Rwanda making the Quantum Leap to find the next Einstein

A wise man once said, no country can be more developed than its education system. Truer words have never been said given that the fruits of a country’s education system soon than later take charge of a country’s development process. Their levels of competence will ultimately determine how far the country goes in its quest for development.

Many African countries have been lagging behind on this journey for a myriad of reasons and for a long time. Things are however starting to look up with the continent no longer viewed through hopeless lenses as was the case before. The continent is now seen to be on the rise thanks in part to technological changes that have made it possible for us to take a leap where we were trotting.

It is important to note that these developments do not happen at the same pace after all, we long agreed that Africa is not a country. Some countries will move at faster speeds than others. Some have more distance to cover than others on this journey to development.

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Rwanda is one of those that have a long distance to cover but has been moving at a terrific speed that it would be sheer blindness for one not to take note of the incredible progress that the country has made since the devastating 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which left all institutions nearly non existent.

A year ago the Government of Rwanda signed a partnership agreement with the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences – Next Einstein Initiative (AIMS-NEI) clearing the way for the launch of AIMS Rwanda, a pan-African centre of Excellence in Mathematical Science. The establishment of an AIMS Centre in Rwanda is aimed at supporting to build Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) expertise in Rwanda in particular and Africa in general.

Rwanda now has access to world class scientists including Nobel Prize winners and other distinguished academics who regularly visit to teach at AIMS Rwanda. The centre is home to some of Africa’s brightest young brains who are ready to flourish as independent thinkers and problem solvers. 

At the invitation of President Paul Kagame, AIMS will join the science and innovation ecosystem that the government is building with the goal of being a continental hub in technology. AIMS sees Rwanda as a conducive environment for its initiatives and we look forward to collaborating and supporting the local and regional research community,” – Thierry Zomahoun, President and CEO of AIMS-NEI

 Last week the centre held a Quantum Leap Africa Scientific Planning Workshop  here in Kigali. It was a discussion on that attracted renowned international scientists who engaged in the “Discussion on Big Data Science in Africa” as part of efforts to launch Quantum Leap Africa, an information science & quantum technology core created by AIMS. 

Quantum Leap Africa, will be the first research centre in quantum sciences on the African continent. This will go a long way is enabling Rwanda to realise its vision of becoming a knowledge based economy. Some of the topics discussed during the workshop included, “What can Data Science offer in Africa?”

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Big Data Analytics is a field of great relevance to economic growth. Quantum Leap Africa seeks to assemble expertise in big data and analytics, focused on improving the lives of urban and rural citizens. Big Data is not just a buzzword but a revolution that is currently reshaping society and business.

“Education is key to our development and it is the only way. There’s NO Shortcut,” – Bubacarr Bah, German Research Chair of Mathematics

The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is a Pan African Network of Centres of Excellence that offers quality postgraduate education, research innovation and public engagement for the advancement of STEM in Africa’s transformation journey. AIMS Rwanda is the 6th Centre of Excellence in Africa.

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Towards a new era of digital education in Rwanda

We are living in a world where the way teaching and learning happens has to sync with the latest technological advancements if education is to remain relevant. Proper education is now considered a strategic sector with every society doing its best to harness future opportunities.

Rwanda being very cognizant of these new realities has invested a lot of time and money in ICT infrastructure and more so as to anchor its education system on a solid foundation. Scores of Rwandan teachers and students can now access technology through the Education Ministry’s SMART Classroom programme. The Ministry has made significant strides towards digital transformation in education over 10 years ago with Microsoft through the implementation of its Partners in Learning, Education Transformation programme.

The strategy here is use to digital technology to change the way teaching and learning happening in a bid to improve on the quality of education as per the expectations of the current times. These interventions are already bearing some visible fruits although more still needs to be done.

Currently, over 130 000 Positivo devices have been manufactured, with 60 000 electronic devices allocated to Rwanda Education Board for distribution to different schools around the country.

Through the Partners in Learning programme in partnership with Microsoft, the Ministry also successfully upgraded 80 000 of these electronic devices to Windows 10 and installed and activated MS Office Professional Plus on them. These were shipped to schools in January.

The programme seeks to improve learners’ tech skills and eventually spur innovation among the learners. Through the programme, teachers and students have access to Windows 10, which delivers the ideal computing environment for education, providing users with more personalised user experiences. Windows 10 coupled with Office applications and services enables students and teachers to browse the web safely and even experience the fun side of learning with Xbox games.

In Partnership with Microsoft, the Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Trainer Academy is now available in Rwanda and is designed for teacher trainers and those who are responsible for training educators on the integration of technology in the classroom. The first group of 21 MIE Master Trainers have been trained, over 60 000 teachers have received certification and 3.2 million students have access to free Office 365 which will not only help in staying organized and getting their work done today, but also develop valuable skills that will benefit them when they enter the work force. With Office 365 ProPlus they can access applications like Word, PowerPoint, OneNote as well as 1 TB of Cloud storage.

Looking ahead

Plans are underway to develop a School Broadband connectivity plan using modern affordable access technologies like TV White Spaces, to enable access to other Microsoft Education and Open Education resources, creating opportunities for students to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and enable a paradigm shift in education in Rwanda.

Going forward, it is important to concede that digital transformation opens up so many opportunities in the education sector including aspects like data mining and analytics that  can be use to monitor the progress of learners.  Such data once well analysed forms the basis for solutions to students’ educational challenges. Another important area that digital transformation opens up is things like artificial intelligence that are now a huge buzz in the tech world.

There is no doubt that digital transformation and tech solutions accruing from Rwanda’s relations hip with Microsoft will lead to a clear improvement in skills development and an overhaul of the education sector.

Microsoft’s partnerships are not only in Rwanda or only in education as the article below shows.

AFRICAN LEADERS GATHER TO DISCUSS DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR

Featured image: Salwa Smaouvi- Middle East & Africa Government Business  Leader, Microsoft Makes her presentation at the Digital Transformation Workshop in Nairobi

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The need for a fundamental shift on Youth Employment Training strategies

Day two at the Young Africa Works Summit held at the Kigali Marriott Hotel was kicked off with the release of a rather insightful research report titled, INVISIBLE LIVES: UNDERSTANDING YOUTH LIVELIHOODS IN GHANA AND UGANDA.

The report basically looked into the lives of young people in the two countries with the aim of better understanding the dynamics they face and how this new knowledge can be harnessed in addressed the challenges they face in finding employment or creating employment for others.

According to the report, international development programs are guilty of favouring skills training for the formal sector careers over training that can be applied to multiple jobs in the informal sector. This approach ignores the millions of youth on the African continent who are engaged in mixed livelihoods. In other words  the current approaches to skills training are not holistic enough as a solution.

The Invisible Lives research used a diaries method methodology to document the working lives of 246 youth aged between 18 – 24 from Ghana and Uganda over a period of one year. Areas covered were on behaviour, income, economic activities and time management. The report offers deep insight into what young people today have to do so as to achieve sustainable livelihoods and although two countries were sampled, it is considered that there emerging trends can be recognised across the continent.

In brief it was established that young people do diversify  their livelihoods by taking on a mix of informal sector employment, self employment, and agriculture-related activities to sustain their livelihood. Support networks are also crucial for young people as they serve to address issues of business guidance, financial support, skills development and general tips on where to find employment.

Both formal and informal wage employment are not easy to come by in Africa. However informal employment accounts for over 80% of the available opportunities for Uganda people. Although agricultural production is central to young people’s livelihoods  the incomes remain meagre. Even here the young people diversify their agricultural activities. Even with all this, young people remain largely invisible to both development organizations and their own governments which makes it difficult for them to access support services, training or finance capital.

‘Invisible Youth’—those who are mostly invisible to development organisations and their own governments— can become engaged as drivers of agricultural transformation.

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Day two had more in store like the session on engaging the private sector in a bid to understand the barriers to the creation of employment  and self-employment opportunities. There was a deep need to understand what companies are doing to harness youth potential in driving the transformation of the agricultural sector.

Thereafter a plenary session with panelists delved into the issue of unlocking agrifinance for youth. Issues around risk, access and the perception that youths have no collateral, savings, or the credit scores implying that  they will most likely default on their loans.

As is now the trend, the debate sessions were the most exciting with the proposition being that  off-farm activities will yield more opportunities for the youth. This was followed by the breakout sessions on climate change, breaking down gender barriers and use of mechanization or ICT to transform agriculture.

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“Agriculture doesn’t have to be sexy…it has to make sense” – Prof Oniang’o at #YAW2017

Professor Ruth Oniang’o, the Board Chair of Sasakawa Africa Association and Sasakawa Africa Fund for Extension Education spoke passionately about understanding the gender obstacles women continue to endure in this line of work as the summit drew to a satisfying close.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skill straining, and financial services for people living in poverty , primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world.

About The MasterCard  Foundation’s Youth Livelihoods Program

The Youth Livelihoods Program seeks to improve the capacity of young men and women to transition to jobs or create businesses through a holistic approach which combines market-relevant skills training, mentorship, and appropriate financial services. Through our partnerships, our program is supporting innovative models that help young people transition out of poverty  and into stable livelihoods. Since 2010, the foundation has committed $402 million to 37 multi-year projects across 19 countries in Africa.. More than 1.8 million young people have been reached through the Youth Livelihoods Program.

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The green revolution is for the youth to deliver

A few days ago, something major happened in Kigali Rwanda. More than 300 global and African thought leaders and youth agripreneurs (yes Agripreneurs!) came together for The MasterCard Foundation’s second Young Africa Works Summit. Another 50 young but enthusiastic Africans from different parts of the continent also joined this congregation to generate relevant ideas and solutions.

This being the continent with the youngest population and yet faced with employment challenges, the summit sought to look into the issues that need to ironed out in order to ensure that  young people not only take charge of feeding the continent but also do so in a meaningful and profitable way.

“Africa is home to the world’s youngest population with enormous potential to improve agricultural productivity and make the sector a viable source of employment for youth across the continent,” says Ann Miles, Director of Financial Inclusion and Youth Livelihoods, The MasterCard Foundation. Highlighting the contributions being made by young people to turn around what is largely a sector of subsistence farming to a competitive, modern and sustainable one was one of the key goals of the summit.

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A youth delegate talks to CNBC about her agriprenuership journey

The continent not only has a challenge to feed a bulging population, it also urgently needs to address the fact that 11 million young people enter the job market annually. A market that is often not keen at embracing them either for sheer lack of opportunities or the absence of skills required.  Young people are therefore finding themselves in the middle of efforts to modernise agriculture through innovative technologies and production systems.

These interventions can no longer wait now that the threat of climate change is now a reality. The  youth are the ones heading for a painful future if nothing is done to change the situation for better. Stress on water resources and food security is no longer a myth but a worrying reality that compromises the actual security of communities.

It is projected that by 2020, the agricultural sector will create eight million jobs by 2020 even though it is already y far the largest source of employment in Africa. The sector offers tremendous prospects for creating sustainable livelihoods for young people and speeding up their prosperity as well as that of their societies.

“Agricultural transformation is a clarion call for us, the youth of Africa,” says Pilirani Khoza, Founder of Bunda Female Students Organisation at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“For decades, agriculture has continued to operate using the same static methods and technologies adopted by our forefathers. We must adopt the new technologies that are available to us. Youth are technological doers and thinkers, they are energetic and hungry for knowledge and they should be actively involved in transforming Africa.”

Jean Bosco  Nzeyimana moved the audience with his inspiring story on how he created a solution to the dependence on firewood which places a lot of pressure on the environment as trees are seen only as fuel for cooking. He started a company called Habona Ltd. that collects organic waste and turns into briquettes, biogas and fertilizer. Talk of putting waste to use in more than one way. His efforts also seek to replace inorganic fertilizers with organic fertilizer that keeps the soil fertile in a more natural way.

Jean Bosco hopes that young people can embrace agriculture instead of always dreaming of white collar jobs.

I hope to make it a platform for building a community of like-minded people, so we can eventually create a network where we can share ideas and exchange best practices.

During the 2016 Rwanda National Dialogue Day, an old man stood and solemnly affirmed that “No farmer, no food, no future”. I believe that young people must have the same mentality and take the lead in securing our future through farming.

 

From the summit it was obvious that the key message on day one was that young Africans have to wake up to the reality that the transformation of the agricultural sector is not their burden but their responsibility and opportunity. It is a revolution only them can deliver.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skill straining, and financial services for people living in poverty , primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations, its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world.

About The MasterCard  Foundation’s Youth Livelihoods Program

The Youth Livelihoods Program seeks to improve the capacity of young men and women to transition to jobs or create businesses through a holistic approach which combines market-relevant skills training, mentorship, and appropriate financial services. Through our partnerships, our program is supporting innovative models that help young people transition out of poverty  and into stable livelihoods. Since 2010, the foundation has committed $402 million to 37 multi-year projects across 19 countries in Africa.. More than 1.8 million young people have been reached through the Youth Livelihoods Program.

 

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At Lake Kivu Serena having fun is not a suggestion but the plan

Every country has its secrets but Rwanda doesn’t seem to have many. The only secret I know of about Rwanda are the street names that even locals have failed to learn since you only see things like KN 3 Av and not the usual Moi avenue or Luwum street. Nothing much else is a secret.

Gorillas cannot have family secrets since at some point in the year we are told which gorilla gave birth to which baby and on which date complete with all the names of the gorillas involved? The recently introduced lions also have names. Imagine being a wild animal but not being able to live anonymously. That must suck, right?

It is also not a secret that if you are trying to Google the “Rwanda + Fun” then you are better off just heading straight to the lake resort town of Rubavu. While in Rubavu you may wonder what to do with your time and money. Simple, the folks at Lake Kivu Serena Resort have had to answer this question so many times that their answers are no longer mere suggestions but plans as well.

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Even in Rubavu the Maasai can be seen doing their thing

Lake Kivu Serena is one place where your ‘what-to-do’ questions have detailed answers that are part and parcel of the hotel’s mission. While here, time will be your only enemy. You will wish it can be frozen for you to enjoy some more. You will want the sun to set in slow motion making the golden hour more like a golden evening.

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At your service

After an amazing breakfast at Kiyaga restaurant you can embark on a bike excursion around the town on the serene tree lined roads as the lake breeze makes its way to where you are. You can make stopovers at the two border posts with the Democratic Republic of Congo and marvel at the cross-border activity that happens here. Other places to stop at may include the market or the stadium.

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Biking on these roads is not exercise but therapy

You can also do the same tour in a car if biking is not your thing. Make it a point to visit the nearby hot springs and let the locals give you a foot massage with the warm water and some herbs to give you back that spring in your step. If you remembered to carry some raw eggs at the hot springs you can be sure to have them as a quick snack. Nature at its finest!

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A visit to the nearby  hot spring comes with being treated like royalty

In case you have had a heavy lunch because your eyes got greedy as you selected what to have on your plate then a game of beach football or volleyball could be enough to ease up the digestion. If the game turns into a disturbing reminder of how unfit you are then maybe you needed it or what you actually need is a relaxing massage before a boat ride.

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Play in the sand until you can’t see the ball

There is this cool dude called Eric at Lake Kivu Serena who is the go to guy for anything to do with water. No he is not a plumber. He is the guy with a call boat in case you want a boat ride on the Kivu or if you want to do some kayaking. Eric’s boat even has a music system which you are more likely to enjoy when he switches off the boat engine to explain something about the lake.

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Captain Eric on his glamourous boat

But who really gets on a boat for the music? Sit back in the leather seats and enjoy the breeze, the stunning views of Rwandan hills or the surreal view of Mt Nyiragongo in DRC as it goes about ignoring the ‘No Smoking in Public’ calls. This active volcano will smoke away without a bother in the world.

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No smoking in public! Says who? 

If mountain climbing is your thing then you can add it to your itinerary. There are also other options like gorilla trekking and embarking on the Congo-Nile rail. Whatever it is you have on your mind, Lake Kivu Serena delivers in being the place to go to or set off from. The beauty of it all is that they will do all the planning for you.

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Make the water your play space

You know I didn’t even have to write all this…I could have just summarised it all into the conversation below.
Me: I am looking for fun things to do in Rubavu

Lake Kivu Serena: Say no more!

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Red Rocks completes 5 successful years of cultural heritage preservation

Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative — a Musanze-based social enterprise that works to preserve Rwandan cultural heritage and protect the country’s natural environment — will on December 24 celebrate its 5th anniversary.

With a humble beginning five years ago, Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative has successfully driven its mission and today it’s one of the few social enterprises that are making a positive impact on rural communities in Rwanda.

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Excellent camping facilities at Red Rocks, Musanze

Believing that conservation is possible only when the involvement of local communities is given well-defined emphasis, Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative developed their programmes accordingly, hence the organisation’s tagline, “Where cultural tourism leads to community development”.

Situated in Nyakinama village, about seven kilometres west of Musanze town, Red Rocks offers locally-guided packages combining camping, hostel accommodation and activities with cultural aspects such as basket weaving, homestays with local host families, storytelling, community walks, art and crafts and banana beer brewing, among others.

Monthly community events

Since its inception in 2011, Red Rocks has been organising monthly events such as the Cultural Talent Show, which aims to raise cultural awareness and enhance cultural dialogue; Seed of Hope Festival, which celebrates the planting season of the year; Summer Camp Festival, which offers the local community an opportunity to learn about nature, ecology and wildlife; as well as the now very popular Christmas Village Market, which offers locals and foreign visitors alike a memorable Christmas shopping experience in a rural setting.

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Locals taking part in the Cultural Fashion Show during this year’s Cultural Tourism Week

In fact, 2016 has been the most prosperous year for Red Rocks following successful monthly events such as the Cultural Tourism Week, which took place on September 28-October 2; the Banana Beer Festival, which took place in October; as well as the Heritage Preservation Debate, which took place in November.

When Sports and Culture Minister paid a courtesy visit

Red Rocks’ activities are so engaging that in November Julienne Uwacu, Rwanda’s sports and culture minister, was compelled to pay the facility a courtesy ministerial visit.

During her visit, Ms Uwacu, who was flanked by the acting mayor of Musanze district Jean Damascene Habyarimana, went on her knees and showcased her banana beer making skills to the amazement of hordes of locals who were present.

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The Minister of Sports and Culture (in white) touring Red Rocks, Musanze

“We really appreciate all that has been done so far, especially the spirit of working together with the local community… But as we discussed with the owner of this business, there’s a lot to improve. The conception of this village and the exhibits should be improved, and the information they give out to different visitors needs to be written and also well-explained,” Ms Uwacu told the media after her visit.

“We have promised to work closely with them to help avail some research about the social lives of Rwandans but also we can work with RDB and other government institutions to see how we can improve the level of our cultural tourism while doing it professionally.”

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The Culture Minister (right) taking part in the Banana Beer making process

Greg Bakunzi, founder of Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative, echoed the minister’s remarks.

“I would say that the programmes we have developed are successful though we still need a few partners to come on board so that we can improve our products,” said the tour operator, whose organisation is now adding the Cultural Film Festival — which will take place between June-July 2017 — to its already impressive list of cultural events.

“The Cultural Film Festival will showcase locally-produced films that highlight the importance of preserving our culture,” Bakunzi says. “Most of the films that will be screened during the festival will be featuring local actors so this festival will help give them the exposure they need to take their acting careers to another level.”

Locals reap big

Bakunzi says that the local community has, over the years, come to understand the benefits of Red Rocks’ community events.

He says: “The locals get to sell their products such as baskets, clay pots, shirts made from local fabrics, bracelets, etc, to visiting tourists. Those who can sing also perform for tourists on weekends and get paid.”

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Visitors to Red Rocks can buy beautiful artifacts made by women in Musanze

To promote cultural music tourism more effectively, Red Rocks recently set up a recording studio from where locals can record their music at no cost. The recorded music is then sold to tourists who are interested in traditional Rwandan music.

And that’s not all.

“We have also started producing cultural films featuring local actors from Musanze, some of which will be screened during the Cultural Film Festival in June 2017,” Bakunzi concludes.

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Red Rocks Ecotourism Initiative in Nyakinama, Musanze district

 

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Why Dr Amina Mohammed is a formidable candidate for AU Chairperson

When African leaders converged for the 27th African Union Summit in the orderly city of Kigali in Rwanda, one of the answers they were supposed to deliver to the continent was to the question of who was to replace Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma as Secretary General of the African Union Commission.

As a region, East Africa had presented Uganda’s Dr Specioza Kazibwe however, looking at the outcome of the Kigali summit, the region was compelled to present a stringer candidate for the post of AU Chairperson. Enter the more experienced and tested Ambassador (Dr) Amina Mohammed from Kenya. You may be asking yourself who is Amina Mohammed?

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AMB. (DR) AMINA MOHAMMED, EGH, CAV CABINET SECRETARY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL TRADE OF THE REPUBLIC OF KENYA

Ambassador (Dr.) Amina Mohamed has enjoyed a distinguished career in the Public Service spanning over 29 years and stretching to cover a broad spectrum of domestic and international assignments. Her education, determination and hard work saw her rising through the ranks of the Kenyan diplomatic service starting off as a Legal Office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the highest level of Ambassador/Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Kenya to the UN in Geneva.

She later went on to serve as the Permanent Secretary for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs. She was then appointed the United Nations Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi.

As Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, she supervised the drafting, negotiation and promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya (2010). While at UNEP, Amb. Mohamed spearheaded the implementation of UNEP’s Medium Term Strategy and Programmes as well as on-going reforms. She was actively engaged with intergovernmental processes in implementing the RIO+20 outcomes and support efforts to enhance the funding base of the organisation.

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Following her appointment as Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2013, Amb. Mohamed has demonstrated solid leadership and strong negotiation skills, which have seen Kenya re-position herself in the international arena. Amb. Mohamed has also been instrumental in the restructuring, reforming and rationalisation of Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its Missions abroad, and chaired the team that drafted Kenya’s foreign trade policy.

More so, she has been influential in promoting Africa’s agenda in multi-lateral fora including in the World Trade Organisation where she chaired the 10th Ministerial Conference, successfully hosted in Nairobi. She continues to champion for Africa’s voice to be heard within the United Nations System through the proposed United Nations Security Council reforms, with Kenya as a member of the AU Committee of Ten on the Security Council reforms.

Amb. Mohamed was recently honoured by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as one of the four UNDP Champions for the year 2016.

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Amb. Mohamed holds a Master’s Degree in Law from the University of Kiev and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humane Letters from KCA University and Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from Moi University. She is fluent in English, Russian and Swahili and has a working knowledge of French.

Amina Mohammed is in the race for the Chairperson of the African Union Commission together with five other competitors; Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, Chad’s Foreign Minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy and Senegal’s Bathily Abdoulaye a special United Nations envoy for Central Africa.

This time, East Africa has formidable candidate for the job in Dr Amina Mohammed.#Amina4AU

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At Lake Kivu Serena you deposit fatigue and withdraw relaxation

There comes a time in life when you concede that actually, fatigue seems to be taking over. You start going to bed and getting up feeling cheated, waking up still feeling exhausted just because even as you slept you still had a dream about that report you are supposed to submit but procrastination and distractions chose to camp at your desk for a couple of days. You feel drained by the hustle and bustle of your work life that some call the rat race (I think rats have it much tougher than us).

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Some of the views that you feed on while at the Lake Kivu Serena

It is at such times that you may develop cravings for an escape to a more refreshing space – a space where your comfort is not a dream but a priority. I am talking about a setting where you can shamelessly deposit your fatigue and withdraw only relaxation. Since we long agreed that water is life, the place we are looking for ought to be in a setting that abundantly exudes life. At Lake Kivu Serena all those boxes and more are ticked.

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Calm down and walk into the path of tranquility

This Serena does not only take a name from the amazing the lake it shares space with, the two are unreservedly resourceful and pillars of tranquillity that exceeds any known boundaries. The graceful Kivu is a source of not only fish but also the rare methane gas that is used to provide electricity and is shared by Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lake Kivu Serena Hotel located in the lake town of Rubavu (formerly Gisenyi) mirrors the same qualities and more. The Serena brand is very recognisable in the region of Eastern Africa and beyond for the fine experience that will leave you satisfied. This comfort gem oozes of tropical splendour surrounded with huge trees that magically give you a calm feeling as you walk in.

The hotel facilities were designed to literally spoil you with comfort at every turn. From your

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Exquisite comfort settings

room, you get to enjoy stunning views of the lake and the gardens but you will most likely step out to watch the sun kiss the water in the evenings for you to live that postcard moment in full. This you can do by chilling at the beach, in the gardens, at the Lake View Bar Terrace, Ziwani Bar or Kiyaga Restaurant. See, you are already spoilt for choice.

Breakfasts at Lake Kivu Serena are clearly etched in my memory given that when you sit out on the terrace of Kiyaga Restaurant lovely black and white wagtail birds occasionally show up as if just to say hello to a long lost friend before they fly back to where ever they came from.

Dinner at Lake Kivu Serena is always an exciting experience – one moment it is self service at a buffet of African dishes another moment graceful waiters and waitresses are taking your orders then there are days when you have an open kitchen where you pick out exactly what you want the chef to cook for you and it is all done as you watch!

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The open kitchen where yours truly partook in refining his culinary addictions

On weekends you have a band taking care of your auditory diet by serving a rich menu of sweet melodies of Rwandan songs, country music and of course Rhumba music. You can’t be that close to DRC and leave without listening to one of the country’s finest exports in the form of Rhumba. And please do not suppress your urge to pull a few dance moves once the music sinks into your bone marrow just before you retire to the comfort of your room.

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The live band serves a medley of tunes from across the region and beyond

There are both indoor and beachside bars and for those who love swimming you have the option of doing it in the lake with the fish or just at the swimming pool that also has a baby pool for the little ones. Children also have a play area in the gardens with a full time staff member to ensure they are safe and happy. Like other Serena facilities, the Maisha Health Centre is here as well in case you desire a good workout in the gym or a massage to relax your body.

By the way if you want to combine comfort with your hustle then Lake Kivu Serena has you covered with its dependable conference facilities. It is ideal for team building and retreats as well as conferences and trainings. There is a fully equipped business centre that offers secretarial services too. Talking about how great the wifi is in a Serena Hotel is like talking about how the hotel has water flowing through its taps – too obvious.

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The rooms are stunningly luxurious

And this is the part where you need to pay most attention; I honestly don’t know a better venue for a memorable wedding reception in the whole of Rwanda than Lake Kivu Serena where you are spoilt for choice on whether to utilise the beach area, the green gardens or the air-conditioned halls or a combination of all three.

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It’s understandable why anyone would hesitate to walk away from such beauty

 

With the festive season already here, this is one place where the only hard time you will have is leaving because the comfort levels are nothing short of addictive.

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SoFI2016: Rwanda was a worthy and deserving host

A few years ago, Rwanda set out to be a magnet for conferences as part of its grand plan to diversify the tourism away from the over reliance on the furry gentle giants that are Mountain Gorillas. 2016 has indeed been the year that this grand plan has blossomed into an amazing reality. The much anticipated Kigali Convention Centre came to life and literally lit up Kigali’s sky. Mega conferences like the World Economic Forum and the African Union summit came to town and travel book editors have had to update their books to include the new hotel brands that now have a Rwandan address.

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It came as no surprise therefore that The MasterCard Foundation chose Rwanda to host its fourth annual Symposium on Financial Inclusion at the exquisite Kigali Serena Hotel. However Rwanda was not chosen merely because it is now a major preferred destination for global, continental or regional conferences, the country brings on the table its own impressive credentials when it comes to Financial Inclusion in particular and development in general.

While countries like Kenya boast private sector led success stories on financial inclusion, in Rwanda the government is often the earlier riser and the pace setter. Therefore the second day of the Symposium on Financial Inclusion kicked off with a keynote address by Hon John Rwangombwa, Governor, National Bank of Rwanda sharing Rwanda’s financial inclusion story.

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John Rwangombwa, Governor, National Bank of Rwanda. /Photo The New Times

The event hosted by The MasterCard Foundation had brought together more than 300 experts on financial inclusion to share and learn from each other on how best to reach the remaining financially excluded people using a client centred approach. The gathering comprised of people from the academia, media, fintech, international development, government, banking and other related sectors.

The Governor started by reminding everyone that financial inclusion was prerequisite for inclusive growth. Indeed Rwanda had an impressive story to share starting with the commendable efforts that have seen 89 per cent of the population being able to access financial services either through formal or informal institutions. To achieve this impressive figure, Rwanda embarked on a number of strategies.

To start with, Savings and Credit Cooperatives (Saccos) were set up in each and every administrative sector of the country (Umurenge) and the government also established the Rwanda Cooperative Agency, a body charged with oversight of the activities of these Saccos. This move has proven vital in Rwanda’s target of increasing uptake and usage of financial services.

On the health side, Rwandans also benefit from a social health insurance scheme called Mutuelles de Sante with subscriptions at over 80 per cent while other have taken advantage of other health insurance schemes in the country. This not only improved financial inclusion efforts but has served as a source of envy to many African countries where access to medical care remains a challenge.

The Rwandan school curriculum also has an element on financial education to help Rwandans to understand, at an early age, the basics when it comes to personal finance and fundamental management practices on earning, spending, saving, borrowing as well investing. It was also pointed that leaders like mayors, all have key performance indicators on financial inclusion that they have to strive to achieve in line with their performance contracts each year.

There is also the amazing story of RSwitch, the first payment switch to attain interoperability in the region. It is a national E-payment switch with a domestic network brand that enables electronic payment settlements. Last year, RSwitch introduced an interoperable platform called Ihuriro to engender a seamless integration among all financial institutions. No wonder, Jean Claude Gaga the CEO at RSwitch reminded Patrick Buchan of AC Group that, “You are the feeder road to my highway.”

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Discussing the Rwandan Financial Inclusion story. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Patrick Buchana, Founder and CEO, AC Group also had his moment to explain the challenges and opportunities faced by his startup company that provides ‘Tap and Go’ cards that are used by commuters within Kigali city. The card seeks to ease the life of both the passengers and transport business operators by simplifying the process of payment of transport fares.

Away from Rwanda, Dr Jennifer Riria, Group CEO of Kenyan Women Holding had the room infused with new energy thanks to her passionate presentation on the challenges and opportunities around women’s financial inclusion. Her most memorable line was “It’s not about financial inclusion but financial injustice.” According to her excluding women from financial services is nothing but an injustice and it should be addressed exhaustively.

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Dr Jennifer Riria of Kenya Women Holding. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

The main take-aways of the day were that leadership really makes a difference as shown by the assertiveness of the Rwandan leadership on matters concerning financial inclusion. It is also important to understand gender dynamics and ensure that women are not left behind on this journey if you are to achieve a holistic approach to economic development. At the end of it all, the contentment and optimism was quite palpable.

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, Canada, its independence was established by MasterCard when the Foundation was created in 2006.

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Financial Inclusion hinges on our understanding the client

In places like Africa, mobile money has been seen as the savior of the unbanked but the recent frustrating experiences of the same product in places like South Africa are proof that a one size fits all approach cannot work. It is proof that clients are different and need to be better understood for financial inclusion to flourish. Understand who the client is, how the client behaves and why the client behaves in a particular way is therefore very crucial.

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This was the premise that informed the two-day Symposium on Financial Inclusion that took place in Kigali Rwanda hosted by The MasterCard Foundation. The event brought together more than 300 experts on financial inclusion from over 30 countries to share experiences and lessons on how best to drive financial inclusion so as to cover the remaining population that is yet to access these services.

The role of financial inclusion in driving development and transforming livelihoods cannot be over emphasized. Insights on how those still left out can be given a hand to jump on board the financial inclusion vessel were shared extensively during the symposium. The room was indeed a boiling pot of brains from the academia, media, fintech, international development, government, banking and other related sectors. This was best seen during the coffee break where at every turn you would encounter a chat that cooled the coffee/tea as everyone got lost in picking another’s brain before another session could begin.

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Each session left participants with so much to mentally nibble on as they sipped their coffee during the break. /Photo Allan  Brian Ssenyonga

The ball was set rolling with a brain-stimulating address by Professor Eldar Shafir from Princeton University on how behavioural science can inform our understanding of the needs of poor clients or any client for that matter. How and why we arrive at the decisions we arrive at as well as our general behaviour is what Professor Shafir got everyone pondering about. With the year’s theme pegged to client centricity, behavioural psychology and partnerships the room was sucked into the mood for amazing deliberations from then on.

A live debate hosted by Nozipho Mbanjwa of CNBC Africa Television followed with the topic being “Deploying data to understand clients better.” The panelists who included Herman Smit of Cenfri, Rose Goslinga of Pula Advisors and Paul Kweheria of KCB Bank shared nuggets of wisdom on the ever evolving journey of financial inclusion. The panelists had great insight into the process of data mining and how it feeds into improved service delivery.

An all female panel later tackled the touchy issue of Client Protection. It was agreed that consumers need to fully understand their rights and obligations when dealing with financial services. The panelists derided those who try to hide this information from clients by hiding in verbose paragraphs or font sizes that put off the client in order to lure them into a den of ignorance soon after appending a signature to the dotted line.

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Financial inclusion is a waste of time if women are not part of the discussion. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Nick Hughes of M-Kopa Solar had the audience hooked as he delved into the story of client centricity and the power of digital services drawing from his rich experience with the renowned M-Pesa and now M-Kopa Solar. The story of M-Pesa is regarded highly as far as innovation for financial inclusion is concerned. Its revolutionary impact on how we now perceive financial services and mobile phone handsets cannot be over emphasized.

The MasterCard Foundation also used the opportunity to award its second annual Clients at the Centre Prize to Hello Paisa for their innovative service that facilitates international money transfers for foreign works in South Africa. The US$150,000 prize seeks to reward the most customer-focused organizations working to ensure that poor people can access formal financial services and products. The winner of the prize was chosen by the audience who voted on the three presentations that also included Artoo IT Solutions and 4G Capital.

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The face of a winner. Ahmed Cassim, MD of Hello Group Financial Services. /Photo Allan Brian Ssenyonga

Day one ended when people were still craving for more deliberations because the discussion on financial inclusion continues long after the symposium. We all have a challenge upon us. Two billion people remain shut out of formal accounts at banks and other financial services providers while half of those with accounts do not use them regularly.

We all mustn’t forget the words of Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, “Financial inclusion is essential to improving the livelihoods of people living in underserved communities, and for advancing a country’s overall economic growth and prosperity.”

 

About The MasterCard Foundation

The MasterCard Foundation works with visionary organizations to provide greater access to education, skills training and financial services for people living in poverty, primarily in Africa. As one of the largest private foundations its work is guided by its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion to create an inclusive and equitable world. Based in Toronto, Canada, its independence was established by MasterCard when the Foundation was created in 2006.

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