From your own correspondent

I was asked recently to put together a segment for the BBC World Service radio programme From Our Own Correspondent. FooC, as it is known within the BBC, has been running for over 50 years. It’s a part of the more ancient BBC furniture and is a well respected slot within the broadcaster’s output as a whole. It has a massive fan base around the world and is seen as something of a small feather in the cap of any foreign correspondent. You only need to read the iTunes reviews to get an idea of the affection listeners have for FooC. I was pleasantly surprised to be asked to put one together, although a little daunted as I’ve never written for radio. And radio writing is tight. Very tight.

This is the small FooC office in Bush House, near Holborn tube station in central London. It’s lined on one side with three shelves full of old FooC files. Another wall is chockfull of CD’s and cassette tape recordings of old shows. Three staff put the programme together, while Kate Adie or Alan Johnston introduce the segments. I wrote the script for my slot in Kigali. I was told to keep it to around 575 words and to include plenty of colour and characters. FooC is not a news programme as such. The aim is to focus on a small detail or two to describe a bigger picture. While simultaneously transporting the listener to a foreign country through the eyes of the people who live there.

My FooC focusses on the success of the Under 17 Rwanda football team in getting to the 2011 World Cup in Mexico and asks the question of whether or not this success can be mirrored across Rwanda as a whole. I’ll add the audio of the broadcast to this post when I get a chance. Meanwhile, here’s the script,

The unshaven Frenchman from Corsica, stands, arms crossed, in the centre of Amahoro stadium in Kigali yelling at a group of teenagers, “Allez, Allez. Give and go, give and go.” Under the Corsican’s glare, midfielder Robert Ndatimana, a slim, self-assured, sixteen year old, in a FIFA vest and Adidas boots, traps the leather ball and directs it, at speed, through plastic cones to his team mate.

It wasn’t always like this for Robert. At seven years old, he played barefoot with a ball made of banana leaves. At night he fell asleep under posters of Ronaldo and Ronaldhino. When his mother managed to scrape together enough cash to buy boots, he slept with them too.

This June, seventeen years after this country ripped itself apart in a genocidal nightmare, Robert and the national football team – the Junior Wasps – will carry Rwanda’s hopes and dreams to the Under 17 World Cup in Mexico for the first time. And they’re representing a country that expects results.

In a barn-sized office in central Kigali, Lilliane Mupende gestures towards a large, plastic model of the entire capital city. It’s another Rwandan dream. “This is the Kigali of 2050,” explains the Director of Urban Planning. The dream is the Kigali City masterplan. In it, the tin shacks, mud brick houses and corner shops of today’s capital are replaced with gleaming skyscrapers, apartment blocks and pedestrian walkways. It’s breathtaking. We’re talking Blade Runner breathtaking.

“Who’s going to pay for it?” I ask. “Investors” is the short answer. “What if they don’t come?” “They will. Come back in twenty years time. You’ll see.”

The lift in the, soon to open, 21 storey, glass covered, Kigali City Tower, in the centre of town, is broken. I make my way up the stairs, passing eighteen floors of unfinished office space along the way. I’m told just one company has signed a rental agreement for one floor so far. “We open at the end of June,” explains Christian Manzi, the building’s dapper, young, bespectacled, marketing executive. “That’s six weeks away,” I reply “How can you possibly fill it in time?” “We are targeting international companies. It’s a strategic location. Come back in one year, you’ll see.”

The plans for Kigali are truly ambitious. Even more so, for a country where the average wage is less than two dollars a day, barely 3% of the population have Internet access and roughly half of the national budget is paid for by donors.

Looking out over the city, 21 floors up, it’s impossible not to be impressed at the breadth of this vision. Those behind it seem to truly believe; “if we build it, they will come”. But I’m wondering, will they?

Albert Rudatsimburwa, the energetic director of local radio station Contact FM smiles as we look out over the hilly cityscape. I’m not the first doubter this fashionably dressed, entrepreneur has met, “You have to remember,” he says, taking a breath to prepare a well-rehearsed soundbite. “This country went down really, really fast. We have to go up really fast too.”

While Kigali’s bureaucrats and businessmen construct their Manhattan style dreams, Robert Ndatimana is already realising his, on astroturf, on the other side of town. “We Rwandans, we always go for something because we believe we can get there,” he explains. “When you are united, nothing is impossible.”

Win, lose or draw in Mexico, it’s Robert’s generation that will have to prove that the dreams being built across his country, don’t remain just that. Dreams.

More photos from inside Bush House and the radio recording studio below.

10 Responses to “From your own correspondent”

  1. Robyn says:

    Any observation, Graham, about how writing this sort of piece for radio is different than if had been writing it for print? Or special challenges of radio? That sort of thing?

  2. kigaliwire says:

    Hmm.. good question.

    Tight writing, for sure. Finding a balance between the voices you want to include and if, where and when to include the first person – which I’m not a fan of, but is necessary to a degree with a FooC.

    I suppose you are listening more to the rhythm of the words, the sounds and how they conjure a picture in the listener’s head.

    You’re also trying to condense the state of a nation through one or two small details and discussions. At the same time you have to ask big questions, you have to provoke discussion.

    I learned a lot doing this. They’ve asked me to do more from here and other places and I will, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about doing this for a place I didn’t know so well – not sure I could pull that off, or even want to. I’ve lived here for two years now, and while it’s a very complex place I do feel I can now – finally – offer a small, emphasis on small – degree of insight into how things work.

    One final point re: editing. The BBC changed a couple of words on the script. Three pairs of eyes pawed over it before the copy was approved. In the radio room, I learned a lot about what a radio producer wants sonically. I think I re-did every sentence 3 or 4 times. They patch the whole thing together somehow into a seemless whole. John Murphy, my producer, really pushed me to nail certain bits correctly.

    I’ve not heard the finished piece, but I was very impressed with the way he worked on it. Took around about 45 minutes to an hour in the studio all told. Not sure how long John took to stitch it all together after I left though…

    Hope that helps.

  3. Bob says:

    Hey Graham

    Interesting article. I’ve been following you for a while now, and there’s a question that always intrigues me, how your view of Rwanda economic plan? Is it realisable? What do you think of Rwanda government’s bet/gamble/focus on IT, agriculture, tourism, in general the service sector? How the private is involved in the development?

  4. Bob says:

    On the political front, how is your view of Rwanda’s future?
    Do you think Kagame will step down after his term? if yes, who do you think will succeed him?

  5. kigaliwire says:

    Thanks Bob, not sure I have a good enough handle on the whole ‘economic plan’ thing. And I’m not an economist, so I’m not sure my opinion is worth much to be honest.

    However, as an observer, it does seem hugely ambitious. Is it doable? Time will tell, but having lived in Rwanda and South Korea, another country that rose from the ashes, I’m somewhat sceptical that Rwanda can match the speed of South Korea’s recovery.

    I suppose my main worry is that it could all be castles in the sand – where are the Microsofts, IBMs et al? I can’t think of any big, bluechip investors here. Why aren’t they here already?

    There seems to be a lot of reliance on the ‘plan’ going 100% right. What happens if key bits of it fail? How much contingency is built in?

    No idea on the political front either, I’m afraid. Six years of the presidency left and I don’t know of an obvious contender for succession. PK says he’ll step down. I guess that’s the real, big test for Rwanda – given the criticism it gets – what will actually happen after 2017? And what state will the country be in in six years time?

    I’m hopeful, but sceptical. FWIW.

  6. Bob says:

    I see. After reading a lot about Rwanda and talking to people in Rwanda, it seems that rwandans still believe in the vision, making Rwanda as a service hub, conferance place and so on. I’m also somehow sceptical, but looking back how fast and things changed since the genocide (By the way, I was there then),I believe that it can be achieved as long stability remains and investors come. But the scepticism comes when I see the efforts RDB has put in place to attract investors and the results are not the one you would expect. But onthe other hand, what is the alternative?

    A one more question, what do you think about freedom of expression and human rights in Rwanda? The people i talked to in rwanda don’t seem to care much about that, It seems that although they are aware that it’s not fully, they are somehow satisfied with the situation. One man talked to med it’s better that way because the media before genocide. I understand the argument (knowing waht papers wrote before genocide), but not really conviced. What do you think about rwandans papers, journalists and media in general, are they enough mature to look beyond that?

  7. kigaliwire says:

    Exactly, all the goodwill, the efforts of RDB, and where are the investors?

    I heard the same story two years ago, so of course it’s a concern. Why can’t the most stable country in East Africa attract investors?

    As for freedom of expression and wotnot, this is a country of self-censorship on many levels – probably too many to go into in a blog post comment :)

    The media in Rwanda is poor at best, no two ways about it. I do see some hopeful signs in the new media law being muttered about. However, to be realistic, I do not see any real change coming soon. If the “media” is allowed to self-regulate, who exactly is regulating who? Isn’t it a bit like asking a bunch of people who all agree with each other to regulate themselves?

    The media did play a huge role during 1994, but it was government controlled media. But, who really controls the media 17 years later?

    That has to change. I believe the govt. are aware of that and I am hopeful, if sceptical again, that things will improve, but I doubt it’ll change very soon. TBH, I think you need to get the Ugandans and the Kenyans in and let them shake the Rwandans up – Rwandan media is too lazy, but Rwandans like to win, so if they see competitors doing it better… well, maybe it’ll make homegrown media do better.

    Until there is a serious, homegrown, investigative journalism story into something big – that openly challenges power and sees people lose their jobs – I will not believe anything I read, hear or see in Rwanda.

    That’s the biggest, obvious problem with media in Rwanda – the voices are almost all universally uncritical of power. And that’s really, really unhealthy for media anywhere.

    To my mind there are three things that need to happen to help media in Rwanda

    – reform the media and defamation laws
    – open up the media market – get the Ugandans and the Kenyans in
    – create a space – a la Frontline Club in the UK – for free and open debate on important issues. Broadcast it widely, encourage interaction etc.
    – an acceptance from authorities that criticism is not only good, but desirable. They may well believe that already, but the public perception is the opposite.

  8. Bob says:

    Exactly what I had in mind, maybe except the banking, tourism and telecommunication sector that experienced a huge investment recently, I don’t really see any huge investments that made a really change for average Rwandans in the private sector. And those that made it take a long time because they have to acquire guarantees on their investments. The way I see it, is that some investor are waiting to see how things turn out after 2017, because it will be the ultimate test for Rwanda. If the succession goes good and stability is assured, I think that people will begin to see that the whole country doesn’t rely on one man.

    I would like to ask you if you have se any change in poverty reduction. Or are government and NGO’s programs working? Or the impact of those programs should be seen in a long term view?

    On the other hand, Rwandans are not known for entrepreneurship, but I noticed a change in that mentality in the last couple of years.

    I suppose that many investors, in spite of the favorable investment climate in Rwanda are not sure of the stability in the country and genocide is still the first thing people think of when they hear of Rwanda, in part because it still used to market Rwanda overseas.

    Regarding the freedom of press, the leadership has always welcomed the criticism as long it was not politics. For instance in the fight against corruption, the leadership is actually encouraging the population to participate. I’m not sure if it is sincere or just a facade, but even the most critics of government agree on the results. Regarding the new media regulating body, I think it is more a result of outside pressure or push, than an evolution or a need of the media in Rwanda. I also notice after reading a lot of article written by Rwandan journalist, many of them rely on rumors or hearsays, what happen to the Law on free access to public information? Last time I heard it, it was in the parliament. By the way I thought that Ugandan and Kenyans news papers are allowed to be published in Rwanda. Was it not one of the purposes of introducing the NMG on Kigali Stock Exchange? Another thing I noticed, why most of the regional media (Ugandans, Kenyans,) have a favorable view of the Rwandan government than westerns news media (most of them)?

    Last, I would like to ask you about what happened about the 2K’s (Kagame & kayumba)? I heard that the story started during the national dialog a couple of years ago when a villager called in and told that Kayumba appropriate himself some land in the east, and threw some villagers who lived there. I know you talk to a lot of people in Rwanda; you must have heard at least a theory.

    By the way, how do you see Rwanda and Rwandan people in general? How about the leadership, a lot of article state that the Rwandan government “think out of the box”, is it the impression you have?

  9. kigaliwire says:

    A lot of questions Bob… )

    On poverty reduction, I’m not sure of the figures – can’t comment there. I think things are generally going in the right direction re: maternal death rates, malaria, malnutrition.

    As for Ugandans and Kenyans and the media. You can buy newspapers from both countires in Rwanda. And of course, they are available on the Internet. I meant more that allowing foreign media outlets to operate within Rwanda to publish in KInyarwanda would up the local game, IMO. Mind you, I believe the New Times has a large staff of Ugandans.

    No idea about the 2K’s I’m afraid. There are plenty of rumours about all sorts of things in Rwanda, including those people and others. No idea if any of it is true. Maybe with a viable media we would know… :)

    As for your question on Rwandan people. I do not know any of the leadership and have not met any of them. Not qualified to say how they think. I worry this place is in too much of a rush, but I can understand why they are in a rush. I also worry that there is way too much of a ‘bunker mentality’, that the plan is the plan is the plan and we will not deviate etc.

    Having said that, they often just throw out seemingly very radical changes at the drop of a hat, like the new media law proposals. can’t say I understand the whole thinking behind they way things are done. But, if things get done, then I’ll be happy.

    But, let’s get on with the doing. Time for talk and action plans is over. Well and truly over.

  10. Mollie says:

    Regarding ways to improve the media: I have heard that there is a tradition of paying journalists “transportation fees” which are actually more than just fees for transportation. Recieving money from the person you are writing about can’t be great to for healthy criticism. Also, if a journalist can only be in one place at a time and a newspaper only has so much room, such a practice probably shifts stories away from controversial topics where there is no person to pay the journalists. In a country where journalists are paid so little, this can have a real impact.

    On defamation laws: there seems to be a a real lack of clarity regarding the defamation laws. Perhaps honesty about what is in the law, and an open debate about what should be in the law, would be a good start.

    There also seems to be few newspapers available outside of Kigali. On market day where I live there are small sections of newspapers available, but few buy them. Adults read incredibly slowly – it is truly a chore for many to read in Kinyarwanda, even though they technically can. Increasing literacy by making more newspapers available, regardless of the content, may make smoother reading and increase demand for more, and hopefully better, content.