One Thousand Opportunities for the Land of the Thousand Hills

Sometimes, a flash of genius for a great development idea can strike you in the kitchen.

Providence Tuyisabe was struck by this flash three years ago when he was experimenting at home with different fruit juices and ginger, a spice that is an integral part of Rwandan dishes. “My friends and colleagues loved the drink and asked for it every time they visited me,” Tuyisabe recalls.

So he decided to produce the drink, which he called Yambusi, in his spare time in a small brewery with the help of a professional master brewer.

Today, marketing agent Tuyisabe organizes the brewing process of 200 to 300 bottles a week after work. He and his partners, from Rwanda and Germany, have invested some 30,000 Euro, which they have yet to recoup. Once his consumer base grows and production becomes more cost-effective, Tuyisabe wants to import all ingredients from Rwanda. “For Rwandan farmers, who grow pineapples and other fruit, it would be a great help and we would have a great feeling to be able to help our country.”

Tuyisabe’s long-term perspective is to produce the drink in Rwanda for the local market. “Rwanda will join the East African Community soon, so the consumer market will be large.”

Sometimes, an idea to improve the kitchen equipment can be part of a young man’s career. Ernest Nkusi and his friends are hard at work on their Masters in Electrical Engineering in Darmstadt. Together they are developing a solar cooker, which can be easily and cheaply produced. “We hope that the solar cooker will solve our country’s energy problems,” he says. “There are only two power plants in the country. That is not sufficient for 24/7-power supply and firewood is getting rare.”

Tuyisabe and Nkusi are two of the six million Rwandans who live outside their country; that is about the same number as those living in the country. The Genocide of 1994 sparked a mass exodus to neighboring African countries. Today there are large Rwandan diaspora in Canada, Belgium, the country’s colonial ruler, and in the United States. Although only a little more than 800 Rwandans live in Germany, the community is very active in helping in the development of their home country.

The Rwandan Diaspora in Germany (RDD by its German acronym), which was founded in 2002, as well as most development ideas are still in their early stages. But the beginning of a new era for Rwanda is on its way.

Gaspard Ngarambe, Secretary of the RDD, is writing his dissertation at the University of Mainz about the developmental potential of the diaspora on the Great Lakes region. “Rwandans in the diaspora know best what their country needs and how to achieve those needs in the country. They are able to transfer new ideas from the industrialized world to the African reality;” Ngarambe explains with certainty: “The diaspora can be more effective than official development aid,”

In theory, everything is very simple: Young Rwandans study in Europe or the United States and take the knowledge home. Rwandans who are well integrated in industrialized countries help through direct investment and remittances.

But the reality is not that simple, and Ngarambe knows. Many Rwandans don’t study the subjects Rwanda needs because they don’t want to work in those fields; for example agriculture. Others are well integrated into German society, have lost touch with Africa, and are not motivated to reach out.

Ngarambe’s ambition is to bring Rwandans, scattered all over Germany, together and motivate them to use their abilities to help their home country. “If we arrange more meetings, we can exchange ideas and competences and achieve more together.” He is also active in the initiative “Re-Dis-Covering Rwanda” which aims at bringing together all who want to help Rwanda - the diaspora, non-Rwandans and cooperation partners.

The diaspora is not alone in its attempt to help. The Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), an international cooperation agency for sustainable development funded by the German government, provided funding for a meeting of some 50 Rwandans in May in Mainz and wants to provide financial support for diaspora projects. Irina Kausch, manager of the GTZ project Migration and Development says, “Some of the projects seem very promising and I think we will find a way to work together.”

The German federal state Rhineland-Palatinate, of which Mainz is the capital, established a grassroots partnership organization 25 years ago. The government and the University of Mainz organize exchanges and the local media keeps Rwanda alive in the minds of southwest-Germans.

Ngarambe says that connections with other diaspora groups can be helpful as well. One day, Ngarambe was having lunch after a lecture on migration. Across the table sat Kim Singh, who was born and raised in India but had lived in Germany for many years. Singh told him about a card game he developed to teach adults how to read and write: “The adults prefer to learn at home because many are embarrassed to sit in a school. After two month they are able to read a newspaper.” Singh says he tested the game for years in Indian communities and encouraged adults to write their own little newspapers. Ngarambe believes this project can improve adult literacy in Rwanda.

All of these ideas may be the beginning of a new future for Rwanda.

Dativa Kraus is also thinking of ways to keep the Rwandan culture alive. The mother of three realized that her children had lost touch with the parents’ culture. They prefer to speak German instead of Kiniarwanda and they are not familiar with our history,” Kraus says. “They don’t understand what happened in Rwanda, but they need to know about the Genocide to make sure this never happens again.” At the same time, Kraus sees a big advantage in the children’s innocence. “They don’t have the problems that we had. They don’t divide our people into Hutu and Tutsi anymore.”

So Kraus, who lives in Austria, wants to arrange summer camps for Rwandan kids to teach them about their culture, history and language. In Belgium, she says, the diaspora arranged similar vacation activities amongst the Belgian-Rwandan community and have offered to help her. “Our kids need to continue our efforts to develop our home country. They are our future.”

Gaspard Ngarambe also has a vision for the future. “We have been labeled the ‘country of the thousand problems, an allusion to Rwanda’s appellation “le pays des mille collines” or the land of the thousand hills,” the PhD student explains. “But after the Genocide we want a new image. We want to be the country of the thousand opportunities – and the diaspora can help us achieve this goal.”

Gaspard Ngarambe invites Rwandans residing in Germany and worldwide, friends of Rwanda, and development partners to cooperate with the “Re-Dis-Covering Rwanda Initiative”. He may be contacted at ngarambe@uni-mainz.de.

For more information on the Rwandan diaspora and its initiatives (in German):
http://www.rwanda-diaspora-germany.com
http://www.rlp-ruanda.de/index.shtml
http://www.yambusi.de

Silke Oppermann is a German freelance journalist who reports for Deutsche Welle Radio, ARD Radio affiliates, and other media outlets.