Sheikh Jean-Philippe Lepoisson, Native Authority Mandela, Abiti Joyce Befu, MG 66 and I left Rwanda last Monday. We are here in Kampala, Uganda. Our well-wishers decided not to fly us out of the country. So, they paid for a vehicle and a driver who knew the terrain well. We attended two events at Rukomo and Rurenge in Eastern Rwanda before we drove into Uganda.
At Rukomo, we found 70 men and women attending classes on small and medium business management. Of the 70, 29 were women. For the first since we left Malawi, MG 66 decided to lead. She told us she wanted to find out from the women what motivated them to attend training amidst so many men. Our guide and interpreter called one woman for an interview.
It’s nice to see you in the training. What are you learning?
Bookkeeping, call it accounting for small businesses.
How much have you paid for the course?
It is free. They have given us food and learning and writing materials.
What is allowance?
Money for upkeep and incidentals.
Where do you come from?
I see. Here, we don’t believe in receiving allowances or money for incidentals anymore. Each participant you see here has come on his or her own. We believe that’s our contribution to the training. Everybody in this workshop understands the value of the course. We need information and knowledge, which lead to attainment of lifelong skills, which, in turn, lead to empowerment. Therefore, it makes no sense to expect to be paid for being taught such skills. I walk approximately 30 kilometres everyday to come and attend this course.
Strange. Very strange. In Malawi, no such course can take place without the trainees being given allowances for food, accommodation and transportation.
I guess, Malawians need to change. We, in Rwanda, have changed.
At Rurenge we visited a Soya and Maize Farming Cooperative Society. We were welcomed by a group of people who looked poor, at least from their dressing and their blank faces. The chairperson, a brown, tall and slender man, briefed us on the history of the Cooperative Society and its successes. He took us around the place for us to appreciate what he was talking about.
“You mean, you built this shed on your own?” Native Authority asked, rather puzzled.
“Oui et non. Yes, because it was our idea that we needed to construct an agricultural produce processing and storage shed. Our agricultural extension advisors did the plans and told us we needed 12 million Rwanda Francs…”
“You raised K12 million?” Native Authority Mandela wondered.
“Twelve Million Rwanda Francs amount to about K10 million,” I said.
“But, that’s a lot of money for a poor community like this!” Native Authority Mandela interjected.
“No because we did not raise all the money. We contributed RwF 4 million and we asked an International NGO to assist us with the rest!” the Cooperative Society chairperson explained.
“And the NGO gave you the money or it built the infrastructure?” Abiti asked, mouth agape.
“It gave us the money. NGOs know we are partners in development. They need us as much as we need them. And we built this shed! Our next goal is to buy farm machinery to ease production…”
“You baffle me. You mean, poor as you are, you managed to raise four million kwacha?” Native Authority Mandela couldn’t still understand.
“Not kwacha; Rwanda Francs!” Sheikh Jean-Philippe corrected the Native Authority.
“You see. It took us time to understand that in the absence of war and natural calamities like floods, poverty is self-inflicted. Here, we are farmers and the government introduced the One Milk Cow per poor family project to boost our incomes. We are now self-reliant.”
“A cow per family works?” I asked.
“Here, on average a milk farmer sells about RwF5000 worth of milk per day and makes around RwF150 thousand a month. Now if 20 such people come together as a Milk Cooperative Society, they will have a capital base of RwF 3 million per month or RwF 36 million per year. Which organisation can refuse to partner such a group?”
“But farmers need to eat!” Native Authority Mandela jumped in.
“Farmers already have food. All they need are things like clothing, sugar, and soap. So, no sensible farmer can spend all the RwF 5000 per day!” The chairperson said, laughingly.
“How I wish the fishermen of Malawi understood this! They make more than K5 000 from fish sales, but still call themselves poor!” Native Authority Mandela said to himself.