Opinion: From Rwanda with much love

by Dolapo Aina

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See you in Rwanda-the land of a thousand hills; a million smiles and a billion opportunities.

Rwanda’s peaceful ambience is perfect for creative minds that need a serene location to be mentally and creatively productive. Rwanda’s business climate is conducive for any straight-forward entrepreneur. Rwanda’s tourism especially historical tourism would leave you with several historical lessons and inevitably make you somewhat of a crisis analyst cum forecaster. Without any iota of doubt, I would be visiting this nation regularly. I do hope you board that RwandAir plane to Rwanda very soon. See you in Rwanda-the land of a thousand hills; a million smiles and a billion opportunities.

After several months of reading articles and watching countless YouTube videos about Rwanda, this writer hopped on a RwandAir plane on Friday, the 25th of April, 2014, for about a 4 hour flight to the land of a thousand hills; better known to you as Rwanda. The trip which also afforded me the avenue to visit the coastal city of Mombasa in Kenya and to be specific the best resort in Africa (Leopard Beach Resort in Diani Beach) was sponsored by RwandAir. Succinctly put, RwandAir organised a familiarisation tour of Rwanda and Kenya for a combined team of corporate and media professionals.

What transpired between this writer, his thoughts and actions i.e. his JJC moments (JJC-Jonny Just Come is a Nigerian phrase for a new person in a new city) should best be saved for another article. But one undeniable truth oozing with pristine immaculacy is that for a large part of the RwandAir flight; this writer didn’t feel he was on a flight. As a first time flier; I was surprised that the RwandAir flight was hitch-free from Lagos to Kigali. We were placed in business class and this writer vowed to always board business and first class. Life should be enjoyed to the fullest.

At arrival at Kigali International Airport, I was shocked to find a lot of Nigerians who were either coming to Rwanda for business or were in transit to Nairobi, Kenya. At the Kigali International Airport, I noticed the orderliness with which the airport and immigration officials conducted themselves. As someone who has attended several Rwanda-related events and shows, I saw a familiar face at the Kigali Airport. The person in question is Anny. Anny runs a tourism outfit which caters for the tourism needs of tourists. I met Anny Batamuriza, the Director General of New Dawn Associates in October 2013 in Lagos and it was pleasant seeing a familiar face in Kigali.

After the aforementioned paragraph, suddenly this writer had a writer’s block at the study desk in his hotel room at the Hotel Des Mille Collines better known to you as Hotel Rwanda on the evening of the 25th of April 2014. Sitting at my study desk and watching the BBC on the Plasma TV, I couldn’t conjure any words. So, I decided to absorb all the experiences in Kigali and write my articles when I return to Lagos. But I began jotting down notes, taking pictures and recording short albeit amateur video clips for my YouTube channel which you can watch on YouTube.
Lagos
Rwanda’s unmistakeable landmark has to be the numerous hills. Anyone who visits this beautiful country would be amazed by nature’s gift to Rwanda. The hills would woo you back to Rwanda. Before this RwandAir-sponsored trip, I had read an overdose of Rwanda-related materials. Alas, reading about Rwanda is one thing, arriving in Rwanda is entirely a different experience. Without any visible/overt security-related personnel or brazen show of weaponry or security braggadocio, you just feel you are in a nation that is safe.
According to my diary (which I began composing while onboard the RwandAir flight to Kigali); the plane touched down at 3.32pm on Friday, the 25th of April 2014. While at the Kigali International Airport; trying to pick up our bags and luggage; I saw a familiar face by the name Anny Batamuriza of NDA-New Dawn Associates, who I had met in Lagos in 2013. After pleasantries and introductions; the team boarded the NDA coaster bus to Hotel Des Mille Collines; where we were met; greeted and welcomed by Christoph M. Strahm and Christian Huschka (General Manager and Director of Sales& Marketing of Hotel des Mille Collines respectively.)
As you would know Hotel des Mille Collines made famous by the Hollywood movie- Hotel Rwanda has so much history behind the name that during the hotel’s welcome cocktail et al for the team; I had to conduct an interview with Mr Huschka where he spoke exclusively on the hotel, her new management by Kapinski in Switzerland), her projections etc. The next day, while having breakfast downstairs; I met Nigerians who were also staying at the hotel and discussed with them. They were in Kigali to set up a business for another Nigerian friend of theirs who had made up her mind to relocate to Kigali. Without any iota of doubt, Rwanda has a billion opportunities for business-minded entrepreneurs.
A tour of Kigali by Anny and Martin of NDA was enlightening as it cemented all I had read and still reading about Rwanda. A trip round Kigali was and is still well-embedded in my mind. Sites like the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the site of the 10 slain Belgian commandos who were protecting the Female Prime Minister were visited. The team passed through the famous conference dome (which would be the eye of global conference organisers); diplomatic avenues; and several hilly estates etc. Some of the media crew visited also visited the slums in Kigali were according to them, they felt safe.

On Saturday, the 26th of April (around 2pm), the team had to catch a RwandAir flight to Mombasa, Kenya. But on the 30th of April at about 12.40pm, we were back in Kigali. But before we checked in; at the prestigious Serena Hotels in Kigali, another NDA bus tour was undertaken; as we visited the Presidential Palace Museum where President Juvenal Habyarimana lived. He was the president in 1994 and whose presidential plane was shot down. Coincidentally, some of the wreckage of the shot down plane fell into his presidential palace compound (as we saw the fuselage et al). But most importantly, for any business-minded individual, we had a business meeting cum press conference with the officials at RDB-Rwanda Development Board at her headquarters on Gishushu Nyarutarama Road.

The RDB
But immediately after the meeting with the RDB spearheaded by Louise Kanyonga (the Registrar General), the team was hosted to a sumptuous lunch at the exclusive Khana Khazana-an Indian restaurant in Kigali (trust Nigerians to request for more pepper).

After stuffing our bellies; we headed to Serena Hotels and there at the impressive lobby, I met another familiar face-Denise Benzinge-Omany. This cool, calm and collected Bella is the Country Sales and Marketing Manager of Serena Hotels Kigali. I met Denise in 2013 at a function in Lagos. After resting for a while, the team attended a RwandAir presentation in one of the conference rooms at Serena Hotels. The RwandAir presentation had in attendance; RwandAir’s CEO in Rwanda and some officials including the senior regional mangers for East and West Africa (Alice Katiti and Fifi Rurangwa respectively).

A night out cum dinner was appropriate and we all went to a restaurant that gave us one of the perfect views of the hilly Kigali I have seen till date. Kigali at night is simply breathtaking. The nocturnal scenery of Kigali is perfect for marriage proposals (there is absolutely no way, the lady won’t be swept off her feet, but the young man must remember to steady her fall.)

Back at the prestigious Serena Hotels, a 5 star hotel edifice which isn’t as expensive as the 5 star hotels in Lagos, I decided to explore the hotel and discovered some interesting bits of information for another interesting article.

On the team’s final day in Kigali, I woke up quite early to work on my laptop and had two interesting interactions with 2 staff members of the Serena Hotels (Rose and Gertrude) who were undertaking their chores in the hotel. At about 11am, a Serena Hotels’ presentation was held. Another sumptuous lunch was inevitable at the Milima Restaurant (I believe).

Around past 2pm, we were off to the Kigali International Airport to board another RwandAir plane to Lagos. Touch down in Lagos was about past 10pm on May 1st 2014 and as I boarded the airport coach bus to the car park, I was really glad to bump into Rwanda’s Ambassador to Nigeria; Ambassador Joseph Habineza who flew into Lagos from another part of Nigeria. The Ambassador enquired about the trip to Rwanda. I tried to explain but I was speechless. With all candour, reading about Rwanda is one thing, travelling to Rwanda is an experience entirely.
Rwanda’s peaceful ambience is perfect for creative minds that need a serene location to be mentally and creatively productive. Rwanda’s business climate is conducive for any ethically straight-forward old or young entrepreneur. Rwanda’s tourism especially historical tourism would leave you with several historical lessons and inevitably make you somewhat of a crisis analyst cum forecaster. Without any iota of doubt, I would be visiting this nation regularly. I do hope you board that RwandAir plane (a 4hour flight) to Rwanda very soon. See you in Rwanda-the land of a thousand hills; a million smiles and a billion opportunities.
More articles of this Rwandan trip to follow. Do search for Dolapo Aina on YouTube for several videos and audio interviews on this trip.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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