My Great Experience in Rwanda at #MindSpeak Kigali …..Part One

The Group from Kenya Boarding RwandAir flight for Kigali
Now this is something which I did not plan. It was something which I didn’t even know of until 3 days to the actual take off. Apparently, I was on the list of the few Kenyans who were invited by Aly Khan Satchu ( he of the RICH fame) to be part of the Mindspeak Kigali. I knew that this was going to be a great experience because Mindspeak itself has never disappointed. Again I was going to meet a leader who many have loved and some have hated for various reasons which you wouldn’t expect considering the history of Rwanda and the rise to power of Paul Kagame.

Amani our guide at the Scene of the 10 Belgium Soldiers Massacred in Kigali

On Tuesday 16th August, I was among the group of Kenyans who went to witness what the Kenyans4Kenya contribution is doing to the people who were intended to benefit from it. I together with Nameless & Wahu, Mark Masai, Laura Walubengo, Boniface Mwangi, Ahmed Jibril (Chairman of 748 Air Services and Java), Ahmed Salim, Nelly of RedCross and many others left for Lodwar in the morning through Wilson Airport. We landed in Lodwar around 9.30 after the one hour and twenty minutes flight. We then had to drive for more than two and half hours to Kalapatan village in Turkana South. It was such a great experience in itself and I will tell you why later.

So the Lodwar experience was phenomenal that I was only able to come back to Nairobi at 9pm and so did not have much time to prepare for the flight to Kigali. Immediately after alighting from the plane, I emailed Aly Khan to get updated of the Kigali journey details. I was told to check my mail. The mail was hidden somewhere in the middle of over 200 email I receive in a day. I got my ticket plus details of the trip including locations we were to visit and a brief about our host. I was happy and set but a bit scared of myself. I never fail to be inquisitive and sometime it makes those I question very uncomfortable.

TeryAnne Chebet so sombre at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

On Monday, after getting the invitation to be part of the Mindspeak Kigali, Aly Khan later informed me that my phone number, bio and a few details were required for the journey. He sent the email at 1pm but I was in a meeting which lasted for 3 hours and so I could not see it until later when I put on my phone. I got the message at past 3pm that I should sent the details or I will have to be dropped. I sent the details by 5pm and I was then included on the trip. I was scared on Tuesday evening because of what people have been saying about Paul Kagame’s leadership and his non-tolerance of nonsense. So I thought what my phone number means and also brief history. I kind of feared that I was a marked man.

The Group from Kenya so sombre at one of the graves of the genocide victims

So we were at the airport by 8am and on air by 8.50am for the Kigali flight aboard RwandAir. One hour later we were at Kigali International Airport which is not as busy as JKIA. It is rather organised and clean. Going through immigration I was kind of intimidated some more when the officials were asking more than enough questions. We were asked questions like what are you here for? “For how long?” “Who is your host?” And “which are some of the places you expect to visit?” I was taken back with the questions and they became more curious when we mentioned that the President was our host. Anyway I think the immigration is trained to ask such intimidating questions to separate the wheat from the chaff.

At the arrival lounge we were met by two very sharp ladies spotting BlackBerrys. In fact I could see that one had a BlackBerry Torch and the other might have had the Bold 9000. I came to realise that BlackBerry is the most dominant smartphone among the miiddle class of Rwanda. You wont see much of Nokias, Samsungs and others as it is the case in Kenya. I was cagey still and thought that these might just be the President’s trusted few. Until when they introduced themselves as from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) which is the body in-charge of promoting investment. I realised that RDB is actually like tourism promotion council in Kenya only that the most promoted tourism in Rwanda is the investment tourism not the holiday tourism.

Getting into the shuttle bus, we realised that we were in another territory. We were booked into  Hôtel des Mille Collines (a four star hotel) which is where the hotel Rwanda was shot. We went through the check-in process and handed our key rooms. My room was 123 overlooking the Nakumatt, Kobil petrol station and Bank of Kigali which is also next to KCB. We later went down and took our lunch read for the 2pm city tour. Everybody was eager to know what was up in the whole tour and what we would experience at Kigali Memorial Museum which is the main genocide Museum.

So at 2pm Amani (peace) our guide was there psyched up for the tour. He was friendly and welcoming giving us lots of info and treating us with most high respect. He even took us round to the estates where you could buy a house or land and secure your investment. It was at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum that we did see a sense of sadness because none of us could stomach the video narrations and images, skulls, blood stained weapons and all those that brought back the ugly memory of the genocide. On the bus, Amani reminded us that people thinks that the 1994 genocide was the first. In fact the first genocide (according to official reports) occured sometime in 1959 – 1961 where more than 100,000 mainly Tutsis were butchered during the “Hutu Revolution”. The 100,000 butchered then were one third of the Tutsi population then. The 1994 genocide was actually the second genocide where 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in the second such genocide. I really value human life and so the thought and view of the remains of what happened actually made me think a lot about what we should do to live harmoniously.

I related to this event because it brought back the memory of my actual blockage from further UN programs. In March 2006 when UN Secretary general was visiting the DRC while ending his second term as the UN secretary general, Koffi Annan, I asked a question which has forever put me into the UN blacklist of employees. I asked the SG if he felt that the blood of the over a million Rwandans who were butchered in the 1994 massacre should not be on him considering that he was the head of UN Department Peace Keeping Operations (UN DPKO) and since he was a political appointee, he would have gone much against the official position and saved lives. The forum was rushed, I was denied the chance and come the next contract renewal, I was told that my position was “being discontinued because of operational requirements”. Immediately I started signing off, my position was advertised and that resulted into the over one year battle with UN officials through the JAB and OIOS.

So the tour of Kigali was a kind remind of that day in March 2006 when I faced the UN officials and was sacked for my position.

We later came back to the hotel around 6.30pm Central African time and proceeded to the rooms to change before joining the Rwanda Development Board officials for the RDB dinner on the fourth floor of the Hotel Des Milles Colline. I realised that there were enough office of the President officials at the dinner and they wanted really to ask what we thought we wanted the President to talk about. I was a bit blunt and told them that we know what Rwanda has gone through, we understand the history well enough and it would only be good that nobody be become so eager to know what we might ask the President because to some of us, Kagame is a hero and to others, he needs to convince some more. They loosened up when I asked them what they really though about Kagame and also when I told them that it is the Rwandans who really know whether the Kagame rule is good for them or not. Whatever we could as the president, we are just foreigners and we cant impose our standards of democracy on Rwanda.

Team Leader Aly Khan at the Memorial Centre

That evening me together with 4 others on the trip went out to Shooters Club. This is one great club for sports lovers and it was great that the same evening, Barcelona was playing real Madrid and they whooped the backs of the Madrid team well enough. We later went out and just sat, talked about Africa, popped Champagne courtesy of a friend called Francis and the owners of Shooters who are two young Rwandans barely in their twenties. I asked the present Rwandans why they think Paul Kagame is the man. Most of them were of the opinion that this is the only man who gave them a chance to make a decent living in Rwanda. Most of them were directly or indirectly affected by the genocide and they would rather the devil they know. They believe that there are those Rwandese who will never accept Paul Kagame but the majority love him and would want him to continue. I learnt alot from the group and we shared the laughter and memories. Some were 10, 5, 15 or 7 when the violence occured but they would rather not see it happen again in the name of fighting Kagame. They say it is not broken so nobody should try to fix it for the Rwandans. We enjoyed the company and only managed to find our way home around 4am Central African time.

Part Two coming up…………………………………..


Written by Robert

Respected Kenyan blogger, tech evangelist, and social justice activist. Robert is known for his hard-hitting articles and opinions disseminated through his Twitter handle @RobertAlai or Facebook page (

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