The rope is tight for Rwandan Acrobats.

imagesThe year is 1998, the first intake of high school students graduate from Lycee de Kigali and Kigali International Academy. Those are the two most notorious schools in Kigali; Many students are either related to high ranked soldiers, or they are former ‘Kadogo’ – child soldiers themselves, sent back to school immediately after the war. They have organized at least one strike already at each of the schools and headmasters fear them.

They all come from Uganda and walk around with a permanent arrogant demeanor: If the war was won by Rwandans from all over the world, ‘their people’ (from Uganda) were the pioneers and now occupy the highest positions in the Army.

They’ve just graduated with ‘Merci Kagame’ – allegedly lenient diplomas given wholesale to the first intake of Rwandan returnees, to facilitate them in accessing university, in order to build some critical mass of future cadres. Sadly I am in junior high school at Lycee de Kigali and I don’t get to say Merci Kagame

They reach the University and there is language prep-year for all: it is famously called EPLM: Ecole Pratique de Langue Moderne: (Practical school for modern languages). The concept: if you are Francophone, you spend a year of English; if you are Anglophone, you learn French for a year.

The Francophone have had the advantage of learning a bit of English in high school. The Anglophone are hearing of the language’s existence for the very first time; and quiet frankly, they do not see the use for it. If we won the war, we must impose our language; we don’t have to learn this French; so they seem to think to themselves.

Now, at this point they think ‘their people’ will side with them; but only them think there is such thing as ‘their people’. The RPF didn’t just finished a war against Habyarimana’s ‘Akazu’, to readily establish a fresh patronage of their own; with a bunch of freshman year students as the hallmark.

Using another Ugandan import, they strike, and refuse to learn French. What follows is a hurricane. They are all permanently excluded from the University. Some are briefly jailed, others flee to Uganda, others to America, but to my knowledge, not a single one of them was ever able to recover their fully paid university scholarship.

Ground rules are set: You do what you are told and you keep your mouth shut! One would think others would learn from it; but you know Rwandans…

Instead, they start mean nicknames for each other, depending on country of exile:

Dubai – meant you had come from Zaire. Like Dubai vehicles, they look good on the outside, but rotten on the inside – Essentially people from Zaire are posers with no core.

Sope means you were in Rwanda before 1994 – named after a famous petro-station: ‘SOPECYA’ (Now Sopetrad): just a disparaging name to mean you are a villager, never travelled, etc.

Abasajya: Luganda word for kinsmen: Essentially some nebulous brotherhood like the Freemason or the Illuminati; people you only mention while looking over your shoulders, in fear that they’ll come and get you…

GP (Guard Presidentielle) for those who came from Burundi – I never quiet got the meaning of this one, but I suspect it meant something, like women from Burundi were players, etc. etc

Below those ‘come from’ tags, were breeding regionalist patronages, very dear to Rwandans during Habyarimana era, and Sopes, who knew no better, weren’t ready to let them go just yet.

Now the Speaker of Parliament at the time is Joseph Sebarenzi, and although he evolved in Zaire back in the day, he was considered Sope, since the war found him in Rwanda. He also happens to be from Kibuye. Him and the P.A. of the then president Pasteur Bizimungu; they found a regional group of their own: Solidarité Kibuye

At some point he is removed from his post, around the same time as the PA of the President is assassinated. People from Kibuye; among them, Singer Ben Rutabana, decide to protest that ‘their people’ are being witch-hunted. The protest is repressed ‘with extreme prejudice’! Most flee to the west, make noise for a while, eventually reconcile with their fate and moderate.

Soon after, Bizimungu Pasteur the president of the Republic resigns from his seat and tries to set-up an opposition party with ‘his people’: disgruntled slingers who’d built their networks around him; among them a one time minister Charles Ntakirutinka. This group will be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’! Tried, sentenced and jailed in record time. Their supporters wait for some sign from up above – none will ever turn up.

Eventually Bizimungu makes peace and is pardoned; Ntakirutinka serves off his sentence and comes out – a born again Christian.

At this point people from Burundi and Zaire: GPs and Dubais have been behaving. But not for long; missing out on the love, one senior officer named Raymond start talking to his colleagues about the fact that soldiers from Burundi do not advance in ranks.

  • ‘Raymond ni nde?’ (Who is Raymond?)
  • ‘Ni njyewe Afande’ (It’s me sir)
  • ‘Ni wowe wavuze ngo abasirikare bavuye iburundi ntibaba promoted?’; ‘Front yanyu muza yitangirire hariya ku kanyaru ok?’ (I hear you say soldiers from Burundi don’t advance in ranks? You should start your own front at the Akanyaru river if you aren’t happy ok?); – (Kanyaru river is the natural boarder between Rwanda and Burundi, in the southern province)

In the meantime, Rwigamba Balinda sends some bright Banyamulenge students for a master’s degree in South Africa: All costs paid. In fact, for some, he has offered their undergraduate education at his university, with no charge.

They go on the understanding that they will work for him as lecturers at ULK for five years before they can seek employment elsewhere. They are all registered in the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal; a good university. He has bought a hostel in South Africa for them. In addition to pocket money, food is provided and their clothes washed.

Upon return to Kigali, they suddenly realize that, as Master’s degree graduates, their salaries at ULK are not competitive. There are better offers in UN and other places for people as highly qualified as them; they decide to strike and write a petition to ULK’s board asking, among other things, for a standardization of their salaries.

Now the president of the Board of ULK is Prof. Karangwa Chrisologue: Think of him as Kagame in civilian version. (Kagame light – but Kagame nonetheless). For those who don’t know him, he was the first president of the National Electoral Commission. Legend has it that students at the University of Lubumbashi once broke his leg because he failed them too much

So the group will be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’ – all are immediately excluded, and on the advice of Prof. Karangwa, Rwigamba didn’t bother ask for the money back: ‘go in shame and disgrace; your carriers in Rwanda have been dented for life’.

A part from poor Raymond, we were hearing but glorious stories about our army, until it emerged that Gen. Kayumba, a long serving and popular Armimpanga_zibyinay Chief of Staff had circles of allegiance within the army; So strong that when he is suddenly replaced as army chief, some officers want to mutineer. The mutiny will be repressed: ‘With extreme prejudice!’ Some are jailed others flee the country.

After that the situation has been rather quiet in the Army lately; save for ongoing cases whose ins and outs elude me – or am I scared to find out…

All unauthorized patronages in Rwanda were nipped in the bud. Provinces have been rearranged to undermine regionalism, and overtime, reshuffles and other policy shifts have become inconsequential; nonevents. The next army chief of staff was replaced seamlessly and some of the most famous ministers are now freelance consultants like myself, trying to be in their best behavior until they are ‘remembered’.

impanga_z_abakobwa_n_iz_abahunguSo on a strictly acrobatic viewpoint, the rope is just too tight in Kigali. Some maintain shy whatsapp groups of OBs; others launched in Nyamirambo an annual party of all twins; others have an annual  communauté des Sapeur, where they dine dressed in white, but they all struggle for recognition and influence…

Sope, GP, Dubai brands are thrown here and there in cordial conversations with no impact. In fact, for some people, it is no longer possible to tell where they once lived; After 21 years, we are now all Sopes – Banyarwandas. Anything else shall be repressed: ‘with extreme prejudice’.

For Edmund Kagire, a Human of Kigali

Journalists If Kigali was Aquarius, a translucent constellation in the Zodiac, symbolizing October, Kagire’s birth month, he would be the Sadalmelik or Sadalsuud: two of its brightest starts; for he is indeed a shining star among Humans of Kigali.

When I first met him, he was working as a journalist for the New Times. We have been friends since. Edmund is one year younger than me, but already has much more responsibilities. He has a wife and two beautiful daughters.

He is a brilliant man, who puts his skills at the service of his people. He writes well, and makes engaging arguments on Rwanda and the East African region. Now we do not have so many young people like Edmund, who are passionate about educating the public and contributing to positive change in our country.

So, when I heard of the chocking news of Edmund Kagire’s liver cancer, I couldn’t write any more stories. I was both scared and revolted. In my little experience about life, it is the best among us who go through the most trials in life.

Being married for more than three years, Edmund has behaved better than I have for sure. Yet, today he is the one afflicted by this disease. It got me really thinking, about the meaning of our existence; all I know is, we are healthy, not because we have behaved in particular way, but by the grace of God.

It breaks my heart that this happens to the best among us; a beautiful mind, a brilliant friend who lives a full life. It is a bit scary too: that a healthy man, younger than me can be reached by this disease, means that no one of us is immune. It is also worrying that our health system has not yet reached a level where it can take care of its own people, regardless of their condition.Journ

That said, I find it quiet moving that people, those who know him and those who are hearing about him for the first time are all willing to participate. This says a lot about him as an individual, but also about who we are as a society, and the importance that we give to human life.

For me it is a bit of a personal story. My paternal grand mother died of cancer. It was diagnosed too late; there was nothing that could be done. Two years ago, I lost two people closest to me, in a space of one month. I lost my maternal grand mother who raised me. She was the center of my universe; my everything. Then I lost my young sister Marthe. She was a talented young woman; a painter, a singer and a designer. In both tragedies I wasn’t home, I was living abroad and couldn’t travel back to attend their burials; somehow, I couldn’t get an exit Visa in time where I lived. I felt so devastated, so trapped, that I decided to stop running and comeback home, be close to my family and my people.

I can imagine how trapped Edmund must feel right now. A man that has selflessly written to us, educated, informed and entertained us over the years, does not have the money to take care of his health problems. Him, such a young man, husband to a lovely woman, father of two beautiful girls, is today facing a premature end, way before his time.

Our health system could not save my sister and my grand mother; There wasn’t time to send them abroad. Today I have another chance; my friend’s cancer can be defeated. So I am doing this for me too. I can use a win against cancer; one win is enough: This win!

So today I make a pledge to contribute to my friend’s health.

By contributing to Edmund’s treatment, I will be making a statement to myself; that I practice what I preach, that I can be a decent person, who will not abandon a comrade on the battlefield. I will be choosing life; for me and those around me.

It is a lot of money, I know. But it is also a lot of goodhearted people out there: You! Together, lets beat this thing and prove to ourselves that we are not alone, that we are part of a bigger constellation of human kind; that we are loved.

I have been writing for you out there for a while. I have never asked anything in return. I will be humbled and thankful if you can contribute something – anything you have, to save my friend Edmund. Why? Because ‘There is a place in your heart, and I know that it is love’ – Michael Jackson.

You can reach Kagire directly on: kagire_eddie@yahoo.com

Or me on tgatete@gmail.com

#GetWellKagire

Foreign Policy 101 – The US petition Kagame to stay in power

US – Rwanda relations have never been stronger. And either the US want Kagame to stay on or they know something we don’t.

“… Satan replied, ‘…But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head…” -Job 2:4-7,9-10

Yesterday the United States of America through its State Department Spokesperson Mr. John Kirby released a statement saying it does not support the amendment of Rwanda’s constitution, allowing President Paul Kagame to stand for a third term.

As per use, the media got worked-out with the story, predicting an end to US-Rwanda’s relations. They may have jumped the gun once again; the statement being nothing more than part of a written US foreign policy script, with no substantive consequences ahead.

In typical sensationalism, Radio France International (RFI) titled: ‘Le ton monte entre Washington et Kigali sur un eventual 3e mandat’ (a squabble is on between Washington and Kigali on a potential 3rd term) they explained ‘A one time US favorite, Paul Kagame, is, since 2012, seen with a certain suspicion by Washington’, diagnosed: ‘In diplomatic language, that is called a crossfire’, and concluded: ‘the fracture between the Rwandan President and American administration is deepening.’

Good old Onyango-Obbo jumped in with a title: ‘no longer blue-eyed boy’ referring to a piece in his Mail and Guardian, implying Rwanda’s fall, out of Godfather’s favor. Sadly his title was all there was in the piece he was referring to. Its content, just a minimal literature review of ever-greened Rwanda’s critics, with no related analysis.

So that’s not the problem, it is the naivety in his romantic title that pains me. Yo, Obbo man, this is isn’t about lost love or something, this is politics and business; Man up!

As for the Telegraph, posting a picture of Congolese protesters ‘Les Combattants’ as they call themselves, the article declared: Mr Kagame has fallen from international favor’

One after the other, media houses were all too excited to see that the declaration was a trap –the US went on record making a declaration, indeed to provoke media reaction, quite the sort that is trending.

But which other statement could have they made? ‘We support one man’s perpetual rule?’ As a ‘civilized nation’, whose primary franchise is democracy in the world; it was expected of them to make the statement. Now the US has achieved their goal of appeasing human rights groups and others; who will not say they didn’t say…

But of course they could have kept quiet. However, the amount of anti-Rwanda pressure groups, coupled with US interests in the DRC, Somalia, Kenya and the current Burundi crisis, all make Rwanda’s issues relevant to its foreign policy.

Rwanda is a developmental flagship for the international community; a guarantor of regional security and a pragmatic ally. In spite of what may transpire in the media, all that has been achieved thanks to Mr. Kagame. That is what matters to the US, not some grand ideals of Democracy.

This is true for Ethiopia, and most importantly for Israel. They may say: ‘we condemn the killings of civilians in Gaza or Lebanon’, but that stuff is for the media and NGOs. Alliances are discussed behind closed doors.

For those sober enough, this particular declaration was quiet easy to read. The State Department left a hint, premising the statement with: ‘We respect the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent…’ meaning: ours is just an opinion. Feel free to take it, or indeed leave it – In fact, please leave it!! In other words, the declaration was the US’s petition asking Kagame to waive term limits and stay in power.

So unless Kagame mismanages his third term bid to create unlikely general chaos, the US will not mind.

The only group to mind are France and the Catholic Church – both key players in the Genocide against Tutsis. Then again they know a statement from them would very much be out of place: Kagame couldn’t get time from his busy schedule, to even read Hollande’s congratulatory letter, sent at the occasion of Rwanda’s independence…

So both must be literally praying to see Kagame leave. He has indeed been a real threat to their regional influence – and claimed image and power.

What they both do -a part from funding anti-Rwanda campaigns- is trick, every now and then, their British, Spanish and German counterparts into blunders, like the arrest of Rwanda’s head of protocol Rose Kabuye in Germany, and more recently, that of Rwanda’s Chief Intelligence Karenzi Karake. But the thing always backfires and leaves them with mud in the face –wondering: what were we thinking? Never trust the French; everyone knows it!

It is quiet telling that when Scotland Yard arrests Rwanda’s head of intelligence, UK’s ex-development secretary Andrew Mitchell makes a passionate protest, Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister represents him in court at Westminster, while her husband Toni sits on Kagame’s presidential advisory board.

What is there not to see? If tables turn on Rwanda, these personalities will be the first to go – if they are asked by their own governments. The Congolese ‘combatants’ – famous anti-Rwanda street protestors – may be blinded by their own drama, but international NGOs and opposition in exile mostly get it; they just can’t accept it. As for the media it is just overselling their wire, hoping for their fallacy-now prophesy of doom- to fulfill itself.

Declarations are made everyday. What really matters is what type of rhetoric and what comes after the rhetoric: For instance: Obama declared : ‘our relationship with Uganda will be affected if LGBTI are criminalized!’ now that’s a threat.

Here, there was no threat, merely a toned down communiqué of US doctrine on democracy. But the media has been waiting for too long for something, anything.. So they jumped on it like starved vultures…

Now that the dust has settled, here is what will happen: Nothing! Nada! I mean, Rwanda invaded DRC: twice. Supported M23 rebel movement, and the US froze USD 200.000. And that’s the time when Rwanda was at the lowest stature in its international outlook; and that is the heaviest US sanctions on Rwanda, known to the public.

If Rwanda can send troops to invade a foreign country and walk off with a fine of 200 grand, it’s safe to say they can get away with changing their own constitution and keep their own president.

Politically, Rwanda may indeed be a poster child of the US, like every successful country in this world is a US project. But they are too proud to admit it, for that would be inconsistent with Rwanda’s claimed image of dignity: #Agaciro. That said Rwanda remains a key US ally – and that thanks to Kagame.

However, I am afraid that the particulars of Rwanda’s relationship with Anglo-Saxon countries may be even beyond the grasp of some of their own services, namely: the unseasoned Tori and Obama staffers and their foreign missions here.

Rwanda’s foreign affaires Minister, Mrs Louise Mushikiwabo reacted to the declaration and the media. I think she was both generous and passionate. She could have easily ignored them both.

If this relationship has survived Obama, arguably the least Rwanda-friendly US president, it sure will survive the Congolese ‘combattants’, the Catholic Church and exiled opposition. Because in the next couple of years that’s who will remain in the anti-Rwanda booth: the Bush’s, Clintons and Sarkozys are all cool with Rwanda.

The City Runner – Kigali’s Forrest Gump

Diogene of Sinope, a philosopher from Sinope (current Turkey) who lived in Greece around 400 BCE was known to be a mad genius. He would walk with a lamppost in broad daylight, claiming that he was looking for an upright man.

He lived an austere existence, typically avoiding earthly pleasures. He ate only when he was hungry and slept in a barrel in the marketplace. For him all humans where rapacious, he had not met an upright man and was keen to meet one.

He was also referred to as a cynical philosopher, for he’d assault anyone with sharp-edged witty words, and highlighted what scums they embodied.

He intentionally debased and destroyed currency to teach society that it was worthless after all; that there were more important things to life. He constantly challenged the establishment.

But he was always right. He spoke wise words, taught integrity and other virtues… They acknowledged his cruel honesty, but they felt uncomfortable in his presence, for he was an unsettling person to dwell with. He lived, as expected, a marginal existence, astray from society.

One day Alexander the Great heard of the famous philosopher and travelled to Corinth to meet him.

Diogenes was reclining on his barrel enjoying the morning sunlight (agasusuruko) when an imposing human shade suddenly eclipsed the sun. He raised his eyes in annoyance to see imposing Alexander in his mighty armor.

‘Do you know who I am?’ Asked Alexander.

‘Well?’ said Diogenes, eager to dismiss the intruder and proceed to his vitamin-D intake…

‘I am the Great Alexander!’ Emperor of Greece

‘Right..’ replied scorning Diogenes, his repulsion for arrogance exacerbated by the chill of the interfering shade.

‘Ask of me anything you need, I shall give it to you at once!’ commanded Alexander.

Diogenes shook his head and told him: ‘before you do all that, could you first stop preventing me from the only thing you cannot offer?’

‘And what that might be? -Asked an intrigued Alexander, surprised at the thought that there was anything he couldn’t afford a living man,

‘Stand away from my sun!’ -concluded Diogenes, before turning away…

Alexander was bewildered. If he doubted Diogenes wisdom before, he was now convinced this was the most special man he had encountered. He later said: ‘If I, Alexander was to be a man other than who I am, I sure should be Diogenes.’

Now let me tell you about Murama, the city runner. You have seen him for sure; more than once even. Next time you do, please takIMG_20150902_163855e a moment… You know him as a mad person, a man whose dementia leads him to run. For many he is an object of pity, an ‘aimless wanderer’ – like the title of my friend Kivu’s latest film. For some though, he has always been an object of wonder… ‘Where is he going? When will he turn back? what goes through his mind?’

Murama Nzamu Mutagiranabi, his full names, does not beg, litter or bother anyone. He doesn’t stand idle on the street, panting with his tongue out after a long run: like I would do… He is always running. He runs with an incredible resolute. He runs, runs and asks nothing in return. He runs alone, he runs far…

He has always made me dream, for he is a symbol of true freedom, liberty, hope, life and purity. When I finally spoke to him, I saw a man with an unusual view of life.IMG_20150902_165257

Unlike Diogenes his counterpart, he doesn’t speak much, teach or criticize. He isn’t coherent or conventionally smart. But that’s also what makes him inspiring. Like everything unusual in this city, you can choose to mock or be inspired.

I also learned that he was married, and that his wife and child live in America. He told me he once was a soldier on the Zairian Army. He even attempted to join Rwandan army and was not enrolled. He worked for KK Security and was later discharged for ‘strange’ conduct.

He has won twelve medals in the Kigali Marathon, but nothing on the podium. Today he works as manpower in building churches. ‘I’ve built two churches’ -he told me with a proud smile. His employer says when he is sober he is a decent person. ‘You should see him in his suit in Sunday service.’ -he told me. I discovered a man who actually had a story and an organized life, earned an honest living and exercised a lot.Muramu

If he goes away, you wont probably miss him. He is not a man to be missed, he is not famous. Granted he pays no taxes or win Olympic medals. But it doesn’t matter. Like birds, flowers and stars, he is a precious feature in the Kigali landscape. Our own Forest Gump…

Many of you think he needs help; he doesn’t. You will see him on the run soon. If you couldn’t join him, at least try and stop smoking or get started on that thing you’ve been procrastinating. Tell yourself: ‘I wanna be starting something, I’ve got to be starting something’ – because he runs for a cause: yours and mine, lets make it count.

Neophobia: The river to cross to reach #TheZone

The platoon commander is surprised to see his troupes stopping.

  • Wewe, what is the matter? He asks;
  • A river Afande. His deputy answers.

A platoon of Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) has been walking all night and came up to a river just before dawn. The adui barracks they’re supposed to attack are just on the other side; they have to cross! Afande can’t swim. Having grown-up in a refugee camp in Uganda, he missed out on the swimming lessons…

They have to cross! Orders are to attack by dawn. He’s never disobeyed an order; that’s not how you make Platoon Commander in the RPA, a rather nice appointment, which spares you from carrying ammunition – he likes his job; They have to cross! To avoid any misunderstanding to his troops he makes a disclaimer:

  • Tutavuka hiyi mtoni saa iyi! (We’ll cross this river right now!)

He can’t swim, he wasn’t trained for this; they have to cross!

Half his troupes can’t swim, but they know very well, today is as good day as any to start learning how to. They have no doubt Afande means business.

Sneering, he repeats; – Saa hiyi! (right now!) He was so close to his sting mission: The adui barracks across the river are located at vintage point from the small town where massacres are occurring. Orders were to hit at dawn, seize them, radio HQ for reinforcement, then move to save lives in the town. One more day and the mission would be a failure as there would be no one left to save; they have to cross!

He had even rehearsed the radio message to HQ upon seizing Adui barracks: ‘Kazi umetutuma afande, tume maliza’ (The job you sent us to do, Afande, we have finished); they have to cross, damn it!

He has an idea; Nani anajuwa kuogeleya? (Who knows how to swim) some kids grew up by lake Tanganyika in Burundi and Tanzania, others by lake Kivu in Zaire: expert swimmers both! See, every Saturday they washed their only outfit; so the lake was a perfect place they could hang out naked, as it dried in the sun.

  • mimi afande! na mimi, na mimi…(Me sir, and me, and me): Half of them.

Ah, hope regains his mind; now he knows all is not lost; they will cross the bloody river; Today isn’t the day him, Kayitare, will disobey orders!

  • Ok, one swimmer, one non-swimmer hold hands and cross.
  • What? One terrified non-swimmer, seemingly unconvinced by the simplicity of the plan – exclaims;

For motivation he hears a crack crack! Afande pistol cocking. Suddenly the non-swimmer is feeling much better, and ready to cross.

And that’s the story of how the RPA won the war and stopped the genocide; and that’s the story of how a post-conflict country is about to become a middle-income country in one generation…

Which brings me to the Car Free Zone: ‘If Music were wealth, Africa would be rich, if you can’t dance, you would curl up and die’ – Richard Dowden, Author of Africa

I refrained from posting this before the second day; I wanted to have a more realistic picture of how the car free zone – or simply #TheZone was doing. Knowing my people, I didn’t expect them to embrace such radical change immediately. ‘Of course they want change; but just not right now…’ – 20 years later, hitting the ground running, as in the little story above, still isn’t the forte of Rwandan civilians.

So here is an account of the first two days #InTheZone. The first day was exciting in its own way. People not quiet sure they can actually walk in the middle of the tarmac; only crossing the street from the Zebra. Bumping into the Minister of Justice; attracting admiration from the mayor, as if my presence on the roadside, typing this story on my laptop is proof, that his plan works or will work; painfully witnessing a blatant violation of rule number one of my #CarFreeZone User manual (Read next blog); being photographed, tweeting, facebooking and Blogging!

Here I pose to set the records straight:

It farfetched that cars promote business and car ban kills it! In fact, it’s just plain ignorance. What some see as a ‘novel’ idea here, is a 200-year-old practice in most big cities and they are all bustling with business and life. Not to mention that I saw a policeman in uniform getting into a casual convo with a girl, seamlessly, and walk off with her digits, 300 meters of #TheZone later.

Also, the feeder roads to the #TheZone are free-drive and most of the buildings facing #TheZone have back access for vehicles.

At some point I came up with one idea of starting an omelet joint here with two friends; an artist and a community organizer, who already has a cookie business: Mkate na Buta. However, my co-blogger of the day Rima, was overflowing with ideas of how to make this the most vibrant space in East Africa: Festivals, exhibitions, food fairs, Jewelry, farmer’s organic marked, Jazz Fests, traditional Sunday, ‘This space embodies what I think the new Rwanda stands for’, she said to me, enthusiastically: ‘Safe and free, no one judging me, while I’m experiencing new things!’

The fact that she is Indian and excited about this is encouraging and at the same time revealing: Leading Rwandans into modernity is hard. their neophobia (fear of anything new) is deeply entrenched. Rima had more ideas on the Car Free Zone than me, simply because she’s lived in more cities than I have, In my previous blog I suggest that her experience, yours and mine can all be harnessed to build a true colorful city. So open your heart!

I remember when they asked people to relocate from ‘Gakinjiro’ to ‘Gakiriro’, they almost rioted: ‘they are chasing us out of their town’ – some said. Look at them now; they’ve built a new and modern city down there. Would they want to go back to their bird nest? Never! That city policy literally transformed carpenters and welders into investors and businessmen; in less than four years.

While democracy, consulting the people, outreach, etc., is all-good, there is nothing wrong one can possibly say about walking on foot and not driving. In all logic, a space where there are no cars is healthy, safe and attractive. It also facilitates exchanges of people of all classes and backgrounds.

So what were the arguments against here?

  • ‘It will be difficult for traders down the road to walk to the bank with sacks of money’
  • Really? How ridiculous is that? On that street there are headquarters of banks – meant for corporate, cash free banking. However, each bank has many branches just nearby, for the alleged sacks of money; the city is safe, no one will snatch them.
  • ‘People who buy come in cars’
  • Well if you have a car you know how parking on that street has been a nightmare. So what people usually do; what I usually do is come for one specific thing in one specific shop, get it and get out. Now I have the opportunity to walk around, do window-shopping and let myself attracted in one, two or three shops. Buy on the spot or comeback later.
  • Most business owners there even told me that they use their shops as show rooms and have stores somewhere else.

That settles it? Not really; I even saw people with no cars complaining – for a reason that is beyond me…

I think the real problems here is our parvenus: new or aspirant car owners, seeing their chance to show off in peril. They are just trying to be elitist; ‘petit bourgeois’ – as Marx would call them.

One group had genuine concerns though – and that is shop owners #InTheZone, who were doing just fine and didn’t feel the need to venture into the unknown.

The five that my journalist friend Archy Henry and I, interviewed by closure of business last evening, were all understandably anxious. Two of them, namely: Wood Habitat furniture, towards Ecole Belge said nothing changed, in fact her business was slightly higher on the first day (She has a store elsewhere); likewise for the electronics shop at the heart of the Zone. Sadly, a nearby clothing shop didn’t have the same luck, nor did the retailer next to him – He explained that people who wanted to buy gallons of water and bottles of Gaz didn’t quiet manage to transport them.

The quick evening survey taught us that there is need for more study and engagement with businesses; that said, #TheZone is here to stay…

To conclude, I will quote a tweet from Sanny Ntayombya, the promoter of #TheZone, responding to Edmund Kagire’s worries of business closing (they are both good journalists and friends): ‘some will close, others will open, others will remain’; That’s just the reality of a fast moving city. If your business isn’t fit for car free zones, one of you should move – and in all likelihood, #TheZone ain’t going anywhere…

Now that we have a Car Free Zones, there are endless opportunities that this space offers – those who’ve been in them in other cities can tell us. It is up to us the youth, social activists and artists to take it up and fill it with positive energy and good vibes – of course that is, if we start looking in that direction and stop whining 😉

Kigali Car Free Zone User Manual

All right chaps, I know this is all happening too fast!

Skyscrapers, 4G Internet, Mobile money and now: Car free zones?

Huh? And you who were just adjusting to ATM machines, smartphones and Bourbon coffee… It’s baffling to say the least!

Now having heard your trauma, here is a piece to help you swiftly transition into 21st century-Kigali without people even noticing your homesickness.

But more seriously: Rwanda is a true melting pot. We have people who lived and worked in all parts of the world, did all sorts of jobs; speak all sorts of languages and have had extraordinary experiences.

Now some of you are capable of traveling, but I doubt one person today can live the experiences of three Rwandans I know; one who taught in an IVY league; a waitress in a bar in Cancun and an astronomer-sailor on high seas.

Anyway, all that to say that there are Rwandans who’s stories will blow your mind. And only in Rwanda can you find such a diverse range of people, all reconverted and reinvented into something that our country currently needs. Not all Rwandans will have the opportunity to travel the world, and that’s ok. But we have a unique chance to bring the world to Rwanda!

One of the ways of doing that is by interacting. Harnessing all these rare experiences to build a true cosmopolitan society. Now, humans are social beings and I know you tend to dwell in circles where you feel more confortable. But with this car free zone, and more of them to come, we have an opportunity to wonder farther afield and ‘hunt outside the pack’ – and your kill will be even more rewarding because you can show it off to your pack, later; in other words, your experience outside your group will only enrich your group’s conversation.

Now take a risk, talk to the next person. CBD is for transactions; transact! Interact, exchange! I hope there are many more spaces like that to come! In the meantime, I am waiting to see how kids from my old hood Nyarutarama will blend in with the kids from my new hood Nyamijos! ‘Ni Danger!’

For all that to happen without any fuss though, here are the rules to be observed in the carefree zone at all times:

  1. DON’T STRARE: If you see me walking: Smile, wave, come and talk to me, introduce yourself, offer something, I’ll offer something in return, but for crying out loud: DON’T FREAKIN STARE!
  1. DON’T WEAR YOUR CAR KEYS LIKE A WEDDING RING! Look it’s a car free zone. At this point your car keys are as redundant as a remote control in a cinema. You have a car? Oh, everyone here has or can pretend to have one, so keep them in your damn pocket!
  1. GET YOUR HANDS OUTTA YOUR POCKETS! Boss, we know you are a very important person. But right here you are just a pedestrian like the rest of us. Key word to the Car-free zone is: FREE; try it sometime.

And you, do you have any more rules to add to these guidelines?