On several occasions I have mentioned to my friends who have not been to Rwanda that the best thing they can do is stop just hearing about the country and come see it for themselves. This is because often times those outside the borders of this country only get to hear of it in exaggerated extremes. Either that it is the worst place on earth or that it is the synonym for Utopia.
Yet Rwanda is like a living thing with challenges here and there but with a resolve not to let those challenges hold it back. When you come down here and see it, touch it and smell it you can then not only know Rwanda but also understand it. When such people heed my advice and show up or show up under different circumstances, I am always delighted to help them understand certain things. Not that I am an expert on Rwanda but having been around, I can fairly be of help or point to where help can be found when it comes to unravelling this enigma called Rwanda.
A few days back I was in the company of some wonderful Kenyans who did a good job in making me feel like a cheaper version of Google. I was asked all sorts of questions about Rwanda each time we were together. Some of the questions only elicited breath-interrupting laughter like when one of lady in the group turned to me and said, “Allan, I have been told that I look like a Rwandan, is it true?” Then there was this time when Naomi Mutua let her ‘Kenyanness’ loose and asked, “So if I opened a cupcake business here would it thrive?” Aki Kenyans, does it always have to boil down to which biashara you want to open?
Naomi was falling in love with Rwanda so fast that soon her questioning had moved from cupcakes to land prices, prices for apartments and whether there were even people like her in this place – people who love cats. Others were just silently sitting and enjoying the taste of a cold Mutzig beer as they waited to laugh at the next joke while also wondering why the music in this place we were sitting was not that loud.
I enjoyed answering most of the questions given that I have a faint idea about things in Kenya and a better one about Uganda so my explanations came with comparisons which I assume made for easy understanding. But the thing with Rwanda is that the questions never seem to end because the country has undergone such a dramatic transformation that one needs not to just see Rwanda’s face but also its soul.
For a face, Kigali clearly out does itself. The streets are clean and lit. The construction of new structures can be seen almost at every turn. The changes are hard to keep pace with even for those living here. One day you are idly counting the palm trees as you move on smooth roads only to realise that some of them have suddenly given way to a new roundabout just where they formerly stood and sang with the wind. Rwanda is a country on the move.
An hour out of city to the east, there is a place called Ruhunda Cell in Gishari Sector which is in Rwamagana District. In Ruhunda there is a flagship EKOCENTER project that was recently launched by President Paul Kagame together with the Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, Muhtar Kent. They were accompanied by the famous Rev. Jesse Jackson. If you don’t know him, Google does.
The good fellows from Atlanta (The Coca-Cola Company) have of course set up many EKOCENTERs in Rwanda and other African countries. In fact there are over 100 such facilities across Africa with Rwanda laying claim to over 20 of them. However Ruhunda is not like any EKOCENTRE you will find elsewhere. It is so much more. It is a model of what The Coca-Cola Company intends to achieve with such projects.
In the first place an EKOCENTER is both a community center and a general store. EKOCENTERs are based on a social enterprise model weaved around well being, women and water. All this has to be aligned with what a particular community needs. However with Ruhunda, the partners who put together the EKOCENTER out did themselves. In the first place they brought on board several partners and in the process gave Ruhinda more than what other EKOCENTERs offer.
In Ruhinda, the solar-powered flagship EKOCENTER is set to benefit over 25,000 residents by easing their access to quality health care, 3G Wifi-internet services, mobile charging services, purified water, a retail store as well as a lit football pitch. To pull this off, The Coca-Cola Company partnered with Ericsson, MedShare, Pentair, Phillips, Solarkiosk and TIGO Rwanda as well the government of Rwanda and the people of the Ruhunda.
Ericssson helped to construct a new mobile phone tower providing connectivity while TIGO Rwanda is providing 3G-WIFI. MedShare provides medicines to the government-run Ruhunda Health Centre while Pentair operates two water purification units that provide up to 20,000 litres of safe drinking water to the people of Ruhunda. Phillips came in with the lighting of the football pitch and surrounding areas. Solarkiosk designed and operates the EKOCENTRE.
During the ceremony to launch the facility both President Kagame didn’t seem to have much to say, given that he has been at the helm of Rwanda’s recovery for the last 22 years and such a project is a mere window into the things he has championed all these years. Rwanda’s record on health particularly health insurance is a story that has been told several times. ICT in Africa is almost hard to touch without finding his name appearing somewhere. The same applies to basic hygiene (water) and his love for sports is not a government secret as well.
In his speech, President Paul Kagame said the well being and advancement of communities is a global responsibility, involving a cohesive public –private partnership. The Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company explained why they invest in such projects; “It’s because we know our growth and our partners’ growth can only be sustainable when the communities we serve are strong. By working across the ‘golden triangle’ of business, government and civil society, we believe we can support increased local investment and help make communities like Ruhunda more economically and socially sustainable.”
The Ruhunda story continues flowing even beyond the speeches of the big men. For example in this area the health centre handles close to 60 deliveries in a month but more importantly almost everyone in the area has medical insurance. This partly explains why they have not registered any maternal death in the last seven years!
The sustainability of this project is ensured through training of the people in the area to be able to do things on their own. In other words it is not the usual philanthropy schemes but more of an ecosystem that serves as a catalyst for economic growth. It is a concerted effort to bring together different partners and government to do community work.
The project employs mainly women entrepreneurs, another key pillar of Rwanda’s success story. Time and again President Kagame has said the inclusion of women in the development process is not rocket science, given their numbers and their role in the family set up.
As the big men and women drove away leaving a trail of dust in the air of Ruhunda, the residents knew that the dust would settle and health will prevail. After all they now have a football pitch they can use any time since it has lights, they have ready to drink water and a health centre with quality service. They can also brag about all this on social media now that they have 3g Wifi access.
That right there is the soul of Rwanda, a people always ready to join hands and work towards a better tomorrow. They don’t give in to despair; they ride it like a wave to get to the next level. No wonder The Coca-Cola Company boss had to say, “Rwanda is on the move, marching towards a very prosperous future – and we are proud to be part of it as Coca-Cola.”
The Coca-Cola Company is not alone in this desire to be part of the new Rwanda; my Kenyan friends want to come back to visit, to invest, to live or just to open a cupcake business. To you Naomi and Magunga the word to remember is Murakazaneza. In the mean time let me find out about land prices in Ruhunda.
Launched in 2013 by Coca-Cola as a social enterprise initiative to empower communities while enabling business and local economic growth, EKOCENTER relies on partnerships across the public and private sector to operate sustainably.