By Valentine Obienyem
When the wise one said that knowledge, which is always an expanding mirage in the desert of ignorance, comes one fourth from study, one fourth from experience, one fourth from efforts and one fourth from travel, he was right. I have therefore taken any travel I embark on as part of study in the endless pilgrimage of seeking knowledge in its elusiveness.
In this case, our trip was under the auspices of UNIZIK Business School as part of the requirements for the graduation of its doctrinal students in Business and Public Administration. We missed the first Director of the School, Prof. A.U. Nnonyelu, but we’re pleased that his successor, Prof. Emma Okoye, aided by his Deputy, an Associate Prof., Dr. Chinedu Onyeizugbe, have kept the torch aflame. Leading us to Rwanda, they made sure we got the best from the trip.
Because of COVID-19 and the security situation in the country, travelling was affected as it almost became a nightmare. The recent trip to Rwanda was actually my first out of the country in about two years. What was it like? What insight has one gained from it? Is it another torture? Are there lessons to learn from the trip on a personal or national level
On the 2nd of April, 2022 was actually the first time of using the N45 billion Anambra Airport. That I enjoyed it has not changed my belief that it remains a misplaced priority. The comments of many people are affected by a certain euphoria fueled by excitement. In this case, time remains the greatest judge.
One instructive observation on this trip is about RwandAir. About five years ago, when I first flew on the airline to Kenya and Rwanda, I recall I wrote about it, referring to the place of Ethiopian Airline in their economy and finally submitted that RwandAir may become for Rwanda what Ethiopian Airline is to Ethiopia. I raised questions about Nigerian Airline and the fate of other Nigeria’s public corporations.
In Rwanda, planning is their forte. One could see deliberate efforts to sustain the greenery. They do not have reason to ban motorcycles in the city because of total obedience to traffic rules by everybody. I did not see a single bike man or his passenger that did not wear a helmet. I also did not see any single person on the street that was not wearing a face mask. By what magic would this be explained except to assume they have become compliant to the law. Can we say the same of Nigerians? This is a veritable lesson in a country where those that should enforce the law are the ones that are lawless.
As part of the business of the trip, we first of all visited Rwanda Farmers Coffee Company. The first observation was that Rwanda is a relatively poor country that manages the little they have optimally. Kigali looks like a low-rated European country – well organized, neat and well-planned. Through bracketing, they try to shield their ghettos from prancing eyes. The people look a bit contented in being Rwandans and appear not interested in being any other thing. They generally take things in their stride and are happy moving at their own pace.
At Rwanda Farmers Coffee Company, controlling 75% of coffee business in Rwanda, we saw a small but effective company in terms of organisation, activities and the general philosophy behind its foundation. Founded six years ago by the Government of Rwanda, it has become the pride of the country as the biggest coffee company in East Africa.
Interacting with the MD of the company, Mr. David, he spoke like a person sure of himself and the destination he is taking the company to. Mr. David vowed there is no government interference in things they do – no letter of introduction or urge to bend the rules a little to satisfy entrenched interests. Is this not another veritable lesson for our country?
With cheeks bursting with pride, David revealed that they have been growing steadily and now sell their coffee to 28 countries across the world with the plan to extend it to 50 countries in 2025. “It is Rwanda that still supplies coffee to UN in Africa for their offices and soldiers on the continent,” he said without airs.
It would be relatively easy connecting with the 50 countries because the emphasis among their ambassadors in foreign countries is to engage in 80% economic than the usual political diplomacy. In other words, their embassies are their first marketing agencies in different countries. But how could ours do as much when politics and not competence has remained our guiding principle in all that we do?
At this juncture, David waxed statistically by telling us that 95% of Rwandan Coffee is exported, while 5% percent is consumed locally. As a deliberate policy, 65% of the profit the company makes is used to improve the condition of farmers, providing necessary infrastructure for them, while the remaining 35% are ploughed back for further expansion. He talked about their plans this year to produce decaffeinated coffee, as well as iced coffee that people can take cold in 2023.
What is observable from the foregoing is the fact that coffee is much more than a commodity to Rwandans. It is their natural pride that is being used as a common denominator of unity among Rwandans. This is why David talks of how, out of about 400,000 farmers in Rwanda, 4,336 supply coffee beans to them out of which 36% are female. A deliberate effort to empower female and thereby support families.
We wrapped up the visit by being taken around the Coffee roasting plant. A modest and well maintained facility that houses different machines, including the Italian made Brambati Coffee Roasting Machine with the capacity of roasting 9000 kilogrammes of coffee daily and the Swizerland made Coffee Grinding Machine. The secret of their endurance is dependent on constant power unlike in our clime where the madness in the power sector does violence to installed machines.
What could have informed the choice of name of their coffee- Gorilla’s Coffee? It is not because gorilla and coffee are black, but because Rwanda abounds in mountain gorilla as a land of 1000 mountains.
The visit to the Nigerian High Commission in Kigali, where we felt at home, was another eye opener. An unarmed security official opened the door for us and we did not see any other security man carrying a gun as is common in Nigeria. This reminds us of another observation: Rwandan policemen on the streets just stood attentively by the road side with their instrument- the whistle. We did not see useless checkpoints or witness habitual abuse by security agencies. In Rwanda, life still has the expected dignity.
The Ambassador, Aishatu Alui Musa, compounded the feeling at home with the phrase “welcome to Nigeria.” We took pictures with her after which she happily bid us good bye and happy stay in Kigali.
Observing Rwanda at close range, the trip inexorably turned out to be another torture, inflicted on one by the cumulative effects of bad governance back home. Imagine till now, light is yet to go off. One has not heard of any sporadic shooting. One has not encountered “ Agberos”, harassing anybody. One is yet to see any of those untoward vices that we are condemned to contend with in Nigeria.
Moving around Rwanda we observed the use of the bicycle as a means of mass transportation. It is usually the trademark of contentment among relatively poor countries.
We again observed that policemen are all over the place unobtrusively doing the duty police men do everywhere, which does not include mounting of vexatious checkpoints, extortion, protection of criminals and other unedifying engagements. Here, the police being our friends is a statement of fact rather than “speaking in tongues.” We noticed what may be called, rightly or wrongly, total absence of personality cult as the streets are uniformly named numerically and not after people’s names and even landmarks.
The further exploration of the country offered additional knowledge about Rwandans. Their physiognomy is inviting: pinholes for eyes, dark and supple of look. The women , especially in Kigali are examples of feminine tenderness. Their manners fit into Okey Ikechukwu’s description: “unaffected elegance and a graceful ambience”. One of us must have pondered on these qualities to openly pronounce his intention of returning to Nigeria with our young female Rwandan photographer. Prepossessing in appearances, they appear more industrious, thrifty, and purposeful than their men.
From what we have observed or learnt about their men, they are not as hardworking as the women, and are only interested in what to eat and invest any leftover in their girl friends. They belong to a degenerate tribe that goes conspicuously to prayers, hungrily to dining tables and stealthily to brothels. Because smoking is prohibited in public places, I did not witness an person smoking till we left the country.
However, both sexes are athletically trim without extra ounces of flesh to burden them. They trek a lot which appear to be economically induced than a likable hubby pursued for any purpose. Even poverty has not come between them and the urge to look western in dressing and contemporary sartorial elegance as” Instagramly” defined.
Earlier, we thought that the cleanliness observed in high areas was a smokescreen to cover the degeneration of the outskirts. Not at all! The culture of cleanliness is so pervasive such that travelling from Kigali to Akagera on the 4th day, a trip of 2 and a half hours (105 kilometres), besides no single pothole on the road, one did not see any dirt on the road. Observing the intensity with which flowers are nurtured, one may be right to submit that they love it with abandon.
Besides coffee, observing what seems like banana plantations here and there, one reasonably suspects that banana forms a major part of their cash crop and staple food.
Beside the foregoing observations, our major task on the third day was the visit to African Leadership University ( ALU). Universities in Rwanda are not as big as those in Nigeria. What, if one may ask, is the relationship between structural sizes and quality? This should be an object of research.
What is observable at every point is the fact that Rwanda is highly organized. Even in mounting signages, one could see that it is highly controlled. Our buses stopped at the gate before we were led inside and warmly received by Mrs Lucy with evident cordiality. She gave what could be considered a preliminary or introductory talks about the African Leadership University and the philosophy behind her foundation, woven around pan- Africanism.
As we were introduced, any sedulous observer would notice that in the bid to buttress her pan-Africanism, they have quotes from notable Africans such as Sankara, Patrice Lumumba, Mandela, on their wall; as well as names of people like Fela, Nyerere, Queen Amina, Chinua Achebe, Nkrumah, Biko, Senghor, among others, conspicuously written on their wall.
The provost of the University, Dr. Nhlanhla, received us enthusiastically and told us about the school from its genesis. Set up with a campus in Mauritius to compete with the best in the world, it is pioneering a 21st century novel learning process where students are almost their own teachers. From what he said, the school emphasises the Socratic dictum by encouraging students to discover themselves and becomingly apply the knowledge of self discovery to attaining greatness in life.
While students toe the foregoing path, the facilitators are there to guide them not to stray into the path of self-destruction. Thus, for them, education is the progressive discovery of oneself and the task is better done individually because souls are not emancipated en masse. To make the matter clear, their study rooms have small cubicles (booths), where intellectually weary souls can stay alone and meditate along epistemological and existential excellence.
When the provost left, Dr. Lucy, Director of the