Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time

rgrJUBA, South Sudan – Perhaps the best moments are moments spent under pressure, believe me or not.  I will  relate one of such moments I experienced while preparing to come to Rwanda, the “land of a thousand hills”, and “a thousand more smiles”; a small but a beautiful country marred previously by chilling contradictions.


When I first heard of Rwanda, an awareness granted to me by virtue of modern education, I was told Rwanda has tall people like my people, the most beautiful ladies, and thirdly, which was and is still sad acknowledgement, genocide history. All these are true.


However, Rwanda is known today for few catchy words or rather descriptions, such as an ICT state, good governance, benevolent dictatorship, cleanliness and sanitation, and one of the few examples of a good state in Africa. Whenever people return from Rwanda, they keep on saying, “Rwanda is a beautiful country!”


Rwanda thus has become an excellent destination for peoples and countries searching for meanings besides the obvious ones such as honeymooning, recreation and leisure, socio-economic and political roundtables.


While I was attending a National Convention in my country in May 2008, many world leaders who wished us a good start by avoiding the pitfalls most African countries had gone through during their independences in 1960s onward, had asked us inquisitively , “who are your models in the world today?”, who do we ought to follow as a good example? Which countries offer us good leads in the world? With unanimity, my people and government chose Rwanda and Norway as quintessential models we should emulate.


Rwanda had and has made strides towards viable statehood through benevolent leadership. One of the few examples I had loved was the information that women representation in government in Rwanda by 2008 was at 48.7%. Uganda was another one in this lead example. For us we had just thought about our women whom we granted 25% share in the government. Of course that was then.


I should now turn to my story about coming to Rwanda. A four-nation capacity building conference was slated for Rwanda. This was not the first of its kind. I was one of those selected by my Director General to come to Rwanda to attend a four-nation [Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and South Africa] regional conference on capacity building, a topic indispensable for the new state of South Sudan which wants to enhance her capacity. My excitement was high, -to see Rwanda, her gorillas, her tall people and beautiful women, salubrious air, and above all to discuss South Sudan development through a regional angle.


Unfortunately, I had a tough experience in preparation to come to Rwanda. The preparation was such memorable experience. We had put everything in place except one thing: visa to Rwanda. We could not get our visas to Rwanda in Juba because Rwanda hasn’t yet established her Embassy in the world newest state. This proved to be a difficulty.


We were required to process our visas in a third country, either Kenya or Uganda but with directives from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation through our embassies there. This gave us another worry, previous experience with delayments and failures to travel were hanging ominously over our heads.


When I first went to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Juba, they said Rwanda had opened its Embassy in Juba on Friday the previous week. Believe me we were on high pie. However, when we asked about the location of the embassy, we were told to go to another office, mails, then to administration etcetera etcetera. There we were told that, nobody knew where the Rwandan Embassy was, that they must be operating in one of the hotels in Juba yet organizing to open officially, and finally, that the telephone number they had left with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not going through. Our doubts were dashed when we tried it ourselves.


On Thursday the 23rd of May, my Director-General asked me to travel to Uganda to process the Rwandan visas there. It was late and I missed the flight. On 24, the following day the plane delayed to take off because H.E the president of the Republic was leaving, therefore the airport was sealed off. I managed to leave late in the afternoon, arriving in Entebbe at three and half o’clock. I boarded a taxi straight to our embassy in Kampala, lest the Embassy closed before I could get there.


Fortunately, I arrived in time and met someone who took me to South Sudan Charge D’ Affairs in Uganda. I gave him the whole story on arrival. Somehow, he said Rwanda Embassy gives visas after two to three days, a normal duration everywhere with any embassy. However there are always exceptions to every rule,-emergencies are bound to break rules.


Our case was one of the kinds. Charge D’Affairs asked the Secretary to draft a letter to Rwanda Embassy immediately while we were chatting. When it was done, Rwandan Visa forms were removed and given to me to fill. I wanted three visas, so there were three forms. There was nothing extraordinary about the forms except that they tuned like they were drafted by security personnel. Particularly I took keen interest in questions about the relations between those going to Rwanda and those receiving them,-provisions of their detailed address and contacts. It is like when you are in Rwanda, you are going to be stalked together with those who receive you.


It was getting late and when everything on our part was done, Charge D’Affairs telephoned H.E. Rwanda Ambassador who received the call and they exchanged the pleasantries before the Ambassador redirected Charge D’Affiars to another official in the Embassy who would handle our case amicably.


With a telephone provided by the Ambassador, the official was contacted and told us to bring the passports to the embassy early the following day which we did. It was now 25 May, a day to our departure to Rwanda yet I was still in Kampala. I was supposed to return to Juba on 25 May, with Air Uganda leaving at 4:00PM and checking-in to begin at 2:00PM. Time was clocking intolerantly and we had to go back to Rwanda Embassy some minutes to 2:00PM to coerce the person concern to save us.


The lady at the counter, an assiduous and punctilious woman, known for timely services was painstakingly busying between being receptionist and visa processor. When I was given the visas with passports, it was reading 3:30PM and I had begun perspiring. Time remaining wasn’t enough to make me catch up with the plane even at a daring speed. Entebbe-Kampala is highly a busy and jammed road.


My failure to return to Juba the same day 25 May was set to foil our next flight to Kigali through Nairobi, scheduled for 10:00AM in Juba. The team I was to go with was on ground in Juba and I was with their passports in Kampala. Not believing what was going to happen, Charge d’ Affairs lent me his personal car with a driver, who drove in sporty manner rattle through jams on that busy Kampala-Entebbe Road. He did a good job although we missed a plane by few minutes. We found it taking off.


Hopes were dashed. I ran through the airport like a madman and indeed I was basically mad, raging with confusion. There was no another flight going to Juba. The only alternative suggested at the airport was to use the same ticket to go to Nairobi aboard flight 540 to catch up with KQ 7:15AM morning flight from Nairobi to Juba. This I could not travel it because I had no money to book another ticket from Nairobi to Juba.


After a lengthy stay trying to cool and sober up at the airport, I decided to call to Juba to inform my Director-General of the development. When she heard, it was a terrible mess but she promised to rush to the airline office in Juba while I looked for alternatives to meet the next flight. When she reached there, it was late the offices were closed. But she promised to return there the following morning to re-adjust on our schedule. We were to leave Juba at 10:00 AM and arrive in Nairobi at 11:50 AM, and leave Nairobi at 15:30 and arrive in Kigali at 15:55. All this was to be re-adjusted.


On my side, I realized there was no way out. I had thought using a night bus to travel to Juba but it would arrive late at Juba the following day, keeping other factors constant as economists say. I also thought of sending their passports to them but there were nobody or plane to take them. It was quite late when I decided to pay a penalty of fifty US dollars for missing a flight and rescheduled for 1:00PM flight with Air Uganda. I spent a sleepless night around Entebbe near the Airport. I could not sleep at all. I was about to foil the mission of our government.


When the new day came without having done anything, it was 26 May! At 11:00 AM, I arrived at the Airport and waited to clear. Unfortunately, the plane delayed until 2:05 PM for an unapparent reason. My nerves were weak. I was informed by the team on the ground; the schedule was re-scheduled for 3:00PM with Kenya Airways. It is one hour flight between Entebbe and Juba. I was already five minutes late. I went into a doze inside the plane, praying silently for at least some delay on the ground or a miracle.


When the plane arrived in Juba, I spotted the Kenya Airways on the ground. The climbing stairways were already installed. I knew it was too late. It might take off as I come out from this other plane. When the plane docked, I took my telephone and telephoned the Director General who must have waited impatiently for me. She said, the plane nearly taking off and that I should hurry. The queue through the aisle inside the plane was taking long. Then the next call came from the KQ management, “this is the Kenya Airways. We are about to leave. We are waiting for you,” the voice said. “Where are you?”


I jumped out of the plane without reasoning that there are entry and exit procedures to fulfill first. I decided to run across the airport towards the Kenya Airways aground. The airport was full of security. The same president who delayed us on the day of my departure was returning. I was called back by several men, security men to be precise and asked sternly why I was running between aircrafts. I said, “I have people’s passports that are travelling with the other plane!” It was like they did not hear me, threatening to imprison me on the spot. Of course I uttered several apologies. One of them finally said, “Whether you are who or who, you shouldn’t have done this”. I still offered another series of apologies, just in an impromptu manner. I was told to go straight to the incoming counter to register entry. Calls were still coming asking me where I was. As I turned to go as instructed, I was still waving at the Kenya Airways assuming they were waiting for me as they said in their call. I wanted them to see me to preempt their taking off.


Finally, I reached the counter and passports were grasped from my hand by a combined team of immigration, Kenya Airways and my team I was to travel with. They were stamped exit straight, without entry stamp. Now, I am aboard the Kenya Airways going to Rwanda where I am going to spend the next six days as I write these memorable notes. Perhaps I would ask Rwanda to open her embassy in South Sudan. It will be beneficial to both states.


Rengo Gyyw Rengo, Jr., is a South Sudanese national, and a columnist for The New Sudan Vision. He works for the Government of the Republic of South Sudan. Mr. Rengo traveled to Rwanda for the first time in May 2013 to attend a four-nation capacity building conference. However, the views expressed here in this memo from Kigali are his own. Any comment can be sent to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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