Radio Waves

Daily news keeps you busy.

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been working at Contact FM producing our daily 20 minute newscast. Over ambitious and short on staff, the hectic days usually culminate into a frenzied few hours around 6 o’clock – as I imagine they do in any newsroom.

Nevertheless, I’m left without much to say or write after, rather seeking to satisfy basic needing like eating, drinking and sleeping.

If the connections here were better, I’d post what I do more often.

But Contact FM is available online (sometimes). Listen in sometime – hands down it’s the most critical newscast in the country, incorporating a broad range of perspectives. No one else does the news like we do.

Yes, sounds like shameless self-promotion.

I’ve recently returned from Goma, DRC where I reported on the recent eruption of violence in the North Kivu region. Such a sad situation there, with 100,000 people running from their homes into the forest. Many of these people were already living in refugee camps to begin with – having already forced out of their homes by rebel forces since 2003 when the civil war ended.

Here are some pieces I did while I was there. I know it’s seem like old news, but as the press reports on the political developments – the Nairobi summit, the recommendations of Ban Ki Moon, and CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda’s latest demands – the situation for the thousands of people whose lives are disrupted remains pretty much the same. Desperate and miserable.

A podcast is coming when I have the time to upload.



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The land of milk and honey

All of the repatriated refugees shared something in common when they arrived in Ndego: they all desperately missed milk. Milk was the life force for many back in Tanzania, where they made their livelihood from raising cattle and selling milk.

When the repatriates first arrived in Rwanda, there were a few major adjustments. First, they had to learn cultivate the land as they had neither the space nor the resources to raise cows. Second, since there are no cows, there is also no milk – a main staple of their diet when they were in Tanzania.

So when a milk association formed in Ndego in May of 2008 and began selling milk, people were comforted by a taste they had been missing in their lives for over a year.

“I’m so happy I could give milk to my children again,” said Flora Nyabutono, a member of the milk association.

Flora Nyabutono preparing the milk

Flora Nyabutono preparing the milk

There are 20 women involved in the milk cooperative. Every day, a rotation of three women operates the milk bar: one walks to a nearby farm to purchase the fresh milk, another pasteurizes the milk and prepares the jugs the milk is served in, and the other cleans up.

The women at the milk bar carry on the same method of preparation and serving of milk as they practiced in Tanzania. Before pouring each serving into the one-litre wooden jugs, they first treat each of them with the smoke of a grass-like herb. They burn the stalks and let the smoke rise into the opening, infusing the wood with a smoky scent a hint of which is passed on to the milk.

Nearby, another association makes a sweet offer that’s hard to refuse.

19-year-old Deo Muangwa describes how he got into the honey business.

“We chose to make honey because it’s easy to produce. To raise cows, you always have to chase after them but for bees you just put the hive in the forest and the bees come.”

Deo said that the first harvest of honey yielded about 20 litres, half of which he sold in Ndego and the rest in a neighbouring locality.

Most of the 20 people who make up the honey association didn’t know the first thing about making honey before arriving in Rwanda.

“When we got here, there were many people from different areas. We found out that some people knew how to do make beehives, take care of the bees and extract the honey. They taught us how to do it,” said Deo.

Deo Muangwa tends to homemade beehive

Deo Muangwa tends to homemade beehive

The success of both of these small business ventures depends on maintaining a local market for the products or even finding a way to ship them to nearby localities.


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Securing a Future: The Development of Trades and Crafts in Ndego

Like almost anyone anywhere, the people of Ndego have dreams they long to realize. These dreams are particularly felt as it was not even two years ago they were forced out of Tanzania and arrived as repatriated refugees in Rwanda with little other than the shirts on their backs.

In Tanzania, most were cattle herders where there was ample land to make a decent living from raising cows. They now live on the edge of Akagera National Park, where a shortage of both land and resources makes recreating their old livelihoods impossible.

But as the people of Ndego adapt to their new surroundings, so do their dreams.

Emmanuel Twagirumukia is the Economic Security Officer for CARE Rwanda and his job is to help the repatriates realize their new dreams. He provides workshops that teach the value of financial planning and encourage local business development. By teaching the residents how to use credit, they are able to pursue potential income-generating activities while creating the possibility to eventually save money.

He began the Village Savings and Loans Programme in Ndego in April 2008. After a series of teaching sessions, Emmanuel facilitated the formation of associations each made up of 15 to 30 people. An association is jumpstarted by the collective contributions of each member, who saves approximately 50 to 200 Rwandan francs ($0.10 to $0.40 US) a week for a few months. The elected leaders of each association collect the money from everyone and then together they decide what the first investment will be. To date, 16 associations have been formed and produce a range of items from hand-woven baskets to honey to handmade soap.

Any member can apply for a loan from the association if he or she has a proposed activity that will generate income. The credit works like it would in a bank where the funds are loaned with interest.

And like applying for credit, anyone can initiate the formation of an association. However, as Emmanuel mentioned earlier, CARE specifically targets women.

“We encourage women to pursue their own economic activities so that they may come to make more decisions in the household.”

Yet the only way these trades can become a sustainable source of income for the people of Ndego is to secure markets where they can sell their products.

“We need both advocacy and advertising so that we can expand our markets, particularly our export market,” said Emmanuel.

Advertising is one way to attract people to the hand woven baskets, handbags, floor mats, handmade soaps, and the fresh honey and milk. Another way is attract tourists to the villages to see first-hand the way these crafts are made.

CARE has informal partnerships with stakeholders who aim to develop tourism in Ndego, a future that can provide long-term solutions and support for the emergent markets CARE has helped the residents develop.

For example, Kigali-based social enterprise development company New Dawn Associates (NDA) recently began working with the people of Ndego to develop a project of community-based tourism. The association is working towards bringing tourists who visit Akagera National Park into Ndego for a day trip to see the village life and the development of local crafts and trades.

Visitors are not only a potential market to sell the goods people of Ndego produce, but also, a substantial portion of the money they pay as a tourist package will be handed over to the village, contributing to a community fund for locally decided development projects.

Emmanuel said that CARE encourages the residents of Ndego to be excited about tourism.

“It gives them a purpose to hone their skills and also hope for a secure market for their items which will ultimately be part of a long-term development solution.”

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Starting over alone: the life of a widow in Rugeyo

Joy Kobusinge

Joy Kobusinge

Brilliantly coloured skirts flap in the wind, hung on a string tied to the branches of two trees that stand about seven feet apart. Joy Kobusinge sits beneath one of the trees on a flat rock covered by a straw mat. The 48-year-old looks into the distance, past the plumes of smoke rising from her outdoor kitchen where beans feverishly boil over a fuel-wood fire.

It’s difficult to get Joy to talk about her late husband and what life is like without him. Perhaps it’s the lingering sadness of losing someone she loved. Yet there also seems to be some kind of modesty that stops her from expressing the hardships that come with being a widow in Rugeyo.

“I just don’t have enough energy to keep up with all of the work,” she said, “but no one here does. Everyone is tired and hungry.”

Joy arrived in Rugeyo in mid-2007. The village is about 150 kilometres east of Kigali and is a resettlement community for 1,600 repatriated refugees who were thrown out of Tanzania in late 2006. The residents live in two-room mud huts with thatched roofs made out of what looks like dried cornhusks.

As a widowed woman, Joy has no one to help plant the seeds, tend to the crops, and harvest and process the food. That’s all up to her. She also has to do all of the usual work around the house like washing clothes, cleaning and cooking.

All of Joy’s six children study in Uganda, and she said that even though she misses them so much she wouldn’t ask them to come and live with her because there is little opportunity here.

Rugeyo is situated on the edge of Akagera National Park, home to many wild animals. Many men in the village often spend nights out in the field trying to protect their crops from the hippopotamuses, antelope and buffalo that come to graze on their food.

For any woman, spending nights out in the field is not a possibility. Joy sais that she feels like a helpless bystander when it comes to protecting her food supply.

But Joy isn’t alone in her struggle as a window in Rugeyo.

Joy outside her home

Joy outside her home

There are 19 other widows trying to remake their lives in this village after being expelled from Tanzania.

Chantal Muhimpundu, CARE’s field officer in Rugeyo agrees that the widows face extra challenges in the community.

“Before they had cows and they remember what it was like to depend on their husbands to provide for them. So being here without their cows and with all of their children is a very big challenge.”

Chantal said that CARE divided the residents of Rugeyo into groups to better organize the making mud bricks to construct the houses and to take turns fetching water. They made sure to spread the widowed women among the community groups so that they may come to rely on others who have more family support in the village.

But until all of the houses, kitchens and latrines in Rugeyo are complete women like Joy will continue to work overtime trying to keep up with the necessary tasks of the day.

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A Newfound Woman? Gender roles in Tanzania and Rwanda

Focus group discussing women's issues

Focus group discussing women's issues

Despite sharing a geographical border, women’s rights in Tanzania and Rwanda lie a world’s distance apart. According to several female repatriated Rwandan refugees who once lived in Tanzania before being expelled by the government in 2006, Tanzanian women are not as well treated as their Rwandan counterparts.

Stories describing gender-based violence and forced polygamy are common among the female repatriates living in Ndego and Rugeyo, resettlement villages in the eastern province of Rwanda. Many also said that Tanzanian girls are often forced to marry, sometimes snatched right out of her daily duties and then introduced to her new husband.

That’s what happened to Peninah Murkatete some years ago.

“When I was 16-years-old I visited my parents in Karagwe [the western province of Tanzania] on my holidays from the secondary school I attended in Uganda. One day I was out in the market and these men came and took me in the car and brought me to a house. I then met my husband and from that day on, I was married.”

The repatriated women also spoke of other aspects of Tanzanian culture that tend to keep women out of positions of power, like not being a part of decision making in the household, having little to no public life, and no legal protection against gender-based violence.

In Ndego, CARE has provided workshops on both gender and economic development that help women gain more power and respect in their home and public life. In Rugeyo, local health authorities have provided sessions on women’s health and gender-based violence. Women in both places have learned about making decisions in their households and they participate in public meetings. Some even operate small businesses independent of their husbands.

But still it’s difficult to really measure how much these programs have shifted gender roles in the repatriated communities, since so much interaction between men and women goes on behind closed doors.

The women in Ndego’s discussion group say that some men in their community have not adjusted to the way women should be treated according to Rwandan standards.

“Some men here still beat their wives like they did in Tanzania. It happens in private so it’s difficult to accuse them and make it stop, but we know it’s still happening,” said one woman.

George Kazungu, Peninah’s husband, said that many men still struggle with how to change the way they communicate with their wives and adapt to their newfound rights in Rwanda.

“It’s very hard for men to adjust because there was no way a woman could rule men back in Tanzania,” he said.

Although women’s rights in Rwanda may be more respected than in Tanzania, there is still a long way to go.

Jeanette Nduwamariya is the project manager for CARE Rwanda’s POWER program – an eight-year development plan that started in 2006 that aims to educate women in rural areas about their economic empowerment and human rights. She said the problems the women of Rugeyo and Ndego speak about as part of Tanzanian culture still exist in many parts of Rwanda.

“Although there’s institutional support, people’s mindsets still need to change,” she said. “This will happen the more CARE and other NGOs continue to promote gender equity in rural communities across the country like they have at Ndego and Rugeyo.”

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Building a life from scratch

Canizius Ukurikiyimana was only 19-years-old when he was forced to leave Tanzania and resettle in Rugeyo, a small village in Rwanda’s eastern province. He is one of many thousands of Rwandans who were expelled from Tanzania in late 2006, leaving almost everything he worked for and loved behind.

And for Canizius, this included his entire family.

“I was forced to leave one day when I was walking alone. They didn’t make my family leave because they have identity cards,” he said.

Families like Canizius’s were often split up because the Tanzanian government had an uneven policy of giving out identity cards to some Rwandan refugees and not others.

Canizius was born in a village in Karagwe, the western province of Tanzania, and his family, like many others in the region, raised cattle and occasionally sold milk for a living.

On a day like any other, he was in the forest grazing his cows when a group of armed Tanzanian guards approached him and told him he had to leave the country immediately.

“They came and took me from the woods and told me it’s time to go back to my motherland,” he said.

Canizius, who still lived with his parents, was not given the chance to go back home to inform them that he was being forced to leave.

“I pleaded with them, telling them that I wanted to tell my parents what was happening, but they wouldn’t listen. They had guns, so I couldn’t disagree.”

Although he wasn’t expecting it that day, he said he wasn’t completely surprised when the soldiers came to take him. He had heard that Tanzanian authorities were starting to round up Rwandans without identity cards, seizing their property, and escorting them to the border.

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Journey to the Edge of Rugeyo

On the way to Rugeyo

On the way to Rugeyo

The day starts pretty early. By the time my colleague and I eat breakfast – usually a crepe-thin omelet and a chunk of hard white wonder bread – many people in Kabarondo, the village where we’re spending our nights, have already started their days. Women walk with large baskets of bananas trying to find some eager buyers, men ride bikes on both sides of the street carrying almost anything from people to large potato sacks of carrots on the back rack, while stray chickens try and stay out of the way. People congregate in groups waiting for the local transport to come hoping one of the trucks driving by will give them lift. (I know this because  we stopped to by bananas from a lady who was standing with a group who were quite insistent that the CARE truck should give them a ride.)

Our destination every morning so far has been Rugeyo – a small village established recently in an area that used to be part of Akagera National Park. A particularly remote part of the village has been erected very recently when the Tanzanian government kicked out all Rwandan refugees in the western part of their country. In 2006, almost 15,000 Rwandans were forced back over the border, leaving their property and everything they had worked for in Tanzania behind. Many people were even born in Tanzania, as their parent left Rwanda in 1959 when the first expulsion of Tutsis happened, but were expelled nonetheless.

The roads leading to Rugeyo seem to just get bumpier the closer you get. If you relax into it, it can be a really great massage. The way there is mostly dirt roads that wind and twist around many hills and bits of settled communities and are definitely the dustiest routes I’ve experienced in the country. When another vehicle passes going the other way, you almost have to slow down for half a minute to wait for the burnt orange cloud to settle.

During the last leg, we’ve often stopped to take pictures of gazelles, monkeys and even the three hippos that live in the nearby lake – the main water source for drinking, washing and constructing mud bricks for house for the residents who live on the edge of Rugeyo.

… Details of the village life and profiles of the people who live in it coming soon…

On the way back is when all of the chlldren in Rugeyo proper seem to be out. Barreling through the village in a Toyota 4X4 whizzing by their lives at a speed faster then the villagers have ever known, we might as well be in a space ship. Looking out the window, I see the kids drop whatever they’re doing and coming running to the sound of an engine.

“Hiyeee! Hiyeee!” they shout, with both hands waving furiously.

But soon they see that there’s another reason to look.

There’s a muzungu (white person) in the car.

I’ve gotten used to people remarking about the colour of my skin in Kigali. But it’s usually in a subtle way, like everything just being more expensive for myself and my Rwandan friends with me.

But driving through such a rural place I feel like a celebrity. After the kids drop whatever they’re doing, and run to the side of the road, they started jumping up and down and pushing each other screaming “umuzungu!, umuzungu!”

A posse of kids looks like a bunch of circles staring in amazement, their pie-shaped eyes matching the movements of their mouths when they say it: ooh-mooh-zoon-goo!

And if they yell loud enough one group of kids tips off the other and they get a head start to the side of the road. Driving through the village ends up sounding like a vertiginous stream of kids echoing the same word at different times.

There’s nothing I can do but smile and wave like the queen.

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