Portrait of a Country as a Young Woman

Democracy…later!?
or Portrait of the Country As a Young Woman

It is no secret that His Excellency President Paul Kagame has been the M.C. for Rwanda’s cotillion as the darling daughter of prominent international politicians and development venture capitalists since 1994. Sometimes, though, it has been hard to hear the swing band over former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s cries of “Mea culpa!” and bellows of “Here, here!” from U.S. Peace Corps teacher turned Wall Street philanthropist Michael Fairbanks, who is clearly drunk off the whatever the government’s bartender is serving. With Human Right’s Watch’s Kenneth Roth hissing boos from the rafters and pointing retina-burningly bright floodlights of journalistic integrity at the audience, you might have missed that waiter with the brochettes, but if you’re craving caffeine, Starbucks C.E.O. Howard Schultz is heading this way with a tray of free espresso. A junior-high divide separates a dance floor of pundits that are usually too busy writing briefs to their editors and higher-ups back home to even notice what the guest of honor is wearing. Invited guests rhapsodize her as an exemplary new dawn for Africa, a country whose fertile valleys grow silicone and satellites, being weaned from the tit of foreign aid and learning to walk and talk independently in the global economic playground. On the other side of the gym, cotillion-crashers warn against having sympathy for the devil, decrying Daddy Kagame as a school-yard authoritarian whose left hand builds exclusive sandcastles with stolen milk-money while his right makes sure nobody knows how to tell the principal about the nature of his game. From where I stand (usually at the bar), the truth about what it is like to live in Rwanda for both Rwandans and expatriates is not a simple synthesis of this dialectic. This is a country of maddening non sequiturs and unimaginable complexity, yet everyone seems to know what’s best for her.

The first month I spent in Kigali was an interesting one for the interested. April saw the sixteenth commemoration of the genocide, the second grenade detonations in Kigali since the New Year, the first visit of Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean, the suspension of two independent newspapers, and the second arrest and public defamation of Victoire Ingabire, the leader of an opposition party in the looming presidential election.

The last few months have been no less controversial. One of the editors of the suspended newspapers was found dead in Uganda, an American lawyer that came to defend Ingabire was arrested tried to take his own life in custody, and was extradited, an exiled Rwanda general was shot in South Africa, and the vice president of an opposition party was found beheaded.

Distilling facts about the freedom of media and the political situation in Rwanda from the solution of Kagame’s masterful sophistry spin and the igno-ranting blogs of leftist NGOs requires the steady application of investigative heat and a well-calibrated thermometer for reality. From what I have seen, too often each side gives a column-length treatment and reduces the solution to a black and white issue of media freedom when there are shades of ink in-between that can begin to outline important questions: Is Rwanda on the precipice of a renaissance or a violent revolution? Does the Kagame government practice censorship and limit political space to protect its careers or its constituents?

YOUNG ADULT FRICTION

Rwanda’s adolescence in the aftermath of the genocide has been a choppy period, at times as temperate as her climate and at times liable to the prides and prejudices of a young nation trying to balance the excitement of a skyrocketing economy with shallowly repressed childhood memories of neglect and abuse. Those who haven’t stayed in touch over the years may be surprised at the changes that are happening here with epinephrinic speed.

Her economy is steadily growing taller and in unexpected places. The World Bank estimates the G.D.P. is growing between 6 – 12% since 2000 to a total of 4.5 billion U.S.D. in 2008 after bottoming out in 1994. Steep rain-fed hills produce minerals, coffee, tea, and chrysanthemum-derived insecticide and native packs of mountain gorillas and the eight lakeshore Virunga volcanos provide a girdle for a budding eco-tourism industry. Much of that wallet is an allowance, however: foreign aid pours into the country at a rate of 500 million U.S.D. per year and the World Bank, in whose September 2009 “Ease of Doing Business” report Rwanda catapulted from number 143 to number 67, just approved a poverty reduction program with a price-tag of 115 million U.S.D. Yet Rwanda remains the 12th poorest country in the world with a per capita income of $900 U.S.D.

Her vision of an independent future is clear. From a series of meetings between leaders of government, business, academia, religion, and communities in 1998 and -99 came the cornerstone initiatives of the R.P.F. government: the Gacaca system of community justice courts to prosecute genocidaires, the 2003 constitution, the forming of a National Police force, and a lucid development plan known as Vision 2020. Vision 2020‘s ambitious eyedrops include reconstruct the nation, unite its people, control population growth and mortality, develop human resources and entrepreneurship (particularly in finance, tourism, and telecommunications), modernise agriculture practices, sustainably manage natural resources, maintain internal and external peace, and integrate the economy and society into both the region and the world. Today, the government offers students that pass a qualifying exam full-ride post-secondary scholarships to the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. K.I.S.T. and the rest of Kigali will soon be connected to the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System, a network of globally-connected submarine fibre optic cables that reached the Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa last year. That residents have their choice of over-advertised mobile phone networks and banks is evidence of strides towards the privatization of communication and financial companies, though utilities like electricity and gas are still provided by parastatal monopolies. Cataracts of mist can hide the disparity between the haves and have-nots, a difference still largely a function of geography. Outside the city the poverty screams. Potholed roads slalom through hamlets overlooking acres and acres of terraced green hills, every fertile inch of which is devoted to the subsistence farming practice of Rwanda’s rural, and mostly Hutu, population. Here, there is limited access to health care and education and fragmented plots and lack of fallow are eroding soil at warning-bell rates. All considered, Kagame’s idea of a Rwanda that has the welcoming spirit of Haight-Ashbury and the income of Silicon Valley of Africa is in full blossom but has a lot of ground yet to cover.

She’s had some bad relationships in the past and worries about the temper of passionate exes that haven’t left the neighbourhood. The Forces de Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (F.D.L.R.), the armed phoenix from the ashes of the Ex-Forces Armees Rwandaises (Ex-F.A.R.) and Interahamwe militias that carried out the genocide, are believed to be responsible for continued violence against residents and tourists in the Eastern Congo and Southern Uganda since 1994. The national military, Rwanda Defense Force (R.D.F.), is reported as the well-trained and -equipped recipient of a disproportionate share of the national budget, spending at one time justified by unstable militia-ridden borders with Uganda, the D.R.C., and Burundi but now less clearly predicated on controlling Hutu rebels and more likely motivated, according to the U.N., by occupying territory chock-full of rare metals like gold, diamond, and coltan (used in mobile phones). A thick fog of war, language, and interest prevents anyone from truly understanding the situation in the Congo: Kagame has denied all wrong doing and claims his military is streamlining its numbers, but others suggest that the government is the solid face of a shadowy parallel criminal guild of elite and extremist Tutsi bent on dehumanizing Hutus, controlling the Eastern Congo, and assassinating opposition and whistle-blowers.

She’s a little vain about her looks. The National Police recently imprisoned over nine hundred beggars, homeless, and suspected petty thieves for three years to learn skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and motorcycle maintenance.

She’ll impulse shop. February is rainy season here, and since Rwandans are pathologically hydrophobic the government decided to launder the purchase of two luxury jets through a South African company.

She hasn’t been immune to pesky rashes of international promiscuity. Misguided first dates that weren’t thought out beyond the press release include teaming with the non-profit organization One Laptop Per Child who aim to top 30 million laps of children who hunger more for carbohydrates than Wikipedia with computers by 2015.

She’s learning to articulate herself but still gets tongue-tied at times. English was recently adopted as the official language of the government and universities to ease transitions into partnerships with Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa and the East African Community, as well as an expression of resentment over France’s involvement in the genocide.

She has learned that popularity is addictive and keeps only agreeable company. In 2003, Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front carried the first post-genocide presidential polls with an iron majority of 95.1%. The leaders of the nine officially registered opposition parties appear to have been reduced to rubber-stamping sycophants and those who don’t genuflect are quickly excommunicated to the U.S. college lecture circuit like former Speaker of the House and author of God Sleeps In Rwanda Joseph Sebarenzi.

She’s sensitive about gossip and a chronic confabulator. His Excellency P.K. is a long sufferer of journalism paranoia and has been known to self-medicate by imprisoning editors for alleged correspondence with terrorists. The East Africa Press has exposed the three English daily papers with the widest-circulation (the Rwandan Dispatch, the Rwanda Focus, and the New Times) as entirely funded by the R.P.F. and entirely unable to tell the difference between “investigative reporting” and “government press release”.

Sometimes she confides in Christiane Amanpour that nobody in the whole damn world understands her. Appearing on CNN in March, Kagame towed his standard line of Us against Them: “You tend to make a judgment of a country, 11 million people, on what a couple of people have said and [they] don’t take into account what Rwandans say…it’s as if they [the 11 million] don’t matter in the eyes of the human rights people. It’s our own decisions in the end.”

SUMMER’S ENDING

This is more-or-less the context of the Rwanda I have inherited, but I have to be careful: as a one of the “couple people” writing about this country, I tread a high-wire between impression and the filigree of actual life here. So much meaning can be lost and found in the translation from perception to page and soon eyes from outside the human rights community will be directed at this quiet or quietly boiling country. In a week’s time, Rwanda’s eleven million people are about to begin a new paragraph of their history. Though the second presidential election since 1994 is likely not getting much action in Las Vegas – barring catastrophic upheaval, His Excellency President Paul Kagame will have a second seven-year term and the R.P.F. will see its Vision to near-fruition – having a tempered conception of the current political climate is necessary for the international community to mediate between ignoring and inciting a potentially violent storm.

The table tennis headlines of the last four months can help to contextualize the back-and-forth convictions of pundits foreign and native. I’ve tried to post links that sketch a narrative selected from the very thorough work Graham Holliday at Kigali Wire (http://kigaliwire.com/). That narrative is epically long though, but that’s sort of the point.

Here is what has been happening in Rwanda since I arrived:

5 APR 2010
Kagame accuses opposition of contempt
President Paul Kagame on Monday slammed three emerging opposition parties that plan to run against him in August elections and said they had been formed by people with contempt for Rwandans.

13 APR 2010
Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers suspended
“Media high council has suspended publications of the UMUSESO and UMUVUGIZI local newspapers for a period of six months. The suspension stems from the current publications by the two media houses which destabilizes the peace and security of the Rwandan citizens, and defame the head of state.”

14 APR 2010
The West has no business meddling in Rwanda’s affairs
“Today, Rwanda puts to shame many African nations and some in the west.”

19 APR 2010
Lt. Gen. Muhire and Maj. Gen. Karake suspended
“Lt. Gen. Muhire was suspended due to serious charges of corruption and misuse of office while Maj. Gen. Karenzi was suspended on serious charges of immoral conduct that contravenes and undermines the values and ethos of the Rwanda Defence Force.”

21 APR 2010

Rwandan opposition leader arrested for genocide denial
“Rwandan opposition leader and presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire was arrested on Wednesday on charges of denying the 1994 genocide and “collaborating with a terrorist organisation”, an official said.”

Canadian Governor-General Michaëlle Jean expresses sorrow over inaction during Rwandan genocide
“”It is with a sense of utmost humility that I express the respects of Canada to all Rwandans who perished, suffered and who continue to suffer measurable loss in the Rwandan genocide.” Her statement was first reported as an apology, but the Prime Minister’s Office swiftly clarified to say it was an acknowledgment.”

FDU-Inkingi support committee statement on Ingabire arrest
“It is an irony and a challenge to the international community that this is happening at a time when the Governor General of Canada, a lady herself and whose government was not only at the forefront of countries that sponsored Rwanda to join the commonwealth on the grounds that it meets democratic standards and other values of that organisation, is visiting the country.”

24 APR 2010
Human Rights Watch rep denied Rwanda visa
“The Rwandan government’s decision to deny a work visa to Human Rights Watch’s representative in Kigali demonstrates a pattern of increasing restrictions on free expression in Rwanda ahead of August’s presidential elections, Human Rights Watch said today.”

Rwanda denies political crisis before August vote
“”The recent events, when bundled together, create an element of fear and panic. But, having lived in this country, and looking around these events, I don’t see many Rwandans panicking,” said government spokeswoman Louise Mushinkiwabo. “We have no doubt about the reality on the ground. Rwandans are ready to participate in the elections,” she told a news conference.”

28 APR 2010

FDLR deny link with Victoire Ingabire – AFP
“”The reality is that there is no form of collaboration between the two organisations,” the FDLR said in a statement. “Such claims serve only to sow fear, terror, disarray and tension within the organisations that are struggling against this regime, to make them lower their guard and give up,” the rebel group added.”

29 APR 2010

Preparations for World Press Freedom Day kick-off – New Times
Celebrations to mark the event are scheduled to kick-off today with a procession by all media practitioners in the country from Eto Kicukiro to Nyanza Memorial Site in Kicukiro district,in recognition of the 49 journalists who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This year’s theme is “Freedom of Information: The Right to Know”.

2 MAY 2010

Sympathy for the devil who’s ‘tightening his grip’ on us – The East African
Why not make at least a token effort to find out whether a general has fled for fear of an investigation, or another is jailed for contravening military discipline rather than make immediate assumptions about coups?

Rwanda makes “predators of freedom” watch list – BBC
Media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has named the leaders of China, Russia and Rwanda as some of the world’s worst “predators of freedom”.

3 MAY 2010
And now the good news from Rwanda – Kigali Wire
Michael Fairbanks gives a glowing review of Rwanda in the Huffington Post today along with a self-critical look at his past involvement in the aid world. His article is is one of several simultaneous pieces that appear aimed at countering a growing number of negative reports about Rwanda. Fairbanks lays out an interesting and overwhelmingly positive look at Rwanda. However, he makes at least a couple of potentially misleading claims.

5 MAY 2010

Who qualifies to judge Rwanda? asks Dr. Jean Paul Kimonyo – Huffington Post
These surveys validate the government’s strategy of a cautious and gradual shift towards confrontational politics, which critics mostly from outside would have Rwanda adopt immediately.

Media body raps French watchdog – New Times
“In the last sixteen years, I have not witnessed any RSF media project or programme in Rwanda, yet they claim to foster media development in Africa. They don’t send their researchers to Rwanda to verify their opinions but rather, they sit calmly in their newsrooms and report hearsay as truth,” Safari said.

09 MAY 2010

Kagame wins Kigali City RPF primaries – New Times
“It’s such a pleasure for us that we made the right choice. The elections were peaceful and exciting.”

11 MAY 2010

A call for Rwanda’s media to debunk falsehoods – New Times
During his monthly Presidential news conference yesterday, President Paul Kagame challenged the local journalists to set the record straight with regard to the situation of the media in the country and debunk foreign claims that government is oppressive and a media predator.

12 MAY 2010

All Is Not Well in Rwanda – New York Times Letters page
Until the country can have an open, honest discussion of the 1994 genocide and its aftermath, while building a society that respects human rights and freedoms, the risk of large-scale violence remains all too real.

Is Rwanda really unravelling? – The Independent
But do the aforementioned events suggest, even remotely, that “Rwanda is unravelling?” Bunkum! It is self evident that the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)is in effective control of the state; that the forces of opposition are still disorganised, inarticulate, weak and incoherent. The best we can say is that they are just beginning to show signs of life.

“Rwanda is poised to be the next Las Vegas” – Forbes
With a growing hospitality industry, this African nation is poised to be the next Las Vegas.

16 MAY 10

One dead, 28 hurt in Rwanda grenade attacks – AFP
“Around 7:00 pm (on Saturday) a hand grenade exploded in the business district where 24 people were wounded and another person died,” spokesman Eric Kayiranga said. “At Nyabugogo (a Kigali district near the bus terminal), another hand grenade exploded wounding four people,”

22 MAY

Rwanda muzzles candidate, fearing genocide return – AP
“That’s the problem I have with this government. If you talk about ethnicity, they say you are a divisionist,” Ingabire said. “I think the better solution is you talk about it and find a solution.”

Kagame speaks exclusively on the election and Victoire Ingabire – Daily Monitor
“We have evidence, which has been brought to her attention and about 10 things she has been denying. Now she’s saying that seven of them are actually true and this has come as a result of the overwhelming evidence that was put in front of her.”

24 MAY 2010

I am not authoritarian and I have nothing to apologise for, says Kagame – Daily Monitor
President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, in the second and last part of his exclusive interview with Monitor Managing Editor Daniel Kalinaki, speaks about his son joining the army, denies being authoritarian, and hints at stepping down after his next term in office.
26 MAY 2010

Lawyer heads to Kigali to defend Victoire Ingabire – YouTube
Professor Peter Erlinder flew to Kigali last Saturday 22 May to meet Ms Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader currently under arrest on charges of denying the genocide against the Tutsi and collaborating with terrorist groups.

27 MAY 2010

Umuvugizi newspaper appeal rejected in Rwanda High Court – ORINFOR
Rwanda’s high court has rejected an appeal made by Umuvugizi newspaper to the court to lift the ban imposed on them by the media high council. The Kinywarwanda tabloid was banned for a period of six months. The high court says Umuvugizi did not follow the right legal procedure in lodging the appeal. Gasasira Jean Bosco the paper’s proprietor said he will appeal the high court’s decision.

Genocide survivors denounce American lawyer defending Ingabire – Rwanda News Agency
The umbrella group IBUKA demanded Thursday that Prof. Peter Erlinder should be brought to justice for “denying and negating” the Tutsi Genocide – also branding him as an enemy of Rwanda, RNA reports.

Rwanda is perfection, utopia and heaven all in one – New Times
A valued friend of Rwanda cautioned a number of us against tending towards painting a utopia when we write about today’s Rwanda. What leads my colleagues and me to this tendency?

Ingabire’s American lawyer arrested in Kigali – Radio Netherlands Worldwide
Rwandan Police have arrested Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer who traveled to Rwanda’s capitol, Kigali on Monday, May 23rd, to join the defense team of Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.

U.S. embassy declines comment on arrest of Ingabire’s lawyer – Rwanda News Agency
When contacted, U.S. Embassy public affairs officer Edwina Sagitto simply said: “The embassy is aware of the arrest of Peter Erlinder by Rwandan Police. Beyond that, the embassy cannot comment due to privacy concerns.”

28 MAY 10

Rwanda has created the conditions & confidence for private investment – Tony Blair
The Government, despite the political challenges, has created the conditions and confidence for private investment to work in partnership towards shared goals. It is cutting poverty, and improving healthcare and education. Sustained economic growth has, in turn, being used to deliver real improvements for all Rwandans.

Rwanda is not ready for the medicine of democracy, says Kagame – The Independent
“Democracy and human rights are niceties and are all important, but tell me, if somebody is wondering if they have anything to eat, they are not listening,” he continues. “It’s a fact that when somebody has food, when you bring another message, then they listen.”

30 MAY 2010

General Nyamwasa responds to Kagame – Daily Monitor
A week after President Paul Kagame of Rwanda accused former army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and former intelligence boss Col. Patrick Karegeya of running away from accountability, the two officials, who live in exile in South Africa, give their side of the story in a statement emailed to Sunday Monitor by Lt. General Nyamwasa.

Rumour circulating over Ingabire rape – Rwanda News Agency
“You should know this country much better than I do because people are good at spreading rumours and also depending on them so much,” she said amid laughter. “Do you think anybody can enter this house as they wish?”

Republic of Rwanda statement on the arrest of Peter Erlinder – Benzinga
We understand that human rights activists schooled in the US Bill of Rights may find this objectionable. But for Rwandans — schooled in the tragedy of the 1994 genocide and who long for peace – Mr. Erlinder’s arrest is an act of justice.

Ingabire investigation could take a year, says prosecution – Rwanda News Agency
“If she does not speak, the investigating prosecutor will write exactly that 26and investigations will continue until there is sufficient evidence,” said Nkusi.

Op-Ed on the arrest of Erlinder – Rwanda Focus
If anyone from the West wants to write about, talk about or otherwise complain about today’s Rwanda, they should first study it’s bloody past. Those who question press freedom here should read some old RTLM transcripts with the understanding that the “nobles” from the West could have jammed the murderous transmissions at any time. Those who question negationism laws should spend a few days sitting (and crying) with survivors, orphans and widows. Those who deny the genocide took place should spend a few nights trying to sleep among the meticulously laid bones at memorial sites in Rebero, Nyanza and Nyarubuye. Then they should come and live in Rwanda – today’s Rwanda – for at least a year, preferably two, because it takes that long to pick up the subtle tones and gestures that are common here and to understand the Banyarwanda way. Otherwise, these critics are no different than those fellows in Berlin some 125 years ago, slicing and dicing a creature they know little or nothing about.

31 MAY 2010

Peter Erlinder being detained in Rwanda is hospitalized – Pioneer Press
“Toward the end of the five hours, Peter said he was not feeling well and asked to see a doctor,” Berglund said. “He was transported to the hospital.”

1 JUN 2010

Locked up in Rwanda: an interview with Sarah Erlinder – Foreign Policy
Sarah Erlinder argues that her father’s incarceration is unjust and shines a light on a county far too long believed to be democratic — a darling of foreign donors for its recovery from genocide. Instead, she says, this confirms what many of Kagame’s critics have long said: that this champion of democracy has an authoritarian side, now becoming all the more apparent.

Erlinder fakes illness as American lawyer joins legal team – New Times
“Today we cleared an American lawyer who presented his documents and he will join the other two Kenyan lawyers on Erlinder’s legal team. We had no problem with the Kenyan lawyers because our countries work together,”

Distressed Peter Erlinder tries to “commit suicide”, say Rwanda police – Rwanda News Agency
The Police now says by trying to commit suicide, Mr. Erlinder adds another criminal offense on the Genocide denial charge sheet

2 JUN 2010

The strange case of Peter Erlinder – Minneapolis Star Tribune
“He knew exactly what he was getting into,” said Bill Harper, McCollum’s chief of staff. “He knew it was dangerous.”

U.S. lawyer retracts Rwanda genocide denial remarks – Reuters
“He said during questions that ‘I am retracting my comments, my provocations and anything that you think violates your law’,” Ngoga told Reuters. The legal source who is familiar with the case confirmed the retraction.

Claim of Erlinder suicide attempt in Rwanda is disputed – Minneapolis Star Tribune
“He is healthy … it is clear that he did not make a suicide attempt.”

Erlinder has not retracted anything, says Kenyan defense attorney – Rwanda News Agency
“Peter denied all the allegations. He denied his writings constitute any crimes,” said Kennedy Ogetto, in an email message. “[Erlinder] emphasized that his writings and speeches are all protected by free speech guarantees under the US constitution and the laws of the commonwealth of which Rwanda is a member.”

Erlinder took overdose to get out of jail, family says – Minneapolis Star Tribune
Peter Erlinder told American consular officials in Rwanda that he took extra prescription pills in order to get out of a jail cell where he is being held with seven or eight other inmates, his family

U.S. calls for Rwanda to release professor Erlinder – AP
The State Department is calling on the government of Rwanda to release a jailed U.S. law professor on the grounds of compassion.

4 JUN 2010

“In Rwanda, it’s a pity that the noose is no longer allowed” – New Times
“Equally, there are varying but severe punishments in Belgium, Germany, France, Spain, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Luxembourg and others. In Rwanda, it’s a pity that the noose is no longer allowed!”

6 JUN 2010

“This is not a process we can stop just because a U.S. citizen is involved” – Fox
Erlinder walked into a Rwandan court room Friday to plead his case. Erlinder, who told the court he has not spoken to family or friends since being detained, was in Rwanda defending alleged leaders of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. But Friday, the judge charged Erlinder with denying genocide, and for publishing articles threatening the country’s security.

No bail for Peter Erlinder, Ingabire may hire another lawyer – Rwanda News Agency
Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer arrested in Rwanda on Genocide denial charges, was handcuffed by police as the judge remanded him to 30 days of detention to allow for continued investigations and subsequent trial. The accused has five days to appeal the decision but his client, presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire, may enlist the services of somebody else.

U.S. Senator puts pressure on Rwandan over Erlinder – Minnesota Public Radio
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum said the Rwandan embassy in Washington D.C. hasn’t responded to repeated inquiries from her office. She said that pattern could eventually jeopardize the partnership between the two countries.

9 JUN 2010

Erlinder and his co-conspirators have failed – New Times Letters
Thankfully Rwanda is way past that and there is no room for genocide deniers who want to take the currently healing and succeeding Rwanda back to the pre-genocide era.

Rwanda is a volcano waiting to erupt, says Rusesabagina – CNN
“Rwanda is a dormant volcano that might erupt anytime. The ruling government has created a tiny group of elites that has taken over everything,”

I’m no ‘stooge’ presidential candidate, says Rwanda’s Deputy Speaker – Daily Monitor
That was an insult to me and I think they should concentrate on their jobs. I know what my party wants and it has asked me to do.

16 JUN 2010

Opposition coalition breaks up amid accusations of rebel activity – Rwanda News Agency
The loose coalition of opposition parties is finally over after the yet-to-be registered Green Party claimed the FDU-Inkingi of being part of a plan under way outside Rwanda to launch armed rebellion unless President Kagame resigns before the elections.

Rwanda court grants medical bail to US lawyer – AP
A judge in Rwanda has granted bail to a U.S. lawyer on medical grounds.

19 JUN 2010

Rwanda ex-army chief Nyamwasa shot in Johannesburg – BBC
The former chief of staff of the Rwandan army has been shot in South Africa and taken to a Johannesburg hospital in a critical condition.

Former Rwanda soldier arrested for Nyamwasa shooting – South Africa Times
Police have arrested a former Rwandan soldier in connection with the attempted murder in Johannesburg of that country’s former army chief, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa.

20 JUN 2010

Kagame said he will kill Kayumba, wife alleges – Daily Monitor
Ms Rosette Kayumba, wife to renegade military general Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, has accused the Rwandan government of trying to assassinate her husband in South Africa, an allegation Kigali vehemently denied yesterday.

21 JUN 2010

South Africa arrests 6 in attempt to kill Nyamwasa. Opposition reacts – AP
“This incident is a nefarious conspiracy for disruption of peace in Rwanda, a country sinking deeply into a political and military crisis,” Ingabire said in a statement. “The lack of political space, the arrest of opposition leaders, lawyers and senior military officers, the use of violence and all kind of intimidation of dissenting voices are obvious signs of a country on the brink of chaos.”

General Kazura allegedly implicated in assassination attempt – African Great Lakes Network
According to the same sources, it appears that General Jean Bosco Kazura was sent on a mission by the Rwandan Government to travel to South Africa and organize the assassination while the South African police was busy with the opening of the FIFA Soccer World Cup.

22 JUN 2010

General Kayumba Nyamwasa leaves hospital – Daily Monitor
Exiled Rwandan general, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa has been discharged from hospital in South Africa after the doctor’s at Morningside Clinic in Johannesburg gave him a clean bill of health. He left hospital shortly after midday.

Erlinder steps off plane to wife’s embrace – video report – WCCO
“I’m terribly disappointed to know that I was misled by my own government in respect to what Rwanda really is,” he said.

24 JUN 2010

Rwandan opposition respond to arrests and assaults – PCC press release
“We call upon the Rwandan Government to postpone the presidential election until the political field is free, fair.”

25 JUN 2010

Editor of suspended Rwandan newspaper shot dead – Reuters
“It was around 10 pm at his gate, as he was coming home. An armed criminal shot him with two bullets. Police came five minutes later and took the body to hospital. He died on the spot,

Rwandan opposition candidate Victoire Ingabire denied run for office – AP
An ethnic Hutu opposition candidate who hoped to run for president in Rwanda has been denied the right to appear on the ballot because of charges of denying the country’s genocide, party officials said Friday.

Exiled Umuvugizi editor says Rwandan security killed his acting editor – VOA
Jean Bosco Gasasira says acting editor Rugambage was killed because his paper was investigating the shooting of a Rwandan general

Peter Erlinder robbed at gunpoint outside St. Paul home – Fox
“Erlinder described the suspect as a black man, 16 to 17 years old”.

Rwandan journalists condemn killing of colleague – New Times
“We expect, in a week or less, to see a thorough investigative report detailing who exactly is behind this barbaric act,

26 JUN 2010
Kayumba Nyamwasa granted asylum status in South Africa – BusinessDay
“He applied for asylum in SA, his asylum was adjudicated and was granted,” said The Department of Home Affairs’ deputy director-general responsible for immigration, Jackson McKay.

Rwanda denies any link to journalist murder – AFP
“Of course, this is not true, it’s baseless,” Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP. “We are not a government that assassinates journalists, we are a responsible government.

Critics fear Rwanda’s president is smashing dissent – Canadian Press
“There is this whole psyche that there is a crackdown in Rwanda, that tensions are reigning,” said Mushikiwabo. “People are taking advantage of the forthcoming elections to project this kind of situation, but I can assure you that the situation is created.”

28 JUNE 2010

Rwanda is on the right track, says President Paul Kagame – New Times
“We don’t need to lose anybody, at that, somebody called a journalist, not only for his right to live, but for us not to attract the kind of image that we shouldn’t be having at this time.”

2 JUL 2010

Editor’s murder ‘approved by Rwandan President’ – The Independent
“I know it, I don’t doubt it. The explanations are just Kagame’s excuses,” he said. Speaking of the recent attempt to abduct him in Uganda, he added: “I know it was his people.”

5 JUL 2010

There is certainly no political crisis in Rwanda – Daily Monitor
Bottom line, the hullabaloo about a crisis in Rwanda is a mere hoax. Rwanda remains as stable as it has always been. The only difference is that this is an election year that naturally comes along with its own excitements.

8 JUL 2010

South Africa-Rwanda ties strained over shooting – AFP
Rwanda has hit back at South Africa over “insinuations” it was behind an attempt to kill a dissident general, which some of Kigali’s opponents said was part of a pre-election purge of top brass.

Nyamwasa wanted in Spain and France – Daily Monitor
“Yes, there are [new] extradition requests from those two countries that we are considering,” Mr Tlali Tlali, the spokesman for South Africa’s Foreign Ministry, told this newspaper by telephone last evening.

Suspected journalist killers named – New Times
“In his testimony, Nduguyangu pleaded guilty and said that Karemera contracted him to kill Rugambage because the victim had killed Karemera’s brother in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” said Nkusi.
13 JUL 2010

Rugambage murder suspects appear in court – New Times
The two suspects in the murder of local journalist, Jean Leonard Rugambage, yesterday appeared in court but their case was adjourned after one of them did not have a lawyer.

300 observers register for Rwanda’s Presidential polls – New Times
The commission wrote to a number of organizations to take part in the elections. Among those that have shown interest are COMESA, Foreign Embassies in Rwanda, and Regional Electoral Commissions.

14 JUL 2010

Rwanda opposition party says top official missing – Reuters
“There’s no blood or anything, so we don’t know what actually happened… but it is confirmed that he is missing,” the party’s president, Frank Habineza, told Reuters by telephone from Butare.

15 JUL 2010

Rwanda Green Party VP Andre Kagwa Rwisereka found dead – Reuters
“His head was almost completely removed from his body. His brother Antoine Haguma confirms seeing the dead body,” Frank Habineza, founding President of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda said in a statement.
Rwanda opposition wants int’l probe of leader’s murder – AFP
“The permanent consultative council of opposition parties in Rwanda (PCC) calls for an independent international investigation on the assassination of the opposition key figure Mr Andre Kagwa Rwisereka,” said a statement by three opposition groups.

21 JUL 2010

First day of Rwanda political campaign opens with funeral – RFI
While Rwandan president Paul Kagame was busy launching his re-election campaign in Kigali on Tuesday, members of the opposition Democratic Green Party bid farewell to their vice chairman.

Rwanda ruling party says killings won’t harm campaign – Bloomberg
Rwanda’s ruling party said a spate of political killings in the run-up to next month’s presidential election won’t overshadow President Paul Kagame’s campaign to secure a second term.

Rwanda: A presidential campaign without much suspense – African Bulletin
the three other candidates are the vice president of the National Assembly and former Minister of Health, Jean-Damascene Ntawukuriryayo; the vice-chairman of the Senate and former Minister of Trade, Prosper Higiro, and finally a woman Alvera Mukabaramba. All have a program and speech similar to the RPF, and all had supported the president Kagamé during the last election.

I’m impressed by the Rwandan media – New Times Letters
“I was shocked to see candidates and parties I hardly knew about”

22 JUL 2010

“We will not try to kill three people in a row right before election” – New Statesman
“We certainly might not be a model government for a lot of people, but we’re not a stupid government,” Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, told journalists. “And we will not try to kill three people in a row right before election.”

Foreign press accreditation in Rwanda now $300 per year – Media High Council
A foreign journalist who intends to stay for not more than 15 days will pay US $30. However, to stay for a year (12 months), a foreign journalist will pay US $300.

Let us run our elections in a civilized fashion – New Times
We need a selfless leader who will continue to steer this nation to great heights.

Louise Mushikiwabo defends ‘Genocide Ideology’ law – Newsweek
“The fact that Rwanda now has four presidential candidates is nowhere to be seen in international media.”

25 JUL 2010

Who wants Kagame’s job? – The Observer
Rwanda President, Paul Kagame will face the voters in an election on August 9. Three other candidates stand in his way to another seven years at the helm of his country. GAAKI KIGAMBO looks at who these individuals are.

30 JUL 2010

Parties hold first Presidential debate – New Times
They answered questions on various issue, including the treatment of Genocide survivors, teacher’s salaries, foreign relations and people empowerment initiatives.

UNDECLARED

The events of the last four months demonstrate the powerful undercurrents at work in this quiet still-water country, whose history is and future will be one of bitter divisions: Hutu and Tutsi, Before and After, Us and Them, Image and Reality, Prosperity and Poverty. The maddening answers to the important questions are always somewhere in between the poles. It is undeniable that Rwanda has seen unprecedented growth in infrastructure, industry, and investment – this country is healthier, richer, and more famous than it was sixteen years ago. Relative to nearby African lawless oil-garch kleptocracies like the D.R.C., Libya, Sudan, Zimbabwe, even Uganda, etc., Rwanda’s government is about as corrupt as the tooth fairy on Prozac.

What I am trying to suggest is the admittedly unexciting impression that this is a country that is struggling with issues with freedom of expression and lack of political space, but things could be a lot worse. Paul Kagame’s regime uses the Party-esque concept of ‘genocide ideology’ to repress dissent, but some of the dissent being repressed would see the genocide repeated. The opinion of a people is seemingly subjected to the tug and pull between government mouthpieces and foreign watchdogs, but the country is about to be connected to a fibre optic network that will give them access to more information and viral videos of musical felines than they could dream of. Still, marble-eyed street kids’ lift mickeys of glue to their nostrils at the feet of skyscrapers being erected to house stories of IT professionals, and grenades are detonated in public squares named for National Unity. It is hard to make heads or tails of a coin that’s constantly spinning. National Geographic contributor Christopher Vouralias writes about the “misguided passion” that informs most stories about Rwandan: ‘the need to justify and legitimize a point of view that, admittedly, shifts according to which way the wind is blowing my contrarian sails. Thus a fellatory forecast of Rwanda’s bright ICT future has me huffing about human rights, while a screed that makes Kigali sound like an African Pyongyang has me extolling the virtues of, yes, the Rwandan renaissance. In Rwanda, you feel compelled to take sides – so much so that, at times, I feel like I’m arguing less out of conviction than out of a need to have that conviction.’ For my part, the hermeneutics of foreign affairs is a foggy business and I am barely more than a philistine in Rwanda. At best, I am left behind glass, staring at a portrait of a country into a background rich with ghosts I can only dimly understand, stammering interpretations of her Mona Lisa smile that only reflect a viewer concerned, intrigued, and utterly mystified.

Tora Kagame

I’m starting to see a face in my dreams. The face has a shiny expanse of forehead like a tundra before the treeline, the eyes are outlined in round wire-frames, and a thin-trimmed moustache is the only hint of character over a pressed-lip professionalism that’s so consistent I can’t tell if the man has teeth. In the omniscient conscious interpretation of my brain’s nightlife I start to see this face stationary on the walls of offices, shop counters, and billboards or strafing by slowly on bus-sides, bumper stickers, and shilled magazines. Then I realize that the shill’s moustache is thin and trimmed, that the bus driver is squinting through round wire-frames, that the shopkeep can’t open his mouth to greet me, that I am walking through a crowd, a district, an entire city of the same unsmiling balding set-jawed face, a population without expression or difference above the clavicle, all wearing t-shirts and ballcaps with the same unflinching face looking out, asking nothing, and for relief I turn my own face to the sky where I see no clouds but an atmosphere of Faces on the side of blimps and balloons above crows and sparrows and stories-high statues of gorillas all with the same inescapable Face, and in the reflective alloy of a low-flying blimp’s cockpit I see myself, bird’s eye viewed, standing in the madness and I feel the terror screaming on my own face but when I resolve it’s image in the metal I see only the calm unconcerned Face staring at its reflection and I hear a chanting that’s been there all along but never noticed, soft determined imperatives in unison growing louder and louder until I can finally discern the message:

“Tora Kagame.”

Then I wake up and realize it’s campaign season in Rwanda.

Serious election-post to follow.

Teaching

I usually get to work around 0800h, an hour later than the government-mandated 0700h of my colleagues.   The security guards and I had started this fun game where I greeted them with handshakes and Kinyarwanda and they taught me a new phrase to butcher (I’ve probably been telling people I look like the Queen’s arse for a while now), but now I can usually end the interaction having saved face, earned their respect, and established that everyone is indeed having a good morning. They’re good people though – one time I showed up at 10 and pantomimed drinking and we’ve been friends ever since. Then after shaking the hands and squeezed the shoulders of another thirteen or so people (five of which have names to me) it’s up to the B.L.S. office. The magic happens in two small partitions of a larger room that we share with Medical Imaging, Dentistry, and whomever has staked the big desks in the anteroom for the day. The back office houses the H.O.D. Ali’s desk, usually covered in a laptop, textbooks, piles of memos in Kinyarwanda and English (he speaks less Kinyarwanda than I do, so their presence is a testament to his attempt to be a thorough leader), a few envelopes of tests to be archived, and office clutter. Herbert works  from a smaller station in front of the desk and any meetings Ali has are conducted with Herbert plunking away at his monitor, which is either work (~80%), Champion’s League results (~10%), or the next hilarious forward I’m about to get featuring either grotesque sports injuries (or a video titled Japanese girls that I didn’t open) (~10%). A cabinet of archived documents, old curricula, course notes, budgets, etc. is the third presence in this room whose window looks out on the laundry lines and an outdoor kitchen whose products end up somewhere I’ve yet to determine. In the front office, we have two desks and a cabinet. I usually share mine with a laser-jet printer that exhausts like a Boeing and the other is occupied by two or three of Claude, Penda, Gad, Schrifa, or Emmanuel (a lecturer at K.H.I.’s satellite campus in Kibuye), working at a HP Intel Pentium III circa early 2000s that has more viruses than a promiscuous junkie. I take the first hour or so to answer emails and fine-tune the lecture that I’ll be giving that day (or write it if I’m behind, which is happening more frequently towards the end of this course).
Since late April I’ve been teaching Advanced Diagnostic Molecular Biology to a class of about fifty fourth years four days a week for about an hour and a half to two hours a day. This is interesting because I only took Molecular Biology last year and my hospital exposure is limited to losing crib with a Cape Breton named Donny in the veteran’s ward of St. Martha’s in Antigonish, so my learning curve has a degree approaching square. It’s also interesting because preparing six hours a week of digestable, non-coma-inducing material on a very esoteric and hand-wavy subject like molecular biology is frigging hard. I have this weirdly distinct memory of my freshman biology prof trying to scare us into attending class by saying that every hour of lecture takes her thirty to prepare, and that missing one class would take that long to make up in solo study. I still think she’s full of it, but I have grown a crazy respect for the time that goes into preparing an hour of lecture. I’ve got it down to about five to eight, including the time I spend preparing things that I later learn completely do not translate to an actual classroom setting.

Molecular Biology II with Mr. Anthony is scheduled for 10:30 to 12:00 Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; and 2:00 to 4:00 on Thursday. Around 10:15, I start to try to find my class. I’ve heard tell of a mythical secretarial creature that coordinates the classrooms for lecturers, but I don’t believe the rumors because we are never in the same place two days in a row. Robert, the class rep, usually tracks me down somewhere on campus when they’ve found a room, and word is spread to his classmates through text message. The project and chalkboard are pilfered from storage and if the electricity is working that day we are usually up and running by 11. I used to start class by taking oral attendance, but that experimented ended badly. Rwandan last names involve a minimum of 30 consonants and Ws are pronounced as Gs and YB is like ST and I was losing the class in giggles before the I hit the Ds, so now we jump right into reviewing the material from last class.

During uni I maintained this paradox of having a sublime respect for teachers and their profession while having no patience with the ones that I felt were wasting my time. I came into this internship with a solid background in coaching swimming and demonstrating organic chem, but that stuff is Yahtzee compared to trying to entertain and engage a class of students, most of whom are older than I am, and all of whom speak English as a second or third language. My puns about bacteria sex can’t make that jump, although I did a decent impression of chemotaxis that got a laugh. Plus molecular biology is it’s own language. Three years of a chemistry degree helped me survive the course in undergrad and I figured out fast that I was straining their vocabulary with concepts like enthalpy and electronegativity, which are essential to understanding what’s going on in cells at a molecular level. Then I started to ask myself why they would even care. They’ll be lab technicians, not research scientists. Maybe four students will be able to afford to do a Masters, and chances are not good it’ll be in Mol Bio. Not everybody thinks genetics are as cool as you do. You are in a developing country, one of the poorest in the world, with a violent history and a frail health care system, and you’re talking about site-specific recombination. Et cetera et cetera. Even though I was working off a curriculum that predated my arrival, I got that ol’ science major feeling of wasted time, that what I was teaching was going to be forgotten from being left unused under some memory with significance. I owe the retention of my sanity to a few students that showed a genuine (or at least well-faked) interest in the bigger picture by asking questions, most of which I couldn’t answer on the spot. Plus in the last few weeks we’ve moved into the principle of operation of some of the actual techniques used in diagnostic labs, PCR, immunoblotting, antibody assays, etc. and this has been met with relief by both parties, I think. Applied science is easier to present as exciting than pure science, even if it’s less interesting. “This is how you tell if someone is HIV-positive” is a better punchline than “this is sort of how we think life works”, which is why I care about molecular biology. In the end I feel like I contributed though.  The department has no one to teach molecular biology, so the course only happens when somebody blows into town for a two-week crash course. It’s a pretty important course (at least the second half) because these tests are used to monitor and diagnose HIV, hepatitis, malarial, etc. in patients in less time and with more accuracy than traditional culturing methods. Now, they have a full set of course notes and practice exams and I’m going to be working with James, a Rwandan lecturer in the department, so that he can teach the course next year. Sustain that, sustainability.

This past Friday we had our first quiz (Continuous Assessment Test in the vernacular). There is a weird  anxious thrill about handing out a test you’ve written, because you’re really trying to catch flies in the dark. Is it too hard, too easy, will they think I’m an idiot, did I explain everything well enough, etc. This anxiety was not helped when Olivier, one of the students, asked if he could say a few words to the class before they began. I said sure, thinking it would be a class announcement about where they were having beers afterwards or something. Instead he stood up in front of the class, held up his hand, and said “Let us pray”. I almost canceled the test right there.

Open Day

Friday, May 28th was Open Day at K.H.I. (where I work, in case you forgot). Open Day, as far as I understand it (think picometers), is a combination of community service, a high school career fair, and a hypochondriac’s wet dream: each department sets up a booth under a tent in the parking lot to demonstrate what their students are learning and offer some basic tests and diagnoses free of charge to the general circus of ill Kigalites. I think similar displays happen at all public institutions, because throughout the day we received busloads of high schoolers poking their senior noses in our business. During this best-behaviour-wear-your-golden-K.H.I.-tie kind of day I got to help out in the B.L.S. booth and poke my own nose into all the other department’s booths to see what other health professionals do for a living, while receiving a rudimentary physical in the process. The nursing department was reading blood pressure and demonstrating how to intubate place an I.V. on a manikin and ultrasounding kidneys indiscriminately. The boys in opthalmology were testing kids’ eyes. The dentists were campaigning against chocolate (Bombo? Yego! Umuneke? Yego! Avoka? Yego! Chocola? Oya.) and walking around with toothbrushes that must have been for elephants. I couldn’t find the anesthesiologists, but I assume they were off popping oxycontin somewhere. The midwifes were, well, they had a manikin, and I’ll leave it at that. Good ol’ B.L.S. was offering blood glucose tests, showing slides of dead malaria parasites, and typing blood (O+ for life, baby). I was doing the blood glucose tests for most of the morning, which involved pricking a never ending supply of thumbs that mostly fell well within normal limits. I did hold a few swollen hands that tested outside of the range and made me wonder if they had access to regular glucose monitors. Type I diabetes (where your pancreas shits out, not caused by malnutrition) statistically affects a higher percentage of Africans than Caucasians and while glucose tests have been around since the mid 50s (based on Leland Clark’s oxygen electrode, he said, channeling his undergraduate Advanced Major presentation) and have been widely and cheaply available in developed countries since the 70s, living with diabetes and being unable to monitor your own blood sugar must be a nightmare. The whole idea of offering free services and showing the community what you do every once in a while is very cool, and starting to be very Rwandan. Similar to the Open Day initiative, the last Saturday of every month, businesses are closed and everyone participates in community service/cleaning projects. Anyway Ravi and I (well, Ravi’s camera) became the official photographers of the event and I think the shots are pretty representative of the rest of the day. Check ’em out.

Kigali International Peace Marathon

About a month ago, R.J. forwarded an email with some barely intelligible details about the 6th Annual Kigali Peace Marathon. At first I thought it was a joke, partly because the website banner featured an elderly Caucasian man at the start line in a sea of African athletes with fat-to-mass ratios approaching zero, and partly because level ground is scarce in Kigali and I am out of shape. But as my fitness cycle was then in the Running as opposed to the Drinking phase, I figured the 21.5 kilometer half-marathon might be doable and decided to register for the event in five weeks time. Early in training, I decided I was a fool. The word marathon originally comes from the legend of Pheidippides, a messenger of the Greek army that ran the 40 odd k distance from the Battle of Marathon to the capital Athens to inform the assembly the Greeks had defeated the Persians and having done so promptly checked out of Hotel Life on the spot. Plus running any sort of distance without serious intelligent training is generally a bad idea, and the few long-distance runners I know train their asses off. Literally. They are 110 pounds and have no ass. But once committed, the athletic ego I developed in my swimming hey-days kicked in and I decided by the time I need knee replacements surgeons will probably have improved on the current model anyway. Plus running around in Kigali was a great way to both see parts of the city that I wouldn’t have otherwise and meet your neighbours in the context of them thinking you are a pathological fool. There’s no better motivation than the crowds (mostly children, teens, and one especially memorable matriarchal and sports bra-less character) that gathered to run with me for 5, 50, or 1000 metres in the mornings before work. You’re running? Man, I’m gonna run too! Where we going? Boy, you are slow. You know we have buses, eh?

Fast forward to May 23rd. The marathon was supposed to start at 0900h sharp on Sunday morning, but that turned into a dull 1000 quickly. In the staging area I met an eclectic series of marathoners from groups of Kigali schoolkids in Chuck Taylors and sandals running the 5k fun run to a masochist running 40 marathons in 40 weeks. Then, I saw the professionals. The Kenyans. Lithe men and women wearing little and weighing less that looked like they could walk through a keyhole. Professional runners bodies are incredible. I know six year olds with biceps bigger than their thighs – these guys had fat:mass ratios approaching infinity. We were finally called to the starting line around 1030 and after queuing up some trusty Strokes on my iPod the race was on. The route led out of the Amahoro Stadium, through a business district, then down and up a long stretch of hill through the embassy district, before circling the stadium and finishing the last 500 metres on the rubber track inside (this being the first lap). Roadside easels marked the distance in chalk and at the first 5 k sign I took a second to congratulate myself on pacing well and having not died or torn a ligament. Then I hit the 3 k sign. And then the 15. I felt like a mouse in a Kafka story, where the end of the maze keeps getting further away. Severely confused, but not surprised, I ran on, and apart from a brief episode where I tried to drink the sponge water (I missed the boxes of the bottled version) the rest of the marathon passed enjoyably and uneventfully. The second lap was more of a trudge than a race and around 17 k (or 3, I really don’t know) the wake of the Kenyan’s third lap speed nearly toppled me. Their form at that distance mirrored their start and I cursed the remains of my athletic ego and R.J. for suggesting this masochistic ritual of man vs. dumb-ass man in the first place. Several choice slurs were directed silently at Pheidippides. And then I hit the stadium, and me and the thirty-something guy in dreads that I’d been “running” with for the last 3 or 4 k crossed the line on a sprint, our dashing heroism completely undulled by the fact that we barely passed an elderly gentleman resembling the Cryptkeeper in the last 100 m. I grabbed my XXXL victory T-shirt, a pack of glucose cookies, and consumed twice the volume of my bladder in fluids while collapsed on the infield. Just in time to watch the 42 k full marathon finish. Definitely a win in my books. Really though, I was damn impressed by the Kenyans and legitimate athletes that competed that day alongside a mottle of school kids, families, and college-waisted hosers and wankers. Even the fans/by-standers/inconvenienced pedestrians that lined the busier corners and shouted what I chose to interpret as support along the way touched some long-lost beauty-of-sport-as-equalizer nerve that I’d forgotten after a few years out of serious training. The World Cup should be something special. Now, I’m going to go lie down for several days and try to appreciate the beauty of walking.

Ni hayjo (see you soon).

Parc National des Volcans

Mountain gorillas in the D.R.C. and Rwandan Virungas were studied extensively in the 1960s and 70s by Dian Fossey, a Californian zoologist who was featured on the cover of National Geographic in 1970 and had her head split open by a machete in 1985. From the accounts I’ve read, Fossey was brilliant in her research and a bit of a nutter in her uh, conservative conservationist stances. It has been reported that she would kill the livestock of farmers whose plots came too close to the grazing range of the gorillas and her murder was eventually charged to one of her former students, but the circumstances of her death remain obscure. On top of anti-poaching patrols and habitat preservation, Fossey vehemently opposed opening the gorilla habitat to tourism. Meaning she probably would not have endorsed this photograph (and not just because of our dyslexic attempt at mimicry):

Today, both because and in spite of Fossey, there are ~300 mountain gorillas living in the Virungas in 15 groups ranging from 12 to 35 individuals. Seven groups have been habituated to human visitors whose 500 U.S.D. permit in part funds research on the other eight. Each group has a few babies, a few females, a few young males (blackbacks), and one almighty silverback, the largest primate on the planet, breaking scales at 250 k.g.s on a sunny day, completely herbivorous yet completely capable of playing with your skeleton like it was a giant Gumby.

We arrange to share a ride first to the tourism office and second to the ‘trailhead’ with a group also staying at the Hotel Murabura, four Pfizer employees working with health centre NGOs in East Africa. One was from the U.K. via Canada, one from Switzerland, one from Switzerland via Germany, and one from Sweden. Great company, despite being employed by one of the more moustache-twirlingly evil companies around. The Swede plays in an ex-pat band with some Belgians in Kigali and carries a monumental lens that looks like it could resolve electrons (the night before I also met a couple from Arkansas, the man in which used to go heli-skiing in B.C.’s Coast Mountains with the founder of M.E.C. and Arcteryx and is now working on developing the tourism industry in Ruhengeri – not exactly the as-advertised Natalie Portman/Don Cheadle, but still an interesting crowd). Gorilla-trekking and other eco-tourism ventures are becoming a larger part of Rwanda’s economy. A series of caves in Ruhengeri is set to be opened to the public within the year – unfortunately at the time of our inquiry they were still testing the resident bats for Ebola.

The grounds of the O.R.T.P.N. are swarming with gorilla-trackers at all levels of preparation. A mid-thirties Asian couple are nined-up in waterproof fabric, gators, hiking books, and telescoping ski poles, while a group of local porters eye a heavyset couple in sunglasses and capris that look like they’re in line for boogie board rentals. Each group of primates can handle eight sapients, and our sextet is topped by Charlie and Jennifer, two fit sixty-something Australians that look like what I figure Bodybreak’s Hal Johnson and Joanne McCloud look like in retirement. After getting over our dismay that we didn’t get the epically far Sousa group (turns out no one did, as that day they were about eight hour’s walk from O.R.T.P.N), we learn that our group, Hirgwe, will be about two from the edge of the forest. While Placid, our guide for the day, is telling us about the identifying noseprints of the different Hirgwe females, the sky unleashes a very Biblical sort of rain. It is at this point that I begin to question whether my breathable mesh-lined New Balance 460s, while unsurpassed for raw gorilla-fleeing foot-speed, are really the appropriate footwear to tackle the mud and underbrush and decide to shell out the 3000 Frw to rent a pair of galoshes. I may never make a wiser decision in my life.

The road to the edge of the forest is made of boulders. The driver calls the turbulence an African massage. He uses less friendly words when the truck gets stuck in a rainwater flooded rut, putting the porters that were matching our speed on foot to work dislodging several tons of metal, passengers, and European rain gear. This is a bit of an ironic waste of energy, because the ride stops about 40 m. afterwards, but the porters don’t complain. So, having arrived at the starting point of the shortest vector towards the beasts, we tuck our socks in our boots, select a sturdy walking stick, and march single-file up the slope of Sabyinyo, whose 3 634 m.-high peak can only be extrapolated above the cloud cover. By this time, it has stopped raining, but the ground is now sort of dissolving under my feet and staying vertical is not as easy as it used to be. We hike maybe 40 minutes through crop fields, passing local farmers arranging sweet potatoes, grass huts spouting pungent smoke, and leashed goats chewing whatever is around to be chewed until we reach the edge of the forest and a large man with an automatic rifle. Here, we receive Pep Talk 4 of 5 from Placid, warning about the local fauna whose house we are about to B&E. Inquiring elephants, it is said, are to be directed to the man with the rifle, though Placid has only seen an elephant three times in his five years of working for the National Parks, as mostly they stick around the flatter ground in the D.R.C.  Watch out for stinging nettles (nasty bastards of plants that find your skin through most fabric and deposit a toxin that causes irritation and a shocky flush). Try not to fall down. After the pep talk, machetes are unsheathed, pseudo-stinging nettles are debunked, hoods are drawn, and we crash into the thicket. The mud and nettles and the ascending altitude make the going slow, and a few of the deeper puddles are reluctant to give up my boot, but mostly I am having a great time. The Swede pitches face first into a bush at one point and we pretend to not laugh at the noises he makes. Being inside the forest is like being inside a big lung, everything is thick and wet and alive. After a while individual leaves and staircases of mud are reduced to cycling shades of green and black. I am becoming very familiar with the pattern of stitching on the heel of the Brit in front of me. One hour and two Snickers later, we reach an area of shorter brush and two new National Park guides. Here we will leave the porters, walking sticks (these resemble spears), and anything else that isn’t a flash-disabled camera.

Placid leads us through another thatch of underbrush. I’m so primed at this point that every dark shape I see is a potential gorilla. He stops, makes a low guttural noise and motions into the green a few metres away. At first all I see is glistening black fur, but the fur is definitely moving and grunting back. The guide’s grunting is apparently the “everything’s cool” signifier, to let the silverback know our purpose here is innocent. I appreciate the parlay because the first glimpse of the Big Man I catch is his jawline and its impressive. He’s sitting half-upright, chewing, and ignoring the younglings curled in the depths of his massive girth. He clearly knows we’re there, and clearly doesn’t care. The pictures don’t do justice to the experience of being less than a metre from a silverback gorilla. To witness these creatures in their natural habitat in the center of Africa was like a pilgrimage to Mecca for a recovering determinist and former Animorph addict like me. Watching the silverback yawn, lie on his back, rest his head on the palm of his hand, and give his nether regions the scratching they’d been itching for, or the infants doing handstands presumably just cause sometimes its more fun to be upside down, or the facial expression signifying utter contentment of the child being groomed by her mother, it’d be hard to deny that human beings and mountain gorillas share a grandfather however many greats back down the line. All the big guy was missing was a beer in his hand and some playoffs on the tube.

Lac Kivu

The first weekend of this May was spent at the Paradis Malahide, 5 k.m.’s moto out of Gisenyi on the shores of Lake Kivu, whose waters lap the roots of the eight ancient Virunga volcanoes that mark a rough centre of the African continent and contain the triple point of the Ugandan, Rwanda, and D.R.C. borders. Our conversation with Fidele, who runs the joint when the owner, who married an Irish man, is away, interrupts a few newlywed and nearly dead couples sharing nightcaps around the smoldering fire pit that lights the Malahide’s lobby/restaurant. No power, no problem. No rooms, sort of a problem. A Belgian priest owns the house next door, and he’s in Belgium, so you can stay there for cheap, says Fidele. We fumble with keys in locks by candlelight, sandal-snipe a few domestic fauna, and fall asleep to the black lake’s waves breaking over the lawn. I sleep well because the bus ride to Gisenyi was pretty unpleasant: sweaty, crowded, rain-delayed, and nauseating (there no straight-aways longer than 4 metres in Rwanda). Saturday’s lakeshore morning is pouring rain. Breakfast is coffee and omelets at the Malahide. I realize that I am starting to prefer toast made last night. Then, because it is still raining and I have somehow become hydrophobic, we read for a while under the awnings of the priest’s house. The clouds break around mid-morning, so we walk along the lake-etched road, meeting half-pint kids carrying water twice their weight and Adventists on their way to service. The only real landmark around’s the brewery Bralirwa, where Mutzig, Primus, and Amstel are all made before being trucked to Kigali or steamer shipped across Lake Kivu to the Congo. The shores of the D.R.C. can be seen in the distance from here.  The name Congo packs so much: Kurtz’s madness, Belgium rubber kings, years of civil war, disappeared journalists and doctors, and yet its people started the first Conga line, possibly the world’s silliest way of walking. Goma of Eastern Congo is only 10 km away; easy day-trip distance. We’ll mull, suss, and joke about going but not this time. No photos are allowed at the brewery according to Felix, a seventeen year old kid we meet as we enter the grounds. He works weekdays here, weekends picking coffee, and since he’s on his way home now will tour us around in broken English. He helps us find the hot springs, where men bathe and woman cook potatoes in boiling water from molten rock k.m.s below.

At the hot springs we meet Old Man Martin who wears a leopard-skin pill-box hat that he takes off before photos with the manners of a Victorian. We draw eventually draw a sad non-linear story out of Felix. His mother and father died in ’94 and now he raises his younger brother and sister. He tries to pay for their education with his wages from the brewery and the coffee fields, but school fees are expensive (about 10 000 Frw or 20 C.D.N. a month).

Back at Paradis, we rent a canoe for the twenty minute’s paddle to a manicured island just off the coast. We take a lot of self-timed photos and stare at the Congo for a while.

Then back again for a swim in the late sun. Lake Kivu is warmer than any Canadian lake, probably because it hasn’t had the company of glaciers for eons. It is also saturated with methane at a 50 m depth and a crew staying at the Malahide takes samples early in the morning.

Some of the research on the lake is to evaluate its potential to produce energy for Northwestern Rwanda. Sometimes the lake’s farts kill people. The day ends with curried talapia from the lake with pommes de terre puree at the motel for supper and a long cigar talk at the lakeside with Fidele, who thinks Canadians are not as depressed and demanding as Europeans and shares some stories of his schooling in Goma and his drowned brother and his girl that is just a girl not a wife that he takes to Kigali when he can. Once he met the daughter of a Vancouver furniture magnate, David Lam or something but I can’t confirm it. Also, he once met Edward Norton, whose sister Molly used to work around here.