“We’re here!” cried the driver, as we turned off the freshly tarmacked road. It was 2.30am, pitch black, and I was half asleep. In the gloaming, the outline of a building resembling something I vaguely recollected from my last trip to Rwanda, eight years ago, loomed hulkingly into view.
Surely, this wasn’t the right place that we were being delivered to? After all, we’d just turned off a beautifully smooth metalled road. Then it slowly dawned on me that, in the time since I’d last been in Kigali, the city authorities have ploughed a brand new road through the rocky expanse of red dust that had formerly divided the apartment block I’d stayed at on past trips from the Solace Ministries building that has always served as Project Umubano’s HQ.
Solace, for Umubano, has been the constant in an ever-changing urban landscape. That new road was a metaphor for the never slackening pace of innovation and change that modern day Rwanda represents. And, in this our tenth anniversary – and final – year of coming to Rwanda, it served also as a kind of confirmation that our job on the ground was almost done. A pre-emptive valediction, if you will.
This extraordinarily beautiful country has a mesmerising effect on all those travellers who are lucky enough to visit it. In the 23 years that have elapsed since a tragic and terrible genocide disfigured Rwanda, the country has succeeded in binding those existential wounds and transformed itself into nothing short of an economic miracle.
This time, as before, I and some of my colleagues worked with some brilliantly creative young entrepreneurs to help them harness their talents and skills and take their inventive ideas from the drawing board and turn them into productive businesses that will, in due course, add to the country’s growing prosperity.
Some of my colleagues helped budding entrepreneurs in more remote parts of Rwanda (and, frankly, in more challenging conditions); others taught English as a foreign language; a few taught Rwandan orphans and schoolchildren how to play cricket – a sport of rapidly growing popularity; and others still used their professional skills to bring much needed medical and dental treatment, and respite, to patients in remoter regions.
For many of us, the most unforgettable moment of the trip was our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial where the mortal remains of more than 250,000 Rwandans are interred. Here, the Party’s Kigali Declaration on Genocide was launched and, perhaps most
memorably of all, eloquent testimony of what genocide looks like and means was movingly supplied by a survivor from Auschwitz and one from the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The passage of the years in no way diminished the impact of what either survivor recounted with dignity, economy and stoicism.
Something else, unique and special to Umubano, evidenced itself once more: existing bonds of friendships were renewed, and newly found friendships were forged among old and new Umubanoites alike. As anyone who’s ever been on Project Umubano will tell you, a friendship struck up in Rwanda is one destined to endure for many years to come. Umubano 2017 did something else: it recruited yet another cohort of knowledgeable and committed supporters of international development in our Party.
None of this would have been possible without David Cameron, who began the journey; Theresa May who has supported and sustained it; and, for us Umubanoites at least, most of all Andrew Mitchell, who’s crowning vision Project Umubano is and who has done so much to make us the Party of international development.
As the curtain falls on this historic and poignant tenth anniversary of Project Umubano, it is with a mixture of emotions that many of us have returned home: proud of course of what we have been doing; hopeful, too, that, in a modest way, we have each made a difference; and confident that our Party alone has the honest convictions and practical prospectus to make Britain’s contribution to international development represent something fine, worthwhile and lasting.