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Margared Jjuuko

 

Margaret Jjuuko's Notes From the Field

September 15, 2007

I thought I would share this paper with you. It was presented at one of our monthly seminars, a new innovation here at the school that begun in March 2007, shortly after my arrival. While the seminars have been attracting very many students, faculties have poorly attended them.  This is not a disappointment though, because their central purpose, for the most part, was to instill a culture of academic deliberations (research, debate and discussion) amongst students.

THE INFORMATION SOCIETY: IS IT AN EVEN DEVELOPMENT?

Abstract
The discussion centers on the view that knowledge is the key to development and that an increase in ICT access and use, will make the Information Society a reality in Africa. The paper strongly argues that the global knowledge for development is never more possible than the Internet. Nevertheless, for Africa, the Internet will only be useful to the African media if there is more relevant information online – the African Journalist need to be competent in researching and disseminating global knowledge (Naidoo, 2000). Africans have a direct interest in putting up information about themselves. No body else can do it properly, and nor is anyone who tries likely to do it in the interests of Africans. The African media have the resource, the power, and ultimately the voice to provoke change. This can only be done when the media themselves increasingly use and understand the ICTs . 
BY Margaret Jjuuko Lwanga .

There is a synergy to sharing knowledge. People add to it, refine it, develop it and improve it. If we keep it to ourselves, it will not reach its potential. If we share it, it returns a hundred fold and benefits others as well.  ( Naidoo, 2000: 9) 

Introduction

Knowledge has been recognized as one of the keys to development (Okgbo, 1999).  Thus, it can be argued, that Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential for increasing knowledge for all (Naidoo, 2000; Golding and Murdock, 1997). Consequently, the Information Society has created an exciting array of ICTs that today have transformed the approach to global communications and development (Golding and Murdock, 1997).  Access to these technologies is also spreading rapidly to the extent that in the year 2005 alone, the number of Internet users in developing countries crossed the 500 million mark (Berger, 2006), exceeding industrial nations for the first time. By some estimates, more than 75 percent of the world’s population now lives within range of a mobile network.  

While global communications of this nature continue to present new and exciting opportunities for the developing nations of Africa, this paper posits that the Information Society is an uneven development and the inequalities within it are exacerbated (Naidoo, 2000). The gap between the information rich and the information poor widens daily.  For example, ICTs remain out of reach for most of the developing world. For the information poor, the economic and social gaps are in fact widening both between and within nations (Castells, 2001a). This problem will become increasingly difficult and more expensive to remedy if there is no intervention.  The media  as the number one institution standing at the interface between the info rich and info poor, needs its journalists to be the most information rich of all, if there is to be any bridge over the great divide (Berger, 1997).  

Based on the above thesis, this paper argues against the dependency on market forces alone in ensuring information flow, in order for Africa to survive the onslaught of globalization.  In advocating for the right to information as a fundamental human right, I will argue for the improvement of telecommunication and communication infrastructure in Africa, as well as the formulation of national information and communication policies as away of enhancing access to the resource of information and for the true meaning of the Information Society.  In addition, the paper examines the challenges of ICTs in Africa as well as local efforts and considerations to enable access to ICTs. 

To obtain a paradigmatic understanding of what constitutes the Information Society, one needs to consider not only the flow of discourse and knowledge in society but also the channels that will enable equitable information flow (Nassanga, 2003) as well as, the various existing social structures.  Five definitions of what constitutes the Information Society have been advanced to include, technology, economics, occupations, spatial and culture (Webster, 1995; 2002).  This discussion shall however be limited to technology, although I will refer to the other aspects from time to time. 

Information, in simple terms, is knowledge about all things on the universe and beyond. It encompasses the aspect of communication between individuals and between and within societies and social structures (Hamelink, 1994). Society is the term used to describe human beings together, that is, a collective sum of their social networks and organizations (Brown-Syed, 1999). Thus, the term Information Society is used to refer to how ICTs, particularly in the 20th Century, have transformed communication and information processes   making the world a global village (Castells, 2001b). Obviously, these definitions are not so distinctive because of their ‘all-inclusive’ nature of the description for the allowance of activities that inform the information and communication processes.

The right to communication and information

Communication is a core component of life and as long as one is alive, it is impossible not to communicate. In the normal natural surrounding no individual can live in isolation. The interdependence in society, dictates that people need to communicate, in order to acquire their needs from the external environment. Communication has therefore been recognized as one of the fundamental human rights. Article 19 of the UN Declaration for Human Rights guarantees the right to communicate. This right is also provided for under different national constitutions. In Rwanda, while the Constitution does not specifically bear an act guaranteeing the right to communication and information, Article 34 states: “freedom of the press and freedom of information are recognized and guaranteed by the state”. In neighboring Uganda, Articles 29 and 41 of the Ugandan Constitution guarantee this right. The enjoyment of this right therefore, presupposes equitable access to information and communication channels for all.  

Thus, with the global Information Society the right of access to the means of expression – the right to communicate is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental human right. In addition, information has become a major component in many sectors to the extent of being regarded as a key historical landmark. As happened after the industrial revolution when there was increased production, this period has come to be known as the information age (Nassanga, 2003), following an information revolution and an information explosion. The volume, speed and sources of information have multiplied, giving rise to an information superhighway (Golding and Mudock, 1997).   

Although the right to communication and information has been widely recognized as a basic human right, we do not all enjoy equal access to information and communication channels (Nassanga, 2003). The developed nations are ahead of the developing nations. These also control the global media corporations, markets and all channels of communications through which information access and exchange takes place (Golding and Murdock, 1997).  The implication of these trends is that information is not free anymore. It has to be paid for or the means of accessing it. This has created a situation of information dualism, where the rich with high disposable incomes have better capacity to access information and communication channels than the less economically endowed (Hamelink, 1994; Melkote & Steeves, 2001).  This is reflected at the international level with a few information rich countries, obviously from the West, and the majority of Third World countries being information poor. At national levels, information dualism is further reflected between the urban information rich and the rural information poor (Nassanga, 2003).  But as the next section shows, with ICTs, there is hope for Africa in bridging the information and digital divide 

Overcoming the information dualism in Africa – The Internet

Africa is a continent recovering from the ravages of colonialism, despotic governments and natural disasters. It is characterised by undeveloped economies and other Third-World characteristics.  But amidst these barriers, it is also a continent that is rapidly developing its Internet connectivity and activity. The number of Internet users, for example, is swelling day by day. Africa’s potential and infrastructural background are important indicators of the content and future prospects. The dramatic growth in Internet connectivity and access are important indicators of the continent’s progress.

Thus, the balance of information power in Africa could be radically shifted and equalized through the use of the Internet. Theoretically, the Internet allows both journalists and newspaper organizations to become their own news agencies without having to rely on Western dominated news agencies such as Reuters and Associated Press, among others. A continuous exchange of information through Southern journalists has been possible in recent times. For example, a news paper in Kigali could send its stories by electronic mail to Nairobi, Bujumbura and Dar salaam. And vice versa.

“Even if the majority of the people in Africa do not have access to the Internet, it can be used by those few who have access for the benefit of communities” (Stanbridge in Naidoo, 2000: 46 - 47).  In Asia, for example, this has been possible, where farmers have kept track of new market prices for their agricultural produce and modern farming ways, through a communal information network (Mody, 2003; Servaes, 1999). It is also important to ensure that the ‘information rich’ are not left ‘information poor’ in as much as the problems and potentials amongst the really ‘information poor’ are not expressed in the information society.  The Internet’s potential as a vehicle for free speech and access to information and ideas is thus unprecedented:

It has revolutionalised global communications and often almost instant access to virtually unlimited information and the ability to communicate that defy the barriers of time and space.  With the global Information Society the right of access to the means of expression – the right to communicate – is increasingly being recognized as a fundamental human right. (Naidoo, 2000: 44)

What we take from the above quote is that through ICTs, it is possible for all information to be put on line, where anybody anywhere in the world can access it, even where dictatorial regimes often maintain their power by limiting the circulation and/or the flow of information (My emphasis).  But as this discussion demonstrates , in later sections, there is need for better policies and ICT infrastructural services, which would ultimately benefit the society as a whole (Panos, 1995).  Without necessarily ignoring the major infrastructural hurdles, discussed in the next section, these technologies presents enormous opportunities for the continent, especially as Africa has the potential to leapfrog large stages of development and take more advantage of the information age (Castells, 2001a).

Impediments to ICTs in Africa

Global communication is characterized by information flow from industrialized Western countries to developing nations (Nassanga, 2003).  In order to put in context the dynamics involved in information flow, it is necessary to look at how the slow development of ICTs has affected the information and communication systems in developing countries, particulary Third World nations.  But even though Great Lakes leaders have realized the importance of promoting ICTs, professionalism and freedom of speech, there are still hurdles from technological infrastructure, lack of computer skills due to the high illiteracy levels, ignorance, civil wars and conflicts such as the Genocide (for the case of Rwanda, Sudan, Armenia and to some extent, Uganda), diseases, poverty and environmental degradation.  These have destroyed the already weak and limping communication and related infrastructure (Bunani. , et al , 2007: 12).  

The differences between the developing levels of Africa and the rest of the world with regards to ICTs are even wider. Only 2.5% of the world’s televisions are on the continent (with 13% of the world’s population here). The teledensity is approximately one per 200 inhabitants and, for some areas computer penetration is less than 3 per 1000 (Opuku-Mensah, 1998). The unprecedented adoption of cellular services in Africa can be attributed to the need for telecommunication services, which are not provided for by the fixed line services (Jensen, 1999). In Rwanda for example, there is an urgent need for fixed land services (expressed in the New Times Cartoon page, May 2nd edition).  Cellular services are approximated to comprise about 20% of the total phones on the continent (this figure excludes South Africa) and are available in 42 countries.  However, the prices and costs for cellular services are still high even though many people are getting connected (Naidoo, 2000). 

One of the reasons for the wide spread of the Internet in developed countries is a very good telecommunications infrastructure. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Africa. Apart from the poor infrastructures, telecom services often lack support and are very expensive. The average total cost rate of using a local dialup Internet account for 5 hours in Africa is about $60 (US) per month.  [This only includes usage fees and telephone time but not the telephone line rental] (OECD, 2006).  By comparison, 20 hours of Internet access cost $29 in the United States, including telephone services. Although telecommunication costs are higher in Europe ($74 in Germany, $52 in France, $65 in Britain), the African charges cost four times the amount of basic Internet access (OECD, 2006).  As an illustration, Lynn Farrell one of the Visiting Canadian’s lecturers here at the  National University of Rwanda, found her daily mobile phone expenses here, 3 times more expensive that what she uses in Canada (Interview with Lynn, May 2007). It is worth to note that, all of the above countries’ per capita incomes, are at least 10 times greater than the African average (Jensen, 1999).    

In addition to the high costs of telecommunications in Africa, Internet access is largely restricted to the capital cities and major towns.  For most people, it is prohibitively expensive to use the Internet. Together with call charges, Internet service provider fees are high. Usually the public telecom operator has a monopoly over the international gateway or access to the national backbone, and leaves the resale of the end-user access to the private sector.  In response to the high cost of full Internet services, the slow speed of the web, and because of the over-riding importance of electronic mail, lower cost email-only services have been introduced by many Internet service providers (ISP’s).    

Another major impediment to the increased use of ICTs in Africa, is the irregular or non-existent electricity supplies, especially outside the major cities and towns. In most of the Great Lakes Region (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi), there is limited power distribution networks which do not penetrate significantly into rural areas, and power shading, sometimes for many hours, is a regular occurrence, even in some of the capital cities.  Transport networks usually display the same level development and similar problems as the electricity supplies (My emphasis).    

Together with these infrastructural hurdles, Africa is largely an importer of technology. The equipment is often subjected to high import tariffs, making it several times more costly than in industrialized countries (Opuku-Mensah, 1998). Hence, computers, software and modems are out of reach of most Africans.

It is important to note that even though Africa compares poorly against international averages, progressive is occurring very rapidly from an extremely low base. Access to information and use of communication tools in Africa has until recently been largely in the hands of state monopolies. But with a trend towards open democracy and more liberal market-oriented policies, there is a marked improvement in the availability and diversity of information and communication channels (Jjuuko, 2003).

For example, telephone lines have increased and hundreds of new media outlets in print, radio, television and the web have emerged since the liberalization of media services in the early 1990s (Jjuuko, 2003). As a result, First World business has recognized Africa as a growth sector. In addition, there has been increased interest in restoring pride in African communities and culture by both local communities and African governments with increased regional co-operation (Naidoo, 2000; Jjuuko, 2003).  

But, in order to fully enter the global Information Society, African governments will need to more aggressively address the infrastructural problems on the continent, particularly in telecommunications and communications sector. This is in line with the observation that “Telecommunications is now recognized as an essential tool for development and that there is a direct relationship between growth in telephone line density and economic growth (OECD, 2006). 

The World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)

Following on the rapid expansion of the Information Society, the United Nations called for a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) organized under the auspices of the International Telecommunication Union. The two-phase summit, begun in Geneva in 2003, and concluded in November 2005 with WSIS Phase II in Tunisia. The goal of this meeting was to assess progress and prompt further global action to capture the promise of ICT for all.

Because of the lack of a proper vision of the Information Society for most African countries such as Uganda, this paper finds the WSIS view of the Information Society useful. This is because the WSIS provides a holistic definition of the Information Society. As Berger (2004: 14) argues, the WSIS “managed to accommodate and synthesise the various competing interpretations of the features of an Information Society”.  However, the older ICTs can only be major drivers in the Information Society if enabling policies and laws are put in place.  Hence, this paper poses a critical question that also lays a foundation for further inquiry: Are the policies of the riparian countries, such as Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, enable communication channels, such as Radio, to build an Information Society? In setting the case for an enabling policy framework for the viability of ICTs in the Great Lakes region, this paper briefly reviews , the Information and Communication Policy framework for  Uganda.  

Information and Communication Policy framework – the Ugandan perspective

While some African countries like Rwanda, Egypt and South Africa have drawn up elaborate Information Society policies, others such as Uganda are yet to clearly define their vision of the Information Society (Rugamba, 2005).  In Uganda the concept is only mentioned in various policy documents which include the 2002 ICT policy and the 2004 Broadcast Policy. The lack of a clear vision of the Information Society for Uganda probably explains why the policy documents use the future tense when referring to the Information Society.

The ICT policy views the Information Society as a precondition “to the knowledge society where individuals as well as institutions are valued and/or judged according to what they know and how much they know” (Ministry of Works, Housing and communications, 2003: 21). The policy also argues that in the Information Society, people need new knowledge and new skills in order to benefit fully from, and utilise ICTs efficiently.

The 2004 Broadcast Policy also talks about the Information Society in Uganda. As one of its key objectives, the policy aims to create “an enabling nvironment in which the new services help Ugandans integrate into the global Information Society” (Broadcasting Council, 2004c:23). Digital technologies are seen by some Information Society theorists (Berger, 2004) as one of the major drivers in the Information Society.

As Communication and Journalism scholars in Rwanda, we need to assess how the ICT landscape is changing in the developing world from the perspective of the Information Society, and what lies ahead. We should start by asking ourselves the following questions: 

  1. Is ICT, as a tool for development, socially and politically neutral or biased?
  2. Have ICTs been useful and effective tool for development in the Region?
  3. How have Great Lakes countries, such as  Rwanda used ICT for development?
  4. What examples can be given of how ICT has worked for the poor in Rwanda? 
  5. How should the language of the Internet be determined particularly in online news and reporting? 

A critical examination into the above inquiries will greatly inform our future deliberations and actions that will enable a viable information society especially that, defined along the lines of technology, economics, occupation, cultural and spatial.  Indeed this examination underscores the need for the formulation of national information and communication policies as away of enhancing access to the resource of information and for the true meaning of the Information Society. It is worth noting that governments in the Great Lakes Region have already embarked on the process of setting up information and communication policies. This is commendable. 

Conclusion

This paper has demonstrated that there is a gap between the world’s information rich and the information poor, making the concept of the Information Society contentious. The divide is mainly brought about by the constraints related to telecommunication and communication infrastructures; the high costs of purchase and maintenance and a lack or poor policies for an enabling environment.  The paper has argued strongly that the global knowledge for development is never more possible than the Internet. The African media have the resource, the power, and ultimately the voice to provoke change. This can only be done when the media themselves increasingly use and understand the ICTs .

While this discussion has centered on the view that knowledge is the key to development and that an increase in ICT access and use, will make the Information Society a reality in Africa, the African Journalist need to be competent in researching and disseminating global knowledge (Naidoo, 2000).  I therefore argue in conclusion that the Internet will only be useful to the African media if there is more relevant information online. Conversely, Africans have a direct interest in putting up information about themselves. No body else can do it properly, and nor is anyone who tries likely to do it in the interests of Africans.

References and Bibliography

Berger, G. (1997). Hernessing New Information Technology for Africa’s Independent media: Olant the crops at the start of the rainy season. htt://journ.ru.ac.za/staff/berger.misait.html.

Brown-Syed, C. (1999). “The New World Order and the geopolitics of information”. Online article. Retrieved from: http://www.valinor.ca/csyed_libres3.html

Bunani, J.  Niwenshuti, T.  Nzeyimana, H. and Rwampungu, C. (2007). The Impact of Globalisation on Media performance in Contemporay Society: The Great Lakes Perspective. Unpublished paper presented at SJC 1V Seminars. National Univerity of Rwanda: Butare

Castells, M. (2001a). The Internet galaxy: Reflections on the Internet, business and society. New York. Oxford University Press.

Castells, M. (2001b). “The new global economy” in Muller, J. et all. (eds). Challenges of Globalisation: South African Debates with Manuel Castells. Longman. Capetown

Cottle Simon (ed) (2003). Media Organisation and Production. Sage Publications: London.

Ginneken, J, V. (1998). Understanding Global News. A critical Introduction. London: Sage.

Farrell, Lynn. Canadian Photo Editor and Visiting Lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication – National University of Rwanda: Interview held in Butare, May 2007. 

Hamelink,  J. (1994). Trends in World Communication On Disempowerment and self-empowerment. Southbound: Penang, Third World Network.

http://www.globalknowedge.org: Retrieved August,  2001. 

Jansen, M. (1996). Bridging the gaps in Internet development in Africa. http://www.idrc.ca/acacia/studies/irgaps.htm. Retrieved August, 2000.

Jjuuko, M, N. (2003). “The Impact of media commercialization on Public Service Programming: Theoretical Considerations”. In Nassanga, G, L (Ed): The East African Media and Globalisation: Defining the Public Interest. Kampala: Mass Communication Department, Makerere University Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Melkote, R. S. & Steeves, H, L. (2001). Communication for Development in the Third World. Theory and Practice for Empowerment, 2nd edition. New Delhi: Sage.

Mody, B. (2003). International and Development Communication. London: Sage.

Naidoo, K. (2000). African Media Online. Second Edition. Department of Journalism and Media Studies: Rhodes University’s New Media Lab & Support from the World Bank.

Nassanga, G, L (2003), (Ed). The East African Media and Globalisation: Defining the Public Interest. Kampala: Mass Communication Department, Makerere University Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

National Information and Communication Policy (Draft) for Uganda (1999), Kampala.

OECD - According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2006).

Opoku-Mensah, A. (1998). Development and Human Rights Considerations in telecommunications policy and regulation in a Sub-regional Workshop on technological convergence and and telecommunication regulation, May 5 – 8, Pg 19.  

Servaes, J. (1999). Communication for Development. One world, Multiple cultures. New Jersey: Hampton Press.

Stanbridge, R. (1997). How can African Media Use the Internet, now and in the future? Unpublished paper: Rhodes University.

The Constitution of Rwanda (May, 2003).

The Constitution of Uganda (1995)

The International Webster Dictionary, 1995 and 2002.

The Author is a Visiting Lecturer at the National University of Rwanda under the Rwanda Initiative of Carleton University – Canada (2007). She is originally from the Mass communication department of Makerere University, Kampala – Uganda, where she serves as Lecturer.  

Reference is made to radio here, because it is one of the most effective means of communication in this region. Its infrastructure is broadly spread covering almost all corners of these nations. Issues of access and comprehension are also viable.

Also see the policy informing the Karisimbi project

The new services being referred to here are the digital broadcasting services.

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August 10, 2007 — The ticket

“In some other societies, it would take a driver to leave his seat and inspect all the passenger’s tickets. In this one, however, people are calm, honest and respectful”. 

There is an amazing story that I have been sharing with my colleagues and students in and outside class. I tell them that I was deeply moved by the calmness, honesty and respectful gestures in the incident. Many don’t seem to understand my bewilderment even when I tell them that such cases are rare in the contemporary world, where, we are  all described as a mass society.   But my Canadian colleagues, Shelly and Isabel are in agreement with me that such people are rare to find.

I board a 6.30 Volcano bus bound for Kigali city. Behind the wheel is a steady young man in his early thirties. We leave on time and all the seats are occupied. From where  I’m seated – two seats away from the driver, I observe the speedometer – 60 kilometers per hour.  

Approximately, after one kilometer, a middle-aged man standing by the roadside raises his hand with a ticket in it. The Driver stops.  The door is opened but there is no vacant seat for this gentleman! The Driver inspects his ticket, just to be sure. Indeed this man has  to travel to Kigali on this very bus.

The Driver turns to the rest of us and asks, “ Ninde udafitte iticye ya sa kuminebyiri  nigiki? (Which one of you doesn’t have a ticket for 6.30 a.m?). I and some other travelers don’t bother to check our tickets, at least I’m certain of the schedule booking I made and the ticket I purchased. Others, smarter of course – given that the girl at the ticket booking and selling office can make a mistake, check their tickets. 

In what seem like moments of contemplations and sighing, a middle-aged woman, tall and very beautiful stands up and declares that she bought a 7.00 a.m bus ticket. She apologizes for the inconvenience and leaves the bus. The man board and we continue, leaving the woman behind to wait for her legitimate bus.

No body amongst the passengers says anything about the incident.

During the rest of the journey, I critically think about this incident and wonder what would have happened in Kampala, Nairobi, Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja or Yaoundé!  I bet, in these societies, it is most likely to have necessitated the driver to leave his seat and inspect all the passenger’s tickets. I bet it would take a hassle to get such a passenger off the bus. Chances are, we would need to squeeze ourselves to accommodate an extra person to travel, amidst grumbling of course. In this society, however, people are calm, honest and respectful”. 

Discussing it with my parents later in Kampala, we both wondered how on earth the devil responsible for genocide would have been allowed to loom large in such a society and cause such great pain and suffering to these people!!

NO BODY WILL EVER KNOW THE WHY!

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July 13, 2007 — The coolest group of the cool

I enter the DSTV room, SJC, NUR. Present is a group of 17 second-year Journalism and Communication students. It’s my first time to directly work with this group, beside the seminar which I run for the entire school, on academic reading, writing and quality assurance in work submitted for grading. This was two months earlier.

I know from the class representative, Oswald, that the whole class comprises 31 students. I wonder if I will get more students this morning! “Should we wait for others, at least for a few more minutes?” I ask. In unison, they all say “No”.

We begin our introductions, first myself and each one of the students.

Even though they’re all Rwandans, there is a diversity of backgrounds in terms of where they were born: Burundi, Canada, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.  Against our various backdrops, we share our favorites: hobbies, movies, music, books, etc. On a more formal note, I tell them about my experience as a Broadcast/TV Journalist, Communication Specialist and trainer; I share both blissful and stressful moments. Similarly, they share their various education backgrounds and their inspirations and aspirations for enrolling in a Journalism and Communication School.

They’re very warm and there’s a beautiful depth of vulnerability about these young faces. But they’re very explicit and pragmatic about their backgrounds and quite modest about why they are pursuing journalism and communication. All, except Ildephonse, are here because they want to give a “voice to the voiceless”. No body talks about studying to get a job that will earn them a living.

I wonder, out loud, how they intend to acquire the daily grind!! The entire group laughs loudly.

I introduce the course: Media and Communication theory and explain its demands and expectations:  “Scholarly research that demands volumes and volumes of readings and class presentations, discussions, debates and essay writing”.  There is overwhelming concern on all faces but none seems intimated (Not that I wanted to intimidate them).   

There are questions and discussions and they’re all suddenly talking and seem to be enjoying themselves. We form seven groups of four. The first readings are distributed according to the syllabus and every body seem more that ready to start.

Two hours later at the end of my presentation, I pronounce a note that I had included on the end of the syllabus “Urugendo rwiza” meaning “safe trip/journey”. The students are greatly amused by both the concept and my accented Kinyarwanda.

I am happy to see the beautiful smiles.  I’m gonna enjoy working with this group. They’re a dynamic lot: smart and vibrant. The coolest of the cool.

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May 20, 2007 — Land of a thousand hills

It is not just the Land of a thousand hills but the Land of a million stunning beauty; the landscapes; the people; the vegetation “Breathtaking” and “Mind blowing”!!

A friend of mine living in Washington DC sent me an email the other day. He asked me, among other things, to describe Rwanda for him; her people and about the widely proclaimed “thousand hills’. He also sought that I share my insights about the Genocide. His first inquiry was quite simple and in just two short paragraphs, I was done.

Briefly, I wrote about Rwanda’s incredible beauty; the beautiful people particularly the Rwandan children; the beautiful landscape and the waters of Lake Kivu in the Western Province. I assured him that it is not just the land of a thousand hills but the land of a million stunning beauty; the landscape; the people and their beautiful and friendly smiles; the ‘romantic’ Kinyarwanda language; the ever green vegetation and subsistence agricultural farms including the long horned cattle. All breathtaking and, in the words of my colleague Lynn Farrell, “mind blowing”. I also told him that in contrast to our own country (he’s Ugandan), there is no corruption here, at least per my observations since I first set foot here. 

What I’m not convinced of, though, is the credibility of the source that put the figure of the hills to a 1000! In my opinion, the figure goes beyond that.

This morning, John Honderich, Lynn Farrell, Richard Niyomwungeri, our driver and guide, and myself are cruising on Précieuse Bethany engine boat, across Lake Kivu in the Western Province of Rwanda.  From the face of Kibuye’s famous Bethany Guest House we head toward the highlands of Amahoro. In just one spot I count up to 150 hills, of different sizes. When the boat turn on the other side overlooking the Congo boarder toward Ijwi, I count another 200 and this is just from one sector (area).

Viewed from the hill alongside the road at Rubengera Sector, one could easily conclude that Lake Kivu is another stunning beauty that, in away, was created on a hill. Note

should also be taken that the Western Province comprises of Gisenyi, Kyangugu and Kibuye towns. Yet, my arithmetic today is only based on Kibuye.

A week earlier, Lynn and I had visited the eminent Kibeho church in the Southern Province (Huye) which is about 40 Kilometers from the National University of Rwanda. Kibeho is perceived a holy and significant place in the historical trends of Rwanda. It’s where the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared several years ago but the place also holds historical tales of the ugliest ramifications of the 1994 Genocide. On the occasion of our visit to Kibeho, I had the opportunity to count the hills; the numbers were in hundreds, and so is the other occasion on my way from Uganda, by bus at Byumba. My argument here is that by simple mathematics from just three spots, I counted about 500 hills of different sizes. You can make your own conclusions.

Rubengera Sector in Kibuye Prinvince. Even from just this one spot, at least 40 hills could be seen.  Photo by Lynn Farrell

While in Kibuye, we visit some genocide sites such as the Irimbi/Cimetière (cemetery). This is where the remains of more than 10, 000 people brutally massacred in the Gatwaro stadium in 1994,  were later in April 1995, laid to rest (in mass graves) by then President of the Republic of Rwanda,  Pasteur Bizimungu.

Capital lettered inscriptions in Kinyarwanda, on one side of the entrance and in French on the other side, greet us: TWAMAGANYE JENOSIDE YABAYE NTIZONGERE KUBAHO UKUNDI. Literally meaning, “NEVER AGAIN”. Other mourners, seemingly relatives and/or friends of the victims, had preceded us. With them, they had carried flowers.  Still fresh, the beautiful roses, carnations, chrysanthemums and other flower species, are carefully positioned on three out of 20 mass graves, with moving messages: “YOU LEFT US WHEN WE STILL LOVED YOU, WE HOPE THE GOOD LORD RECEIVED YOU AND JUDGED YOU MERCIFULLY”, another read: “OUR TEARS WILL NEVER DRY” .  

Genocide site:  Irimbi/Cimetière at Gatwaro.  Photo by Lynn Farrell

It is tense and solemn here; every one of us is wiping their tears away. In my broken Kinyarwanda I ask the care taker, who is a survivor,  “GUTE UMUNTU AMENYA NEZA ABE BAHAMBWE”HOW DOES ONE KNOW EXACTLY WHERE THEIR DEAD ARE BURIED?” He smiles before telling me “there is no such knowledge here, it’s a random exercise”.

At Nyange Sector on our way from Kibuye toward Gitarama, Richard suggests that we make a stop over at a Genocide site, where a Catholic church once stood. Here, in the dark days of April in 1994, a Catholic Priest only identified by his sir name, Seromba, had conspired with the area Police Commander to execute thousands of Tutsi Christians who had taken refuge in the church. Unlike other incidents where machetes, grenades and guns were employed in the massacres, here a bulldozer was used to collapse the church over the refugees inside. There are no tales of any survivor. The debris are piled on one side of the enclosed site inside of which are mass graves decorated with wooden crosses and flowers. This is where the house of God once stood. 

The burner at what used to be the Church’s entrance read: “TWIBUKA JENOSIDE TWITA KUBACITSE KU ICUMU DUHARANIRA UBUTABERA”. This is closely translated to: “WE VIVIDLY REMEMBER THE GENOCIDE. AS WE TAKE CARE OF THE SURVIVORS, WE SEEK TO GET JUSTICE”.

But none of today’s experiences amounts to that of last year, when I first visited the Murambi Genocide memorial in Nyamagabe district. At the former polytechnic, I had actually collapsed after towering only four of the many school class rooms where the remains of thousands of men, women and children are preserved. Willy Mugenzi a Rwandan journalist and friend, but my student then, had later showed me a valley-like piece of land, where French soldiers under the Operation Turquoise had, supposedly, constructed a volley ball pitch over thousands of decomposing bodies, many of whom had fallen under their guns; many of whom were children including babies!! I was flabbergasted!!

Such experiences and many more did inform the second part of my email to my Washington friend. It was such a difficult communication. I had ended it thus, “amidst all the magnificent outstanding beauty, also lies a deep valley of tears, pain and broken hearts. But there is hope. Hope that is continuously inculcated by the President himself,  Paul Kagame, “We have to learn to live together as a Rwandan people, NEVER AGAIN WILL THESE ATTROCITIES RE-OCCUR”. 

Quite Intelligent and Focused Leader!!

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April 28, 2007 — Communication and Journalism careers – Who and What

It’s 8: 05 a.m. This is my 3rd day and 7th hour of teaching ‘Careers in Communication’ course to fourth-year students from both streams (Journalism and Communication). If every body had turned up, on time, we would be 23 in total this morning, including myself.  But the usual tradition prevails – only 12 students are here this morning. Miraculously, they are all on time!

It gets better every day, at least as far as time-keeping and participation is concerned. I congratulate them on this “amazing” turn of events and encourage them to keep it up. “There will be bonus marks for participation”. I reassure everybody.  The course schedule document had also emphasized that attendance is part of grading. But I’m not so much bothered about the numbers, for I trust by the end of the morning the turn-up will have increased to at least 15 students. I always console myself that it could be worse, basing on what I hear from my other colleagues about student class attendance.

During each of my previous encounters with this assemblage, I make it a point to spend at least the last 10 minutes of class, ‘preaching’ about academic rigor; quality assurance, discipline and time management, in the life of a Journalist or Communication worker. Generally, I emphasize that any serious employer will never tolerate late coming, ineptness or lousiness.

They all seem to appreciate my counsel, at least from their nodes. But what follows afterward, makes it all rhetorical – There are either in Butare working at Radio Salus or away in Kigali making ends meet at TVR or other institutions. Others, quite a few though, are as a matter of fact, in their rooms resting!! But there are quite a few royal ones too; who, come rain or sunshine, will be in class and ON TIME.        

The question this morning is “What is your career preference and how will you be different from other similar professionals?”

The responses are quite remarkable! For most Communicators, it’s the prestige associated with some of these careers, class and social status; prominence, fat salaries and international profiles. They also know that it takes hard work to be different and to succeed. Specific career options for the communication students mentioned this morning, include Public Relations Officers of big companies in Rwanda and beyond, Communication ‘Consultants’, Development communication specialists, Information Officers and so on.

For Journalists, it’s the fun, the power and ability to make the powerful accountable and to be able to spread wings through the privileges accorded to Journalists. In some submissions, there’s amazing interest to practice Public Journalism.

I’m impressed.

Emmanuel NUWAMANYA, a Journalism student presented the following exposition:

Owing to the training I have gone through at the school of Journalism and Communication and the outside practice, I would like to be a professional television reporter. I would like to specialize in socio-political reports regarding our nation and the entire Great Lakes region. The reason why I want to specialize in this is because I like to make a follow up on most government policies. Now that I have started some practice at the national television, I find it more interesting in being part of what goes around between the locals and opinion leaders. My interests lie, especially, in issues concerning the decentralization process and its related policies. This concerns how the way people respond to the communal work exercise (Umuganda) and the get-together policy (Ubusabane), etc.

Secondly, I’m convinced that concentrating in this field will help me gain enough skills to broadcast enough content of what is needed by the public through being a watchdog.  Through this exercise, I hope to dig out realities in governing society which I think will help me in being a well known journalist who is there for all categories of people. This is due to the fact that socio-political issues concern all human beings.

Most people in this country fear talking about politics and this is why I want to reach a level where I can convince the population that not all what is said in politics is bad. However, journalism is also there to expose what is not going on well for instance the genocide ideology that still prevails within some locals and even politicians.  This kind of reporting brings people together through forgetting the past undefined differences.

Another reason that has inspired me into joining journalism is the advantage of interacting with all administrative authorities. Quite often, most locals have no way of expressing their grievances to concerned authorities. I’m very much proud of my profession that allows me to express myself, both on my behalf and on behalf of the entire population when it comes to burning issues that have not been attended to.

Most important is that I want to get engaged more into international relations and I think being informed about political situations in most countries would serve me better. As most create bilateral relations through their governing policies, I like having the issues at hand in order to follow their trend. For instance current affairs in the Great lakes region concern all countries in that location, a reason why a journalist needs the whole information to enrich his/her knowledge.  The Great lakes countries share a bit of history on issues such as political conflicts, refuge problems and environmental issues. Therefore, one can borrow lessons from one society to enrich the other, for example how to get united after a catastrophe like the genocide.

However, there are challenges of TV reporting in Rwanda that need to be addressed.

(i) Lack of professionalism among most practitioners which lowers the quality of their work. Most reporters seem to have excelled due to experience but still lack basic journalistic skills. This gives way to half baked stories which in fact leaves most issues not understood by the public. Reports are attacked differently when they are meant for one TV station.

(ii) Reporting on Rwanda television faces a challenge of reporters not identifying stories themselves. They are just called by sources, meaning that they can’t report any negative element about the source, especially government institutions, after being provided transport and facilitated during coverage.

(iii) Another challenge concerns language, in a sense that translating a report into the three languages (Kinyarwanda, French and English) makes news broadcasts some how different. This is because one reporter goes to the field, and translators in other languages base on what he/she brings, including mistakes, angle of choice, terminologies and style. Etc.

(iv)  Important to note is that all stories are based on similar sources (authorities). This has been due to directives from the past administration that made reporters forget that their reports concern both the locals and politicians. However, with the new administration, the local population is going to be handed a microphone to say if whatever is being talked by the authorities, is truthful or not.

(v) The order of reports in daily news on air is made by the chief editor depending on political figures in a story. Stories which are not corporate can be aired even after a week because of being replaced when a story considered influential has come in.

(vi) Reporters at the national Television get meager salaries, a reason why some easily get tempted to accept freebies and favors. This means that all the time they are making reports they are being subjective rather than objective. A challenge the government needs to look into, so as to have clean and professional reporting based on the realities on the ground.

How different is Emanuel NUWAMANYA going to be from the existing professionals within his chosen career?

Through the training and various courses I have undertaken in the journalism profession, I hope to be different from the existing professionals within my career option in the following ways:

Studying all angles of my area of coverage so as to have balanced reports that represent all characters implicated in my stories. The reason for this is that most reporters in Rwanda especially those from government-owned media outlets give platform only to politicians even about issues concerning the locals. Though I have fallen in the same trap doing my internship at the station, after my studies I need to mobilize fellow journalists to change this kind of unprofessional behavior.

The largest part of the Rwandan population like any other third world country is in rural areas but most reporters cover urban areas. Although this is sometimes caused by lack of resources, I would resort to being a correspondent from a rural area so as to have a whole reality of what goes around in most suburbs. This is limited by resources and most rural people do not own television sets. My aim however, is to have an impact on decision makers so that they will take action.

Most practicing journalists in Rwanda are not professionals in the sense that they ask for bribes as a precondition for to publish or broadcast a news story. Concerning this issue, I would mobilize my fellow professionals to form an association of journalist or awaken the existing one to lay strategies of eliminating such people from this profession. This also goes to journalists who are given bribes to kill stories about politicians and business people implicated in corruption and embezzlement of public funds.

Another contribution I would make is through setting up a TV station to act as a role model to other stations with the help of sponsors and fellow professionals. Rwanda has not had chances to fully exploit the journalism profession; hence, I will go for post-graduate training to enrich my capacity as well as other upcoming professionals. Due to the fact that Rwanda lacks enough professionals in journalism, I would advocate for more enrollment of students in the school of journalism and communication. This is very important in satisfying the labor market in Rwanda.

Last but not least, I intend to bring a difference through defending the rights of everyone using my profession as the fourth arm of government and fighting whatever intends to ruin society.

The information stated above is totally based on Emmanuel NUWAMANYA’s own way of observation, understanding and opinion. It is not attributed to any other kind of source.

QUITE IMPRESSIVE!

As for Communication experts in the making, the aim is beyond the usual stuff of telling others about what is going on in a particular area; facilitating the work of journalists; transport and communication. They understand the need to perfect the art of exchange of thoughts, messages or information, as by speech, signals, writing or behavior, for different categories of audience; the need to know what good news is and how news organizations operate. But most importantly their roles and responsibilities in Communication-related work.

As for Théogène NIWENSHUTI (a.k.a TOTTO), the desire to become a Development Communication specialist in the areas of health, peace and human rights, is greatly influenced by his poignant past.

Why Am I interested in Peace and Human Rights, Health and Development?

On the one hand, it’s because of a personal experience, of what I lived through and what I saw here in Rwanda before, during and after the genocide. People violating other’s rights until it culminated in the most horrible crime against humanity, Genocide.

After the “Holocaust” people said: “Never Again” but it happened in Rwanda. After our lovely country, it’s happening in Darfur. We (together with the International Community) are doing almost nothing. Most people (note politicians and military in developed countries) said, they didn’t know about Rwanda? These are likely to say it again about Darfur?

In my Communication career, I want to focus on those areas of peace, human rights and health so I can contribute, maybe a little, as I can, on influencing people positively and make research on different approaches, basing on communication, that can create stable peace and respect of human rights all over the world without differences of color, class, ethnicity, region, etc. I want to do my best in collaborating with others to make people and institutions take actions for a better place for all.

There can not be sustainable development without good health and peace of mind, heart and body. And we know, the most important, the sublime desire of every human is to live in peace, be able to work for his development and for his family and community.

In the field of health I am very interested in people who suffer from post- traumatic stress and in children lucking good care, affection and good education. These can be caused by various reasons, but in Rwanda we have many cases from the Post genocide period. It’s one of the biggest challenge and consequence. For example, Doctor Rutembesa Eugene the  Dean of the Faculty of Education at the National University of Rwanda, said on Radio last month, “we are now seeing children born after genocide, in 1996 and 1998, affected with trauma from the genocide they don’t know and they didn’t see”.  He added, “You know, they were born after but they can feel it, they can live it through their parents, their friends, through Radio and TV.”

Our psychological life is so important. Our ideas, our feelings inspire our thoughts and determine how and when and maybe why we take this and not that action, etc.

In despair you know some people go to church (I think there are lucky they can get counseling, assistance… there) but many others go into prostitution and drug or go to streets and become dangerous to society. Many others don’t know at all what’s happening to them.

Before, people used to talk to their parents, brothers and sisters or other members of the family. In Rwanda today and generally, the Great Lakes Region, there are many orphans or people living alone, such as widows and prisoners. It’s even worse because we’ve been hearing about people (parents, uncles, cousins) raping their kids… so who should one trust? Where can one go? We have a big problem, or if I can say, an “illness” that must be handled carefully before more catastrophes.

I think, “If we want to save the future, those people need to be saved”. It’s important to find ways to reach to those people, it’s important to communicate to them and the entire population. Helping their minds and transform their thoughts, fears, doubts into tools for Hope, Reconciliation with themselves and with others so we can get to sustainable peace and development. The best way to do it, I realize, is through “Entertainment-Education” by being a best communicator myself and share and collaborate with other people and organizations involved in the same areas.

What makes Théogène Unique in making a difference?

On personal level

After my training in Journalism and Communication, I plan to go directly for a Masters degree in USA or Canada then I will be able to finish my research about Music and Dance as a tool for development with focus on health. I already have promising contacts and experience. I created my first club (dance and sports- acrobatics) since primary school. I was in P2 when I started a group with 14 boys and 7 girls at Ndera Primary School (it‘s in Kabuga town, Kigali City).

When in High School  had founded RUGARI Universal Family which now has five branches in the whole country of Rwanda and some of our members have gone to study in Europe and USA. When I get there for my Masters and PhD I will continue to work with those people to form and implement an international organization based on our vision and objectives. Our goals are “Conscience, Science and Culture” and we use art and our talents through dance, music, drama, and debates, to spread messages of Peace, helping youth at schools and in their families so they can get a complete or “integral education”, we share our experience with other associations and people in Rwanda and around the world so we can contribute to the construction of a better world.  

When I joined the University here, I worked with the ICT Center and the University Center for Arts and Drama. I continue to work in training groups, creating, designing and supervise the implementation of various projects on campus.

I have also attended training workshops and courses, Festivals and Conferences in Madagascar, Senegal, France and Belgium. In Senegal, I did an Internship and a Professional Training at the “Ecole des Sables”, International Center for African, Traditional and Contemporary dance. I was nominated the Chief Representative of 39 participants from over 20 countries. I led to a good organization and had successful 3 months, spent in the country of Leopold Sedar Senghor. I completed with a Great Distinction Certificate and I’m waiting for a Diploma this year.

On the national level

The history and experience from people are very constructive and can help one to know what to do and how to do it. I wish we all have to keep in mindful of the past so we can prevent the bad experience of a hundred days from re-occurring. The education is also developing, in a few years we will have an increased number of literate and educated people so we can find people to work or collaborate with.

How will Totto make a difference?

I might work for a short period or combine working for others and doing my private But to make a difference, I will have to do the following:

The first thing I am going to do is to advocate. Then I will use my contacts, knowledge and will, to apply for funds and convince to obtain support (ideas, materials, financial) from people, friends and institutions in all places.

I will create and direct a Center for Arts and Communication for Development. As mentioned before, I have already accomplished much than I can use to run very well such a center.

Through my Center I will be:

Going down and work with the grass root communities for their development, create consciousness, design projects and help them communicate and exchange with the Region/ International communities, peers.

Finishing and implementing my project, research about helping people with post traumatic stress and post genocide trauma consequences by using “movement” non verbal communication. I will design and lead workshops, training for people, teachers, nurses, cultural groups leaders and artists, that they can uses such techniques, the results of the research in their communities, places, schools, etc.

I want to make a difference by being a real and successful model for young people faced with the challenges of poverty, despair, reconciliation, globalization, etc. I will be organizing many meetings, public speeches, conferences in Universities and High Schools and giving talks based on my experience to inspire others.

I want to combine my experience and knowledge from school and my talent as an artist, to reach out and touch, affect and influence positively social change especially in terms of Peace and Human rights and Health towards a robust development.

As the World is more and more becoming like a “Village”, it’s a must to take into account what is going on in other places at the international level. Good or bad it can affect anywhere.

As the EE strategy is more effective when it’s combined with other strategies like conferences, physical appearances of artists, articles in Newspapers and repetitive messages on Radio and TV. So I will help our center create our own magazine or Newspaper and later plan to have a small Radio which can air online. This is the reason I am interested in getting the required skills in Media Management. I am happy now that I already know much about it and hope to develop more.

I have had discussions on this Media Management Career with Mr. Aldo, the Director of Radio Salus, and Ms Shelly Robinson of the Rwanda Initiative. Their experiences in the field and suggestion have provided me with useful insights.

Like Emanuel NUWAMANYA and Théogène NIWENSHUTI, there are students in this class who are well focused. They have profound belief that what is required is a favourable political, social and economic climate, and a good University degree backed with professional practical skills. 

The sky will be the limit.

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Mar. 19, 2007 — Rwandan Chicken Soup – A true remedy for ‘Tifodi’ fever – with love from Amsterdam

It’s Monday morning and I’m writing this from my bed at home in Taba. If Charlie and Shelley were here,  this shouldn’t have been possible in view of my current health status.  As it happens, Shelley is in Kigali doing some work for the project, while Charlie is at the university teaching opinion writing or some paper similar to that.  Jean, the cook, is at his best, judging from  the aroma from the kitchen which is beyond my description. From the window of my bedroom I can see Darmason, the gardener,  also doing his work.

I’m in bed because for the last three days I have been down with ‘Tifodi’,  the Kinyarwanda expression for Typhoid fever. My ability to sit and write this blog this morning, I would say, has been made possible by a wonderful remedy made for me by my house-mate Charlie,  and whose recipe was sent with love from the lobby of Schipol Airport in  Amsterdam. Much love was even put in its preparation. You need to read on to catch the details on this wonderful gesture.

I guess by now you’ve heard about the famous party, held at our house in honour of John Honderich, former publisher of Toronto Star and the events that preceded his visit to Rwanda and particularly to the National University of Rwanda, School of Journalism and communication.  The party was a hit but John’s speech was even more uproarious. To put it in an academic context, it was both informative and liberating, in as far as the social roles and responsibilities facing the Rwandan media today, are concerned. 

The presentation, titled , “The Newspaper’s greatest challenge: bringing people together”,  greatly impacted on the student population who turned up to listen to Mr. Honderich. In an attempt to be understood by an audience where English is probably the second and/or third language (note that the NUR community today comprises students who speak all sorts of languages ranging from Kinyarwanda, English and French, the official languages, to Swahilli, Lingala and Luganda that have been imported from neighbouring countries), John slowly but systematically, spoke of the need for a consciousness of diversity in news rooms by acknowledging the presence of a diverse audience, their various information needs and contributions. 

“In the city I come from, we have one of the most diverse populations in the world. So bringing people together, having them understand each other, by definition, must be one of our biggest priority  if not the biggest story”. John said.

Judging from the students’ subsequent interactive discussions, especially those from my class, quite a number were able to put the Canadian experience of news gathering and reporting in their own local contexts, most specially in relation to the 1994 Rwanda genocide. For example, Jeane-Claude Niyibizi, a third-year student offering communication, said the following day, “ Jonh’s speech  yesterday was like a mirror to our tribulations. If the Rwandan  media was as careful as the Toronto star in its news reporting back in 1994, none of what happened then should have happened”.  

Believe it or not,  I was deeply touched by this reflective statement from my own student. Not only in the sense of his words but the tone in which he said them. For most of the Journalism and communication students  here, the task of unity and reconciliation is on-top of their  communication agendas.  These young people seem determined to bring together a community of people once great enemies, to live together and peacefully, through the ideals of public and/or advocacy journalism. 

Well, much has been said about the John Honderich event, but one can firmly say that his  visit to the National University of Rwanda, is among the best happenings at the school this year.

Many other happenings at our home proceeded the party. Good and bad.

On the positive side, news about the birth of Charlie Junior, the first grandchild of Charles and Nancy Gordon, came as a surprise to all of us. Charlie first broke the news to me and Shelley, as we were leaving the school for lunch at home. We hugged him in congratulations, but you should have seen the smile on his face when the word, “Grandpa” was mentioned! His wife was equally overjoyed.

Nancy and John received the baby news that same afternoon at the house. The two, were trying to get to terms with their horrific discoveries from Gikongoro – Murambi genocide site, earlier that day. I will save the Murambi experiences for another day.

Amidst all the joy and excitement, Nancy deeply felt that she needed to be home with her family. And as it turned out, she was to leave at her earliest opportunity, “to meet my first grandson and to hug everybody”, she declared on phone. She was rescheduling her freight.  

In as much as Charlie’s heart was back at home with his family, half  of it was still with the Rwandan students  – to the completion of his mission – teaching assignments of Journalism students.  Nevertheless, Nancy’s decision to leave was not terrific news to us. I cannot speak for Charlie and Shelley, but personally, I had grown fond of Nancy and enjoyed her cooking  during weekends, when Jean was off-duty.  More sad news was yet to happen.

The day after the party I felt awful and my body ached from head to toe. We all concurred, it was probably fatigue and exhaustion from overwork and party craze. The night before Nancy left I had to see the doctor because my condition had worsened. My heart rejoiced when the doctor, in a mixture of Kinyarwanda and English,  said , “you don’t have Marariya”. But this joy was short-lived, when he immediately added,  “but you have Tifodi”. 

Goodness! In all my adult years, I have never suffered from Typhoid fever but I had seen my nephew enduring its painful symptoms, three years ago. It terribly roughed him up, if you ask me. I was scared to death! I picked my lab results and prescription and went home very broken. 

As I write this blog I am deeply thinking about the remarkable ways in which my Canadian and Rwandese family (the house-helps) down here, are endeavouring  to enable my quick recovery. Charlie, my principal nurse, is here  to attend to my every need, including availing me with information on the disease, from the Internet. Shelley, who doubles as mother and nurse, has been running around the town to get all the necessary medicines and to make sure I have enough rest. The house-helps are equally concerned. For example, Yusuf, the guard, brought some lemon for me “nizaawe okire” he said to me, closely related to  “these are for you to get well soon”.

I will never be able to thank these people enough.

But last night (Sunday night in Rwanda) was particularly touching. Charlie came back from reading his email and declared that Nancy, during her  transit in Amsterdam,  sent him instructions to prepare a special dish of chicken soup, “which  might make you feel better” he said. Using a local fatless chicken as a major ingredient, Charlie followed the instructions to the latter and after a couple of hours, the soup was ready.

As I devoured the delicious dish later that night, I  thought about the love that came with the recipe and the more love that was put in its preparation. For Nancy’s sake, this event went on record.

This gesture has indeed created a major turning point in my health. May be I will ask Charlie to share with us the “Rwandan Chicken Soup” recipe some day. Just watch this space.

Margaret.

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Mar. 8, 2007 — Already in and up to it!

Two weeks ago I safely arrived in the land of many hills, Rwanda and headed straight for the National University in Butare.  I have since settled in well in Taba, where I met three great Canadians with whom I am sharing a home. Charlie and Nancy Gordon and the most cheerful Shelley Robinson, are now my family in Rwanda.  It’s like I knew Shelley before I met her! She gave me quite a welcome!!  After a huge hug, we started right away to put my room together. We hand-hauled  a large side-board from one room to another and carried furniture around. The entire exercise required some muscle indeed! But with extra hands from Solonge, my former student and now the project’s  Fixer, the three of us managed well. A cold drink from Shelley afterwards, cleared off the exhaustion from the journey and her welcome to Butare treat! 

En route to Butare earlier that morning, we were stopped several times by the police to inquire why we were on the road at that particular time. Each time, the driver would pull out a letter from a locker, near the dashboard, authorising him to travel that morning. In Rwanda, it is a policy, rather than a tradition that every last Saturday of the month (morning time) every citizen should participate in ‘UMUGANDA’,  which is the name given to community work, within their neighbourhoods. No vehicle, shop or market, hotel or any other public or private place should be open at that time.

The concept of ‘UMUGANDA’ is highly instrumental in the maintenance of public utilities such as water sources, drainage systems, roads and other public places. This, among other arguments, explains why Kigali as compared to other cities in the region, such as Kampala, Dar es salaam and Nairobi, is arguably the cleanest.

At home in Taba that afternoon, Sandra one of my supervisees for the memoire/dissertation  came to see me. She actually brought her chapter for me to look at. You can guess what followed..... I practically started to read, comment and discuss her work on the very day of my arrival. It took me 2 good hours to say goodbye to this student. Uh, I guess this kind of attitude towards work would probably please my bosses, Jean-Pierre Gatsinzi and Professor Allan Thompson!! I may be kidding about my employers, but I have discovered over the years, that in academia, one cannot rest entirely. It’s a continuous process – You are either preparing lectures, marking and grading coursework and/or exams, you are supervising students, you are in the field with the students or you are studying. Quite an amazing profession! My friends back home in Uganda – Makerere University, Lydia Mirembe (Mass Communication department) and Dr. Irene Nayigaga (Faculty of Veterinary medicine), can testify to my discoveries. But I suppose you all know exactly what I’m talking about.  

My current schedule at NUR entails teaching two classes concurrently, morning and afternoon, student supervision among other assignments. The course titled, Careers in Communication is credited 30 hours and studied by all 4th year students. It is meant to orient them to appreciate the demands, prospects and challenges of the various careers underpinning journalism and communication fields.  The Communication Strategy course is a third year class for only communication students. It seeks to equip students with skills in handling public education through the mass media and generally communication projects that are geared at developmental concerns.

I’m already in and up to the challenges of my job. So far, both classes are moving right on schedule  and are quite interesting. All my students are great.

Oops, I had promised to feed you with the details of my occupation of the same old room facing the swimming pool, at Credo Hotel, whenever I came down here. Well at first, it seemed more less coincidental than preferential. I would be handed the same key to Room 303 each time I showed up at the reception. Sometimes the receptionist would even apologize if the room was occupied when I arrived. They would then transfer me the minute the room was vacated. It may have been respect, University booking, love, I will never know. Whatever the reason, I honestly enjoyed the scenery. Who wouldn’t?

Till next time. Adios.
Margaret

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Feb. 21, 2007 – Same old room overlooking the pool! No more!

I am tired tonight for since early evening I have been packing my bags in readiness for my imminent trip to Butare – Rwanda this coming Friday 23rd. Admittedly, I am extremely excited and looking forward to this amazing adventure and the experience of living and working with people of diverse backgrounds, social values and cultural norms. It is not that I have never had such exciting experience in Rwanda, only this time it is gonna be different – For starters, Butare is going to be home for the next 6 months and I will be staying in a real home in Taba and not in the same old room in Hotel Credo, overlooking the swimming pool. But you can also imagine the ‘gal’ talk, giggles and laughs with Shelley, Clare and others with whom I will be sharing a home in Taba!! Its ok, you can add ‘gossip’ if you like!! After all, isn’t it part and parcel of Journalism???

As a Journalism, Media Studies and Communication teacher, I am greatly relieved that I will not be working with my students in haste, as it has always been the trend. During all my previous visits to Butare as guest lecturer, the arrangement has been that I teach a full 3-credit unit or 4-credit unit course (45 and 60 hours), and examine it in just two weeks and go home. Period. This meant that we had to work for at least 6-8 hours a day, studying the same course in order to beat this deadline. Much as I appreciated the constraints of funding associated with this arrangement, it proved immensely challenging for me on the one hand, and for the students on the other.

For students, it meant studying the whole day and night to accomplish course work assignments and other tasks. It also meant that their interaction with other teachers and fellow students during that period was lessened, of course not mentioning the fact that other students outside that particular course, did not have the chance to interact and consult with me.

On my side, it is rather too complex to explain lest you think I am lazy. But may be I shouldn’t be intimidated with your thoughts, hahaha!! Let me rather explain the facts that underlie my submission. In all honesty, it is a challenge to impart and/or learn a journalism skill and its related demands in a week or so. I am saying a week in consideration of the public holidays that tend to characterise this country. There is also a need for an acceptable allowance for students to revise/read in preparation for exams!! It is even worse with practical courses such as Radio and TV production, Advertising or News Writing and Reporting!! How can these courses be possibly taught within such a time frame? But as the old English adage goes, “ if you can’t beat them, you join them”. To put this saying in context, it meant that I had to put us (myself and the students), under pressure for us to learn, at least something by working together. At times this would be to the consternation of some students because, sincerely, it is wearisome. But sometimes it would also turn out to be a very exciting adventure.

I remember once when I taught a course titled “Introduction to Advertising” to a third-year class that comprised some of the former students who have since become my friends, namely, Charles, Consolation, Diane, Edouard, Egide, Frank, Herbert, Lucie, Leon, Martin, Nicholas, Sarge, Prosper, Sandra, Solange, Sixbert, Vedaste, Willy, and Yvette. We had four projects running at the same time, with tasks to produce TV, radio, Newspaper and Bill Board adverts for some big companies. I was running around the entire place to supervise the making of all the four spots. The students literally stood on their twos for longer hours to accomplish the tasks under their various projects. The radio project was particularly interesting – it was a beer advert, Mitzing. We went to Somborera Bar, next to Credo to record the ambience and sounds. We shared a drink and we recorded the students’ voices as they poured their drinks in glasses and toasted!! We recorded the different sounds and voices several times. The students composed a song to promote the beer. Nicholas and Charles played the guitar and piano, respectively. I have never enjoyed my self this much!

The TV spot that was a promotion of a Video camera was very interesting to shoot but a challenge to edit. The computer was very slow and digitisation was complicated because the PC had very limited space. Consequently, the process involved digitising little raw footage at a time, editing, erasing it and digitising again and then erasing it, on and on… Can you imagine? Well, I think you can imagine!! What you cannot perhaps imagine is the fact that I left the studios at midnight and my students walked me to Credo Hotel. But these efforts were all rewarding, for at the end of the day, all the four spots turned out a great success. The public presentation/screening that was attended by most staff members, including the Director, made my students ‘giants and famous’.  

In a nutshell, my past teaching experience in Butare never gave me an opportunity to breath the fresh air of the beautiful woods around campus. I would not adequately relax and enjoy a drink and a delicious meal prepared for me by the beautiful women in the lives of my colleagues Dominique and Jean-Bosco. All the time it would be, “I got to run, I am running, I have to go” and such related discourse. And indeed I was running!

But thanks to the Rwanda Initiative programme, it will be different this year. I am so grateful to Carleton University and their associates and the School of Journalism and Communication in Butare for having given me this fantastic opportunity to interact more with my students in particular and the Rwanda community as a whole and to contribute to the journalism fraternity in Rwanda and the great lakes region in general? It all started as a joke, two years ago during a small conversation between my colleagues Jean-Bosco, Dominique and my best friend Elva Uwineza, now living abroad.  I told them that it would more interesting for me and beneficial for the school to stay longer in Rwanda for a year. I would contribute more to the school as well as learning Kinyarwanda and a few cultures. We all laughed about it but later, Elva and Jean-Bosco encouraged me to seriously think about it and to go for it whenever an opportunity arises. As I was discussing with Professor Allan Thompson the details of my appointment in Kampala at the end of January 2007, I could not help but to smile and reflect on that beautiful conversation. The rest is now history, for I am on my way now.

While in Butare I intend to work towards strengthening and promoting a culture of scholarly debate on topical and important subjects in the field of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMC), through bi-weekly or monthly student and staff seminars. These seminars will be geared towards the development of our (both students and staff) academic potential to engage in scholarly work.

I can’t wait to see the old faces from Canada and Africa such as Michelle Betsi the African girl in many ways, easily appreciated. By the way, Michelle recently published with us at Makerere, in “Media in Situations of Conflict: Roles, challenges and Responsibilities”.  I also hope that during my stay in Rwanda I will be able to see all the old pals: Lucy, Peter, Andy, Kanina and others.   

I just read your thoughts – you are thinking, ‘[now why hasn’t Margaret told us why she was always occupying the same old room overlooking the swimming pool at Hotel Credo?]’  Well, I will make it a point to tell you in my next blog. Watch this space.

Adios Amigos
Margaret

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Postings

September 15, 2007

August 10, 2007 — The ticket

July 13, 2007 — The coolest group of the cool

May 20, 2007 — Land of a thousand hills

April 28, 2007 — Communication and Journalism careers — Who and What

March 19, 2007 – Rwandan Chicken Soup – A true remedy for ‘Tifodi’ fever – with love from Amsterdam

March 8, 2007 – Already in and up to it!

February 21, 2007 – Same old room overlooking the pool! No more!

 

 

 

 
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