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.