bbc.co.uk Navigation

Rory Cellan-Jones

Welcome to Rwanda

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 18 Sep 09, 14:00 GMT

How much can you find out about a country in one afternoon? Not a lot - but spending half of it at the Ministry of Information can be quite an education.

We got into Rwanda's capital Kigali around lunchtime, and were immediately struck by the differences compared to Kenya.

Mombasa had been hot and humid, the pace of life seemed hectic, the roads chaotic and pot-holed, and the fabric of the town, apart from the tourist hotels and a few official buildings, seemed to be in a poor state of repair.

Kigali, by contrast, seemed rather like a quiet provincial town - the roads were good, the buildings well-maintained, the people appeared relaxed.

The climate, too, was more benign in this town spread out over a series of hills, refreshed by recent rains.

There's a difference too in the politics.

I'd been briefed by a number of Kenyans that whereas their country was an argumentative, flawed democracy, with a lot of corruption but also plenty of entrepreneurial flair, Rwanda these days was a "benign dictatorship", where things tended to get done, if the man in charged willed it to happen.

That man is President Paul Kagame and what he wants is for Rwanda to become the digital hub of East Africa. Roads have been dug up for fibre to be laid, technology firms from around the world have been recruited to help the country's digital ambitions and ordinary Rwandans have been told to shape up and get online.

But to make all that happen he has built a formidable bureaucracy - and one that captured us the minute we landed. To work as a journalist in Rwanda you need a permit from the government for which you pay $200 - about £130.

DesireFirst, you go to one government department to hand over the money, then you head across town to the Ministry of Information to get the letter you need if you are to work.

There, as I found, you can wait quite a long time, but I spent it in the office of a man called Desire, who processes the applications and then takes them through for the minister herself to sign.

While I sat at the civil servant's desk, I leafed through a copy of the New Times, a Rwandan newspaper that tends to follow the government's line.

Once again, this was a bit of a contrast with the Kenyan press, which is full of lurid tales of violent crime and corruption.

Still, the New Times had some interesting material. There was a story about a scheme to give 35,000 mobile phones to farmers so that they can take part in a government scheme which will inform them about market prices for their crops.

Producer Jonathan Sumberg with accreditationThere was a clutch of statistics about Rwanda's economy - I learned that in 2007, the income per capita was $315, but the economy was growing at a rate of 16% per annum.

Best of all, there was this article about a new broadband cable about to go live in Kenya - lifted in its entirety from Adam Blenford's story on the BBC website, though they were good enough to give him a byline and to credit the BBC.

I teased my new friend Desire that as the BBC had contributed this article, the Rwandan government should let us film for free - he laughed a little nervously.

The paper finished, I whiled away more time recording an AudioBoo which you can also hear below. Finally, Desire returned from the Minister's office to hand over our accreditation to my ever-patient producer Jonathan Sumberg.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

It looks impressive enough - let's hope it works as we're about to head out into the countryside to film an exciting new digital project.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    How much can you find out about a country in one afternoon? Not a lot

    This... I shall treasure, and post above my PC come blogging time on this fine site.

  • Comment number 2.

    "To work as a journalist in Rwanda you need a permit from the government for which you pay $200 - about £130."

    I'd ask for your money back Rory. But lets hope your film in the countryside justifies that cost, which no doubt the licence fee is contributing to.

    Mind you I guess we could learn something from the Rwandan Ministry of "Information", if we had a charge of £130 on being a journalist here it might get rid of some of the more useless hacks and put the brakes on the incessant and pointless celebrity reporting.

    "and ordinary Rwandans have been told to shape up and get online."

    A couple of question spring to mind here -

    What if ordinary Rwandans don't want to get online?

    Does the Rwandan dictatorship have any censorship plans?


    Oh and it seems that I was misinformed in my comment in your Mombasa article, it does appear that Broadband in Africa is indeed being done with Fibre Optic. I do apologise.

    But now the UK is a third world country because we don't have an internet infrastructure that can compete with the new African one that is emerging.

  • Comment number 3.

    ravenmorpheus2k wrote:

    "Mind you I guess we could learn something from the Rwandan Ministry of "Information", if we had a charge of £130 on being a journalist here it might get rid of some of the more useless hacks and put the brakes on the incessant and pointless celebrity reporting."



    130 pounds is but pocket change to newspapers who will write cheques for £100,000 and more for a story.

    And I am afraid that you are likely to see MORE celebrity lead news rather than less. We love accusing the news of "dumbing down" but actually it is all about sales. The newspapers likely to close of the next few years are the former broadsheets - these are the titles that Murdoch would like to charge for on the internet but fears people will just gravitate towards the BBC.

    Titles like the Sun and the People and the Star are less likely to be affected. Selling stories about celebs and unfaithful vicars with actresses has a much larger market, and one far more willing to pay - witness the plethora of mags doing very well, even in this market. In addition they can have exclusives that truly are exclusive (no one else in their right mind would want to print such trash). So, they lose out less to internet news organisations.



    When we in Europe talk about African news organisations, we tend to refer to the serious newspapers, or government controlled TV stations and so on.

    To get a true flavour, I would be far more interested to hear what the Rwandan version of the Sun "says," and also, with particular relevance to this blog's subject, what techy mags they have, what PC consumer mags they read, how widely they are available and what they are talking about.

    If we seriously think that when young African's get connected they are going to rush off to the BBC site to see what the news is, we are very much mistaken. They will be looking for downloads of Uzaba uza, The Ben and others. They will be looking for fashion and gossip and software and so on, just like they do here.

    We get Africa wrong over here. I looked up about Rwandan music on Wikipedia to be told that it is mostly African Folk music (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Rwanda). This is in stark contrast to the R&B Artist Uzaba uza who is a massive hit in Rwanda. Pop culture and meaningless drivel is alive in well in Rwanda and the rest of Africa, and that is what will drive the internet, not politics, business or even education.

  • Comment number 4.

    "3. At 9:42pm on 18 Sep 2009, Gurubear wrote:
    ravenmorpheus2k wrote:

    "Mind you I guess we could learn something from the Rwandan Ministry of "Information", if we had a charge of £130 on being a journalist here it might get rid of some of the more useless hacks and put the brakes on the incessant and pointless celebrity reporting."



    130 pounds is but pocket change to newspapers who will write cheques for £100,000 and more for a story.

    And I am afraid that you are likely to see MORE celebrity lead news rather than less. We love accusing the news of "dumbing down" but actually it is all about sales. The newspapers likely to close of the next few years are the former broadsheets - these are the titles that Murdoch would like to charge for on the internet but fears people will just gravitate towards the BBC.

    Titles like the Sun and the People and the Star are less likely to be affected. Selling stories about celebs and unfaithful vicars with actresses has a much larger market, and one far more willing to pay - witness the plethora of mags doing very well, even in this market. In addition they can have exclusives that truly are exclusive (no one else in their right mind would want to print such trash). So, they lose out less to internet news organisations."


    ------

    Yes well I must remember to put /sarcasm at the end of my saracastic remarks.

    "Pop culture and meaningless drivel is alive in well in Rwanda and the rest of Africa, and that is what will drive the internet, not politics, business or even education."

    ----

    I disagree. Over here "pop culture and meaningless drivel" is business so what makes Rwandan "pop culture and meaningless drivel" any different?

    "But back to Africa.
    When we in Europe talk about African news organisations, we tend to refer to the serious newspapers, or government controlled TV stations and so on.
    To get a true flavour, I would be far more interested to hear what the Rwandan version of the Sun "says," and also, with particular relevance to this blog's subject, what techy mags they have, what PC consumer mags they read, how widely they are available and what they are talking about.
    "

    ------

    Agreed. It would be nice if Rory got off the beaten track. If he's allowed to. No mention of any restrictions on journalism in Rwanda so it shouldn't be too difficult, might be a bit more difficult in other countries in Africa though. But for once it would be nice to read/see the truth rather than just what the "Ministry of Information" of particular countries thinks passes for the truth.

  • Comment number 5.

    Sorry, I wasn't very clear.

    By pop culture I was referring to the large quantity of fan sites, free band pages on various music sites, social website offerings, blogs and so on, as compared to B2B, company brochure sites, and straightforward e-commerce sites.

  • Comment number 6.

    Rory (Jonathan)

    I hope that you and the producer will enjoyed the time in Rwanda....


    =Dennis Junior=

  • Comment number 7.

    Some free advice; you cannot wing your way through Africa. You will not survive. Leave winging behind in the UK or on the plane to Africa.

    Nonetheless, I am interested in an open-minded report on ICT progress in Rwanda, what with Paul Kagame's dream of making the ICT hub of Africa. The man has given key-note speeches at such high profile IT shows as CeBIT, and has bagged a prestigious ITU award. That's not all; he's attracted some major IT firms to his country, as you will find out very soon.

    I'm looking forward to a good objective report on Rwanda so that we'll know just what Kagame's grand plans are doing.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Rory cellan-Jones, I have some few questions for you. Do you have grudges with Kenya? What pleasure do you derive by writing negative and humiliating articles about Kenya? By the way did you know that Mombasa is not the capital city of KENYA? How the hell do you compare and contrast Kigali and Mombasa? Did you really graduate for your post? because it seems you are lacking some few knowledge here and there. How would you feel if somebody treated you the very same way you treat others? Sit down and ponder about your actions. If humiliating others is what makes your paycheck then I can simply understand that you have nothing else to do but just make up some silly stories, add your own flavour to spice up so that you can earn a salary.

  • Comment number 10.

    Rory cellan-Jones you have no right to judge Kenya. Let kenyans talk for themselves, let them tell it like it is. I do not think you really know your work.

  • Comment number 11.

    Greennoneno, nowhere in Rory's article does he suggest that Kenya's capital is Mombasa. As for contrasting the two places, if a person travels from one place to another, it's quite natural to compare one's experiences of the two places since there is, naturally, a contrast.

    It strikes me that you are somewhat over-sensitive to criticism of Kenya, which seems to me to be honest reporting of Kenyans' own experiences and not personal opinion. As for this being a negative or humiliating article about Kenya, you should read it again: it's an informative article about Kigali and the rules about journalism in Rwanda. I don't see anything 'humiliating' about it anywhere.

  • Comment number 12.

    I quite agree, Cogitodexter

    I don't see anything in here that is overly negative about Kenya, and really this is just about a very specific, narrow subject in Rwanda.

    Greennoneno, I am guessing from your posts that English is not your first language. So, perhaps you might like to re-read the blog entries for this trip to Africa because I think you have misunderstood what is being discussed here.

  • Comment number 13.

    5. At 10:02am on 19 Sep 2009, Gurubear wrote:
    Sorry, I wasn't very clear.

    By pop culture I was referring to the large quantity of fan sites, free band pages on various music sites, social website offerings, blogs and so on, as compared to B2B, company brochure sites, and straightforward e-commerce sites.


    ----

    Ah I see you mean those few that have not been hijacked by big business.

    Pop culture is business, no two ways about it, without big business behind something it doesn't become popular and if it does and big business aren't behind it big business tends to make sure that it jumps on the bandwagon at some point. It's the whole reason the interweb has become so popular.

    Africa is/will be no different in that sense imo.

    Oh and Rory I'd still recommend asking for your money back, that mug shot they took of you is horrendous. Lol.

  • Comment number 14.

    ravenmorpheus2k wrote:

    "Oh and Rory I'd still recommend asking for your money back, that mug shot they took of you is horrendous. Lol."

    As far as I am aware, God doesn't give refunds ...

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks for the info Rory. I have been quite interested in Rwanda for a long time. As a 25 year old American not to brag but I consider myself much more informed about Rwanda and the surround central African nations then my colleagues in university. But its nice to get information such as this for a trip I will hopeful take soon there. I know that the local language is Kinyarwanda and that pre-genocide the country was more Francophone but now with a lot of the former RPF being English speaking and they being in more positions of power has that changed. Is it easy to get around only knowing English and a small amount of French at least among the government?

  • Comment number 16.

    To Raven,

    "What if ordinary Rwandans don't want to get online?"
    "Does the Rwandan dictatorship have any censorship plans?"

    Ordinary rwandans want to get online, badly! Am not a Rwandese but I have been here for a few months as an IT lecturer. The demand that i've seen may exceed what may be offered, taking into consideration the rate of population growth.

    Secondly, in Rwanda there is no dictatorship. Not from the correct meaning of the word!

  • Comment number 17.

    We got into Rwanda's capital Kigali around lunchtime, and were immediately struck by the differences compared to Kenya.

    cogitodexter, Rory does not need to say it loud, the fact that he is comparing a Capital city and a small town says it all.

    It strikes me that you are somewhat over-sensitive to criticism of Kenya, which seems to me to be honest reporting of Kenyans' own experiences and not personal opinion.

    Why the hell would he criticise Kenya. We do not need criticism, information about Kenya should also be informative and educative but not negative and humiliating. He has written the article with the intention of being condescending.

    The article is not all about Rwanda but partly comparing Rwanda´s capital Kigali with Kenya (a small part of a country, Kigali and a whole country Kenya)thus informing people Kigali is better off than Kenya. - This is personal opinion and he should not be the one to judge Kenya.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think GURUBEAR you are the one who needs to re-read the article because it is all there in white and black the comparison of a small part of a country Kigali and a whole country Kenya, plus negative comments which are intended to humiliate. If you do not see what I am seeing then I am afraid you do not know how to analyse a story.

  • Comment number 19.

    Greennoneno...

    Wikipedia has Kigali's population at approximately 850,000 while Mombasa is just over 700,000. That's broadly similar in size therefore it's a reasonable comparison. Mombasa is hardly a 'small town' as you put it!

    Rory has reported information, not opinion. Information about Rwandan journalistic rules. Information about the nature of Kenyan journalistic coverage. Information about Kenyan citizens' opinions. Mainly, though, information about the internet infrastructure developments in Rwanda in this article (although he did mention a Rwandan lift of a BBC story about a new internet link in Kenya - which is a *good* thing for Kenya, surely?!).

    I don't know what article you're reading, but it's certainly not the same one as I'm seeing, unless you think reporting someone else's opinion where it doesn't match your own is somehow 'humiliating'? Personally, I call that Freedom of Speech. If you don't like it, do your own reporting on all the good things about Kenya and link it here - links to other blogs are allowed.

  • Comment number 20.

    cogitodexter..........

    You do not get it cogitodexter, do you? I repeat - how can one compare a major city with a small town? of course a capital city always looks beautiful. His tone is condescending and there is no way you can convince me otherwise. I have read alot of articles by other people about kenya but his are full of condescension. Whatever I am doing right now is also called FREEDOM OF SPEECH, I can express my opinion basing on what I suppose suits me best so I do not know why you are talking about liking it. I am also trying to be informative - like him and if you do not like what I am writing then do not answer back.

 

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

BBC.co.uk