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The Rwandan Architect Who Works Like No Other

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The rebirth of Rwanda, 27 years after the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, is partly through the contribution of artistic works of architects; who conceive concepts which embellish the country’s cities, model landscapes; creative interior spaces. 

In Kigali, alike other cities of the country, glass towers of different shapes are erected on commercial and residential areas, similar arteries light up; wooded and flowery urban landscapes replace old neighborhoods; monuments take place in public spaces, in short; the city is changing and so are Rwandans. 

These works are conceived, designed, supervised by tireless architects. 

Taarifa traced one of them. A retired Lieutenant, Vedaste Ngarambe, is a solitary architect with no urban works who transforms and models landscapes and expresses himself by the absolute use of local materials that he values through the execution of his projects. 

This solitary artist is absent from the luxurious cafes and restaurants of Kigali and is also absent from the circle of his fellow architects. His extraordinary concepts speak for themselves.

It is the precursor of the ecotourism projects in Rwanda. In Kinigi, at the footsteps of the Virunga Mountain, in 2002 with the execution of Gorillas Nest hotel, and the development of the ecology and cultural park of Buhanga, the 1st residence of Gihanga, the founding king of Rwanda, 10 centuries ago.

Today, this park is one of the heritages being exploited by Rwanda Development Board (RDB). In the same region, Ngarambe developed caves of more than 3 km for an underground experience for tourists.

He also developed Mount Rubavu in the city of Gisenyi, Western Rwanda, where 2300 households were resettled from the steep slopes of this mountain on behalf of Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA). 

For genocide memorials, Ngarambe has no equivalent. He has conceived and developed more than ten memorial sites beginning with the Bisesero Genocide Memorial in 1998 which he designed and executed in the first phase.

Bisesero genocide memorial

He not only designed the memorials; but also designed their interior space, for the display of the memory of the victims and the exhibition of the evidence of the Genocide against the Tutsis.

Notably, he collcted and displayed the dark memory of the perpetrators illustrating their role of the genocide. Their images hang on walls in the banker of the memorials of Ngoma, Mubuga and Gatwaro.

The memorials designed and supervised voluntarily by him have allowed the burial with honor of more than 100,000 victims in some region. 

Karongi district is Ngarambe’s home village.

He is passionate about contributing to efforts of healing the souls of the survivors and creating economic opportunities through developing ecotourism concepts.

Kivu Lodge rests on an island in the middle of the lake. It’s construction created multiple opportunities for the local community until today.

He moves the dynamics of tourism development stretching along the Kivu Belt along Lake Kivu; introducing eco-tourism in Mubuga and Gishyita along the lake with eco-hotels that he designed and supervised the construction of Kivu Ressort, Kivu Lodge, and Mpembe Safari Park.

The promotion of these touristic sites has attracted several investors in tourism with an investment cost of more than US$4 million. 

Speaking of museums, the man is an architect of these special concepts. He oversaw the study and implementation of the Campaign against Genocide museum for over eight years and participated in the training of tour guides. 

Construction of a luxurious eco-lodge along the shore of Lake Kivu has created jobs, helped conserve the environment and boosted local tourism

He designed the National Liberation Museum in Mulindi and is supervising continuous renovations. He also designed “U Rwanda rwa Gasabo Museum in Rutunga/Gasabo on behalf of Gasabo District. 

When architecture contributes to the rebirth of a region severely devastated by genocide: an almost crazy bet 

We wind our way along a dilapidated road and passed by the Mugonero hospital through the rolling hills of the Congo-Nile ridge; in search of this isolated architect. It seems that he has taken up residence in the peaks of these high hills of Bisesero. 

We meander into the rough road to reach the heights of Rulonzi; a high region at more than 1900m of altitude near Busesero. 

These hills were once home to thousands of Tutsis.

The region is almost uninhabited; only the ruins of the destroyed houses of the perished Tutsi families are still visible on the slopes of these silent, forest-covered hills. It is in this untouched, inhospitable world where the artist of the unique works resides.

Our journey is blocked by a wooden barrier; and a young man in civilian clothes. He offers us passage with all the honors of a military quarter-guard. We penetrate into his wild domicile and at the end of 200m, in an open space serving as parking lot, a man with a cane in the hand; beckons us to follow him.

We enter a building, spacious; artistically braided; reflecting the traditional decor and art; with a jungle inside. He explains to us that we are at the reception of a mountain tourist information center. 

“I am Mr. Vedaste Ngarambe, the architect you are looking for,” the tall handsome and muscular gentleman says. And he continued to explain that this space serves as a starting point for the exploration and adventure into the mountains. He showed us some diagrams of ecotourism exploitation and revealed his plans for the regeneration of a whole region bruised by the genocide: that of Bisesero and its surroundings, the domain of the Basesero resistance fighters who fiercely resisted the thousands of militias armed with machetes and guns. 

Ngarambe’s home is magical.

We continue our discovery into his home; a greenhouse-museum and inside is a lush vegetation and giant rocks on which flows a cascading stream; wild plants, ferns, banana trees in a setting of paved alleys in flat rubble and brick wall with a very modest arrangement under a woven ceiling in reeds and that is the living space of this architect, a little crazy, as often described by his friends. 

He finds no one alive

Meanwhile, Ngarambe has another mission to accomplish, but it has painful dimension. As a teenager, his father sent him to Zaire, now Dr. Congo to study. He had an assignment; to study architecture and return home to help build houses in his home village. He never made it back, instead, he joined the Rwanda Patriotic Army in 1991 to help liberate the country from the genocidal regime.

At 27, in 1994, after the genocide, a Lieutenant, he travelled back to his home village in Karongi district, then Kibuye. He had hope his family had survived. He found no one. The whole region was littered by dead bodies decomposing on the hills. His parents, relatives and friends lay in the genocide memorials he has designed and supervised their construction. For him, that is the legacy in memory of his beloved father who is no more.

He had to retired from the army, gracefully, but with unimaginable agony. His projects are a form of healing.

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Lifestyle

Legal Marriage Only Costs Rwf10,000, Why Pay For Dowry?

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At the current pace of transformation, there is considerable shift in culture and the previously important things have become very insignificant to the new generation.

For example, dowry has lost its significance in the formation of new families.

Today’s couples just agree to start a family and then walk into the nearest Sector office with witnesses on either side, take oath before a public notary then pay Rwf10,000 and are pronounced husband and wife.

The couple then appends their signatures in a huge hardcover book and walk back home to establish their new family. And this is simply as required by the law which has made it so cheap, convenient and quick for willing and consenting adults (man and woman) to start a family.

With all this provided for in the law, there are still many couples that have failed to do away with cultural bottle necks that prevent them from marrying. Some parents still demand for exorbitant ancient dowry and this has kept most of their daughters home without a chance of ever establishing a family.

In traditional Rwandan society when culture ruled every aspect of society, the process a couple had to go through to start a family was so expensive in terms of requirements.

Under the cultural tradition, a Rwandan man would mobilize cattle, local beer, many gifts and several other items all known as dowry to be offered to the girls family before they would give her away to the qualifying man.

For example, venantie Mukasine a resident of Rwamagana district was married in 1950’s. She still believes that dowry should be maintained.

“We were very proud to be accompanied by a cow valued as dowry behind us and  brides carried on traditional stretchers,” Mukasine remembers her golden days.

She remembers that the family of son in law’s had to offer back a cow (indongoranyo)  when the cow offered as dowry gave birth to a calf.

She cautions other parents against demanding expensive dowry because it can scare away potential in-laws and in some instances create conflicts between couples.

Mukarusine is a mother of eight children.

Nyirabikari Stephanie, 75, lives at Kamonyi in South Province argues that as a mother who has children that got married, she thinks that dowry should be banned if it is a barrier to young people to get married

“Dowry was a way to honor parents for raising well their daughter but now it is becoming a bad habit with money.

Sometimes this has led couples into having a child before marriage under the fear by the boy’s failure to raise dowry. Thus families would not talk much about dowry.

She suggests that if a man can’t find cows for dowry, the girls’ parents shouldn’t demand for lots of money because only love counts. If possible the girl shouldn’t even remain stuck at home because the boy can’t afford the dowry instead the girl would go without offering anything to parents as they love each other.

On the other side young people have their say about dowry especially men, most of them say that nowadays marriage is too expensive  but  others say that if dowry is removed, they could marry easily and omit some ceremonies.

Gasana Jean de Dieu works as a construction technician in Kigali, says that he will not spend millions on marriage; “I can’t spend 5 million for wedding, maybe I will negotiate with my girlfriend and we celebrate only traditional wedding otherwise it’s not easy.”

Kayitare Damascene from Nyamata in Ngeruka Sector says that even a girl who didn’t go to school can’t leave her parents unless you offer at least Rwf500,000 as dowry.

“I am now 25 years and I am practicing mechanics but I don’t think about getting married, because I tried it and found that in Nyamata the dowry now is valuing between Rwf700,000 and Rwf1 million, it’s hard for me because I survive on temporal jobs.”

Uwamahoro Innocent believes that love is between two people

Uwamahoro Innocent, 28, is a manager at a petrol station he admits that he can’t even marry a girl without dowry, he respects Rwandan culture and doesn’t mind about money given to parents as dowry.

“I respect culture and changes will always happen. I can’t even marry a girl without offering any thing to her parents but the problem would be to negotiate with my girlfriend and the way we communicate, because I believe that love is between two people. If they reach an agreement, the family wouldn’t disapprove of their decision.”

But married women argue that dowry is significant in Rwandan culture but don’t understand where the culture of giving money as dowry came from.

Nkundimfura Rosette, the Director of Gender and Family Promotion agrees with the fact that dowry has been a big problem since some people started offering money as dowry.

“Things change with development , now dowry is valued in terms of money and that leaves an image of trading, boys sometimes seek bank loans to pay for dowry and other ceremonies,” says Nkundimfura.

She says there are consequences to such weddings that end by creating some family conflicts caused by the crisis from high expensive wedding and dowry.

She advices young people to discuss enough before even announcing their project to parents that will help them to know each other and not to spend much money beyond their means.

Rwanda academy of Language and culture (RALC) told Taarifa that they are trying to sensitize people to think about culture first, throwing back to the ancient culture and to all series of ceremony because they are all important and significant.

Dr Jack Nzabonimpa suggests that couples should approach their family early in order to discuss and know each other.

Dr Jack Nzabonimpa staff of RALC in charge of culture notices that dowry is not recovering the cost of what parents spent while raising their daughter but it’s a culture component.

“We have plans to mobilize people to change their mind set, there is a book already published explaining the process of traditional wedding and its significance.

There are campaigns (Family campaign) organized in partnership with the Ministry of gender and Family Promotion MIGEPROF and other programs to help people having common understanding about dowry.

He recommends parents not to destroy the future family before even being formed, he also recommends couples to approach their family early in order to discuss and know each other.

“They should offer dowry depending on the standard of living, if the cost of the cow is Rwf300,000, don’t pay above, therefore it will prevent family conflicts,” suggested Dr Nzabonimpa.

 

Editors note: This article was published May 27, 2019

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Should Car-Free-Day Inconvenience City Life?

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To the policeman at the intersection. Yes! I am frustrated! Yes! I am furious! But please understand that I am not angry at you. You patiently explained that despite it being a few minutes to time, you were given an order, directions, if you will, to block out the road. 

So, let me tell you that, like I said and as you truly saw the emotions on my face, I am angry! Furious even. But, towards what? To whom? First, at myself for having not gotten ready way ahead of time and not working within the margins of “just a few minutes”. But majorly at the system my friend, at the system that has made Car Free Day a day that is for “working out” outside rather than at the gym or even made it all about working out.

A few years ago, when Car Free Day was introduced in Kigali, I remember how it was actually almost a full day! Phewks we are down to just three hours. One can plan to either, get ready, be out of their house and even by the intersection way in time for the policemen opening at exactly ten. In essence, one can be at a place at ten past depending on where they are going. That’s about time. 

My question is, what happens when one has to go somewhere after 7am but before 10am. Kigali is built in such a way that all roads lead to the main road, and when the main road is closed, you can only stay and wait.

Keeping in mind that there are some homes whose gates are on the closed roads and people are literally locked inside their homes. Is there something I am missing about a protocol? And, why am I being locked in my house?

Can we address the encouragement for people to work out on Car Free Day? I mean, the motive behind encouraging people to get out of their homes and walk, jog, ride their bicycles is amazing. But, am I presuming that to most of us who actually work out every day or at least three times a week, Sunday is actually the “Rest” day? The day, that you either sleep in, have a late breakfast, indulge if you will, and/or plan an outing as early as seven in the morning, and the big one; go to church, is this just me and I need to get with the program? Pondering! 

So, basically, why am I bringing this up, isn’t working out good? I mean, this is part of my lifestyle, so why the frustration girl? Well, the thing is, it steeps from the idea that I want to get somewhere before they close the roads for the workouts! It steeps from the idea that the addition of roads around Kigali have made it such that most people are blocked in from their gates! They can’t even get out of their homes with their cars.

Rationally, all that is good! We have to listen to what the system has planned and is planning for us is good! But, I feel that the blocking of the roads in order to make sure people are working out, has distracted us majorly from what Car Free Day is and should be! It’s supposed to be a day that we DO NOT USE pollution-inducing vehicles.

It is a day to help us think and ponder about alternative ways of how we can move from point A to B without polluting the air. Understand what pollution is doing to us, and fight it at all costs! You know? The cost of planning and going to a place, finding alternative routes that people are not using to work out. As if fuel isn’t already expensive, now one has to drive 30 minutes to cover a 5-minute drive if they are lucky enough to have feeder roads in their neighbourhood.

Yeah, if roads are closed, then they are closed to fight pollution! Not to work out! With that, then I am not angry at the policeman, rather at how we have distracted ourselves from what Car Free Day is.

 

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Teta Gisa Rwigema Weds At Colourful Ceremony

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Rwanda media may have intentionally skipped an important wedding of a low-key couple but this silence is too loud.

Teta Gisa Rwigema is the daughter of fallen Rwandan hero, Maj Gen Fred Rwigema.

On Saturday Teta officially tied the knot with her long-time fiancé Mervin Manzi at a colourful ceremony also attended by President Paul Kagame and other high profile personalities.

However, Teta’s brother Eric Gisa Junior was absent at his sister’s wedding; something that seemingly perturbed President Paul Kagame.

President Kagame addressed the people attending this ceremony and also registered his concern for the absence of Eric Gisa, Junior.

“Fred and I and our families’ friendship date from way back…Nshungyerezi, Toro and so on. Fred’s mother here bears testimony. I am concerned and I am sending you Teta, your mother Jeanette, and perhaps your grandmother, I have not seen at this wedding, Fred’s son,” President Kagame said.

“He should come back home…it is not right for him to live in exile…” Kagame added.

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