Ok slept for some few hours before finding myself awake. I could not manage a sleep. I have programmed my body to wake up always by 6.30am but this one was unique. I found myself up by 6am despite sleeping almost at 5am. I freshened up then went up (4th floor) to take my breakfast ready for the day.
Up on the fourth floor I found Allan Kassuja with Mr and Mrs Aly Khan already taking their breakfast. You know EA food don’t differ much but our brothers and sisters in Rwanda loves beans and so you would expect lots of beans around. Let me tell you guys, Allan is big. As big as my cousin Aggrey maybe. Allan is also an activist now and very friendly. Apparently Allan is from Uganda but he speaks very good Luo and having spent lots of time in Kisumu and surrounding areas, he basically knows even my home area well. He is also very easy with strangers and so funny but so passionate about good governance and democracy. We had a great chat and a brief of what to expect and rundown on what is it to engage President Kagame since Allan had interviewed him before.
Allan briefed us on how our host is very well informed and reads deep into questions. He is also very firm and my be intimidating as well as gently stern at the same time. I was really getting curious in knowing President Kagame more so I decided to leave the table and go back to the room. I didn’t spend even 20 minutes in the room. I immediately left for town centre boarding the motos (motorcycle ttaxis) and asking the riders why they really love Kagame and what if given a chance they would ask him. Most of the Rwandans I chatted with on the street and at the barbershop and boutique in downtown Kigali believe that the priority now is peace and just like any human being, Kagame will never be perfect but for now it works for them and so I was not able to get one strong issue to hold him with. There were two who told me that they really want to see more fundings for SMEs and more on equality since the President has given the girl-child much attention and sometimes at the expense of the boy-child.
It was refreshing talking to ordinary Rwandans and getting to know what they thought. I came back to the hotel around 1pm and went straight to my room. I did not feel like taking anything for lunch. I am always well driven and active with an empty stomach so I rarely take meals when facing strong challenges. I picked my laptop, iPad and a few cables and went straight down. I expected the President’s aides to be strict with what we can carry into the room and so I carried many devices hoping that they might allow one or two. I foundothers at the Des Milles Colline lobby. We waited and chatted for sometime taking photos and just loving the moment. We then went out looking for our bust at around 2pm after waiting in vain to be called. Our driver assumed that we knew he was outside. He speaks no English and just broken Swahili with better French.
We met Joe Mucheru of Google outside while we were going to board the bus. Joe Njeru was missing from the group. We struggled looking for him all over. We later found him relaxing in his room. Ndugu, ulitutesa.
We headed northwest into Avenue De L’ Armee and then left onto Revolution Boulevard where we found barriers upon barriers mounted by the special police units who were professional and gently in checking everything we had including being courteous in asking our driver questions. I could not understand a word of Kinyarwanda but I could see that they just wanted enough reasons why they should let us through. Personally, I did understand why we must go through all that. Our comfort and luxury should not override national interest. If anything happened to Paul Kagame, I did not want it to be that it was because some Kenyans were visiting.
We disembarked from the bus then found a small gathering outside the hotel waiting to enter. The presidential guards were in charge and were very gentle in asking for info and the moment we gave out our info, we were allowed through. Our names were already on the list. Yolaine (forgive me for not getting the name right) was from the President’s office and she asked us to make one line so that we could be easily identified by the security. One of the friends we came with from Kenya, Rakesh, took it upon himself to call our names from the already prepared list and we were allowed through. to the next security level where we had to shed everything and be frisked. Mobile phones were a No No except for 3 of us who got to enter with them because we are just so addicted to Tweeting and Facebook everything. Computers and all electronics were properly checked and we had to put them on and let them run for sometime or perform random functions. If you had a camera you had to take shots lest they allowed something which could be used to detonate a bomb remotely. We went through the metal detectors and then for the physical frisking where each one of us was frisked while to guards looked on.
We passed through and then took the stairs on the left for the second floor where the main auditorium was. I entered and met the RDB Rwanda team who directed me to where we were suppose to sit. I found Eve De Souza already seated at the front right side of the podium where we were assigned seats. It was a great number with over 200 people attending. Attendance was by invitation only. 10 minutes later, two very very beautiful ladies entered the room shadowed by two ladies and a man show I assumed were Presidential aides. I quickly identified that they wore a green badge on their lapel which I was later told was used to identify the Office of the President staff. I just guessed that this must be the President’s only daughter, Ange. She was wearing jeans wish well fitting sphagetti top or something like that. She was with another lady who I was later told is a family friend.
The MC, Allan Kasujja psyched the audience and asked very pertinent questions as well as putting the event on context. He later invited the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, John Gara. The CEO took to the podium and started reading a very inspirational speech from himself and telling the audience on what opportunities were available in Rwanda. And just two or three minutes into his presentation, President Kagame walked in shadowed with just 4 bodyguards and no aide-de-camp (I thought it is an African tradition). He was accompanied by Aly Khan Satchu.
The panel consisted of Alphonsine Niyigena (PSF), Albert Kinuma (MTN), Amin Gafaranga (an entrepreneur), Suraj Sudhakar (Acumen fund), Yida Kemoli of TransCentruy and others I cant remember their names. They took their places at the podium and Allan invited Aly Khan to do a presentation.
After Aly Khan, it was the President who was invited to speak. He said he was made a prepared speech but “when you want to win, you speak from the heart”. President Kagame spoke of what his vision for Rwanda and Africa is. How the country is tackling the corruption, ethnicity and other ills affecting it. The President was in a very cool manner telling us why he should not be thought of as a dictator but just as a strict leader. He talked of the foreign influence and why everyone who comes to Africa and Rwanda should come with what can benefit either both the Africans and the foreigner or simply Africans. He says that he does not have much respect for foreigners who come to Rwanda but only want to exploit the country and leave nothing useful to the countrymen. The President also addressed the issue of equality because Rwanda just like Sweden has women dominating in leadership. Most of the Rwandans whom I talked to believe that President Kagame would hand over to a woman. Rwanda’s parliament is 56% female. President put the percentage of women in Rwanda at 54%. When I asked him if the country’s affirmative action might be at the expense of the betterment of the boy-child. He says that historically, the boy child was favoured and the girl-child at a loss. So the country has been trying to rectify that but he agreed that it must be leveled at some time so that men and women all feel equal.
The President was very much at ease in answering the questions either from the panel and the audience. He said that he is very much for those offering solutions than those seeking solutions. He believes that he is not an angel and so he also needs to hear what solutions everyone else might have.
After the engagement the President joined others for a cocktail. What you would notice is that the President was mingling freely with others and even stood to take pictures with many others. I have covered Kibaki on one or two occassions and during the media stake-out, it becomes very dangerous to even step close to the President and ask a question. The Kibaki guards have on two occassion manhandled journalists while I am watching. They have a way of grabbing someone’s groin until he/she feels such a pain they would not dare move. Kagame’s guards are very stern but simply professional. They don’t have the old and alcoholics’ face which Kibaki’s have.
All in all, it is very hard to talk about Rwanda when you have not visited the country. We later that evening went to Repulica restaurant in Kigali. Very farm-house like and serving great food. The owners are a lovely couple and they know Francis Michuki who was one of the friends we went with. BTW he is the son of Minister John Michuki but you will never notice it. He manages Windsor Hotel. We ate the Ngege and Omena at the restaurant and lots of of Nyam Chom . Others later went out to dance the night away while some of us went to our rooms.
From Nyanza Cultural Centre
The morning of Friday 19th, we set for Nyanza Cultural Centre where we visited the Kings Palace. It was such a great trip that in the evening we couldn’t make it for our flight and only those who did not come to Nyanza made it back. We were rescheduled for the next morning flight and this time woke up at 4am just to make it in time. We loved the fact that there was free wi-fi at the Kigali International Airport unlike JKIA where you wouldn’t find such a facility.