The African Pilgrimage in Rwanda

This afternoon, Governor JMV Gatabazi of the Northern Province in Rwanda tweeted a picture of hundreds of Ugandans boarding home-bound buses after the annual holy pilgrimage to Kibeho in South-Western Rwanda, believed by Catholics worldwide to be a preferred site for Marian apparitions. Half a million pilgrims from Kenya, DRC, Tanzania, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Poland, Eastern Europe, USA, India, China, and indeed Rwanda looked spiritual, hailing Mary and filled with the holy spirit like on the day of Pentecost. They came, they prayed and went back blessed and fulfilled.

In Rwanda we make it our mission to bless those who visit us; if not with the Holy Mary, with all else that we have.

Let me introduce Miss Alupo Charity. ‘I only have a minute for you, because I am organizing the cultural night’, she quickly says as I approach her.

Alupo Charity, a Computer Science student from Uganda

At first, I didn’t believe she was doing anything serious. With her two Cameroonian classmates: Nyuytiymbiy Kizito and Fomonyuy Joyce, they were taking turns to slide on wheeled office chairs in the vacuum-looking hall and burst into hysteric laughter when they hit the end of the hall, in total indifference of our presence. ‘It is their way of relaxing after a hard day of work. Here we let students fool around, they are all geniuses.’ -a female educator tells me.

I have come to visit the Carnegie Mellon University-Africa: The African branch of the most prestigious school of Computer Science and Engineering in the world, based in Pittsburg, USA. 

The students in Rwanda are taught by the same lecturers as their colleagues in Pittsburg, but they are additionally encouraged to respond to African needs. Owned and mostly subsidized by the government of Rwanda, the overly selective school is training the elite software engineers of the African continent.

‘I was among the best software engineers at Makerere, I maxed the exams there, then I wanted to go to the best school in the world for my masters. I found it here.’ – she tells me with a proud smile.

The overall cost of education at CMU-Africa per student is a dazing 72,000 US-Dollars per year, but African students automatically qualify for a 32,500 scholarship offered by the Government of Rwanda, in partnership with the Carnegie Mellon. East African students, however, pay only 8,000 tuition.

In a combination of other available scholarships from MasterCard Foundation, Smart Africa and an internal fund of CMU-Africa, the young lady found herself having to pay only 3,000 USD a year for her world-class Master’s degree; I was blown away. But the best was yet to come. Anticipating my next question she responded:  ‘yeah but I work for CMU and make money to pay the 3,000. I manage events and do faculty support’ – She finally reveals to me. Wearing my occasional journalistic hat I ask a rhetorical question: Are you happy here? She shakes her head in disbelief…
For a minute I worry. Is it’s too much work for her? Then she suddenly turns back to me with that smile I found her, when she was sliding on office chairs. She’s only disappointed in my stupid question, as though to say [Can’t you see]? She simply goes: ‘I am having so much fun, this is paradise! All my dreams have come true, and I am not the only one; we are ten Ugandans here’ – she finally says as she runs back to her waiting colleagues. I look at the young, genius, playful Ugandan girl and I see the future of East Africa.

On that day I also visited the African Institute of Mathematics and Science (AIMS), where they are looking – and have possibly found the ‘Next Einstein’ on the African continent, and next I will be visiting the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Butaro. Before that I had enrolled in an MBA at the African Leadership University; all based in Rwanda.

The quartet, with another global university on Agriculture coming soon, provide the best education in the world, only they do so to African students, in Africa. At ALU, our teachers came from Havard and Hawthorn business schools, and we had lecture days with Donald Kaberuka, Acha Leke, Strive Masiyiwa, Fred Swaniker and Paul Kagame!

While Africa has been sending it’s best brains to the best schools in the West for decades, where most remained after graduation, Rwanda has thought it fit to bring the best schools in the world to Africa, where Ugandans, Congolese, Burundians, Tanzanians, Kenyans, Ghanaians, Nigerians, Noth and South-Soudanese, South Africans, Egyptians Ethiopians and geniuses from all Nations can be incubated.

As such Rwanda has transcended petty border conflicts a long time ago – our neighbors aren’t just aware. We are busy training the leaders of tomorrow’s Uganda; the leaders of tomorrow’s DRC; leaders of tomorrow’s Africa. And we aren’t feeding them propaganda; we are training African youth in rare, highly technical and scientific subjects, sought after internationally, only with a focus on addressing Africa’s challenges.

At AIMS for instance, students learn things like Quantum Mathematics and Physics, as well as Artificial Intelligence. While at UGHE, the best minds in public health globally have come together to disrupt the very conception of public health education, by putting ‘Equity’ at the center of healthcare, and they are training the first elite students to lead the disruption globally. People come from Canada to study at Butaro – in rural Rwanda.

So we are giving these young people cutting-edge education; one that even most of our own nationals can’t access, because we believe Africa’s children are our children and Africa’s future is ours. Locked at the heart of it all, we are bound to Africa’s destiny and we consider training Ugandans, Congolese and other Africans a nationalistic, patriotic duty!  

I will tell the stories of the other three schools on another occasion, today I just wanted to remind our neighbors, whom I see trading insults, jokes and petty rivalries, what’s at stake. What mission we have for Africa…

That is the politics that we in Rwanda are interested in. And we have built beautiful arenas; the Intare Arena, the Kigali Arena, the Convention Center, where those interested in ‘talking’ politics can go and talk, and play, while the African mission is firmly underway!

Kwame Nkrumah used to say: ‘we must unite now or perish like fools’.