…A Reporters Account
By Clarice Azuatalam,
Just Back from Kigali, Rwanda.
My joy knew no bounds when I got the invitation to travel to Kigali, Rwanda for the SIGNIS Africa Congress and Delegates Assembly. The congress with the theme: “Communication, Synodality and the Church in Africa” was slated for July 11, 2022-July 15, 2022.
As one who likes travelling and adventure, I had looked forward to visiting Rwanda based on reports I have heard about the beauty and cleanliness of Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
I got my travelling documents as well as my COVID-19 vaccination card ready and moved to Lagos where I was to board the flight, Rwandair to Kigali on July 11, 2022.
RIP-OFF AT MMIA, LAGOS
While trying to check in my one box luggage, the people in charge of that said, they would not because I did not have COVID-19 test result. I brought out my vaccination card in which it was clearly stated that I had taken, the first, second and booster jabs long ago “ .
This was turned down because one of the staff at Rwandair said that the “policy in Kigali is that every passenger coming into their country must do a COVID-19 test not less than 72 hours before flying in”. He also told me that their Manager who is a Rwandan had given them instructions not to check in any passenger who did not have COVID-19 test result less than 72 hours before boarding.
I argued that having genuinely taken and completed my jabs; I did not have need for another test prior to flying to any country of the world. My argument was like water poured on stone.
The solution, one of them told me was to go to a near-by lab at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos and do the test at N15,000 or he would snap the information page of my international passport and send to the lab and they would issue me a COVID-19 test result, indicating that I had no COVID-19, at the cost of the same N15,000.
Since either way, I would cough out N15, 000 and considering the fact that I hardly know Lagos, I choose the second option and he took a snap of my international passport.
Shortly after I had allowed him snap my international passport, my colleagues who were travelling with me arrived and I informed them of what was happening. They naturally did not take kindly to it as all of us had taken the vaccination at our respective places of abode. However, one of them declared that haven passed through a lot of stress to get to Lagos, N15, 000 would not stop us from attending the congress we had all looked forward to. He added that “people are just using this COVID-19 to make business.” On that note they all complied just as I did.
In less than 40 minutes, I got a whatsapp message purportedly from the lab that I was COVID-19 negative. I called the attention of the man who snapped my passport that I had got message from the lab. I then brought out the N15,000 to pay him and do you know what? He told me that in this airport, you do not expose money that you are paying to people. I responded that since the money he was collecting from me was genuine, the payment should not be made in secrecy. All the same he collected the un-receipted money from me and pocketed it. Same for others and consequently, we were all cleared to board.
FLIGHT TO KIGALI:
Though the flight was delayed by about an hour, all the same it was quite smooth and with friendly crew members. It was about a-four hour flight and landed in Kigali at about 9 pm, Nigerian time. Rwanda is an hour ahead of Nigeria. We were later cleared to get into Kigali and surprisingly nobody asked us of the COVID-19 test result which we obtained prior to flying.
The policy in Rwanda is that visa is on arrival. So it was stress-free getting it on arrival at the Kigali airport. Getting cleared, we went out to be welcomed by some members of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the congress. They drove us to Saint Paul Centre (Centre Saint-Paul, in French version), Kigali, a Guest House owned by the Catholic Church which was also the venue of the congress. Despite the time of our arrival, dinner was reserved for us, even though it was late for some of us.
Thereafter, we retired to our respective rooms for the night and by the next morning; we were all in jubilant mood for the congress. Breakfast was served early enough and after the usual banters we all moved to the hall for the intellectual aspect of the congress.
After two paper presentations, we went for “health break” (tea break) which was sumptuous. The intellectual work commenced again after which lunch was served.
VISIT TO KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
Lunch over, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Lydia Mutesi, the Tour Guide Manager of the place played the video on the genocide. The genocide started early hours of April 7, 1994. It was an ethnic war between the Hutus and Tutusi. From the video played there; about 250,000 Rwandese lost their lives in that genocide. But some sources said over one million Rwandese were killed in the entire war.
However, we were taken round the memorial site, where pictures of those who lost their lives in the genocide are hanging; skulls of the deceased and the kind of guns they used to fight that time are displayed.
After going through the memorial site, we moved to the grave side where most of the victims of the genocide were buried in mass grave. We prayed for the happy repose of their souls and thereafter laid wreaths at the grave.
One striking message at the entrance of the Genocide Memorial is: “Kwibuka28” under which is written “forgive, reunite, renew”. It was gathered that the word “kwibuka” in Kinyarwanda means “remember” and the “28” beside it means that this year is the 28th year of the commemoration of the 1994 genocide. This figure changes every year as they commemorate the genocide.
From the Genocide site, we went to Regina Pacis Catholic Church, Kigali. Some children sang songs in Rwandese language to welcome us to the Church where the Opening Mass of the congress was conducted by Antoine Cardinal Kambanda, the Archbishop of Kigali.
At the end of the Mass, we were conducted round the Pacis Television, within the Church compound and it is owned by the Catholic Church. The Church has been using it to disseminate message of peace across the country since after the genocide.
While returning from the Church, we were driven past the Convention Centre in Kigali where the just-concluded Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) took place. We could not stop because of time but viewing it from outside, it was quite a beauty to behold with its oval shaped light- bluish colour and well lit up. Thereafter, we returned to Saint Paul Centre for dinner and night rest.
VISIT TO MUHANGA/KABGAYI:
Expectedly, the following day started with Mass, breakfast and later paper presentations. We later had “health break” and from there we went round to explore the garden of Saint Paul Centre which was quite serene, luxuriant and beautiful.
Afterwards we reconvened for group work, group presentations and setting up of communiqué drafting committee.
This was followed by visit to Zipline Muhanga. Muhanga is a town in Rwanda while Zipline’s headquarters is in San Francisco, United States of America. At Zipline Muhanga, we were conducted round the factory by, the Community Lead, Mr Prosper Ururuguudi. Zipline Muhanga is basically the blood bank of Rwanda. There, the company’s medical drones will fly blood and related medicals to health care facilities where blood is required within a very short time and return again. The flying of the drone was demonstrated to us and it was quite amazing how a drone built like a small helicopter could carry medicals straight to a facility where it is required, deliver it and return again without hindrance.
It was gathered from Ururuguudi that Nigeria has also signed contract with Zipline to build three factories in Kaduna, Cross River and Ebonyi states.
We visited the Catholic University, Kigali which is also where the Radio Marie is located and we were taken round the school too.
From there we went to Kabgayi, another town in the country which is about two hours drive from Kigali. There, we had lunch at Hotel Saint-Andre, Kabgayi. The place is run by Catholic nuns and it is attached to Immaculatea Virgini Basillica, Kabgayi. It houses a museum but the relics there are majorly for religious purposes.
GALA/AWARDS NIGHT: We later came back to Saint Paul Centre to hold our gala/ awards night. During the session, many people who have made significant contributions to the growth of SIGNIS Africa were honoured. Some like late Bishop Moses Hamungole of Zambia and Msgr. Ralph Madu of Nigeria were given posthumous award. Participants were all given certificate of participation at this year’s congress. Thereafter it was pari, pari!, till we all got tired.
SITES AND SOUNDS OF RWANDA:
Despite the genocide, Rwandans have decided to put the whole bitter experience behind them and they are now forging ahead as one indivisible nation where no one can be oppressed based on ethnicity or religion.
The Catholic Church has 60 percent of its 12 million population while the rest denominations including muslims share the remaining 40percent but it is not used to discriminate against anybody.
The Catholic Church is using its various news organs like the television and radio to propagate peace of which the government of the day under President Paul Kagame is proud of.
(a)Police: The Police are seen at virtually every bus stop and quietly gathering intelligence without harassing anybody. They are well equipped even with whistle which they do not hesitate to blow when the need arises.
(b)Okada: Just like in Nigeria, Okada riders (motorcyclists) are in Kigali but they are disciplined and well kitted with their helmets and extra one for passengers. It is one passenger at a time. They have designated areas where they park and wait for passengers. It was further observed that the age bracket of the people doing this motorcycle business is just about 50 years and above.
(c)Language: Rwandese do not want to be identified again as Hutu, Tutusi or even Twa, their major ethnic groups. To them everybody is Rwandese and their common language is “Kinyarwanda”. This explains why most of their documents are written in this language and in French sometimes. This is used to teach them in school but in higher institutions, they learn three international languages: English, French and Swahili.
(d)Beautiful Kigali: Kigali is on a hill top and this makes it cold at times especially at night. By every standard it is a very beautiful city. Everywhere is spike and span. The residents are well organised. Nobody wraps items with cellophane/nylon bags which are not degradable. Rwandese use paper to wrap items purchased from shops. The workforce as observed everywhere we went is dominated by youths who are calm, courteous and focused.
CONCLUSION: It is often said that a visitor must return to base and so in the morning of our departure, some members of the LOC drove us to Kigali airport where the check-in was seamless till the aircraft was ready for us to board back to Lagos. The COVID-19 test result we obtained from Lagos airport was never asked for till now, confirming what a colleague said that “people are just using COVID-19 to make business!” .