On the 27th of April, South Africa would celebrate the 23rd year since the country became truly democratic, and images of Nelson Mandela becoming the first true President of the country evokes magnificent emotions when looking at this great day.
Sadly however each year when this period comes around there is another country that had devastation over the same period, and whilst the world looked at the wonders happening in South Africa and the birth of a new nation, more than a million people were dying in Rwanda, and looking back we cannot but ask ourselves how did the world allow this to happen.
I have a very deep love for Rwanda and it’s people, and to this day it remains the place where i have spent the longest period in a single place since I was born.
My relationship with Rwanda started in 1998 as MTN ventured into the rest of Africa, and Rwanda became one of the first countries outside of South Africa in which the MTN history would start evolving, the operation was branded RwandaCell at the time, it took many years before the MTN brand was accepted as the brand of the company, we built a very good company over the years in Rwanda, the fruits which is evident today.
But it is the people of Rwanda that touched my heart and soul, people that became friends and family, people that started out as young workers in a new industry, barely four years after the devastating genocide of 1994, people with an absolute laser focus to rebuild their country to become a beacon of hope and inspiration for many others across the world, people that to this day fondly run through my thoughts on a regular basis, people that I have come to love with immense intensity.
When I arrived in 1998 the damage of the country was still evident, and the start of a long road laid ahead to rebuild the country, when I left in 2007 the country have rebuilt itself to an astonishing level, and when I finally got back in 2013, Kigali exploded into a magnificent city, this route was not an easy one, in fact I consider it a modern miracle of perseverance, dedication and focus to succeed.
Each April as South Africa celebrates its freedom, I have a clash in my heart, as I think of Rwanda and the pain it went through when we as South Africans were celebrating, and I think about all the painful stories that I got told over the years by ordinary Rwandans that recollected some of the nightmares, and I always end up shedding tears recalling some of these, in fact every time I tell somebody about Rwanda I cannot help to get emotional, both sadness and joy fills up in me as I share my views on Rwanda to anybody that is willing to listen.
The sadness is intense, as the stories shared is horrific, the pain real, the scars deep, but the joy of Rwanda may be even greater, as Rwanda succeeded against all odds to build a fantastic country, and I wish for our continent that all countries, leaders, citizens, and the world at large could copy and paste the model applied by Rwanda to build a country for it’s people, I wish that the building of Rwanda can inspire people to build a great Africa, I wish, no I pray that the story of Rwanda will continue well into the next century, as a nation and as dear friends they deserve this.
Yes there are critics out there that will have their views on Rwanda that may be negative, but my view when it gets to politics is a simple one, I battle to understand politics in my own country, how can I criticize and/or comment on politics of another country, what right do I have if I have not suffered through the same pain, the same devastation, the same gruesome history, especially since I have seen the metamorphosis first hand from that period to today, and the absolute positive changes in peoples lives as a result.
I am extremely proud of a number of things when it gets to Rwanda, I am proud that I have been part of the rebuilding of the country during the time that I have spent in Rwanda, I am proud that I have had the opportunity to unlock the human passions of Rwandans to excel in their careers, and I am proud when as I follow them across social media and news alerts, they still continue to grow from strength to strength heading up various companies and organizations in Rwanda.
I am proud that we pushed the boundaries of innovations in the mobile space, albeit that we were ahead of our time with some of these, such as Mobile Money that was a concept of MTN Rwanda in 1999, the worlds first wireless PABX, Africa’s first MVNO that we set up in the East of DRC, the lives we literally saved with early warning system in Goma by monitoring and warning citizens of volcano activity, the first dynamic tariffing concepts, the various community projects that lead to the birth of MTN foundation activities, the development of the mobile music industry, the development of art and culture, and a long list of others.
I am proud to see the dreams we had at the time coming true today, these ranging from the Tour de Rwanda right through to The Connected Africa program, but mostly I am proud of Rwandans across the world leaving their mark on society.
To Rwanda and all my dear friends there, as we in South Africa celebrate our Democracy on the 27th of April, I will think of you, and you will be in my heart again this day, I will look at the Rwandan flag that day and remember that the flag represents, national unity, respect for work, heroism, confidence in the future, happiness and peace, economic development, the hope of prosperity, and enlightenment, I will look at the flag with immense pride, joy and heartache and tears at the same time, bust mostly I will look at it with pride and a deep love.
And one day I will be back home in Rwanda