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O, Nkabom*

Tuesday 28th September 2010
by

Mehwish Zuberi, from Pakistan.


*CAUTION! A plethora of stuffy sentimentalism/gooey-ness, use of analogies that might not make any sense and raw emotion is contained within the following document. Remember, you have been forewarned.

***

My legs feel cramped as I sit huddled in the inhumanly tiny Pakistan International Airline airplane seat. I look around and the sight of these familiar faces gives me a heady feeling. Familiar not in the sense of having known them for a number of years or something. No. Familiar along the lines of facial expressions, hand gestures, dressing and most significantly language. Hearing everybody chatter in Urdu, my native tongue, makes the past ten days all the more unreal. Did that really just happen? Was I really a part of such a diverse group that the only person who could identify the sounds I made when I spoke my mother tongue as words was a girl who belonged to the cultural haven that is India? Did I really walk, talk, eat, breathe, laugh, sing, dance, live with a cluster of people, who by now are spread in every corner of the world, from Canada to Australia, from the Bahamas to Malaysia? Is the same heart I departed with from the Islamabad airport, only ten days ago fluttering from a heady concoction of excitement and anxiety about to return with me to the same airport only this time heavy with such overwhelming emotions that it starts sinking at the mere thought of Nkabom being over, thus inducing a warm buzzing in my lacrimal glands and the waterworks we commonly refer to as tears start flowing? Did that really just happen?

To say that Nkabom changed my life would be quite an understatement. Having to choose where to begin to support this assertion would be tantamount to having to choose which blade of grass is greenest in one of the lush fields we passed through on our way to Nyungwe. Little had I known that this conference in a little land-locked country in East Africa that was aimed at peace building and conflict resolution would both resolve and arouse conflicts in the rainforest of thoughts and emotions that is my head. The difference was that these were direly needed conflicts in a region that has for far too long been suppressed into peaceful non-questioning. Maybe it was the African air that jolted in me that much needed spark. Maybe it was one or all of the long sessions that apart from focusing on universal issues, wars, human rights, peace building, leadership training and various areas collectively dealt with discovering ourselves. Well, for me at least. Coming from a society that has conditioned me along with most of my peers into not questioning, following the shepherd like a flock of sheep, discouraging experimenting, making mistakes and learning from mistakes, Nkabom was a whirlpool in the seemingly calm ocean that I was on the inside. I came not knowing why it is that the consumption of alcohol is forbidden in my religion only to have my agnostic Malaysian friend very casually explain it to me one evening by the swimming pool while we were all in the ice-breaking process. To me that was one of the many moments of enlightenment that I was to encounter during my stay in Rwanda as an Nkabomer. I learned that to follow something without questioning it is a dangerous thing to do, like swallowing a clear liquid. You do not know what it will do to your system, short term and long term. I learned that questioning your faith does not necessarily mean losing it. Sometimes it means strengthening it, like it did in my case. My agnostic friend very beautifully summed it up, ” I know for a fact that challenges around you only make you stronger like how I made you a more faithful Muslim.”

I have always been open about my consideration of hypothetical situations as silly. “What would you do?” What would I do? How the hell am I supposed to know in advance what I will do? Kamila Shamsie asserts, “You can only know how you feel in the here and now, and not how you will feel years, months and even days down the line.” Tested and proven. I had no had no clue what I would do if I were to be plunged into a cold, seemingly bottomless swimming pool for the first time in my life. Would I struggle, frantically kick my legs, look for the bottom? Would I simply give up and let my self be conquered by the overpowering pool of the water?

In the end, I belonged to the first category. It was initially one of the scariest instances of my life. I held on to whatever support I could grasp. But after the first ten minutes of paranoia (I thought I would drown, yeah) I was able to float by myself. That is, until I remembered i had the swimming capability of a camel and I began screaming my head off. Point is, one can never know what one will do or feel until one does it or feels it. Lord knows, one day I might just end up being the Michale Phelps of Pakistan. It seems highly improbably, but can one really dismiss the thread-like possibility? I hear it from a lot of my friends that they discovered themselves when they traveled to another country, another part of the world. My American host mother feels that way about Germany. Another friend says that about Spain. I highly doubt many Germans or Spaniards would agree that their respective countries hlped them discover their inner-self. It is not about the place you are going to, the language and culture you are surrounded by or even the landscape that is so very different from the one you grew up running barefoot around in. It’s about the change. Change of company, change of norms, change of the legal law, change of “standards of morality”. Morality. Now that is a funny concept. You would think that the countries of right and wrong would have clearly demarcated land boundaries. But apparently, there does exist a No man’s land between them, frequently visited by those freed of the bars of their respective cultural expectations. Those ten days I spent with Nkabom were spent not only in Rwanda, but also in my personal No man’s land. It was a time of firsts. My first living in the moment. My first letting myself be. My first dancing like there is no tomorrow. Let me explain at this point that the year before last, I lived as an exchange student in New Jersey, America for ten months. Quite enough time you would say to discover myself and live as ME. But perhaps I was too young to realize the potential of the freedom I had been awarded, to realize my potential of being ME. Or perhaps I constantly governed my thoughts, my actions and myself on the basis of the answers I would have to give once I went back to my native country. Funnily, once I did return, my regrets revolved around all that I had let slip by. It is peculiar how regrets work. You regret the things you do, you regret the things you don’t do. I returned to Pakistan, to my colorless life that comprised of school, school and more school. Being an avid Twilighter, I tried to see the following Stephenie Meyer quote in light of my personal circumstances. She says, “When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it is not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.” But depression can be stubborn. It deprives you of all reasoning virtue. My extracurricular activities were limited to a dreary extent. I had given up and succumbed to my preordained destiny as a Pakistani girl of growing up an educated woman, sacrificing all hopes of a professional career for my husband acquired through an arranged marriage and birthing/rearing his toddlers for the rest of my life. Countless were the times I cursed my having been born a female and evermore so countless were the times I cursed my having been born a female in a strictly male-dominated society that would not let me be.

Nkabom was the first glimmer of hope that I had felt in a year that lasted more than a decade in my mind. I later wrote to my friend, “I feel like my life has once again been given a purpose.” For so long, I had been constantly reminded by the world and by myself that my capabilities are limited, that I have to conform to society’s expectations, that I should learn to live, love and be grateful for whatever life I had. And at times it was easier to accept than to fight. Everytime I struggled against the wires of the cage that held my wings in place, it seemed to tighten its hold on me all the more. It was easier to give in, and so I did. But Nkabom stirred in me a longing I had long forgotten. A longing to mark my mark in this world. A longing to touch lives. A longing for my name to never die.

When people ask me, “What was the highlight of your Nkabom experience?” I cannot help but laugh. It is like having to choose one hair from a herd of a thousand Himalayan goats to prepare one thread that is to be woven to make into the perfect Pashmina shawl. From the anticipation that built up through email updates from the Nkabom  team and corresponding with the other Nkabomers on Facebook to packing and counting down each day in my mind’s calender, and then putting on a brave face for my utterly fretful mother and concerned father and boarding that first flight to Dubai, to meeting an array of strangers on the airports and losing my passport, my tickets and eventually my luggage, it was all a whirlpool of excitement. Arriving in one piece to Sportsview hotel in Kigali in one piece was miracle in itself and then meeting the people I would be living, laughing, breathing with for the upcoming nine days and trying to remember names and countries with the faces, sneaking a glance at the id card whenever needed, trying to get used to the four flights of stairs to get to my room, potatoes for breakfast, potatoes for lunch, potatoes for dinner, these were all the fundamentals of my Nakbom experience. The sessions instilled in me knowledge worth far more than that of Qarun’s treasures (and only the keys to his treasure were carried on 70 camels, mind you) One of the most unforgettable experiences was how a bunch of straws and some tape taught me about team work, time management, effective communication and being a visionary.

Attending Rwanda’s beloved Paul Kagame’s Presidential inauguration was awe inspiring. I noticed with mouth gaping surprise that his name spelled out in bleachers was comprised of actual people in color coded shirts! The spirit, the fervor, the passion! It gave me hope for my own distress-ridden country direly in need of revolution. This was followed by a number of sessions that began with Rwanda’s history that led to the genocide of 1994, and eventually to peace and stability, along the way taught us the what,  why and how of conflict and conflict resolution. It was one of the most heart-wrenching experiences of my life to visit the Kigali memorial for the genocide. The smiling photographs of the Tutsi’s who in all probability were entirely unaware of the torture, machetes, bombs, bullets and bloodshed that they were fated to endure were far more overwhelming to me than the display of the skulls and bones of the victims. The hike in Nyungwe  National Park was a memorable four hours, for my scoliosis stricken back at least. Being a girl who would choose an arranged marriage to a bearded mullah whom I have never met before in my life over any activity that involves physical exertion, hiking was definitely a first for me. The definite highlight of it was the canopy walk. Living in my tiny closed world where trekking through jungles is not an activity I indulge in very often, I had no idea what a canopy walk was. I learned the hard way. But after the wobbly walk at a height of one hundred and fifty meters (or so our tour guide boasted as I clung desperately to him) and fervently calling out to Allah for protection and for everybody’s amusement, when my feet finally touched solid ground, I felt absolutely invincible. I felt like I could be Pakistan’s Kagame. I felt like I had conquered a number of my fears. The intensity of that euphoria did not last very long, but the essence will remain in a corner of my heart forever. It is that essence that has given me a new found faith in myself.

Other delightful events that occurred would include the British High Commission dinner where I made a number of new friends. And then there was the model CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting)  that put us the shoes of the leaders of the world, in the minds of decision makers and in the seats many of us shall be sitting in years from now. One visit that outshines most others was the visit to a village in Bugesera where victims and perpetrators of the genocide now live in harmony. Chills after chills ran down my spine as I saw a woman who had lost her all  during the genocide stand there and hug two of the perpetrators. A friend later questioned the genuineness of that acceptance. Can one really ever forgive one’s enemy who had inflicted such scars? When I think about it, having to live and exhibit a good conduct on a daily basis with somebody who had inflicted brutalities on you and your loved ones in the past must be an act of unimaginable bravery. That visit instilled in me hope for humanity. This world isn’t so bad after all.

The Rwandan President very graciously accepted our request to conference with him. Coming from a country who’s leaders demand full protocol that involves at least five bullet-proof cars, blocking the roads for hours and for all traffic to be held in order to sate their inflated ego if they ever feel like going for a ride, it was utterly fascinating for me to see a president casually standing, chatting and taking pictures with the youth from countries around the world. No wonder Rwanda has developed with such staggering a rate.

I may be getting unbearably sentimental here and I am sure some people must be wondering what i have overdosed on, but believe you me, Nkabom was a huge deal to me. I met the most outstanding bunch of people and became incredibly close to them in a merely ten days. These people became my confidants, my mentors, my friends for life. They encouraged me with a wink and a nod and a crooked smile to step out of my protective shell and breathe. Live. Be free. They beckoned me to step into the sunlight and to dream and to live that dream. Never in my life have I felt so energized, so motivated to do, be and have what I want. I have learned that the only thing getting in my way is ME. Being a staunch Muslim, I believe in the concept of fate. To add flavor to my faith, I now believe that I am fated to make my own fate. Thank you Nkabom. I am forever indebted.

The residence of dreams

Tuesday 28th September 2010
by

Craig Dixon – Jamaica


Many things inflect and alter with time

Like policies, polities and paradigms –

But the residence of dreams

Is more eternal than time-

Each child’s dream – long before it sighs in earth’s wind –

Has lived in one place beyond the labyrinth of life–and

Every dreamer, rich or poor, was born in

A distinct spot within the labyrinthian twist –

For some dreamers, the course to fulfilment

Proceeds without curves, for others

It’s a meander of hazards and snags –

And still, for others, a mixture of both-

But despite the nature of your course

Your dream awaits your embrace; enduringly-

Strive for your dream therefore, with the same

Desire you have to breathe,

With intensity and courage uninhibited by fear,

Or the rebuffs of men who dare not aspire

To walk on the open plains of freedom-

And surely, in time, through lowlights and fireworks

Tantrums and meditation,

Star-crossed love and passionate love,

You will find your dream in residence,

Where passion sings a calm silence and

The soul examines the queries of the mind-

Fixed beyond the labyrinth,

Waiting – eternally

Nkabom 2010 – Kigali, Rwanda

What it means to be a child of war.

Tuesday 28th September 2010
by

Andi Schubert,  Sri Lanka.

On Tuesday, the 7th of September, we visited the Genocide Museum in Kigali. We were given the opportunity to walk through the gardens, view the exhibits and reflect on the Rwandan experience of Genocide. After the visit to the Genocide museum in Kigali, Nkabomers came together to share their thoughts on what they felt at the museum. Many said that they felt anger – sad, heavy anger. Some wondered why – how – the international community had stood by and done nothing at all while all this happened. Others talked about how they were unable to put their feelings into words… the sadness…

Personally, I felt nothing.

This doesn’t mean that I believe the genocide didn’t happen. It doesn’t mean that I don’t regard the genocide as a cataclysmic event in Rwandan history. But – emotions-wise:

I felt nothing.

Did some of the exhibits touch me? Yes. Some of them are images that will stay with me in my memory forever. But I still felt nothing.

Today, we visited the memorial in the Nyamata Church where close to 10,000 people had been killed by the Interahamwe. We walked through the church and saw the clothes of the people who had been killed there. We saw splatters of blood still on the altar and on the roof; bullet holes in the walls, rosaries gathering dust.

Still I felt nothing!

That was until we went down the stairs into the mass grave. And it wasn’t the rows and rows of skulls and the way that they had been brutalized that struck me; it wasn’t the ID cards or the rosaries; no, it was not even the innumerable bones reminding those who visit of the horrors that this church had witnessed.

It was the story of a girl – and of her coffin. Her name: Annonciata Mukandoli. She was one of the prettiest girls in the area, with many suitors at her feet and after her hand. But she kept rejecting all of them. When the killings commenced, her suitors started looking for her, desperate to find out where exactly she was hiding.

They found her. They raped her. There were 50 men and they raped a single woman. They raped her and then they killed her. They killed her by driving a stick into her vagina.

Does that sound crude and brutal? Well, it was. But it was her story that really touched me in a way that none of the other exhibits – the skulls, the bones, the machetes, the rosaries, the coffins – had touched me. It was the one time I felt something.

This made me wonder: why was it that I didn’t feel anything at the other exhibits or at the museum? Why had it taken the story of a woman being raped by 50 men to make me feel all the emotions that my fellow Nkabomers had been feeling since the beginning of the programme? How could I feel nothing until I was accosted by violence of such unimaginable proportions?

It was then that it dawned on me: the fact that I was a child of war.

I have grown up with violence – violence on the news, among my friends, all around me. I remember as a seven year old seeing the dismembered hand of a suicide bomber: the flesh on the shoulder lying in shreds on the ground as though someone had dropped a log on to the road. I can recall the many times I have seen news telecasts of bodies being rushed to hospitals in the aftermath of a bomb blast. I have a friend who needs to carry with him at all times a letter from a hospital testifying to the fact that he still has shrapnel embedded in his chest. Otherwise he is stopped at every one of the country’s numerous security checks.

These are the sights of a young person who has grown up in the war generation – a generation that has not known what it meant for their country to be at peace…

I suddenly realized that in my own way I had developed a defence mechanism: after all, this desensitization of one’s self towards violence – what is it if not a defence mechanism? Growing up in a war generation, it’s the only mechanism that really works. It is an insidious and subtle process that allows violence to become normal, a part of day-to-day life, a news item, a piece of paper passed around over cups of tea and laughed over at check points. And it takes the rape of a girl by 50 men and her killing to make you feel anything about violence in a country so far away from your own.

I no longer know whether I wish to feel something, anything or not…

Finding the common ground

Tuesday 28th September 2010
by

Nigeria’s Esther Eshiet on the lessons she learnt in Rwanda.

Common. Ground.

Two weeks to my participating in Nkabom, these two words kept resounding in my mind. These words are crucial because they never get the attention they deserve. It is only after something major happens that we realize what we have done, what we have neglected. We are forced to wonder how we got here and then we begin to go through the tedious process of healing, reconciliation, and rebuilding.

According to a popular saying there is unity in diversity, yet we fail translate and domesticate this into our daily lives. This scenario might be an unfamiliar territory for those who come from countries with small populations and only a few ethnic groups, but I come from a country populated by over 140 million people, a country I like to describe as a continent of its own, with its 36 states as countries and its 774 local councils as states; a country that comprises of over 250 ethnic groups speaking over 356 languages.

Yet, this strength in terms of numbers and unique history has not played a central role in Nigeria’s discussions regarding its development. Rather, we continue to be divided along ethnic and religious lines, inflicting upon ourselves the same divide-and-rule system that our colonists used against us.

What is worse is that our political leadership greatly manipulates this prevalent mentality and so further perpetuates this act of discrimination. Political offices are allocated to people not merely because of their competence and/or motivation to do that particular job but also on the basis of what tribe or religion they belong to.

The same situation existed in Rwanda. Although it is a small country with just three ethnic groups, these ethic divisions were nonetheless fueled by their colonists, and a direct result of this was 1994 – the year that marked the occurance of the world’s greatest genocide. As I walked through the Kigali Memorial Centre dedicated to the 1994 massacre of Tutsis and moderate Htus, I pondered, do we really need to wait for something this major to happen in Nigeria or in any other country before we change the stereotypes and break the walls we have created in our minds against each other?

I am inspired by the strength that Rwandans have demonstrated by being able to rise up again after the genocide; this they did by seeking and giving forgiveness, utilizing the role of their particular culture and commonality, promoting the principles of humanity as opposed to ethnic demarcations. Moreover they have indentified and implemented local solutions from within Rwanda and its history – such as the Gacaca courts. This has been resoundingly successful, as is evident in the interactions amongst the Rwandan people and this for me is the common ground!

Therefore as citizens of the world, we have to identify and build upon things that bind us, our human nature is a universal one; we all have blood running through our veins. The melanin within us that decides what colour of skin we end up with might be of differing quantities; the genotypes that decide what we look like might be different in each of us. Even our wants may be varied – but we have shared needs of love, peace and development!

Paul Kagame Oyee!

Wednesday 8th September 2010
by

Canada’s Fawzi Ghosn on the Presidential inauguration.

Just about 3am and the party outside had still not calmed. It wasn’t the usual hustle and bustle that we’ve been hearing for the past couple days. It was the sound of excitement, the sound of happiness, the sound of unity. In just about six hours the city of Kigali and the country of Rwanda would come together to celebrate the re-election of H.E. President Paul Kagame. So, as you’ve probably guessed, sleep wasn’t on the cards that night, especially given the fact that our Hotel (the Sportsview Hotel) was about 50 feet from the entrance of the Amahoro National Stadium where the ceremony was being held. My day started at 5:30am, with a cup of Rwandan coffee (I’m now addicted) and a short walk across the street to witness firsthand what I’ve been hearing all night. After breakfast, we NKABOM-ERS all gathered in the front foyer and met our Minister of Youth representative, Redempter, who handed out the presidential invitation cards to each of us. I was keen on keeping the invitation as a souvenir and would have resorted to stuffing it into my shirt if we were asked to hand them over – luckily we were able to keep them. Upon entrance to Amahoro, I think we were all shocked and amazed to see half the stadium crowd in color coded shirts so that an enormous – KAGAME PAUL OYEE! – beamed at us from the stand. We all took our seats and the ceremony began. Convoy after convoy drove onto the field, dropping off their respective Heads of States. Leaders of South Africa, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Malawi, and Kenya to name a few were among the attendees. The arrival of H.E. President Kagame understandably sparked the loudest cheering. Something that will be etched into my memory for a long time is the moment the band started marching and playing along with the army and police platoons, at that moment an eagle soared into the stadium and circled the crowd – it was an amazing sight to behold.

The swearing in of His Excellency was administered by the head of the Rwandan High Court. Cheering erupted throughout the stadium and with the thousands lined up outside watching on the big screen. Speeches followed from various religious and political figures all congratulating the President on his landslide victory. We witnessed short plays that briefly touched on the history of Rwanda and native dances that captured the attention of all. The President gave the closing speech, first in English then in Rwandan, addressing his people with utter confidence. He spoke with clarity and intention, knowing that every word was being followed by millions across the country. Optimism filled his voice. Unlike many countries across this planet, the Rwandan people truly believe in their leader, they have faith and are willing to sacrifice for a better tomorrow built from lessons learned yesterday. The inauguration was an excellent way to start off this conference that focuses on peacekeeping and conflict resolution. There is no better place to discuss such issues than where we are now. I trust the rest of the week will be just as inspiring and mind opening as today.

A President inaugurated

Wednesday 8th September 2010
by

Albert presents a Ghanaian account of President Paul Kagame’s swearing-in ceremony.

The Nkabom participants (numbering about 37) were part of the over 90,000 people who witnessed the inauguration of Rwanda’s President, H.E. Paul Kagame Oyee on Monday, 5th September, 2010 following his landslide victory in the recently held Presidential elections. Crowds began forming at the stadium before dawn – donning white and traditional imekenyero and umushanana regalia with an intense excitement that woke many participants up before it was 4am. The colourful event was also attended by at least 17 African heads of state at the Amahoro stadium, Kigali, which is directly opposite the Sportsview Hotel where the Nkabom participants were residing.

Beaming with excitement, although mildly dejected initially for not being allowed to bring cameras to the event, all the participants successfully underwent security checking and thronged to their reserved yellow stand of the Amahoro stadium looking very distinct in their blue t-shirts imprinted with the yellow sun and the inscription Nkabom 2010 in front. The first thing to catch our eye upon entry into the stadium was the magical formation of ‘KAGAME PAUL OYEE’. It was amazing to see the name created by human beings with human bodies. The moment became even more ephemeral as, after a short wait, we were awakened by a lively marching parade of the Rwandan Defence Forces, then further mesmerised by a colourful display of the ‘Army Bird’ which was actually flying in tandem with the rhythm and the pattern of the Police Band – drawing applause and cheers from the teeming spectators who had come from far and wide to witness the event.

Then, the heads of state of other African countries started appearing one by one in a motorcade also drawing clapping and applause from the crowd as they majestically made their way up to the podium. Among the attending dignitaries was President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose tumultuous welcome cheers got me as well as other foreign spectators perplexed – apparently he is one of closest allies of President-elect Kagame. Other heads of state included Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin and Francois Bozize of Central African Republic. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the only female President in Africa, was also at the function to at least show that all is not lost with the fight on gender inequity. Her arrival actually got one of the Nkabom participants working on gender equality screaming and shouting to the extent of stepping on my toes for about two times before calming down. Jonathan Goodluck of Nigeria and delegations from Algeria, Uganda, Swaziland and the African Union were also at the stadium to grace the occasion.

The Big Moment then came. It was 10.22am local time and the soon-to-be re-inaugurated President finally arrived. He was greeted by a standing ovation, deafening clapping and massive cheers by his supporters and the spectators. His arrival simultaneously generated the chanting of ni wowe ni wowe (which literally means you are the one) from all the four corners of the stadium to the amazement of the Nkabom participants-who has joined the chanting without actually understanding what it meant.   The national anthem was played and the chanting of ni wowe ni wowe continued until prayers were said by both the leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities. Paul Kagame was then sworn-in as the newly democratically elected head of state of Rwanda for a second 7-year term by the National Chief Justice Allosiya Cyazayire, amidst deafening applause from thousands of his supporters inside as well those following the event on giant screens outside the stadium. President Kagame who was dressed elegantly in navy blue suit with a red tie, took an oath to protect the Rwandan Constitution and the sovereignty of the country from all sorts of aggression be it internal or external. The national instruments of power in the forms of the Constitution, Coat of Arms and Flag which arrived amid tight security were handed to him by the Chief Justice amid clapping and cheers. The President then proceeded to inspect the Guard of Honour mounted by the Rwanda Defence forces.

Just as we thought the event had come to an end, there was another colourful marching parade by the Defence Forces. The excitement of seeing women as commanders in the parade led to my poor toes being stepped on once again by the same gender-quality aficionado. Just before a speech was to be delivered by the President, there was a cultural display that depicted the history of Rwanda and the contribution of President Kagame in rebuilding and restoring the country after the 1994 genocide. The President then gave a speech in which he emphasised the importance of unity in moving the country forward. He then rejected the accusations that he has failed to safeguard human rights and vowed not to let Western critics of his rule influence the path of the Country. He also stated that despite the fact that Africa has real problems — including poor democracy, poverty and the dependence that comes with underdevelopment — foreign governments and NGOs, who are not accountable to anyone, should not dictate the conduct of legitimate states. The passionate President was very clear that…“It is difficult for us to comprehend those who want to give us lessons on inclusion, tolerance and human rights. We reject all their accusations. Self-proclaimed critics of Rwanda may say what they want, but they will neither dictate the direction we take as a nation, nor will they make a dent in our quest for self-determination”. The programme then came to an end paving the way for the dignitaries to leave one-by-one before the participants left the stadium.

President Kagame won  an overwhelming 93% of the Rwanda’s second democratic polls since 1994 genocide which was held on August 9 2010, beating his closest rival, Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo of the Social Democratic Party (5.15%) of the vote and the Liberal Party’s Prosper Higiro, (who polled only 1.37%).

A blast of our host country’s culture

Monday 6th September 2010
by

For those of you who were too tired to go to the Expo, Satang from The Gambia gives a brief rundown of what was on display.

When the day’s session had ended and we’d heard short but educative remarks from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and from the Rwandan High Commissioner, we somehow still had some energy and therefore decided that a visit to the Expo – a trade fair showcasing work and projects from Rwanda and across the region – was the way to close the day.

We went in two buses; I actually moved to Bus #2 because there were only guys there, so I felt special for a while and got filmed by How. However, Claire, Redempter and others joined the bus taking away from me my very unique status; this, however, did not do anything to dampen my enthusiasm. J A lot of information was exchanged throughout the journey among Nkabomers and about what each of us does. After a stop at the money exchange bureau, we finally arrived; tickets paid for by the RCS – thanks RCS!

Nkabomers went in pairs or groups to check out the stalls; these were huge and had a variety of items of interest to everyone: from a radio station operating live, to the Ministry of East African Community (MINEAC), to rolls and rolls of stalls from East African Countries selling everything from locally made juices, beads, bags, crafts and other colourful and bright stuffs.

Many, many people were present there with music everywhere and food being sold at fast-food joints. The atmosphere was laden with the type of fun and excitement where one is hopeful that she comes across an item that she falls in love with and just has to buy.

Two eye-catching items for myself and for my photographer were the fountain built with hot tea running from it and the radio drum. This latter creative and artistic craft is a drum with a radio inside it. It has a traditional feel to it and the radio can run on either electricity or battery or both – pure genius! It was made by people in the countryside, facilitated by the Rural Small and Micro-Enterprise, an initiative that enables rural people to overcome poverty. They had showcased all manner of things made by these hardworking and enterprising rural people.

We met an hour later at the designated spot with people carrying shopping bags that contained souvenirs that they had bought for parents, family and friends. A group photograph was also taken – we definitely could not do without that! – and then we readied ourselves to board the bus. But – someone was missing! (Name withheld for special reasons). We waited and waited and waited but finally she made it back safe and sound. We then headed back to the hotel, with discussions in the bus ranging from work to education to female genital mutilation, to the exciting plans we have whilst we’re in Kigali.

The visit to the Rwanda International Fair wrapped up a satisfying but tiring first day for us. 🙂