A colleague of mine who was a revolutionary in his youth and considers anyone under 50 a spring chicken, just commented on how lucky young Rwandans are: “You are living the dream we had in our youth of an unshackled, self-confident, proud Africa. Me and other Africans see Rwanda as one place where this dream is finally coming true.”
It made me think about some of the wonderful things that have happened this past year and convinced me more than ever that together, Rwandans can and will handle anything that comes our way, the Rwanda way – with seriousness and guts, style and grace.
Here’s just a few of the things that boosted my love of the Rwandan spirit in 2016.
Yes – not football. Who knew this sport would turn out to be so popular? Every year Tour du Rwanda draws riders from all over the world as well as massive, enthusiastic crowds all over the country. The routes over our thousand hills are out of this world, the images spectacular. The prowess of Rwandan riders is incredible. Their personal stories are even more inspiring. Team is Team! Cycling can only get bigger and brighter in the years ahead, which is good news for both sports and tourism in Rwanda.
2: Young, bright specialists in our hospitals
I bumped into one of them at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, and felt better instantly. Dr Florence Umurangwa is Rwanda’s first female surgeon urologist. Like her other colleagues at the hospital she had just completed many years of medical school specialisation. I check out her twitter account, she’s a total surgery geek, belongs to a new association of African women surgeons. We have a long way to go to get our healthcare services to where we want, but these women and men in white coats, bounding through the hospital corridors, are on a mission to get us there.
3: Genocide suspects sent back to face trial in Rwanda
There are no excuses left for any country not to send back fugitives to stand trial for crimes that were committed here. Rwanda has worked hard to rebuild our justice system, from scratch. We have abolished the death penalty and reformed our prison system. This is why infamous suspects like Jean-Claude Iyamuremye and Jean-Baptiste Mugimba have finally been expelled from The Netherlands after years of fighting extradition. It’s a validation of Rwanda’s ability to conduct fair trials for the worst crimes, provides some relief to survivors and strengthens trust in our judiciary. So when Iyamuremye and Mugimba have their day in court, they will do so in a country they are accused of trying to destroy, but is today better in every way.
4: Rwanda hosts the African Union Summit
Even though we had a major rehearsal by hosting the World Economic Forum in May, the AU was a whole different kettle of fish. Many people I know barely slept in June and July, instant roundabouts became talk of the day, endless discussions about correct punctuation in outdoor branding… and the Kigali Convention Centre was finally revealed ahead of Rwanda’s biggest event ever. When it was all said and done, the entire country exhaled and there were high fives all around for a job well done. Over a two-week period, Kigali welcomed 35 heads of state, 3000 delegates, in more than 50 hotels. It was nerve-wracking but satisfying. And now we know we can do it again and do it better. Thank you Africa!
5: Kinyarwanda music scene
Blaring out on the popular radio stations and even louder at local concerts, it’s happening and it’s refreshing. From Jay Polly to Knowless, to Tom Close (paediatrician by day) to King James to Charly and Nina, to Yvan Buravan (who does Sauti Sol better than Sauti Sol – don’t tell them) to personal favourites Teta Diana (old soul in a bright young mind) and Mani Martin (who is just finishing up a university degree) and many other talented performers, they provide the soundtrack to our days. It gets even better when they collaborate with fellow African musicians from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa. The drive home from work has never been more fun. It’s so good that it’s no longer embarrassing to not know what Lemonade sounds like, or having to google DJ Khaled.
6: And then you have those that find a good thing and make a great business out of it
Joseph Masengesho, the founder of inyarwanda.com (ranked #7 site in Rwanda) and his colleagues have built an impressive platform for Rwanda entertainment. At the last Rwanda Day in San Francisco, he spoke so eloquently and knowledgeably about opportunities for online businesses and particularly the growth of the music and entertainment industry in Rwanda. This year, a sleek new player made its debut – the avant-garde streaming service www.journal.rw by Innovation Village. It simple, stark and gets the best out of every performance featured. We are definitely sold.
It’s never been a better time for Made-in-Rwanda everything, and this year our design pioneers were out in full force. What’s fascinating is many of them have a unique back-story of switching careers to follow their passion. A few favourites: Moshions (Moses studied engineering), Rwanda Clothing (Joselyne was a film editor), Angaza (Maria and Monica combined concern for environment and design) and the CollectiveRw creatives (none of them studied fashion or design). They are all proudly flying the flag. Definitely worth watching and supporting. So please buy Rwandan at every opportunity.
Rwandans on Twitter are insightful, insufferable, entertaining, patriotic, profound, petty and everything in between. What’s important is that they are there and they have things to say. Five years ago, apart from tweets from official government accounts and a few individuals ahead of their time, the Rwanda timeline was almost barren. Today, it’s loud and buzzing all day. Although some #RwoT debates make you long for the quieter days, there’s no doubt that this is an important platform for many Rwandans.
9: Gaël Faye
Need I say more? ‘Poet, rapper, activist for justice, award-winning first-time novelist. Making big news in France, a country which is both his own and at odds with his other country, Rwanda. It’s heartening to watch him handle sticky interviews with wisdom beyond his years. Petit pays, big-hearted people.
10: Finally, RwandAir!
There are several things that make Rwandans super proud, the national carrier is one. Mirroring Rwanda’s own trajectory as a nation, our young airline is taking calculated risks to provide desperately needed connections between African countries. RwandAir is also contributing to our economy by facilitating business, tourism and diplomacy on our continent beyond. The acquisition of two new Airbuses (Ubumwe and Umurage) and Boeing (Kalisimbi) means even more good things are coming our way. Hopefully this includes more Rwandan women pilots to fly these birds with pioneer Esther Mbabazi. I can’t wait.
So 2017, turi tayari – we can only say yes. Bring it on.
(Republished from current issue of Inzozi, RwandAir’s inflight magazine)