Guess who’s coming to dinner, A system that works!

I was introduced to Jill by my two clients ‘Innocent’ and ‘Emma’ – the Artist brothers, at ‘Neo Cafe’,  en vogue in Kigali. Like I always do when meeting new people, I introduced myself and asked what she did; ‘Oh I’m a tech for twitter’, she replied candidly. That’s right: the Twitter.

I kept my cool, and to start a normal conversation, I told her that her name sounded like that of Gilberto Gil; the amasing Brazilian Musician/politician; she told me about her love for Rwanda’s sceneries.. For a geek, she turned out to be a fun girl to be around.

Anyway, one thing led to another and we found ourselves at dinner at Sole Luna.

Jill was here for three days;  she’d flown in to check on her girls, and the dinner was a way to reunite with them

They arrived one after the other, Marie Claire Murekatete, and three others (names withheald for privacy). Suddenly I was seated with five top tech women; And indeed that’s what their group is called: ‘Tech Women’. I know this, because I tried to call them IT and they said: no man, that’s just a small part of what we do, we are ‘Tech Women’!

Murekatete was the one seated across the table from me, so I started the conversation;

–       what do you do ‘nshuti’? I asked.

–       well I am a senior software engineer at RDB. Her friend was Academic Vice-Rector at a Polytechnic University, the other one a senior Tech at Tigo and the other one, Aline, well she couldn’t tell me her title;

–       she travels a lot’, her friends told me;

–       ‘she travels around Africa, fixing technological problems’;

Bam! right there! A young girl in her late twenties; she fixes Africa’s Technological problems.

–       ‘We are in the same program’; Claire continued, “we are ‘Tech Women’, we are around the world.”

–       ‘So where did you go to school Murekatete?’ I asked in excitment;

–       ‘I went to Carnegie Mellon, here, then I went to work at Sillicon Valley in California, USA, before I came back to work for RDB’.

Marie Claire had short hair, drunk Fanta Orange and kept her hands folded. When I asked her where she prayed, it was a rhetorical question, for I’d already guessed that the answer would be ADPR; I was right – in cyahafi to be precise, one of the popular slums in Kigali.

She was not your typical ‘silicon valley’ girl – if you have seen one..

–       ‘Where did you do High school Murekate?’

–       ‘I went to College la fraternite’ in huye for my A-level, then to Groupe Scholaire de Kigeme in Gikongoro for my highschool; then to KIST’.

–       ‘How did you wind up at Silicon Valley ?!?’

–       ‘Well I applied to the Rwanda Education Board (REB) and was picked to go to Carnegie Mellon, then enrolled into ‘Tech Women’ – the rest is history…

I looked at this young woman and I was amazed. She is the daughter of a simple peasant from Huye, in fact, none of these girls are the daughters of a minister, an MP, an army general, not even the local RPF party chief of Gikongoro; these are regular, simple Rwandan women, whom, all they had to do was: ‘Apply’. The government paid 80,000 USD for this girl’s master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon because she is smart! She did not need references, she needed just to work hard.

But I also saw the product of the Rwanda of today. Jill had visited South Africa two days before, so I tried to explain to her and the girls my excitement; I tried to explain to them that what was happening was out of this world, but they looked at me, baffled; they didn’t understand.

See, I had lived in DRC, in South Africa and in Mozambique; I’d lost my innocence a long time ago; they had grown up in Rwanda…

–       ‘It is not hard’, they told me; ‘you just work hard, then you apply to REB; what’s the big deal?’

–       ‘Girl’, I said to her, ‘I love you, and I love your country: you are both so innocent…’

–       “In no country I have been to, I said to her, and certainly in a few countries in the world, does the government offer its ‘crème de la crème’ privileges to those who actually deserve them – you! And quit frankly before I met you, I thought these were slogans…”

What moved me, was their innocence; as far as their concerned, that’s how things work; in fact, they think every girl is like them. I wanted to go on and on, but my friend Emma gave me a quick look, and I realized I had done it again; I had brought my politics into a charming evening dinner, and it was making people uncomfortable…

So when Jill, asked me what I thought of such sharp ‘Tech Women’, I tried to be romantic, I told her I thought they were sexy: Big mistake again!

She turned to me as her and her girlfriends pulled the check, and said,

‘ah man, first of all, we are all married’ (not true), ‘and second we get tired of hearing that; we prefer to be complemented on what we do, not how we look’ – and on that, her and her friends pulled their bags and settled the whole dinner bill before we boys even had a chance to look at it…

This reminded me of the only time I sat with Prof. Emile Rwamasirabo – the former Rector of the National University of Rwanda, he told me of this story when he had gone in a one week retreat in Kinigi in the Gorrillas; a place known for being very cold. Every evening, the old watchman would come to make fire for them, and one evening he approached him:

–       ‘ariko mwebwe ndabazi’ (I know you sir);

–       ‘Eh, munzi mute se?’ (How do you know me sir?)

–       ‘Umuhungu wanjye ajya abambwira. Yiga kuri kaminuza nkuru y’igihugu’ (My son tells me about you, he is a student at the National University of Rwanda)

–       ‘Ah, mufite abana bangahe?’( how many children do you have) – he asked, out of curtesy;

–       ‘Nfite benshi, ariko n’uwakabiri agiye kuza iyo’ ( I have many, but my second is also coming there)

–       ‘Bara muhamagaye?’ (Has he been selected?)

–       ‘Oya, ariko ndabizi. Yabonye amanota meza’ (Not yet, but I know. He had good marks in high school);

They looked at each other, and the old watchman smiled – as if to say: ‘sir, you continue being Rector of university, I continue being watchman. But my son and yours; they will eat at the same table; if yours gets good marks that is… You and I have no quarrel…’ – Instead, he shook his head yes and said: ‘Mugire ijoro ryiza’ (Have a good night) – with a salute of gratitude to the ‘teacher’ of his first, and soon, second son…

– ‘The watchman needed no favours’, Prof Rwamasirabo told me, ‘he had trust in the system!’

Last evening, I had a truly refreshing experience; I fell in love with all these girls, I fell in love with this country once again; with a system that works; a system that is innocent!

Mureka is no outstanding athlete, she’s no genius, her parents are not millionaires; she is just a girl from Huye who applied to REB…

–    ‘Why are you not at twitter with your friend Jill? 

–       ‘Maybe in the future, right now we (Pointing at the Academic vice-rector) are focused on incubating younger girls’;

Oh God, the fact that she still prays in her ADPR church in Cyahafi, keeps her hair natural and short is just Maximum! These girls remained themselves: no goat hair, no fake accent: They went, they saw, they conquered, THEY CAME BACK! 

I wanted to invite Aline for a date this week-end, she is the only one who’s single, but I am worried I’d slow her down. I think I’ll let her go, fix Africa’s tech problems…


Note: If you are a brilliant girl interested in becoming a Tech Woman, visit:

Posted 6th February 2015.