From bedroom to boutique: Handmade fashion with a Rwandan heart

When Christine Mbabazi started designing clothes in her bedroom in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, she had big ambitions. Now the owner of her own store Christine Creative Collections she has even bigger plans: turning her fashion boutique into a household name.

The brand is promoting African fabric and African designs, with my creativity, and developing it to the rest of the world, says the young entrepreneur.

Launched last March, Mbabazis startup produces and sells a wide variety of eye-catching fashion items, including bags, shoes and clothes. Mbabazi says Rwanda is at the very heart of her brand, so every creation in her store is handmade with locally-sourced materials:

I love the African fabric. [Growing up] I liked looking unique, [so] I used to cut my clothes in different ways I used to change them, I used to sew with my hands. It all inspired me to come up with what I have today.

Mbabazi, who is also a radio presenter, makes use of social media to reach new customers, but says she has found it difficult to convince people that traditional fabrics are acceptable in formal settings:

My friends saw me and saw I was very unique in parties, weddings, even at work thats how the word spread out. Its still a big challenge convincing people you can go to work when you have a African fabric suit but we are still fighting those small challenges.

Her next step is to take the brand, which she calls CCC for short, out of Rwanda:

I want to be exporting things made in Rwanda, so that when you are in Europe and you see something, youre like this is from CCC.

Rwandan entrepreneurs MPESA’s new rival featured on Innovate Africa on Al Jazeera

In this week’s episode of Innovate Africa, co-host Tapfuma Makina visits Nairobi to meet Kariuki Gathitu, founder of Zege Technologies. Zege has launched MPayer, a mobile payment alternative to MPESA, aimed at small businesses.

“In Kenya, 11-and-a-half million people use simple cellphones to pay their bills,“ says Tapfuma. “That’s more than double the number that have bank accounts… It all began when Kenyans who had no bank accounts began to trade their airtime to pay for services. This system was so successful that it was fine-tuned and called MPESA, the Swahili word for money. It is now the most widely used form of payment cross the African continent… But while MPESA works well for individual cash payments, it’s not designed to facilitate a business. But now there is MPayer, a new mobile innovation designed specifically for small businesses in Kenya.”

Co-host Ndoni Khanyile visits Rwanda to interview Henri Nyakarundi, an entrepreneur who has designed and franchised solar-powered mobile phone charging kiosks.

“The lack of electricity was a big problem in the region,” says the Ared founder. “60% of the population has a cellphone but less than 15% has access to electricity.

The kiosks are small enough to be towed by a bicycle to wherever people will pay a small fee to charge their phones. The kiosks can charge up to 30 phones at a time and Henri now has 24 franchisees operating across Rwanda.

Rwanda to improve post fish harvest infrastructure

The Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) is setting up quality infrastructure for the cold chain system in Kigalis Special Economic Zone as part of efforts to curb fish post-harvest losses.

Dr Wilson Rutaganira, the aquaculture and fisheries programme coordinator at Rab, said the infrastructure, which includes a cold room, containerised flakes and tanks, and ice melting machines, were also recently set up in Musanze and Rwamagana districts to address fishermen’s challenges, reports NewTimes.

The same is to be set up early next year at Kivu Lake to serve about 30 cooperatives of fishermen there, he said.

The infrastructure can preserve 30 tonnes of fish per day, according to Rab.

Rutaganira was responding to fish farmers who said they were making losses due to several challenges, including lack of an established cold chain system to handle fish from the country’s lakes.

Hawa Mukamana, a fish dealer in Kigali City market, said modern and appropriate fish processing and product development is difficult to them due to a myriad of challenges:

The only fish processing methods in use are traditional smoking and sun drying on lake beaches. The small amount of fish caught in Rwanda’s lakes is all sold right at the lake side with nothing left to take to urban centres to avoid making losses as it gets bad due to lack of preservation mechanisms.

Figures indicate that, currently, Rwanda imports 15,000 tonnes of fresh fish and another 15,000 of smocked fish every year, worth an estimated $10 million.

Most African nations to miss 2015 Millenium Development Goals

Most African countries will not reach the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015 because of the gap between economic and human development. That is one of the conclusions in this year’s annual U.N. report on the Least Developed Countries, presented Thursday.

Junior Davis, U.N. economic affairs officer for Africa, said African countries have not been able to translate their economic growth into structural transformation:

“We think that is the case because these countries have not focused efficiently on building what we call their productive capacities.

These are the basic human and economic development capacities that are needed to promote sustainable economic development. And the MDG, as they were constructed, largely ignored the need to develop the productive capacities.”

Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Malawi are the only African countries on track to reach the majority of the development goals. They are making progress because they heavily invested in areas that create sustainable development such as infrastructure, health and education.

The post-2015 development agenda for fragile countries where governance remains an issue — such as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — will still largely depend on support from the international community to achieve social and economic development, Davis said.

Davis says improvements in rural development, industrial productivity, agriculture and the services sectors in these countries will require ways in which we can have a pattern of growth which is not just sustainable but jobs-rich, because we see the growth in jobs and employment is central to any development strategy that aims to reduce poverty in a sustainably.

Airtel Rwanda partners with TechWomen on mentorship

Airtel Rwanda has kicked off a two-week mentorship programme in partnership with TechWomen Rwanda, an organisation that aims to encourage more women in Rwanda to take on careers in the fields of Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

TechWomen is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is a professional mentorship and exchange programme developed in response to US President Barrack Obama’s efforts to strengthen relations between the United States with the Middle East and Africa. Commenting on the programme, Airtel Head of Corporate Communications and CSR, Ms Denise Umunyana said:

Technology increasingly becomes central to all our day-to-day operations and we believe it is important to have more and more ladies taking part in this field.

Two young ladies have been selected to take part in a mentorship programme with Airtel Rwanda and our focus will be in the fields of Information Technology and Network. This mentorship programme is not only about Airtel sharing its rich knowledge and expertise with the youth but more about ensuring a trained and well experienced workforce for future Rwanda.

Speaking on behalf of TechWomen Rwanda, Ms Angel Bisamaza, one of the alumni said:

We are more than grateful to partner with Airtel Rwanda in this mentorship programme that will help the young girls get the necessary expertise they need in order for them to take on technology as a career or enterprise business. This is one step close in closing the gap between men and women in the fields of Science, Technology Engineering & Mathematics.

We are pleased to take these girls on and mentor them. This programme also currently aligns with our social responsibility focus which is to empower youth in the field of Mathematics and Technology. We shall continue to engage in youth initiatives such as this and more because we believe that the youth today will be the future tomorrow.

Rwanda’s Girl Research Unit in Their Own Words

In Rwanda, a movement has emerged over the last few year that has seen girls creating their own platforms to tell their own stories. Ni Nyampinga is Rwanda’s first teen brand and it features both a magazine and radio show produced by girls for girls that centers on issues that directly affect them. In 2012, Girl Hub Rwanda decided to build on this movement by creating a team of girl researchers armed with the skills to gather and tell stories of Rwandan girls’ lives.

In partnership with Market Research Society (MRS) and UK-based organization 2CV, Rwanda’s Girl Research Unit (GRU) was established to provide training on research principles, recruitment in the field, facilitation of workshops and research, analysis and interpretation, and presentation of results from the research to clients. Five young women graduated in June 2014 with an international qualification from the Market Research Society in qualitative research skills and are now equipped with girl-centered research techniques.

Since June, the GRU has been conducting field research and analysis and giving presentations on their research methodology to audiences such as graduate students from the College of Education at the University of Rwanda. The girls usually work in pairs or small groups when conducting their research and then they analyze their findings as a whole group. Some of the issues the GRU has researched include:

  • Ni Nyampinga radio and magazine: how girls respond to the different magazine issues. This research and analysis resulted in shortening the length of the magazine—as demonstrated in the latest issue (Issue 11). It also resulted in including boys in the upcoming Issue 12.
  • How boys and men can contribute to ending violence against girls. This research fed directly into Issue 11 of Ni Nyampinga magazine.

We recently spent some time with two researchers, Frida and Aurore, who shared their experience so far.

How do you feel since your graduation in June?

Aurore:

Happy and proud: my skills and knowledge continue to improve and I’m proud that I’m learning so much. I hope to become a professional researcher in the future.

Frida:

We didn’t have a lot of independent research work before June because we were still in training. Since then, we have had the opportunity to work alone and to present our ideas to the team which has helped us develop independently. We have worked on several different projects that have improved our skills and that have brought us closer to being professional researchers.

What do you like most about being a researcher?

Aurore:

I enjoy being able to listen to, analyze, and understand different research findings and I love being able to communicate the thoughts and feelings of others in order to contribute to change. It’s exciting that our research findings can help develop NGO and Government programs and strategies.

Frida:

I like speaking on behalf of people who cannot speak for themselves. It is a rare opportunity for girls to be able to go into the field, speak to other girls, gather information, understand people’s perceptions about different issues and then present these views to those who can help empower the people.

Where do you see GRU in 2-3 years?

Aurore:

In three years, we will be more independent. We will not need as much feedback and supervision as we do now and we will be equipped with the skills and experience we need to be able to be hired as professional researchers. We also want to keep reaching out and sharing our experiences so that more girls are inspired to become researchers as well.

Frida:

I hope for the growth of the qualitative research industry in Rwanda. Qualitative research is being used in more government institutions and other organizations. It should not just be about the numbers but also the story behind the numbers. And these are the stories that the GRU can help tell.

Ni Nyampinga chats with the young women behind the Rwandan eco-friendly brand, Angaza Ltd.

Benigne Mugwaneza, Ni Nyampinga journalist, interviewed Maria Mayanja and Monica Umwari, Founders of the Angaza Ltd. Angaza. The eco-friendly company specializes in upcycling, which is turning another mans waste into cool and hip accessories for men and women. The young company is already taking the world by story, having been exhibited and sold in different countries such as Rwanda, USA, Germany and Netherlands. Check out the rest of the video to hear how they started and their plans to encourage Rwandans especially the youth about being aware of their environment

The truth is, you still can be Inkotanyi

One of the frustrations and big dream at once, in the generation commonly referred to as DotCom, is to have missed the Ku Mulindi moments. The generation DotCom is the one which was too young to be actively part of the liberation struggle but too old to have missed the saga surrounding the stories that came with 1st October 1990. So it is not uncommon to hear DotComs saying: I would have joined Inkotanyi. But is it too late?

The enemy that defines us

Fortunately, Habyarimana’s regime has disappeared from the daily lives of Rwandans, expect some bitter expectations of divisionism and terrorist acts, the life of Rwandans is no longer determined by the fear materialized through quota to access public services, indembo yaba-gendarmes, Uzi icyo ndi cyo, interdiction de travailler, laissez-passer, arbitrary arrests and killings to name a few avatars of the boat of mediocrity led by Habyarimana.
What determines the lives of ordinary Rwandans today is a much more scattered enemy than a regime denying its citizen the basic rights, such as the right of citizenship. Rwandans today are preoccupied by eradicating poverty through socio-economic development. The outside world has already started to brand Rwanda according to this apparently new struggle, although sometimes with old models such as the legendary obedience to authority as source of efficiency. Rwandans have not joined the chorus, unlike other moments in our history where we used to define ourselves in the prism of the conquering colonials; we have liberated our minds and are seeking to define ourselves not to join someone else’s ride.
United like at no other moment of our recent history, we stand before the task of building a wealth that will outlive our grandchildren. This task requires from us to be deployed at different fronts with success stories measured alongside increased prosperity. Certainly, both internal and external factors that have led to the surrender of our sovereignty are still looming, but this first line of defence does no longer define us. What defines us is the struggle to become a middle income country by the year 2020. The question then is: how and what are the Ku Mulindi moments of this struggle?

Imihigo- identified by results

The Ku Mulindi moments will be more about shared prosperity than shared hardships, however the quest for prosperity is no less a struggle than the quest for sovereignty. Asked what makes the difference between a good RPF cadre and professional, many DotCom seem to stumble. Yet there is a difference between good performance and innovation. For a good RPF cadre, it is a necessary condition to be a good professional but it is not a sufficient one. A Good professional carries tasks to his best aptitude; while a good cadre is a leader constantly reaching out for Rwanda’s best against any odds. A good cadre meets the expectations of what Rwandans deserve not what circumstances allow them to do. The difference between a professional and a cadre’s ambition is like the difference between value addition and value creation. Value addition is about more efficient process and productive use of inputs, while value creation is about using ideas and knowledge to invent new ways of doing things or new products. In concrete terms, the core defining our performance contract with prosperity will be about: creating more jobs, generating more revenues and a high rate of projects implementation. A good professional in civil service ought to be measured against these key performance indicators. However, they are not enough for Rwanda to be competitive and thus to survive without fear of alienation.

We will need to be innovative to bridge the gap between our ambition and means. Thus, the Ku Mulindi moments of nowadays are to be found in our homegrown solutions, where Made in Rwanda creates global values. The Ku Mulindi moments will be found in modern infrastructure across the country with air-railways and electronic highways connecting our creativity to the rest of the world. They will be found when our agro-processed products reach the shelves of international supermarkets. They will be found when our good governance credentials will translate into manufacturing safety-sensitive products and increased tourism revenues. They will be found when Rwanda will be known as a hub for sophisticated post-graduates programs offered by renowned universities such as Carnegie Mellon, MIT and the Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. The Ku Mulindi moments will be found when we shall no longer live with the paradox of lacking running water in the great lakes region. They will be found when will have industrial parks equipped with sufficient energy and know-how.

Staying the course

As in old days, the quality of our leadership is our strongest asset. Out of a rebellion, the Commander in Chief has built the 5th largest peacekeeping force worldwide. Out of a nation marked by mass-graves, orphans and abused widows, he built a nation with mass eradication of poverty and the most empowered young and female leadership worldwide. Out of a social contract based on exclusion, arose a social contract putting individual dignity as rationale for all forms of State power. Unlike previous generations, our generations of Inkotanyi have a starting point, a proven ideological framework and a tailwind of RPF achievements.

Today, you can literally take Rwanda to the bank, as proven by the overly subscripted Eurobond. For sure we shall need to constantly innovate, find new expressions of Rwanda in a changing world, but our mode of operation will remain one of Inkotanyi: we shall think big, remain united, and be accountable to each other and future generations. We shall not shy away from taking risks; we shall be daring and creative, seeing opportunities in hardships just like the past 20 years under the leadership of President Paul Kagame. We no longer need to seek for parenthood, we have found our nation again. A nation that is radically open to the world to avoid being surprised again by unwarranted visitors at mount Kageyo. Our generation will above all need to stay the course of thinking big, staying united and keeping each other accountable. As the saying goes, Imfura nzima isubira mw’izina rya se.

It is not too late. Truth is, you still can be Inkotanyi.

Rwandan software CEO wins business competition for USD$150,000 [video]

Ni Nyampinga journalist Ritha Marie Clarisse Ubumwe had an interview with Ms. Lilian Uwintwali, Founder and CEO of M-Ahwiii Ltd, a Rwanda software company.

Lilian recently won the business competition 40 Chances and walked away with a fellowship and prize money amounting to $150,000. This prize was jointly awarded by Howard G. Buffet Foundation, Tony Blair Governance Initiative (AGI) and World Food Prize Foundation.

Lilian hopes her mobile application, Agro-FIBA, will help improve the lives of farmers and also increase food security in Rwanda.

She also discusses her life as a young entrepreneur and encourages young women to work hard for their dreams:

Rwanda gets $13.5m boost from Sweden

On Thurday, the government of Rwanda signed a grant agreement worth $13.5 million with Sweden to combat unemployment. The money will be channeled through Rwanda’s National Employment Program which aims to create 200,000 jobs each year.

Rwandan Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Claver Gatete, signed on behalf of the government alongside Maria Hà¥kansson, Chargé d’Affaires at the Swedish Embassy in Kigali. Maria said:

Merely creating jobs is important but that in itself is not enough. Employment needs to be sufficiently productive to provide a sustainable source of income. We recognise that the youth make up 67 percent of the unemployed in Rwanda, therefore, our target also focuses on youth entrepreneurship and skills development.

We see the funding as a way to support the government’s work in promoting productive jobs that provide people living in poverty a sustainable way to self-reliance, he added added.

Rwanda’s unemployment rate, according to the 2012 national census stands at 3.4 percent, having skyrocketed from 1.2 percent in 2006.