Saturday, July 21, 2007

Rwandan Diary: Day 1

The flight from Nairobi yesterday to Kigali took an uneventful hour and a quarter. I expected to be hit by a massive heat wave as I got off the plain, but far from it. The heat has been pleasant and dry with no humidity whatsoever. We were met in the terminal and whisked off to our hotel in the centre of Kigali. Only an hour later, having had no sleep for a day we started our tour of the Project Umbano projects. We met up with Andrew Mitchell and his team who gave us a rundown of wat we were about to face. There aren't exactly many spare hours.

We were then driven to an orphanage clled Giribuntu, where Tobias Ellwood MP was leading a team of volunteers (including Brooks Newmark MP and blogger Vicky Ford) to build a new classroom and renovate the existing buildings. It was a hive of activity. During our tour of the project more than forty locals turned up to join in. Word had travelled that white British MPs were building toilets - something guaranteed to attract people's interest.

I spent some time talking to a journalist from the only English language newspaper in Rwanda, the New Times. English has just been made an official language in Rwanda but literacy rates are very low and it doesn't have a huge circulations. This chap told me that it was quite difficult being a journalist in Rwanda. It's not a dictatorship but it's not easy to write articles criticising the government. His family were originally from Rwanda but left for Uganda in the 1950s. He had returned about a year ago as he wanted to help his country rise from the ashes.

And that's the thing you notice here. There is a tremendous commitment from everybody to rebuild and renew. In only ten years since the genocide a proper public administrative infrastructure has emerged. While there is still abject poverty people can see with their own eyes what progress is being made. There is a law that on the fourth Saturday in every month everyone has to help on a community project.

We then went to visit the Rwandan Minister of Finance to discuss how international aid agencies were helping his country's development. The good thing is that everyone I have talked to says that there is very little sign of corruption in Rwanda and where they find it they deal with it quickly. This is good news as Britain is Rwanda's biggest giver of development aid, at £46 million last year. Germany only gives £1 million.

At 7pm we all met up for dinner at the apartments where most of the volunteers are staying. Everyone had a story to tell and you could tell there was a real buzz about what was going on.

If you want other takes on the project visit the blogs of Vicky Ford and David Mundell MP. When we left David last night he was wearing a shirt which I can only describe as competing with my ties for colour. Apparently he was being taken to some of local Kigali fleshpots. Sadly I havenlt run into him today to see what transpired!


Newmania said...

Tumble weed....( PR disaster ....?)

javelin said...

Iain, glad to see you're watching out for corruption. Corruption is Africa's pathology.

Tapestry said...

Mitchell defended Cameron on Sunday AM on BBC1, when Peter Sissons attacked him for not being with all the flood victims in Britain.

He did well, but could have emphasised or explained more how the tragedies around the gloge do affect British citizens.

From political disruption, evil regimes can easily get established. From economic dislocation, many become migrants and want to come to Britain.

Or some equivalent.

Being there where the genocide took place must be a moving experience. Here it seems no one gives a toss....or at least that's what they say.

Helen said...

Is Tobias Ellwood a builder? Is Vicky Forde?

Unknown said...

Wasn't there a song written about the genocide? "Tut-tut-tutsi, Goodbye"..

Something like that.

Scipio said...

Helen - is Tobias Ellwood a builder - er yes actually, he is!

And so is Ian, who is a master builder with an MA to prove it, who works alongside Tobias and who actually ran a building company in the UK, and has spent three years doing projects of this nature in Uganda.

As for Vicky, she is not a bulder, but she's not building. But she is a specialist in pre-school education, which is why she is on the project.

Trust that answers your question!