enjoy the wonders of electricity. And children using free learning apps (on their One Laptop per Child computers) are learning just how big and amazing the online world is.

In conclusion, Schumpeter throws in the tired Kibera slum trope.

“In Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, the narrow dirt streets bustle with businesses charging phones from generators; …… What you won’t find are clean toilets, potable water …. The main leapfrogging that takes place is over the open sewers. That is not something you can fix with a mobile-phone app”, Schumpeter writes.

To use a very small example of a Kenya slum to make an overarching conclusion about the state of the entire country’s (and continent’s) infrastructural progress was, in my opinion, intellectually lazy, patronising and racially tinged.

I will conclude with this truism; KIBERA SLUM IS NOT KENYA (NEVER MIND NAIROBI). AND KIBERA SLUM IS NOT AFRICA. Don’t tell us to go slow.

Don’t tell us to go fast. We know where we want to and we know how to get there. Don’t worry, we got this.

Umuco Wacu: Kigeli V Ndahindurwa is gone, what comes next?



The recent passing of Mwami Kigeli V Ndahindurwa has hit me pretty hard. Which is surprising given how little I actually knew about him. What I did know about Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa, the man, was gleamed from an article published in 2013 titled ‘A King with no Country’ in the Washingtonian magazine. In the article written by Ariel Sabar, I was saddened to discover that the scion of a centuries old ruling dynasty was living in the United States and surviving on food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal assistance.

After examining my own feelings about his death, I came to the realization that I was not mourning the man, but rather what he represented to me.

I might be mistaken in this, but I believe that there were four historic pillars that Rwanda once stood on; the kingship, the cow, religious rites and beliefs and, lastly, the Kinyarwanda language; everything else emanated from these four pillars.

With the overthrow of Mwani Yuhi V Musinga and the enthronement and baptism of his son Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa, the war for the soul of the Rwandan people was won by the Catholic Church.


Mwami Mutara V Rudahigwa surrounded by members of the White Fathers

Our own religious beliefs and rites were discarded as relics of an ‘uncivilized’ time and we joined the global mass that worshipped at the Judeo-Christian altar. Mind you, this isn’t an attack on Christianity. I have no issue with those who believe in the son of Joseph and Mary. What I mean is that the vast majority of Rwandans became part of a global belief system and ditched their own; thereby losing a bit of themselves in order to be a part of something even ‘greater’.

The next pillar to fall was the kingship. With the Kigeli’s deportation by the Belgian authorities to Tanganyika in 1961, the Nyiginya dynasty, which had made Rwanda a cultural, political and military power in the Interlacustrine Region, was rendered irrelevant as a real political force. With his death, the door has been closed on the ancient Kingdom of Rwanda and all that it stood for.

So, the only things that remain from our ancient Rwandan past is our cattle culture and the Kinyarwanda language (and to be truthful, in my case, those pillars never existed).

I can only speak for myself when I say that the sort of Kinyarwanda I use is often a mix of English, Swahili, French and Kinyarwanda. I am pretty sure that if I could travel back in time and speak to my great grandparents, I would wager that they would have been barely able to communicate with me.


The famous Inyambo cows

And when it comes to the fourth pillar of the old Rwanda, namely cattle, I, like the vast majority of younger Rwandans, see them less as symbols of wealth and beauty and more as simply livestock that provides beef and milk.  Today, not only do we see the intrinsic value of cattle differently, even the types of cattle we do have has changed. Whereas before we had many names for cattle based on the color of their hides and shape of their horns, today, with all the cross-breeding with European varieties, I envision a day when ‘traditional’ cows will only be seen in museums and zoos.

So, when I say that I am mourning the late king, I am actually mourning the demise of the great Rwanda of yore. The Rwanda of the Kalinga Drum, the Nyabingi cult and the Abakono, Abega and Abasinga clans. I am mourning the Rwanda of my forefathers.

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves today is, with the demise of the old pillars, what are we replacing them with?

I can see the green shoots of a new cultural norm that is based on ‘Agaciro’. But as it stands today, ‘agaciro’ means everything and nothing at the same time depending on the person using the word. The same goes with ‘Umuco’ (culture). So, the question that I ask those a lot more knowledgably than I is this; How do we remain authentically Rwandan? And what does being an ‘authentic Rwandan’ even mean? When we talk of culture, whose culture do we mean? And who gets to define that culture is?

It could be worse: Rwanda vs France Part II


Will Francois Hollande and Paul Kagame preside over another diplomatic rift?

The classic 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’ is about a weatherman, played by Bill Murray, who is caught up in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. Well, forgive me for believing that we are living a kind of Groundhog Day ourselves, playing the same old game with Paris.

Once again, French judicial authorities are opening the Juvenal Habyarimana dossier despite the fact that the original indictment by Jean-Louis Bruguière was discovered to be not only politically motivated, but grounded in false testimony from its star witness the late Abdul Ruzibiza. The exiled former soldier recanted his testimony, saying that he was promised political asylum if he testified that he heard the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) high command planning the assassination of the former Rwandan president.

This new investigation ignores the fact that Judge Marc Trévidic and his team came to Rwanda (something Bruguière never attempted to do), and arrived to the conclusion that whoever shot down the plane probably did so in close proximity to Kanombe Military Base, a Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) stronghold; an area that the RPA rebels were unlikely to be able to enter with a missile without detection and probable death.

This time, ‘investigators’ are travelling to South Africa to record testimony from Kayumba Nyamwasa, a man with a huge ax to grind with the leadership here. I mean, he seems like a man who will say anything and do anything to hurt his former colleagues. So, the question that I must ask is this, what is the possibility that he will tell a tale that doesn’t point a finger to the RPA and its high command, accusing them of planning and executing the assassination? None at all is my humble opinion.

Reacting to the news, President Kagame, speaking succinctly on Monday, warned that the severing of diplomatic ties, à la 2006, was within the realm of possibility if the judicial witch-hunt continued. What I suspect is that Paris took this possibility into account when it gave the green light to these new investigations.

What I am left to ponder is why Paris continues to flog a dead horse of an investigation that it knows will not only never see the inside of a French courtroom but serve to further dampen diplomatic ties between Rwanda and itself.  It is my belief that Paris has ‘done the math’ and decided that further damage to its ties with Kigali is worth the price of protecting its interests in Central and Western Africa.

Think about it, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Benin, the Central African Republic have not only further consolidated diplomatic ties with Rwanda, their leaders are actually researching the Rwanda ‘Agaciro’ development model; a model that I believe goes against everything that the corrupt Françafrique model stands for. Whereas the former lauds self-determination, the latter extols the benefits of letting the Metropole control everything. So there is a lot of money and global influence that Paris stands to lose if all these countries go the ‘Rwanda Way’.

So, in order to protect their Pré Carré (backyard), Paris is willing to demonise Rwanda’s leadership in the knowledge that a gormless media will run with the ‘RPA shot down the plane and caused the Genocide’ nonsense and therefore poison ‘Brand Rwanda’. Therefore discouraging other nations from following its example.


Paris, dont think that Rwandans don’t remember the role you played from 1990-1994. We do.

In fact, we should be thankful that the worst they can do to us in the public eye is paint our leadership in an unflattering light (what they can do far from the public eye in certain international financial bodies is a topic for another day). I mean, we have seen what Paris can do if there is a smidgen of disunity in a nation that is acting outside French interests.

All we have to do is look at Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Libya to see what can happen when Paris is given free rein to divide and conquer. Ivorian former president Laurent Gbagbo is now in the at the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity; Captain Thomas Sankara was killed in a French-supported coup by his ‘friend’ Blaise Compaore, and Libya’s Mummar Gaddafi is just a memory (as is his country to be honest).

So, let us count our blessings and be thankful that the only thing they can do is make our lives a bit more challenging than we would like. Which should be a piece of cake when one remembers where we once were.

Stick to the issues: The Collin Kaepernick lesson


Video released by the Tulsa Police Department shows the moments before 40-year Terence Crutcher was shot and killed.

A few weeks ago tragedy hit another African-American family, this time in the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In scenes that have been repeated to many times to count unarmed Terence Crutcher, a 40-year old father, was shot dead by law enforcement officers after his car broke down on the highway. What makes it even worse, if that is even possible, is the fact that his death is right on video; we were forced to replay the scene over and over as it was shown again and again on the news.

Despite the temptation, this column isn’t about the seemingly continuous loop of ‘cops kill black man’; rather I want to talk about Colin Kaepernick. If you aren’t a news junkie (as is my case) or a fan of American football, his name probably means nothing to you.


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin (R) Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before the team’s NFL and is joined by a team mate


In a nutshell, Mr. Kaepernick is a American football player who is now famous for refusing to stand up for the playing of the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, until the system that makes it possible for law enforcement to kill black people with seeming impunity is reversed. His logic is ‘why should I stand proud for a country that allows its citizens to keep getting murdered without repercussion’?

Again, I will not go down the rabbit hole of arguing whether he is correct to protest this way, despite the fact that I really want to. What I want to discuss is the reaction that I’ve seen to his protest. Instead of the protest starting a nationwide conversation on police violence vis-à-vis the black community, the majority of the political discourse is about whether his refusal to stand up is unpatriotic and an insult to the American armed forces and its veterans.

No longer is it about the uncomfortable conversation about violence against minorities, but rather one about how America is great and “how dare he not believe that to be true”? The narrative has been changed from ‘justice for all’ to ‘America über alles (America above all else).

Sadly, I’m not surprised by this at all. I’ve seen it happen many, many times. Let me give you some examples off the top of my head; a few years ago a young feminist wrote an article decrying the Miss Rwanda contest. She was told by an anonymous commentator that she was a hater and probably ugly to boot. When I wrote about safe abortions for vulnerable young women, I was told that I was unchristian. More recently, a fellow writer penned a post calling on the members of the African diaspora to pack their bags and come home in extremely strong language; as a result his personal life was brought to the fore and insults flew his way.

While the opinions were very different in the above examples, the reactions to them were quite similar; instead of examining the validity of the statements and opinions, there was an attempt to divert the conversation.

While there will always be issues that cause these strong disagreements, what we need to ensure both as readers of this publication, and more importantly Rwandans, is that we are able to filter all the noise and keep on the issue at stake.

This might be uncomfortable but it shall stand us in good stead as we keep developing as a nation and more diverse voices come to the fore.


Adieu Hotel Faucon! You had a good run  


Hotel Faucon today

It would seem that every single time I visit the historic town of Huye (Butare), I find another piece of its history gone. The Muslim Quartier? Gone. The iconic Ibis Hotel? Its been ‘renovated’ and now it looks cheap and utterly charmless. The ancient jacaranda trees that lined the streets? They are gone. And now, Hotel Faucon, is seemingly closed for good.

Remember that this is the hotel that was a ‘whites-only’ establishment until Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa forced it to allow Rwandans and other Africans on its premises as guests (and not merely staff).


Hotel Faucon in its heyday in the 1950’s

This is the OLDEST hotel in the country; it is a veritable historical monument. And now? It is soon to become a mere memory. So, I say to the hotel that wasn’t only a landmark, but also a snapshot of our past, ADIEU! Fare thee well.

Rwanda’s progress is the death knell of TIA


President of Benin, Patrice Talon addresses press conference alongside his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame 

It’s been months since I wrote a blog and to be honest, I’ve sorely missed doing so. Since the last time I wrote , Rwanda has hosted two major conferences (the AU and the World Economic Summit); two roundabouts magically appeared in Kacyiru and two five star hotels, namely the Radisson Blu and the Marriot, opened their doors. In most countries these landmark occasions would have taken place over years; here all this took place in a span of a mere eight months.

When you live in Kigali, sometimes you take that kind of transformation for granted. I know I certainly do. Often what you need to truly appreciate everything that going on around us is an outsider’s perspective and viewpoint.

The President of Benin, Patrice Talon, who was in the country for a state visit, spoke of this transformation during the State Dinner that took place at the Kigali Convention Center on Monday evening.

“I wanted to visit Rwanda to express in the name of my country and as an African how proud we are of Rwanda’s leadership. This country that became known because of its tragedy is now renowned for its leadership. This country has shown me that when you have the will and commitment, we can do as much if not more than others. We (Africans) are not a cursed people and Rwanda has shown the example”, President Talon said, while toasting his host President Kagame.

What President Talon so powerfully expressing was that Rwanda proved that TIA (This is Africa) was a falsehood. TIA, in my opinion, is shorthand for ‘corrupt, dirty, unsafe, coup d’etat-prone, service deficient, diseased and famished’. TIA assumes that the entire continent is the same; according to the TIA proponents there is little difference between South Sudan and Nigeria. Or Swaziland and Djibouti; it’s all ‘Black Africa’. The Dark Continent.

The worst part of the TIA-school of thought isn’t that foreigners use it to complain about long lines at the airport; the truly unfortunate aspect is that Africans themselves have internalized it as well. Corrupt policemen? No need to report it to their superiors, This is Africa. Garbage strewn streets? Why come together as a community and take care of it, This is Africa. Crime wave caused by unemployed urban youth? No need to demand job creation, simply build a huge barbed wire fence and hire private security. THIS IS AFRICA after all!


Kigali at night: The Africa they don’t show you

I’m not naïve enough to think that Rwanda’s progress towards a future of true self-realization will be the harbinger of TIA’s demise. However, we should all be proud that we’ve created a small crack in the wall. A historical wall that was built over three hundred years. We might not live to see the TIA wall fall, but I’m confident that our children’s children won’t live under the TIA cloud.



Why the dollar all the time?

The Rwandan franc is depreciating against the dollar at such a rapid pace that it’s almost making my head spin. Which isn’t a huge problem if the Governor of the Central Bank, John Rwangombwa, is to be believed. I’m not an expert in fiscal policy and I won’t pretend to be. So, I don’t have answer, I have questions for the experts. Why do we keep the US dollar as the main currency of trade?

Rwanda’s traders mainly get their goods from Kenya, the United Arab Emirates (especially Dubai), India, China and Japan. None of these countries uses the dollar. When I travelled to China in 2013 I had to exchange my Francs to Dollars, and then Chinese Yuan. At every stage of the transaction I was losing money. Isn’t there a way to cut out the middle man, a.k.a the dollar? If so, why aren’t we doing so?

When I walk past forex bureaus in town I see exchange rates for the Canadian Dollar and the Swiss Franc and none for the Chinese Yuan; which begs the question, which currencies should we get freely exchanging? The one that we used to use years ago? Or the ones that we use today?

We must create and disseminate the tools of our own liberation


Modern day Kigali is the jewel in Rwanda’s crown

It’s been more than two decades since the guns fell silent over this nation and I’m the first to acknowledge just how far we have come. But saying that we have come far isn’t good enough anymore; we need to go even further and faster and we are trying.

A few weeks or so back, one of the trending topics on the local Twittersphere was the speed in which the Convention Center area roundabouts were built. Everyone was amazed that they materialized over the course of a single weekend. I wasn’t. I had seen it all before. Anyone who has been following my writing over the last couple of years will know that I spent a year in the Chinese capital, Beijing. You think we built the roundabout fast? I saw whole building demolished and rebuilt in a couple of months. So, when I saw the new roundabouts, I wasn’t impressed by the speed of the construction because all the necessary tools were there to complete the task.

Will and drive brought liberation to this nation of ours and will and drive is what will bring development as well. However, lest we forget, will and drive wasn’t enough then and isn’t enough now; the right tools were, and are, needed in the right pair of hands.

Currently, the vast majority of our people live in rural areas. They farm the way their great-grandparents farmed and they live the way their parents lived. All of which is a recipe for disaster. As a country we cannot afford to let this happen. We cannot have a vibrant and innovate urban class while our rural brothers and sisters get further and further behind.

Right now, the Government of Rwanda is being rightly lauded for its policies of rural electrification, affordable healthcare and 12 Year Basic Education. That is well and good. But what I’ve realized working for Tigo Rwanda, is that there are two huge gaps that can, and should be, filled by the private sector in partnership with the government. These are the financial and digital gaps.

No one works as hard as rural folks. They wake up at the crack of dawn and work in the hot sun all day just so that their families don’t starve. That is no existence in my opinion. There is no ‘Agaciro’ in that kind of life.


What we need to do as a community is figure out how to bring up the very least of us

The thing is, very often all that is needed to improve their lives are small technological innovations. For example, we at Tigo are working on and about to launch a pilot project with tea farmers at the Mulindi Tea Factory and the Sagashya Tea Factory (in Gicumbi and Rusizi District respectively) that aims to better the farmers lives through increased digital and financial inclusion.

Currently, when the approximately 10,000 tea farmers in the two districts are paid at the end of the month through their SACCO accounts, they face a huge problem. Because the vast majority of the SACCO account holders don’t live anywhere near their area SACCOs on payday they have to wake up extremely early and walk for hours to get there. When they do arrive they have to line up for hours on end just to access their money. Which isn’t always a given. The lucky ones are able to get their money that day but the unlucky ones have to go back home and go through the process all over again the next day.  The waste of time and energy isn’t the worst thing about this; the worst thing about this is that during this whole time, they aren’t able to work and earn the money that their families so desperately need. Remember, they do not have a monthly salary; they are paid when they work.

Tigo Rwanda saw this issue realized that there was an opportunity to make the tea farmers’ lives better. All it had to do was figure out a way to link the farmers SACCO accounts to their Tigo Cash mobile phone accounts and allow these farmers to withdraw and deposit their money though their local Tigo Cash agent.

What Tigo did was create a platform that allowed the farmers to deposit and withdraw money, through their simple mobile phones, into and out of their SACCO accounts. Then after creating the platform, creating a scheme that gave farmers phones on credit (because many couldn’t afford mobile phones in the first place). Tigo Rwanda was able to do in partnership with Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) and the Woods Foundation. And while Tigo Rwanda will officially launch the project in the coming weeks, today these farmers do not have to live the way they used to before; they have joined the digital age. They see the infinite possibility of the tool that is called the mobile phone.

That, my friends, is what ‘liberation’ means to me today. It is about the liberation of our collective potential. It is about the awakening of the indomitable Rwandan spirit. What our jobs are, as a collective, is to figure out a way to provide the tools that will awaken this spirit; no matter whether it is a word of advice, a government scheme or even a simple mobile phone.

Defining who we are is the very foundation of the new Rwanda


President Kagame meeting with Rwandan students in a past visit to China

On Thursday I will join about three hundred young Rwandans to debate a question that I feel is extremely pertinent, especially now that we are on the cusp of major constitutional and political change. The question is, ‘What do you stand for’?

I believe that before you can answer that question you need to be able to answer this one; ‘who are you’?

It was only in the latter parts of my life that I was able to actually able to confidently answer that question; as someone who was born a refugee, raised in the West and mostly educated in Africa, I had a huge problem reconciling with all the different facets of my personality.

What were the contradictions I wrestled with?

Firstly, what did it mean to be Rwandan; especially when my most formative experiences took place in other countries? Secondly, what did it mean to be a responsible and enlightened citizen; especially when my entire political viewpoint was based on a Western model?

The biggest conversation we are having right now in the country is about the constitutional amendment to change presidential term limits. This is a conversation that I believe is pitting two major forces against each other; one that I call the ‘Agaciro’ viewpoint and another that I call the ‘Classic’ viewpoint.

Let me define these two terms. The ‘Agaciro’ viewpoint is one that I feel, especially among the younger generation, has come to the fore over the last decade or so. To me this viewpoint can be defined as when one stubbornly refuses to believe that anyone is inherently superior to them, especially when it comes to the decisions that directly impact your life. And damn the consequences.

So when someone with the Agaciro mentality discusses the amendment with someone who doesn’t want to change the term limits, they come at it thus; “Four million Rwandans petitioned Parliament to amend the term limit clause of the Constitution, who are you to ignore their wishes. Who are you to assume to know better than them”?

The ‘Classic’ viewpoint is one that has been fed to all of us, like breast milk, from birth. It is a viewpoint that comes from learning that John Hanning Speke discovered the source of the Nile, that the Abrahamic god is the ‘real one’ and that there is something quite superior about all things foreign.

So when such a person discusses the constitutional amendment issue, they come at it in a very formulaic way; “rules are rules. We decided in 2003 that we would have two-term presidency, so why change it”?

For the longest time, I leaned towards the ‘classic’ school of thought. My entire education and training screamed, “rules are rules. No matter the context. No matter the reasons. Rules are rules”

Only after talking with others who hadn’t lived my experiences was I able to challenge my own stubborn point of view. I came to the realization that refusing to acknowledge the political astuteness of my fellow Rwandans was an attitude that was steeped in prejudice and a mindset that was both colonial and paternalistic.

I was saying that Rwandans did not know what they were doing or what they wanted. I had infantilized them.

So, who am I today? I’m comfortable enough to say, yes, the Rwandan people might know something that I, and my Western education, culture and mentality, don’t. I feel comfortable enough to say that yes, Rwandans have the right to choose who they want to become. I’m comfortable enough to unashamedly say, I’m a proud son of Rwanda and all that it means.

The question is, as a self-styled son of Rwanda, what exactly do I stand for? I stand for reasoned debate. I stand for respect for all. I stand for pride in oneself. I stand for ambition and the betterment of all. I stand for high standards for myself and those around me.

What don’t I stand for and what will I never accept? Thinking that anyone is better than me. Thinking that my destiny is not in my own hands; that I’m not the captain of my own ship. That I don’t have a voice and that my voice isn’t important. I will fight to the very end to assert what I believe in.