Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Development Challenges

The Book                                                                   

Author: Oscar Kimanuka

Title: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Development Challenges

          A case study of Rwanda’s post genocide experience

Publishers: Palgrave Macmillan, New York 

Year:  2009

Reviewed by: Ali Balunywa, a Media Consultant; Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Oscar Kimanuka has been until recently, the head of ORINFOR, Rwanda’s National Bureau of Information and Broadcasting and before that the speechwriter for Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame. He has also written extensively on development issues on Rwanda and Africa in different news articles 

His 176 page hardcover book is written in a formal academic style. The approach can be easily mistaken for a thesis or dissertation. There is a list of abbreviations and acronyms at the very beginning of the book and at the end an appendix, explanation of notes within the text, references and an index.

The aim of the author in writing this book is to share a perspective on Africa’s development challenges in general and Rwanda’s unique post genocide experiences in particular. It offers lessons in post conflict management and it is written mainly for policy makers 

The literature reviewed for his book focuses on secondary sources since it publishes material publically available like newspaper articles and policy statements.

The book examines the challenges facing development in sub-Saharan Africa today and an insight of Rwanda’s post genocide experience. It mainly concentrates on the reforms carried out by Sub-Saharan countries in their bid to develop their economies. He mentions the common reform initiatives as being decentralization, privatization, public sector reforms, performance based contracts and rapid results initiatives.

The book is divided into 6 chapters. The first chapter is the introduction where Oscar examines the background and origins to the Sub-Saharan development challenges, the Rwandan experience objectives and the conceptual and theoretical framework of the study.

The next chapter covers public sector reform programs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Reforms of the 80s and 90s are brought in the limelight because they did not achieve a lot in most countries. The policies were imposed by the donors and provided no scope for ownership by domestic leaders and people.

However, he mentions Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda as countries, which undertook reforms successfully. And as for Kenya, the post election violence reversed all its earlier achievements. A special            

mention of Malawi was made because it was stable 

from independence at the cost of individual freedoms. With a more democratic leadership, reforms are now being carried out.

To explain failures in the French speaking West African countries, he quotes Davidson (2001) who analyzed the economic and institutional reforms in West Africa and established that economic performance measured by per capita income was not encouraging despite the far reaching reforms like privatization, liberalization and regional integration.

The 3rd chapter dwells on reforms in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. The chapter’s preamble is a quotation from Gen Romeo Dallaire’s 2003 book;

“...betrayal, failure, naiveté, indifference, genocide, war, inflammatory evil…” 

capturing what happened during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. 

Oscar introduces ‘Vision 2020’ as the framework the government of Rwanda put forward to transform the country from an agricultural based economy to an information rich, knowledge based society and economy within the next 20 years. One key objective is to turn the country into an ICT centre of excellence in the region. 

The book looks at the historical perspective of Rwanda from the creation of artificial divisions by the colonialists – Belgium – by rewarding injustices against the Batutsi. Thereafter, wars, floods, landlessness and famine became constant features in post independence Rwanda. 

The chapter elaborates on how the economy of Rwanda has evolved since the colonial times up to now. Emphasis is given to the present day reforms and the results that are all too clear to be seen. The reforms have focused on supporting facilitation of creation of wealth and they are result oriented. They also envisage a stable, efficient, effective, impartial and transparent public service responsive to the views of the people.

Oscar keeps on hinting at how the Rwanda experience should be duplicated elsewhere in post conflict situations. He is confident that Rwanda is on the right path and that hers is an example that can be replicated elsewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The next two chapters of the book give us an insight on the role of ICT in the process of reforming the public sector and in Rwanda’s development. It is envisioned that in 8 years, Rwanda will become the focal point of ICT in Africa to be the silicon valley of Africa. Already all cabinet meetings are paperless. All the Ministers work from their laptops during the meetings.

The book is easy to read and to follow. The beginning is somehow difficult because a reader tries to fall into the rhythm of the author. After a few pages it becomes quite interesting. However, for a non-Rwandan, the use of abbreviations is irritating, as you have to continuously refer to the abbreviations page. In Rwanda, abbreviations are widely.

The last chapter tries to find out what can be done to end the endemic corruption that is rife in Africa. African countries are enacting anti corruption laws, establishing Ombudsman offices and there is also the African Peer Review Mechanism, which presents a unique opportunity for self-monitoring by African countries.

The author falls in the usual trap of blaming the origins of the economic crisis in Sub-Saharan Africa on slave trade and colonialism without mentioning corruption and bad governance that has been rampant on the continent.

The book is highly recommended for any one interested in economic development and it will be a good textbook for students of advanced contemporary economics of Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a challenge to African academics and institutions of higher learning whose role Oscar has assumed.

Photo above: The author, Oscar Kimanuka





Lawyer Turned New Media Savvy Journalist

                             Linda Mbabazi at her desk

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

Linda Mbabazi is an unassuming lawyer who has never practiced law. She is an editor at the New Times newspaper in Rwanda. The New Times (TNT) Publications was launched in 1995, as a media outlet publishing in English. It was established just less than a year after the end of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and the return of over a million Rwanda refugees from mainly neighboring countries of Uganda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC then Zaire), Tanzania and Kenya. Many of these returnees were English speakers besides their native Kinyarwanda, a factor that could largely be attributed to the fact that TNT publishes in English. History shows that there had never been an English newspaper in Rwanda before TNT. It is the only daily newspaper in Rwanda.

Linda joined the New Times in 2005 as a freelancer. Sooner than later, she was recruited as a journalist. Today she is the leisure page editor of TNT. Everyday she wakes up at 6.00am and by 6.50 she is in office. On arrival at the office, she checks her mail for stories or story tips and also reads online news especially entertainment.

At 9.00 am she attends the daily editorial meeting where they share tips and story ideas and also carry out a post mortem of the days newspaper. The meeting lasts one hour after which she goes to her desk to type in her stories and coordinate leisure newsgathering.

By 1.00pm she submits her stories to the features editor under whom her portfolio falls. She leaves office at 6.00pm. She also contributes to the weekend editions and therefore works everyday. On whether she has no life, her answer was that she enjoyed her job!

Linda’s computer savoir-faire makes her confident in what she does. She delivers her pages in time and the content is quite interesting. If the pages can be redesigned to achieve a better standard and be able to invite more readers, she will have accomplished a big feat.

Most of the time she sits at her desk typing away day in day out. I later noticed that new media tools assist her do her in doing her work. Because of my interest in digital culture, I asked her if she could tell me more about her work in relation to new media. She consented and that is when I knew that she was a law graduate who decided to become a journalist. The interview took two days before taking place because of her busy schedule.

She explained to me that her use of the new media starts with the basics, that is, typing in stories on her laptop. She uses the spell checker, the Wikipedia and the Internet as a source of her stories and to learn the modern style of writing leisure. Sometimes she receives stories or story tips through her email.

She is a member of many social networking sites like face book, Hi5, Yahoo messenger, Meebo and YouTube. She uses these sites for networking, getting updates, interviewing sources, man on the street and research.

Unfortunately she lost her own digital camera and now uses the TNT photographers whenever she has to go out take photos. She also owns an iPhone mobile telephone, which she uses for receiving, and making personal and work related calls.

Linda was still busy when I conducted the interview, so I did not complete it. However, I sent her an email with other questions, which she answered as below.

Do you listen to radio or watch TV, if yes do they help you in your work?

 Yes, I always do, but mostly TV. I make sure I swatch to different channels, but most entertainment related channels, including MTV Base, E! Channel, Capital and other channel like Aljazeera, BBC, CNN, and CNBC for news.   

And as the radio, I prefer listening to Salus, Contact and Radio 10, for the latest news about our local celebrities. 

Does the Google search engine help you in your work?

Absolutely yes! It really does. I often use to search for facts, and writing style.

Do you text while gathering news, or do you receive text messages?

Both. Sometimes, I send text messages to my sources asking for facts, or when seeking for news. And in return, I receive replies from them, or they send me message texts when they are telling about an event that is going to take place. 

Do you receive SMS alerts for headlines or breaking news?

No…not on my phone, because its not a Blackberry type. But I instead receive Google alert headlines or breaking news. 

Is there anything else you would like to add with reference to digital culture and your work?

I guess not, because I’m sure we exploited everything yesterday. Thanks, and would love to read about my interview





Thursday, July 30, 2009

Buses ferry ICT to rural areas

Inside one of the new mobile ICT buses on its way to Kigali 
             (Photo J Mbanda)


GICUMBI, Rwanda - In a much-publicized move to take information technology to ordinary citizens, RDB/IT has finally introduced two models of ICT buses with Telecentres. Two of these buses arrived in the country via the Gatuna border post.

The move that is aimed at bridging the digital divide in the country comes into force as one of the backbones of the ongoing e-Rwanda Project and will see internet taken closer to citizens especially in the rural areas.

The buses, which are electronically equipped with 22 HP laptops, will be travelling to rural areas to allow ordinary citizens access IT services.

“These buses will be moving to places where the multipurpose community Telecenters and business development service centres are not available,” said Wilson Muyenzi, e-Rwanda Project coordinator.

Described by officials in Rwanda Development Board (RDB/IT) as mobile Telecentres, the buses are meant to provide additional ICT services ranging from printing, scanning and photocopying documents to offering basic ICT training to those who need it.

The pilot phase that is being launched is expected to last a year during which the services will be freely offered to citizens and after which more buses will be imported and a reasonable fee charged to beneficiaries, according to RDB/IT officials.

Acting Director General in charge of IT planning and coordination in RDB/IT, Grace Mutsinzi, revealed that the buses which were assembled in Nairobi are now valued at around Rwf 154m each, the price that include the two generators to power them while serving remote areas.

Mutsinzi also said they have embarked on negotiations with various stakeholders and development partners to ensure that the use of these ICT buses contributes to the country’s vision of becoming a world class ICT hub.

“We shall also partner with schools to provide access to ICT through these buses to primary and secondary students in rural areas with no access to ICT,” he said.

The ICT bus innovation comes as an addition to the introduction of 30 Telecentres all over the country in an initiative that is aimed at boosting both public and private development through information technology.

Largely funded by the World Bank, the e-Rwanda project has also seen the country introduce the telemedicine initiative and e-treatment

                     From The New Times, Rwanda’s leading daily newspaper      Thursday, 30th July 2009                                                                                                                                  

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Negroponte’s OLPC, a Star in Rwanda

Collin Bethel Kabagambe

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

While in Rwanda face to face with a recipient of Negroponte’s largesse, I was humbled into appreciating the effort. I met this 8 year old young man called, Collin  Kabagambe. He is a student of Greenhills Academy in Kigali studying in Primary level 3. 

His mother, Jael paid for the laptop in February 2009, but Collin received it in April this year. Collins claims the whole student community at the school right from kindergarten to secondary school each got the laptop. Each pupil had to part with the equivalent of US $ 220.00 in order for one’s son/daughter acquire one.

Collin demonstrated to me the possibilities of his laptop and I was impressed. He showed me how he can chat with up to 100 of his fellow students. He did not know how many more, but it seemed like infinitive. The laptop itself is robust plastic and waterproof. 

It uses icons to display the different applications. In Rwanda the laptop can practically connect to the Internet anywhere in the country. The browser can be used to access Google and other Google applications. The laptop is capable of recording, video, audio and videos. 

The laptop is capable of saving photos and videos on its hard disk drive whose capacity I failed to establish. 

Collin further took me through the drawing pictures, making shapes, playing using iconised music instruments. There is the “Tamtam” mini, which does the music using the music instruments available. Kids can compose their own music. When I asked Collin, he seemed to shy to come up with anything. 

Collin plays games, makes puzzles, has a Gmail account for mail and has Sim city for games. He explained that the battery lasts for about 3 hours. The laptop has 3 USB ports.

During our group discussions at the university of Amsterdam, I ended up being nicknamed “Negronywa “ or “Balugronte” because of my opposition to Negroponte’s One Laptop per Child initiative for the developing world. 

MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte

“The mission of One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is to empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age In 2002, MIT Professor Nicholas Negroponte experienced first-hand how connected laptops transformed the lives of children and their families in a remote Cambodian village. A seed was planted: If every child in the world had access to a computer, what potential could be unlocked? What problems could be solved? These questions eventually led to the foundation of One Laptop per Child, and the creation of the XO laptop.”

“It was envisaged that close to two billion children of the developing world with little or no access to education would be beneficiaries of this project…. By giving children their very own connected XO laptop, we are giving them a window to the outside world, access to vast amounts of information, a way to connect with each other, and a springboard into their future. And we’re also helping these countries develop an essential resource educated, empowered children”.

The corporate members are AMD, Brightstar, Chi Lin and eBay, Google, Intel, Marvell, News Corporation, Nortel Networks, Quanta Computer, Red Hat and SES Astra. Intel is the world leader in silicon innovation, It develops technologies, products and initiatives to continually advance how people work and live. 

Well as I did appreciate Prof. Negroponte’s initiative, the rate at which he was falling out with partners and adjusting the price of the computer from the original US $ 100. Intel joined the OLPC initiative in July 2007 and took a seat on the organization's board of directors. It also pledged at the time to help fund the group's efforts.

During its participation, it developed an XO laptop that included an Intel chip. However, OLPC executives claim that the company failed to deliver on its agreement when it joined and was attempting to undermine the program.

It was a matter of time and Intel dropped off. What is not gratifying however, is OLPC’s new mate; Microsoft. OLPC’s new operating system after Intel left is now windows. From the very beginning, Negroponte was wary of Microsoft because of his profit-oriented business. And for then now to be in bed together is surely amazing. Microsoft does not invest where there is no profit. Any surprise that the laptop is now US $ 190, up from 170 a few months before? 

So far the Rwanda government has bought and distributed 100,000 laptops.


Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Silicon Valley of Africa

                                                             Mr Emma Nsekanabo, PR, RDB - IT Kigali

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

Rwanda has been touted as a country whose government has deliberately invested resources in ICT. The government IT department is one of the directorates under the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).  Formerly it was called the Rwanda Information and Technology authority (RITA). Today it is called RDB – IT.

RDB is a government parastatal made up of 4 directorates; IT, Business operations, Tourism and conservation and Business operation services under whose portfolio lie investments, enterprises, company registrar, environmental impact assessment, entrepreneurship development, one stop centre, human capital and institution capacity development and privatization.

I got an opportunity to speak to Mr. Emma Nsekanabo, the RDB – IT Public Relations and Communication specialist. They are housed in a new building called RDB building in Nyarutarama, an up market suburb of Kigali just after the parliamentary buildings. 

Emma explained to me that RDB – IT is mandated to lead the government vision to transform the economy into a knowledge based and information rich society. The name changed from RITA to IDB – IT in late 2008 when about 8 government institutions were merged. 

Its agenda is to fulfill the National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) plan, which is aligned with vision 2020, which is now in its second phase, that is 2010 – 2015. The first phase 2005 – 2010 had many challenges and it involved creating public awareness. 

The second phase 2010 – 2015 is focused on laying infrastructure and laying out the various applications. It is fully funded by government. The government spent US $ 8 million to complete the Kigali Metropolitan Project. It involved laying optic fibre wires using the latest technology from Southern Korea in the whole of Kigali city and its surroundings. The government has now secured US $ 40 million to extend the fibre optic cables to the borders of the country to form the national backbone.

All civil works like digging the trenches, laying the cables is being done entirely by the government of Rwanda. The government hopes to use the private public model to manage the project for sustainability and usage. Operators will just lease the cables to ensure a low price for users. 

The Regional Communication Programme (RCP), which is funded by the World Bank to the tune on US $ 24 million, will oversee the laying of the cables from the sea to Kigali. Once ready, Rwanda will break off from the satellite service, which is very expensive.

Rwanda has an edge over the rest of the countries in the region. It is small and can easily achieve 100% coverage of cable. It can therefore realize its dream of being the regional hub.  All schools, government institutions, district headquarters and all the borders will be covered. The government will provide a telecentre for every district with an objective of popularizing ICT in the communities. It will also facilitate training in IT basics for the people. It will no longer be necessary to travel to Kigali for computer training. 

Rwanda has also embraced Negroponte’s One laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and has so far bought 100,000 laptops which have been distributed. It hopes to be able to buy many more until all pupils have one.



Friday, July 24, 2009

Uganda gets Broadband

Uganda gets cheaper Internet



Ugandans’ thirst to get connected to the world through faster data transfer  and website updates without leaving the comfort zone has been quenched by the launch of broadband Internet service in the country.  

Seacom’s fibre optic cable that links East and Southern Africa to Asia and Europe through the Middle East, was intended at providing the East and South Africans access to the whole world through fast, affordable and reliable Internet services. 

Speaking at the Seacom launch in Kampala on Thursday, the company representative in Uganda, Mr Fred Moturi, said the undersea cable has a bandwidith which encourages volume discounts and large bandwidth growth unlike the satellite connections that have been dominating the country for the past years.

It is expected that broadband will reduce the cost of Internet connection by more than 80 per cent lower than satellite connection with a capacity of 1.28TB per second, to provide the much needed Internet connection capacity. 

Seacom broadband Internet which will be sold to the Internet service providers (ISPs) at $400 (Shs800, 000) is $6, 100 (Shs12.2m) cheaper than the satellite technology which costs $6,500 (Shs13m). “Since we will sell ISPs at a cheaper price, we expect them to provide it to the end users at least 75 per cent less,” said Mr Moturi.

The Minister for Information and communication Technology, Mr Aggrey Awori, said the cable will stimulate education growth, health, media and talent while spurring innovation and creativity. “We are going to use the facility as a platform to boost e-medicine, e-education and e-commerce,” said Mr Awori. 
Kenya Data Network constructed a 15,000km fibre optic cable linking Mombasa, Nairobi and Kampala and connects to the undersea cable of Seacom.

The project which cost $600 million (Shs120 billion) had 76.25 per cent of finances coming from African funders and the rest from Herakles Capital, a United States agency.

During the launch, Seacaom with Cisco jointly built a voice, data and video platform where the launch of Seacom was broadcast live via Internet protocol to five launch locations including; Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania.

The State Minister for ICT, Mr Alintuma Nsambu, said the government opted for this Internet to provide alternative cheaper Internet solutions to citizens.

To make sure that customers get full value for their money, broadband companies will be regulated by the Uganda Communications Communication for security reasons.

The Monitor Newspaper 25 July 2009

Affluent Opulance in Rwanda!

                                        Planned Mega Residences in Kigali

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

There is no way anyone can deny that Rwanda is on the fast lane development wise. However, in some instances it really is on the fastest lane. In Kigali, the city council and government have done their best to provide organized housing. Roads, drainage, electricity, water and sewerage are put in place before plots of land are allocated 

I don’t know whether it is the French influence or exposure, but the houses that well off Rwandans build can make Hollywood pale in significance. I have not been to Hollywood, but it is always pushed down my throat (or is it optical nutrition) on TV!

I should first warn you that Rwanda is a very expensive city to live in. Its currency is 3 -4 times stronger than Uganda’s, but you find some goods costing the same whether it is Francs or Shillings! An example is the Ninzi Hill Hotel were I stay, a bottle of beer, water or plate of food is the equivalent if bought in Serena Hotel in Uganda! That is how expensive it is.

Well, back to Kigalians pads. After several failed attempts to connect with a long lost friend. We agreed last Tuesday to have lunch together. He promised to pick me at the office at 1.00pm. At about 12.50, he called and asked me to step out that he would be there within 5 minutes.

I waited outside almost 10 minutes, and then I saw him in this state of the art Mercedes Benz car. He waved to me and I went to the car, opened the door and sat. I wouldn’t know the year of manufacture, model…or whatever, but I was impressed. It had all those extras that you wished you had on your ram shackled whatever…you call a car!

As you approach an object be it a car or man or obstacle, it will warn you to slow down. The car can talk to you, can direct you were to go, I don’t know what it can’t do! We cruised on the smooth Kigali roads to one of those new places for the very rich 

We approached a gate and he got some remote control facility from the glove compartment, pointed it at the gate and it slowly opened. Once in, he again pointed at the gate and it closed! We were driving in silence because of my maalo, (backwardness) In the compound were 3 other Mercedes cross-country SUVs parked.

He apologized for taking me through the kitchen, but I was too busy staring! There was this huge American fridge and a modern kitchen and all apparatus that goes with it. Then we continued to the dining room with a table that sits 10 people spaciously. Within the house were arches and several staircases. Out of curiosity, I begged to use the bathroom. 

I could have as well rested in the bathroom! It was clean, nice smelling and really welcoming. I washed my hands and dried them with the towel provided. It was so inviting, even as I really don’t use towels unless I am at home. 

We were in a domestic environment, but there was this buffet of steamed bananas, rice, Irish potatoes, mashed cassava, fish fillet, roast chicken, beef stew and plenty of vegetables. We shared the lunch with 2 of his daughters who according to their conversation seemed to be studying in America! His wife had gone upcountry and was therefore unable to share with us lunch. 

After lunch we had some fresh fruit and retired to one of the 3 living rooms. I asked him how many bedrooms this massive house had and he told me that there were 8 self contained rooms, and a couple of others could be converted if need arose. When I asked if he bought or built, he assured me, the whole design was his, he built it right from the first brick.

Did I hear someone say 70% of the Rwandans live below poverty level!




Thursday, July 23, 2009

Medical Insurance Acquires Legs in Rwanda

                Rwanda's department of information printing press

By Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

We were talking about printing facilities in Rwanda with Mr. Joseph Bideri, the Managing Director of the New Times Newspaper, when he objected to my suggestion of printing in Uganda in the interim. The New Times is Rwanda’s only daily. It is the leading media house in Rwanda.

As we continued with our conversation Mr. Bideri explained that there was no reason to go to Uganda in the short term when Rwanda already had a Goss Web-offset machine already installed. He preferred in the interim to use that machine as The New Times organized to purchase theirs.

He asked me to accompany him to go and look at it. On our way, we discussed the developments in Rwanda, which the outside world never hears of. He quoted the example of medical insurance. According to him every one in the country pays 200 Rwandan francs (equivalent to 25Euro) to be medically insured. For those who cannot afford it, the government pays for them.

He gave an example of an American based Rwandan who was not aware of this service and wanted to pay a medical bill for her maid who broke her arm while on duty. The maid rejected the money and proceeded to hospital where she was attended to. Meanwhile, her master was worried as to what would happen to the maid. When she returned all dressed up, the American asked her where she got the money. The maid responded that she was insured like all Rwandans, and that all expenses would be paid by the state!

The American based Rwandan was amazed by how a small poor third world country like Rwanda could afford to provide medical insurance for all her citizens, when the mighty United States of America had failed to. And almost 50 million Americans just wait for death if they contract any serious sickness.

By the time we got to the printery, I was wondering how the Rwandans do it and prodigious states fail to!




Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The long story of the cash cheque

                                          A street in Kigali, Rwanda

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

Before travelling from Amsterdam to Kigali in Rwanda, my employers asked me to purchase the air ticket and I get a refund in Kigali. I did exactly that. In Kigali, I was asked to provide any source document to enable them prepare a cheque for me. I printed out a copy of the e – ticket and the process began.

The next day I was invited to the finance manger’s office to pick the money. I had expected a transfer to my account in the Netherlands only to be presented with a cheque of a one million plus Rwandan Francs. I sincerely didn’t know what to do with it! I was advised to cash it at the bank near my hotel.

After work I walked into one bank near the hotel where I was staying. There was so much disorder. I tried to line up, but guys came in and dropped their cheques or cash at the counter. I tried that, and I was asked to follow the line! I disgustedly moved out hoping to try another time.

When I arrived at the hotel, I saw another bank just opposite. When I crosschecked the names of the bank with the cheque, they were similar. I had inadvertently gone to Banque Populaire du Rwanda instead of Banque Commerciale du Rwanda! I walked in. The counters were cashiers sat really intimidated me. I was used to the Dutch banks, which abandoned counters long ago. Dutch banks are friendlier, with an open office arrangement. In any case after opening an account one usually has no business to do with the bank. All transactions are done on phone, by mail or internet/online.

I lined up at one counter, when my turn came; I handed in my cheque and passport. I was asked to endorse it behind with my name and signature. I again went to the end of the line. When my turn came; because the figure on the cheque was more than one million, I was asked to see the supervisor first at another counter!

I found the supervisor talking on phone. His informal manner of dressing did nothing to endear him to me. He talked for about 7 minutes. When he was finished he took my cheque and passport and consulted his computer. After about 5 minutes, I peeped to see what he was searching for, only to realize he was on a sight of another bank checking on some job description.

Where was customer service here, I screamed within me? Not to let my frustration get the better of me, I went away and sat in another section of the bank. I promised to wait 15 minutes and go demand my passport and cheque back. Fortunately after about 10 minutes, he came looking for me. And God! He asked me to write my passport number at the back of the cheque and return it to him! 

I wrote the number but deliberately didn’t return it to him. I took it to the teller. Who rang the supervisor requesting what to do? He asked him in Kinyarwanda language what he should do for the confused foreigner. I swallowed the building anger in me and thought positive. I think he was given the go ahead to pay me. He took his time to count so many notes, which he passed on to me. He was kind enough to accompany the notes with a paper bag.

I asked him the possibility of buying Euros at the bank and he responded negatively. He said they sell foreign exchange to account holders only! I walked to the hotel praying that I don’t get mugged. At the reception, I handed in the paper bag for safe custody. The receptionist opened it and her eyes almost popped out! She must have thought this foreigner had started wheeling and dealing.



Monday, July 20, 2009

Harrowing Experience with the Danes

 In response to my 45 hour flight to Africa, Ziria Alizabasadha Ndifuna wrote about her experience with the Danes. Here she gives a 'brief' account of what happened to her when she travelled to Denmark way back in 2003.

The story;

The visit was organised by Uganda's development partners for the 7 members of the Local government Commission i was working for. However, due to individual circumstances and preferences, each of the seven members travelled seperately to Denmark from Kampala, honoring only the day of start of business. 

I travelled alone via Heathrow, Gatwick airports to Copenhagen - connecting for 2 days. My ordeal started when checking in at Copenhagen airport - customs. There were 3 queues clearly marked - one for residents, another for visitors from EU and America and another for other visitors. I took the appropriate line, and, on reaching the counter, the lady closed the counter in my face! I looked back at the other people lined up behind me and shrugged. We waited and since lines to other counters had dwindled, one by one people behind me ventured to the other counters and were handled. When i took cue and did the same, again on reaching the counter the attendant closed the counter! I saw other africans being served but for me it seemed like a syndicate not to serve me! I waited until another group of people from other arrivals came up and again I took up position in the middle of the line 'not to attract attention'! After spending close to one and half hours i was checked in. 

But wait, the drama was not yet over! As i was going through with all my luggage from the baggage rack - mind you I was supposed to be on 'fast tracking' because I had a club class ticket from British Airways - I was stopped by some 2 mean-looking officials. They ordered me to open my luggage for checking. I obliged and they literally started throwing out everying in all directions. Other passengers passed by wondering what was happening! After throwing out everything, they kicked my clothes with their dirty shoes and ordered me to put back the items and leave. I had been prior warned about these people's anti-black feelings, so I thought it better not to make a scene. Problem was, we were not being received by anyone so I had to be careful lest I sleep in jail! With all the anger and frustration, I put back my belongings in the suitcase and left dejectedly. I knew I was not welcome to Denmark but i was now a prisoner.

The actual stay there was not bad - we were in Copenhagen for 4 days and in Aarhus - the second biggest and industrial city for 3 days. I told my ordeal to one of the hosts and he apologized and said it was common to mistreat Africans at the airport.

My next ordeal was on departure. Again our hosts did not escort us to the airport. This time I was in the company of one of the other Commissioners. As we lined up to check in, on reaching the counter, the attendant confiscated my passport and ticket and declared that there was something wrong with my ticket - that it was not authentic. An officer from British Airways inquired and offered to crosscheck the ticket. She came back and said the ticket was alright and 7 tickets had been made to the Commission and all were verified correct. The danish officer refused to clear me and said it was his decision that I was not cleared to leave! I was told to stand aside and they serve other people!

I literally wept in frustration, and my colleague went through and had to leave me as the last call for boarding was made. I went back to the lady working with BA and she pleaded with the danish officials, and when they heard my name being announced over the loud speakers to hurry up as the plane was leaving immediately, thats when i was left to go. I was energyless after crying, but a BA official came and assisted me with my hand luggage and escorted me right up to the plane as he communicated on his radio. He apologized and told me they were also frustrated with the way the Danes mistreated passengers.

I hope I never have to go to Denmark again - I was humiliated and made to feel that I was not a human being! Talk about holding a Club class ticket - an African posing as a big official could have put them off I was told. But then the other Commissioners were checked in and out without incident! Is that bad luck or what?

Dealing and Wheeling in Kigali

Here I was at 5.00 pm seated at the terrace of my hotel waiting for my dinner. The servings are so big, that I decided to have one meal a day at around this time. The terrace has around 10 tables 3 of which were occupied including mine.

This was on Monday 20 July 2009 in kigali the capital of Rwanda in East Africa. Kigali has the same time as the European standard Time in summer.

At the occupied tables, each had a laptop since wireless internet is available for customers. On my table I was the sole occupant. On my left was also a single occupant. However, on the 3rd table 5 men were seated all staring at the screen of the laptop.  Suddenly all of them rose up fast and ran out of the hotel premises. They left the laptop unattended to.

I could see them through the hedge outside. They sorrounded a vehicle and sort of talked in loud whispers. I could not get what they were saying. They returned as suddenly as they left. They were all smiling. One of them had huge wads of Rwanda francs!

From my experience with Rwanda currency it could have been around 8 million francs, the equivalent of around 10,000Euro. They first argued, then one of them made some calculations on the laptop and they divided the money amongst themselves. I don't know whether it was in equal proportions or not. Soon they were all smiling and laughing. 4 of them left and only one with the laptop remained.

It left me wondering, what deal they could have cut today!

The Unbelievable Truth

Ali Balunywa in Kigali, Rwanda

According to the Wikipedia, the Republic of Rwanda (pronounced /ruːˈændə/ or /rəˈwɑːndə/ in English, [ɾwanda] or [ɾɡwanda] in Kinyarwanda) is a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, bordered by Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania. Home to approximately 10.1 million people, Rwanda supports the densest population in continental Africa, most of whom engage in subsistence agriculture. A verdant country of fertile and hilly terrain, the small republic bears the title "Land of a Thousand Hills" (French: Pays des Mille Collines; Kinyarwanda: Igihugu cy'Imisozi Igihumbi).

The country has received considerable international attention due to its 1994 genocide, in which between 800,000 and one million people were killed. In 2008, Rwanda became the first country in history to elect a national legislature in which a majority of members were women. Three quarters of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 a day.

When I left Uganda in September 2001, I received a good reception in Rwanda. Through my good contacts, I was able to get myself a good job and generally got along quite well with the people of Rwanda until I left the country in July 2002. I therefore regard Rwanda as my second home.

I returned briefly in June 2009 but had no opportunity to see the country. I revisited Rwanda to re-establish contact and agree on how I could contribute to building the nation in the media world.

Sorry to bore you with such a lengthy background, however, my major objective of writing this article is share with you my experiences of Kigali being my second home not withstanding, it is important to pay respect where it is due. On arrival in Kigali, one can be mistaken in thinking he/she is in some European town!

The road network is first class. The roads are new, well maintained, clean and sidewalks well done. You won’t find potholes in Kigali. Palm trees and the traditional avocado trees line the roads. Like in Europe, sidewalks are paved with clay bricks and pedestrian walkways with cobblestone. I have travelled a bit in many African countries, but for me this was a first.

And then the cleanness; I asked, but got no answer as to how cleanness is maintained in this city! After travelling to several dusty African cities, Kigali is different. You won’t find litter along the roads. The Kigalians are aware of the fines that go with littering the city. It is now inculcated in them not to litter their city. It is amazing the standard of cleanness in this city of 1 million inhabitants.

Having stayed in Kampala before coming to Kigali, the discipline on the Kigali roads is legendary. The motorcycle riders in Kampala own the roads and follow no laws. In Kigali, they must put on uniform with a number and stage where they operate. A helmet for the rider and passenger are a must. A few years ago, Uganda came up with a law requiring boda boda (motorcycle taxis) and their customers to use helmets. I have not seen that law in operation. In Uganda boda bodas are a real pain for all other road users. They never follow traffic rules and are a cause of most accidents in the city.

In Kigali it is different. Taxis and boda bodas stop at pre designated areas. For taxis is illegal to stop at non-designated stops. The stops are well demarcated and have official names. 

The city is busy expanding. Skyscrapers, apartments and bungalows are being constructed like there is no tomorrow. The city council compensates slum dwellers by either paying them money or constructing them houses elsewhere. The land is then demarcated into plots, serviced with a road network, sewerage, electricity and other amenities of a modern city. They are then sold to prospective house owners to put up well-planned structures. 

In the shops or supermarkets, paper bags have long replaced plastic bags. Government does not pay lip service to the environment. Plastic bags were banned and the ban took effect. You don’t find these anywhere now!







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