I recently had a chance to watch Ingoma Nshya, Rwanda’s only all-female drumming group, perform at an artist’s showcase in Kigali. What energy and power. The women had the audience clapping and screaming for more. As well as being drummers, Ingoma Nshya members run an ice cream shop called Inzozi Nziza in the south of Rwanda. The shop and the drummers are the subject of a new documentary film called Sweet Dreams, which is screening all over the United States. Be sure to see the film if it’s in your area.
A road in Katanga province, DRC
When you’re working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), you have to leave plenty of time for getting around. Infrastructure is poor, bordering on nonexistent in some places. And since the country is the second largest in Africa – slightly greater than the combined areas of Spain, France, Germany, Sweden, and Norway, according to Wikipedia – it takes an extra long time to travel anywhere.
During a recent 10-day work trip to Katanga province in the far southeast, I spent nearly half the time on the road. It was a great way to see the country, actually, but it was tiring. We drove on sand roads for hours, rode in prop planes, and crossed a river via a car ferry made of two canoes lashed together and planks laid on top.
The DRC has an estimated $24 trillion in untapped mineral wealth in the eastern provinces. But due to weak governance, a succession of conflicts and outright plundering, that wealth hasn’t translated into paved roads, widespread electricity or comfortable living for ordinary citizens. It’s actually a much more complicated situation than the sentence I just wrote makes it out to be, so if you’re interested in understanding something of the DRC’s history and how it got to its current state, I highly recommend reading “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa” by Jason Stearns.
This was my second work trip to the DRC, and quite enjoyable. I met wonderfully gracious people, heard some great stories (about pit latrines, no less!) and had some unforgettable experiences (see above: car ferry made of two canoes). The following pictures are not from those work stories, though. These photos are my iPhone pics from the places my fellow travelers/workmates and I saw over our 10 days together.
President Joseph Kabila election poster in Manono, Katanga province, DRC. Kabila was elected for a second term in 2011. He has been president since 2001, when his father and former President Laurent Kabila was assassinated.
The bridge was too dangerous to drive across, so we drove around it during the journey from Lubumbashi, the capital of Katanga province, to Kilwa. The 345 km (214 miles) trip took seven hours, about five hours of it driving on sand and uneven packed dirt.
Handwashing station in the dining room of a guesthouse in Kilwa, Katanga province, DRC. I think these stations are genuis: they use very little water and they’re a visual reminder, right there in the eating area, that you’ve got to wash your hands before chowing down. Nothing like a little peer pressure to maintain hygiene.
Waiting area for the United Nations flight from Lubumbashi to Manono, Katanga province, DRC. The U.N. has been in the DRC either as observers or peacekeepers since late 1999. Most recently, one peacekeeper was killed and 10 were wounded during fighting in August in a province far north of Katanga.
Since the U.N. flights carry only about a dozen people and their luggage plus fuel, people as well as bags are weighed to ensure the prop planes aren’t overloaded. One of my traveling mates said that once, his co-worker wasn’t allowed on a flight because he weighed too much. Ouch.
For some remote parts of the DRC, U.N. planes are the only flights and definitely the fastest transport for getting to a city. The flights are reserved for official use by U.N. workers, government officials, visiting dignitaries and NGOs, but judging by a letter I saw hanging in the Lubumbashi U.N. airport, there was/is abuse of this system. The letter warned that there would be repercussions for people trying to get their friends and family members on flights.
Passengers on U.N. flights pay for their seat just like on a commercial flight. However, all those payments don’t come close to covering the costs of operating the flights. Donations from countries including the United States help pay for operating costs. Interestingly, the U.N. planes I rode in were not owned by the U.N. but leased from a South African company. The pilots were South African, too.
The plane I rode from Lubumbashi to Manono (left) and my boarding pass for the flight (right). That particular plane ride was incredibly bumpy for all 1.5 hours. I thought I might get sick, so I tried to focus on making pictures instead.
Crossing the Luvua River near Kiambi, Katanga province, DRC. This car/moto/people ferry consisted of two long canoes lashed together and laid across with wood and iron planks. The ramp for loading and offloading vehicles was not very safe: two long and wide iron planks hooked to the ferry and then laid in the sand near the river. I saw one vehicle drive trying to drive onto the ferry actually slip off the “ramp.” Somehow the car made it aboard, I don’t remember exactly how. I just remember thinking, “Am I about to see someone’s death or serious injury?” And then I hoped our vehicle would make it onto the ferry without incident. It did.
Over 1,000 attendees and pretty high energy marked the first day of the Transform Africa 2013 summit on Monday, Oct. 28. That afternoon there was an interesting panel discussion about using technology to eradicate poverty in Africa and create wealth, not just alleviate poverty. Jean Philbert Nsengimana (above, far left), Rwanda’s minister of youth, information, communications and technology, makes a point during the discussion.
I was at the conference with Africa Digital Media Academy, where I’ve been volunteer mentoring for the past several months. A small group of ADMA students is livestreaming Transform Africa under the guidance of Alex Lindsay, ADMA’s founder, and Ryan Yewell, one of ADMA’s instructors. They’re working all hours of the day (arrived at 5:30 a.m. on the conference’s second day) and doing a great job.
The second day of the conference, Tuesday, was the day featuring seven African heads of state. The picture above is from several minutes before all the presidents arrived. Security agents marched in and looked all around the stage before taking their positions.
There’s a special kind of terrible lighting found in conference centers around the world. It’s not their fault. It’s hard to light a space for a thousand people, all of whom will be sitting, maybe taking notes, and likely looking at huge screens on one side of the room. But the Serena Hotel ballroom is an especially challenging light situation because of all the mixed lighting: 1) a couple gigantic window-doors were open the first two days; 2) the carpet is yelllow (which means light reflects off it yellow); 3) the huge screens are often turquoise – the conference theme color – which cast a turquoise glow on everything); 4) and the overhead fluorescent lights give off a reddish tint.
From left to right: President Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan; President Ali Bongo Ondimba of the Republic of Gabon; President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (notice his trademark hat just peaking out from under his seat); President Paul Kagame of Rwanda; and President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso. In all there were seven heads of state at Transform Africa. The picture below shows the other two not fully seen above: President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya (second from the far right) and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of the Republic of Mali (far right).
I was excited when The Chronicle of Higher Education photo editor Erica Lusk contacted me about documenting a day in the life of Kepler Kigali, one of Rwanda’s newest universities. Kigali’s a small town, so I already knew about Kepler, and their model intrigued me. Kepler uses massive open online courses (MOOCs) in conjunction with in-person teaching so students can earn an associate degree through Southern New Hampshire University. All the students are from disadvantaged backgrounds (they’re genocide orphans, come from very poor families, etc.) and for now, the university is free to its students.
I was sent to photograph during student orientation week. When I was an undergrad, I remember orientation covering topics like responsible drinking, how to register for classes, and where to access psychological services. At Kepler, the day’s orientation included a presentation on self-confidence and personal responsibility.
After the morning’s lectures, all 50 students broke for lunch. Everyone carried their plastic chairs from the lecture room to a tent outside, where they sat and enjoyed a hot lunch and drinks provided by Kepler Kigali.
The skies were clear and beautiful when lunch started. But this being rainy season, a tremendous storm poured down after about 30 minutes. I really felt like the tent might blow away. All the women scattered back into the orientation building as soon as signs of a storm appeared. Most of the men stayed under the tent until they absolutely had to leave. I stayed with them – good pictures, right? – and hoped they would go inside soon.
Back inside, one young woman laughed at another who had left a banana on a seat for her friend. Even though the students had just met a few days earlier, they all seemed like fast friends, all happiness and excitement. I talked with several students who were beyond thrilled to be going to college – they hadn’t thought it would really be possible for them due to the financial burden. One of the Kepler administrators I spoke with said it will cost about $1,000 per yer to educate each student.
During an orientation workshop earlier in the week, students wrote down the names of their male and female role models. Among the most popular? Nelson Mandela and Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda.
The actual classroom space was still under construction when I visited, so I spent some time documenting the progress. In the picture above, a welder constructs a table. All furniture for Kepler Kigali is custom-made because it’s about the same price or slightly less expensive than importing it.
Kepler Kigali is the brainchild of Generation Rwanda, a nonprofit that has been offering university scholarships to underprivileged Rwandan students since 2004. A Generation Rwanda graduate made and gave this token of thanks to the program’s staff. He graduated from a Rwandan university in 2012 with a civil engineering degree.