It seems impossible not to feel the weight of history in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills.
Terrible things happen. The world keeps turning. People recover. I know but still I kept thinking, Really?! and WTF?!
Kigali is a beautiful place nestled between hills. It is safe to drink water from the tap and to walk around alone at night. There is no litter and seems to be no rage, even with more than 1,200 participants being in town for the World Economic Forum on Africa.
On a busy Friday night at the Hotel Milles Collines, Hotel Rwanda from the movie, as the significantly local crowd are so absorbed that they seem to be part of the music, I couldn’t help looking up to the roof and thinking of the story of a mother preparing for the possibility that she might have to take her children’s hands and jump because “a machete is no way to die”.
Yet this place feels much less broken than Johannesburg.
It seems vulgar to say this in a continent where many people go to bed hungry every day but the culinary experience in Kigali was a big let down.
Starting with a cocktail waiter a high-class hotel in town who had never heard of a Bloody Mary to prawn canapes that seemed to have made the long journey from the coast on foot, I was left longing for the feast of flavours, textures and stories that normally go with food in Africa.
Left, a vendor cooks goat kebabs on the street in downtown Kigali, a rare opportuntiy to eat as locals do.
Psssst: I didn’t make it here but heard from more than one person that a place called Carwash (braai, shishi nyama, nyama choma, barbecue) is a good place to feast on local food and good vibes
Early impressions …
Arriving for the World Economic Forum’s 2016 African meetings, which are being held in the Rwandan capital from May 11-13, it is hard not to compare the experience with Davos in Switzerland, where WEF’s main annual meeting is held every January.
Rolling green hills as far as the eye can see replace a snowy wonderland. The managed calm of Switzerland is replaced by a lovely, though quite contained, chaos on the streets of Kigali, with motorbike taxis dominating the scene.
The green hills, which almost encroach on the city from all sides, create the opposite of a claustrophobic city vibe, but a multitude of cranes is evidence of a city that is on the way up.
I am not surprised, but happy nonetheless, to report that Rwanda’s much-talked-about investment in ICT infrastructure is immediately obvious. I was still waiting in a queue to get a visa at Kigali airport (another innovation of this incredibly forward-thinking government is that visas are easy to get, even for fellow Africans, which is not the norm) when my phone came to life drawing my attention to free wifi connections available. A few clicks and I was hooked into the worldwide web.
I had spent an hour and a half in transit in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport earlier in the day, which had caused me to slightly lower my expectations about wifi. The signal in Nairobi’s airport, going as “very strong” most of the time, gave me no joy at all for the hour I tried the entry level test of sending whatsApp messages.
Being plugged into the world as soon as I landed at Kigali airport was reassuring. Good internet connectivity and wide access is an essential in today’s modern city, especially one hosting the WEF Africa meeting being held under the theme Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation. Leaders from government, business, civil society, academia, media and the arts will take part in discussions exploring Africa’s prospects and priorities as the world enters the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Discussions in Kigali will take up where the WEF’s annual Davos meeting in January, themed Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, left off. According to WEF, the Africa meeting will seek to identify priorities and actions for Africa’s leaders as they look to build economies that are able to flourish in the increasingly digital, convergent marketplaces of tomorrow.