Jun 29


mattblog1 Matt Smith

Its been great getting to spend time in Rwanda. For the most part people here have been very friendly and its very enlightening to get to know them. Although the topics of discussion are too often centred around the genocide and the political and/or security situation of Rwanda’s neighbours, there are also lighter moments.

Innocente, one of the guards at our house here, was telling us that Barack Obama needs to have a son soon so that he can become President of the World after his father. We mentioned that Obama is actually only President of the United States and that the presidency doesn’t work on a heredity system. Of course he knew these things, Innocente is a well educated man, but that didn’t seem to dissuade him. Obama is so popular here (he has minibuses dedicated to him), that people here believe Obama should remain president (of the world) until he dies or his yet unborn son is old enough to take over. Who knows, anything could happen.

Of course just spending time in Rwanda has been very educational, but the purpose of us being here is to spend six weeks in an internship. Unfortunately, things for the Public Affairs and Policy Management interns in Rwanda have not gone perfectly. We had all believed we would be working at Parliament, but the day before we were meant to start, we found out that our internships had been canceled. Rather than being upset, all I could think about how much of a pain it had been to haul an extra bag full of suits, ties, jackets, and shoes which now I wouldn’t need.

Having had our internships at Parliament canceled on such short notice created a bit of a problem. Unsurprisingly, finding 3 six week internships on such short notice took Andrea the Rwanda Initiative project coordinator (who was working extremely hard) a bit of time to organize. Due to the twinkle in his eye and his experience working for the Canadian Government, Steve was able to find something relatively quickly. Although it took a little longer due to him having orange hair (which is looked on with great suspicion here), Ian was also able to find an internship in a field and with an organization he is interested in. After over a week had gone by and we hadn’t heard back from any of the groups we contacted, I realized I had to give up hope of working in any of my fields of interest, and as our time here was short I’d have to just take anything that come along.

One of Andrea’s contacts put her in touch with a small Christian NGO who was in desperate need of assistance and I immediately accepted an internship there. In addition to certain ideological differences, such as my unwillingness to go on a ‘crusade’, language issues soon made me realize the amount of work I was going to be able to do with the organization was quite limited. They wanted, and could definitely use, an intern but because everything had happened so quickly they hadn’t had the opportunity to define what an intern could actually do at their organization. A lot of the work the organization did took place in the field, so there was very rarely someone at the office who could let me know what I could or should be doing. Ironically, the last week I worked there I had been given a new (and very pregnant) supervisor who knew what she wanted me to do and how I could best contribute. It seemed like things were really going to turn around. Unfortunately, after working with her for one day she had her baby. Although I had been considering it for awhile, with this women no longer being my supervisor my chances of making a meaningful contribution to the organization went with her and I decided to move on.

For the past two weeks I’ve been working for the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Program (CHAMP) which is part of CHF International and like so many other projects in Rwanda is funded by the American Government. I’ve really found my time there enjoyable. I’ve been kept very busy and the project I have been given ensures that things will stay that way. In order to be able to intern there I’ve had to commit to staying in Kigali longer than I’d originally intended, but as I would really like to get the
most I can out this trip, I don’t see it as an inconvenience. This internship
is different from my previous one in every way. Not only does the CHAMP office have running water and electricity in every room, but at CHAMP I really feel like I’m making a contribution.

I’ve actually had to sign a contract stating I would be here 9:00 - 5:00 Monday to Friday which isn’t really ideal as I’m more of the 11:00 - 3:00 type, but we all have to make sacrifices. Luckily we finish early on Fridays and there are two national holidays this week or I might not make it.

Jun 28


Dan Robson Blog Dan Robson

This is a story of unexpected things. It involves Charlie Chaplin, hundreds of Rwandans, and one very chilly night.

For the past five years the Rwanda Cinema Centre has been running an annual film festival in the country. This year’s festival is dubbed “Red Carpet to Hillywood.” (Hillywood being the appropriate nickname for the film industry in place with many hills.)

Now, before I go on, an important confession: my experience with film festivals has been minimal. But from my previous observations and entertainment columns, film festivals usually fall into two categories: the glitz, glamour, and movie stars of events like Cannes—or the small “independent” kind, heavy on activism, left-wing politics and militant veganism.

But again, my experience is limited. And to be honest, as we drive east out of Kigali with Pierre Kayitana, the director of the Rwanda Cinema Centre, I am completely unsure of what to expect.

We are heading to Byumba, near the border of Uganda. The SUV drives up and around the festivals’ rolling namesakes. We arrive at sunset, as crowds make their way down the road, against cascading streams of fading orange. The mass migration is drawn by an inflated movie screen in the middle of a field, marching the pounding bass of the Brothers—a local hip-hip group, whose music video projects on the screen.

Hundreds gather. The sun slips beyond this slice of earth, and stars appear in overwhelming quantity and with incredible clarity. Vivid, bright—with the occasional flare of a passing comet.

This is cinema under the stars. And this is the first time many of these people have ever watched a film.

The bill includes two shorts made by film students with the Rwanda Cinema Centre. Both are about sugar daddies and mommies—and unsettling and growing problem of older men and women offering gifts and cash to young people in exchange for sex.

The crowd laughs along with the films, which balance humour and critical commentary with considerable skill. Characters are well acted, semi-believable and charismatic. The cinematography is daring and creative, using interesting angles and reflections to set scenes and construct moods.

When the films finish the filmmakers and actors are introduced to the audience, who offer applause and cheers.

This is followed by a short comedy, introduced as Spanish but more accurately Danish, about a group of children who deal with a couple of playground drunks by filling water guns with urine and firing with merciless vigor. Nothing is lost in translation. The crowd roars as the firing squad pumps their plastic weapons and streams of pee drench the loudmouth drunks in slow motion.

It’s unexpectedly freezing here. Pierre forgot to inform us that we would be going to a village with a climate much more familiar in Canada than Africa. In fact, as we shiver and watch our breath escape, we are told us that this is officially the coldest place in Rwanda.

After an hour of local and foreign cinema on the inflated screen underneath the stars, it’s time for the feature film: a Charlie Chaplin classic, about a factory worker who accidentally becomes a socialist revolutionary through a series of silent mishaps and hilarious misunderstandings.

The crowd of mothers and daughters, fathers and brothers laugh hysterically as a presenter adds his own commentary in Kinyarwanda. Chaplin’s comic timing and exaggerated expressions are a hit. In Rwanda Chaplin is still a star.

We interview some of the viewers as the movie concludes. They’re wide-eyed and giddy, wrapped in blankets and cocooned in faded neon ski-jackets. We hear from a sister holding her young brother close in a blanket. They had laughed the loudest, and with the widest grins. We hear from a group of chatty teenage girls, who answer with questions of their own: what is your name, where are you from?

The credits roll, the music fades, the screen deflates.

Parents begin to tug their children from the field. Time for bed, enough excitement for one night. Tomorrow Mr. Chaplin will be in another village; delighting the crowd, sharing the wonder of moving pictures.

Shivering now, we hop back in the truck and roll past a waving crowd, making their way home in the cold darkness of night.

The theatre becomes a village again. From Hillywood to Byumba.

Jun 28


kristen_postshot Kristen Shane

Tonight, after work, I decided to visit my roommate at her job so that she could take me to a shop where she had a dress made recently. I had bought a few metres of green and blue patterned fabric that I wanted made into a dress of my own.

The problem was that the shop’s tailors only speak Kinyarwanda and Swahili – not English or French, the only two of Rwanda’s three official languages that I can use to communicate with people.

So we made the best of it with a bit of French from them, a bit of Kinyarwanda from me, and a whole lot of creative sign language. At one point, I wanted to know when the shop closes. I asked in French and English, with no luck. So I grabbed the door and mimed shutting it. The fog of misunderstanding suddenly cleared.

“Dix-neuf heures!” (seven o’clock) the woman measuring me exclaimed, smiling.

There we go.

This is how I get by everyday, living in a society where I can’t communicate well with almost 90 per cent of the population, who speak only Kinyarwanda.

From colleagues at work to motorcycle taxi drivers, many people have wanted to teach me Kinyarwanda. I have been an enthusiastic learner but I haven’t made it a priority to memorize what they teach me. So I’m left recognizing the occasional word in a conversation.

I’ve gotten used to feeling confused and learning to understand body language. But it’s so frustrating when I hear people mention the muzungu, Kinyarwanda for ‘foreigner’. They are obviously talking about me, but I can’t tell if they are complimenting or making fun of me. I’m resigned to smile and look every inch the ignorant outsider I am.

Not knowing Kinyarwanda means giving up control. I depend on my Rwandan friends to order food or taxis for me.

Kinyarwanda is the language of everyday life in Rwanda. It’s what you hear in the streets and in homes.

But step into a classroom and you’ll hear English or French, the languages of academia used by the upper class. Since these are the only two I can use to talk to people, I am effectively cut off from a good part of Rwandan society – the poor, the rural, the marginalized.

I am keenly aware of how my lack of language skills informs my journalism. I’ve failed the time-honoured reporter’s creed of ‘giving voice to the voiceless.’ How can I reflect their views in my stories if I don’t have the words to ask them their opinions and concerns?

My impressions of Rwanda are filtered through conversations I have with the country’s elite: the English and French speakers who have been to school and have often lived outside Rwanda.

But even when I speak to these people, the essence of their meaning is sometimes lost in translation. They don’t use the same expressions or level of description as people whose mother tongue is English or French. It’s also more difficult for me to pick out compelling quotes from my interviews because their grammar and sentence structure can be awkward.

But I shouldn’t complain. It’s my fault I haven’t learned to speak their native tongue and need them to speak their second or third language for me to understand them.

While I know two and a quarter languages (English, French and a bit of Kinyarwanda), many Rwandans speak at least three. One man I met last week said he knew 14!

We Western English-speakers are privileged to only need to know one language that people in the rest of the world are generally eager to learn, instead of us having to study theirs.

In Rwanda, many people speak more than two languages because they have lived part of their lives outside the country. Some Tutsi families, for instance, fled the country for neighbouring East African nations during ethnic purges in 1959 and have since returned home speaking Swahili, English, Lingala, Luganda, Kirundi or French.

These language differences divide the population. For example, a colleague of mine grew up speaking English and Swahili in Kenya. In high school, he moved to Rwanda, his father’s homeland, without knowing Kinyarwanda. He has since learned some of it, but is still discriminated against by locals.

Ultimately, my communication observations have led me to conclude that language is political: it carries with it meaning and acts as a window into local culture. Until I master Kinyarwanda, I will always be on the outside looking in.

Jun 26


ashleyburkeblog Ashley Burke

Hop into convenience store culture in Rwanda. Adrien, a boutique owner, takes you inside his Kigali store. From his best selling items to his tricks for success, peek into his daily life in this webisode of Degrees of Separation.

Next Wepisode

img_4214> 4th Degree: Eugene

A U.S. Embassy worker and genocide survivor escapes his past in the pool.

Jun 23


Monique Muise Blog Monique Muise

Ok, yes…I know this blog is supposed to be about young HUMAN Rwandans, but what are rules for if not to be broken?

I attended a very important ceremony this past weekend, in which 18 newborns were christened in front of thousands of people.


These newest members of the Rwandan community are actually mountain gorillas, born in the high-altitude jungles of the Virunga mountains.

Each newborn gorilla represents a small victory for conservationists in Rwanda and around the world, as they try to preserve and protect this endangered species. The Kwita Izina ceremony, the fifth of its kind, attracted international attention and was covered by foreign and domestic press.


Unfortunately, you can’t get a real sense of what it was like from an Associated Press brief. Hopefully, this radio piece and accompanying photos will provide a better sense of what it was like to be in the thick of it.


*** Stay tuned for a new piece about young entrepreneurs in Rwanda, coming in the next few days. This one will feature humans, I promise.

Jun 23

Fifteen years ago, Rwanda’s president was assassinated, thus beginning a hundred-day genocide that claimed up to a million lives. Carleton Instructor Jeff Sallot, covered the genocide for the Globe and Mail back in 1994. Last year he returned to teach through the Rwanda Initiative. This audiovisual presentation chronicles that return.

For more multimedia slideshows and photo galleries

Jun 18


philcarpenterblog Phil Carpenter

I met with three Rwandan genocide survivors in the Butare area about two hours outside Kigali, Rwanda’s main city.

All three knew Désiré Munyaneza, the Genocidaire from Butare who was convicted of war crimes in Montreal for his role in the genocide.  He had fled to Canada to try for refugee status, but got caught instead.

It was hard to find people who were willing to talk, but thanks to a kind young gentleman with many connections I managed to interview the three.  People are afraid.  Just two months ago two survivors, Francois Gasirabo and Jeannette Nyirabaganwa, were killed and their bodies dumped in a river after they testified at a trial.  Genocide survivors are still being killed here if they testify or are expect to testify, and one of the women I interviewed calls “a silent genocide” that’s continuing.  She along with another woman I interviewed, fears for her life.

Words can’t express fully how horrifying the stories are, so I’ll shut up now and share these stories with you.  They might be reading this blog through translation.  All three speak French and Kinyarwandan, but very little English.  If you choose to, please leave a message for them here so they know that people outside Rwanda do care.  To say that they are having a rough time with what they have experienced is a major understatement.



“X” covers her face to avoid recognition.  THE GAZETTE/Phil Carpenter.

She calls herself “X” for the interview because she doesn’t want to get killed for doing it, or for anything that she might say.

She knew Désiré Munyaneza before the genocide as a young man who worked for his rich father, a well-known businessman in Butare.  He seemed like a nice man who had a reputation as a playboy, she says, and would routinely try to pick up women.

Before the genocide Butare was beautiful.  It was a centre of culture, and as a teacher one of her favorite places to visit was the local library.  Families intermarried and there were no problems to speak of.  That is why Butare was the last place to start the killings, and why it was so hard to believe.

The day after the president’s plane was shot down, she said there were soldiers all over the streets. They had heard about killings in the rest of the country, but Butare was isolated from what was going on.  Around April 20th the roadblocks started going up, and she saw Désiré and other Hutus manning them.  Eventually, she says, it became clear who was to be targeted for killing.

For a while she was allowed to pass roadblocks without being checked because she said everyone knew her as a Hutu.  But then one day someone claimed that she was in fact Tutsi, and she was thrown in the basement of Désiré’s father store, with 17 other women.  That’s where he kept the women he captured from the local university before they were killed. Three days later she was released, but not before he hit her in the back with a stick he always carried. She never saw the 17 women again.

She was 7 months pregnant at the time, and tried hiding in various places, because they wanted to kill her unborn child.  Finally some nuns hid her in a place downtown where she managed to see some of the horror.  One thing that stays in her head is the way they would light people’s hair on fire before killing them.  The men they would kill right away; the women were first raped, and then killed.

Why Désiré did the things he did, she doesn’t know, but thinks that her had a genuine hate for Tutsi women.  He had always called them arrogant.  So deep was his hate, she believed, that he couldn’t even bring himself to rape them with his body; he’d use his stick.

She doesn’t care if he’s found guilty or not, as long as he comes to understand the evil that he did.

Martin Uwariraye

PC09 0521 Munyaneza08

Martin Uwariraye at the Butare bakery where he hid to survived the genocide.  (THE GAZETTE/Phil Carpenter)

Martin is a businessman in Butare who says Désiré Munyaneza used to eat at his restaurant before the genocide.  Like “X” he remembers Butare as a thriving place when Hutus and Tutsis mingled and intermarried before the genocide.

He says that things actually started getting bad in 1990 when he was jailed for 6 months on suspicion of being a spy for the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), the then “rebel” group headed by the current president Paul Kagame. For the genocide, he too remembers that the killings started around April 20th, the last place in the country.  Before that when the troubles began, Hutus and Tutsis patrolled the streets together to make sure that things were secure.  Everyone knew of the killings in the rest of the country, but it wasn’t immediately clear what was going on.  It wasn’t until the interim president came from Kigali and had a meeting with the city officials that Tutsis were targeted.

To avoid getting killed, he first hid in a forest close to the National University of Rwanda.  Afterwards he hid in a bakery on his property where he stayed until the end of the genocide. His entire family including his wife and 14-year-old son Eric was slaughtered.

Munyaneza, he says, was one of the ringleaders in the Interahamwe, the gangs who did much of the killings.  One day he fired shots at Martins store door, and then destroyed it. 

Unlike many survivors he said he’s not afraid of speaking out. In fact he testified against Munyaneza to Canadian officials in Kigali.  He jokes that he survived the genocide because God spared him, and he saw a lot of killing, so he’s not afraid of death.

He hopes Munyaneza gets life in prison if found guilty.

She Calls Herself “L.O.”

PC09 0520 Munyaneza04

“L.O. Covers her face to avoid recognition.  THE GAZETTE/Phil Carpenter.

“L.O” testified against Munyaneza at his trial in Montreal, and continues to testify against Genocidaires at local trials.  She too fears for her life, and our interview had to be done at a secluded spot in a car so she wouldn’t be seen talking to the media.

Munyaneza was familiar to her because she used to see him working at his father’s store before the genocide.  Beyond that she knew nothing. She also says that Butare were much intermarriage before the genocide, but says also that there were jailings in 1990 on suspicions of spying for the RPF.

Killings were late to start in Butare she says.  One reason was that the governor was Tutsi, but once he was killed, things began to get ugly around April 20th.

She said she saw many terrible things, and for her the experience was horrific.

Two of her 3 kids got killed with her husband, while she was taken by one of the ringleaders and used as a sex slave fore the duration of the genocide.  It got so bad that the man who enslaved her would crush marijuana and force it inside her to try to get her aroused, she says.

An order was given that she was not to be touched, and that’s how she survived and witnessed so much of the things she can’t forget.  Munyaneza, for example, would use his father’s car to transport captured women from the university and the hospital, and have them raped before killing them.

She doesn’t know what pushed him, and says he was like an animal.  She figures that he learnt from his father who, in the 1959, killed Tutsis and looted their land. In fact, she believes that much of the property he had before the 1994 genocide was stolen from Tutsis back then.  For the 1994 genocide, many of the machetes used in the massacre were bought at his store, she says. The other thing she found strange was that Munyaneza’s mother was Tutsi.

She says when she saw his face in the courtroom in Montreal, she felt like a tree, having being toughened by all she experienced in the genocide.  She hopes he is found guilty.

Published on May 22, 2009 on the Montreal Gazette’s photo blog ‘The Lens’

Jun 17

Margaret Jjuuko, Deputy Director, School of Journalism and Communications at the National University of Rwanda.

Jun 17


philcarpenterblog Phil Carpenter

Though we (myself and other teachers and interns) live in Kigali, not far from the Prime Minister’s office as it turns out, there are many areas that are unlit at night. The place is well populated, don’t get me wrong, and some of the houses look like mini castles. The small dirt street though have no street lighting, and can make for a perilous trek even for those who think they know the locations of all the water-carved mini trenches that gut the roads in many places.

But I feel so safe walking here at night anyway. There is nothing that I find threatening at all, but I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the knowledge that there is such tight control here, maybe it’s because the people are so polite, shy, humble and accommodating - I’m not sure yet. But it feels so safe, thought you wouldn’t get that impression at first because so many of the large houses are locked away behind gigantic gates of iron and walls topped with broken bottles and barbed wire. That’s why that practice is now outlawed here.  Any new house built will not have any of that. That’s a good thing.

Tomorrow, it’s off to see the gorillas. A 9-hour hike after rising at 4 am. Promises to be spectacular. Pictures to come.

Two women walk along a dirt road at night in the Kigali suburb of Kimihurura. Photo/Phil Carpenter. 

Two women walk along a dirt road at night in the Kigali suburb of Kimihurura. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

View from a second hand clothing market near downtown Kigali. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

View from a second hand clothing market near downtown Kigali. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

View from a bridge near the Kigali Memorial Centre. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

View from a bridge near the Kigali Memorial Centre. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

A child shares his lolipop with another on a dirt road in the Kigali suburb of Kimihurura. Photo/Phil Carpenter. 

A child shares his lolipop with another on a dirt road in the Kigali suburb of Kimihurura. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

A child runs past a church in a Kicukiro suburb of Kigali. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

A child runs past a church in a Kicukiro suburb of Kigali. Photo/Phil Carpenter.

Published May 15 on the Montreal Gazette’s photo blog ‘The Lens’

Jun 16


Dan Robson Blog Dan Robson

Here’s a short segment from our radio show about a Kigali city tour we took with Rwanda Gorilla Tours.

Each week on Iwacu Heza we have a call-in contest, and the winner gets a free trip donated by a local tour operator.

The goal is to give some Rwandans a chance to see a little but more of the country they live in. So far it has worked out well.

This week we drove around Kigali for a few hours. Then I made a radio doc about it.

I really like my job.

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