Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ngoma ICTR Information Center Opening

On Monday we were invited to attend the grand opening celebration for the Ngoma ICTR information center. This was the last of ten information centers opening across the country aimed at providing not just information about the ICTR processes, but also access to the internet and law resources to the local population in these fairly remote villages.

Ngoma is about a two hour drive from Kigali, so we had to get an early start. With that came some amazing light as the sun started to peek over the horizon, illuminating the landscape with a perfect soft light. Rwanda really is a beautiful country, almost impossibly lush, with hills spreading all around. Almost all the land is devoted to farming of one type or another and the hills aren't wasted, each aggressively terraced to increase the farmable land. We passed through a few tiny villages on the way there and Monday being market day the roads were crowded with villagers carrying huge loads of bananas, milk and other items on their heads or strapped to their bikes in giant bundles.

The Ngoma information center is located in the district court house. A huge white building, it stood out from the surrounding red houses of the village which were mostly constructed in the traditional style of brick or sticks and mud from the clay soil. The center itself consisted of two rooms, one containing four computers while the other consisted of a library of reference books on various law subjects. The information centers have dual goals, to provide law materials for the local judges and prosecutors and more importantly provide public access to the ICTR information and the internet in general. In villages without electricity, water or sanitation systems, free public access to the internet is a powerful public service, especially at the going rate of $420/month rate for basic DSL access.

The ceremony itself was something else. The president of the ICTR as well as UN representatives were in attendance and as such a good deal of fanfare was prepared. A group of local dancers and singers put on an amazing show, followed by formal speeches from all the VIPs, a catered lunch and yes, then more dancing.

We did find out one interesting tidbit on the way home. The government is undergoing a nationwide program to install fiber into all the various regions. It is fascinating to see these countries leapfrog the western world, from skipping straight to cell phones, to larger infrastructure projects like this fiber installation. Although I am a big believer in the internet being an amazing resource, one does wonder how it fits into villages which still exist and function without electricity. Perhaps a similar model as the ICTR centers will begin taking place, where villages will have internet cafes or access points for those wanting to use them.

The drive back was as breathtaking as the journey there, and we stopped a few times between Kinyarwanda lessons from our taxi driver to spy some monkeys and pelicans on the side of the road. This country's beauty really can't be overstated, but nor can the vast difference in the life people lead here - a life that has a certain romantic appeal in it's simplicity and purity, but also one without even the most basic creature comforts of home.


  1. The answer is about 70%. they are ranked 54th worldwide. Impressive!

  2. The question was... What is the literacy rate in Rwanda?

  3. Dang, you answered your question before even asking it!

    That is a good point, what good are these types of things without a decent literacy rate.

    A good portion of the population seems to have at least basic speaking skills in English or French in addition to their native Kinyarwanda tongue.

  4. Hey nic - bring home a monkey for me will ya?

  5. I hear the monkeys are really mean, but I'll see what i can do.