This weekend saw the start of the third year of Project Umubano, the Conservative Party’s international development social action project. Around 100 volunteers have travelled to Rwanda to work on a range of development projects. The Project is led by Andrew Mitchell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, who sent us these exclusive reflections as the Project got underway.
19.20 Saturday 18 July, Kigali Airport, Rwanda
Touchdown! Our plane dips low onto the runway and we come to a halt. We all walk across the runway to the modernist concrete birds-nest of Kigali International Airport. We wait for the brown cardboard boxes, containing dictionaries, exercise books and football kit, to come around on the conveyor belt.
My mind drifts to the images I’ve seen of the airport in 1994: terrified people huddled around the blown-out windows of the arrivals area, hiding from the militia who were manning roadblocks on the roads to the airport. And international military planes taking off, carrying expats and their pets to safety – but leaving the Rwandans to their fate. From the moment you enter the country, you’re faced with grim reminders of the terrible events of 15 years ago.
Eventually we count up all 68 of the boxes, pack them into our waiting truck, and head off in a fleet of buses and trucks into the dusty Kigali night. The hills all around twinkle with lights. I get a friendly greeting from the staff of the guesthouse where I’ve stayed for the previous two years. It’s good to be back.
0900 Sunday 19 July, Kigali Genocide Memorial
We make our way to pay our respects at the sombre memorial to the 1994 genocide. Today is the 15th anniversary of the 100th day of the genocide. We stand for a minute in silence, thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people who lie buried here. I can’t think of anywhere in the world where so many bodies lie together. Last year the memorial was attacked by a grenade-throwing extremist: for some, the ideology of genocide lives on.
1200 Sunday 19 July, Novotel Hotel
Our volunteers congregate for the introductory briefing. Looking out at the faces I see some people who have been part of Project Umubano from the beginning in 2007, and others for whom this is their first time in Rwanda. We have people like Dr Tibbutt, a doctor who has worked in Uganda every year for the last 30 years, through to some of our younger volunteers, for whom this is their first time in sub-Saharan Africa. They’re quite a bunch, ranging from teachers and lawyers to city high-flyers and nurses. They’ve all chosen to spend their own hard-earned money and use two weeks of annual leave to come and be part of this project. I feel incredibly proud of them. We’re all well aware that you can only achieve a tiny amount in just a fortnight. But every project will make a real difference, and above all our volunteers will gain a direct insight into some of the realities and challenges of international development.
1330 Sunday 19 July, British Embassy and Department for International Development (DFID) Offices, Kigali
We gather for a snappy and informative briefing by the British Ambassador and the Head of DFID. The vast majority of British aid goes through the Rwandan Government, helping to build its capacity and support its national development plan. It’s called budget support and a Conservative government would continue this programme in Rwanda. But there are other places where the case for budget support is much weaker.
1800 Sunday 19 July, Hotel des Mille Collines
We head to the Hotel ‘Thousand Hills’ – better known to many as Hotel Rwanda, where hundreds of people hid from the militias in 1994 while Kigali burned around them. Today, the Hotel is a hubbub of activity as tourists, business people and aid workers mingle. We’re treated to a wonderful welcome reception hosted by the Rwandan government. Our host is James Musoni, the Minister of Finance.
2300 Sunday 19 July, Guesthouse, Kigali
A quick glance at my lesson plans for tomorrow and then it’s off to bed. Like last year, I’ll be teaching conversational English to a class of 60 Rwandan primary school teachers. It’s hard work – but good fun and incredibly rewarding. I’m looking forward to the next two weeks!
Andrew Mitchell and some of the other volunteers will keep ConservativeHome readers updated as the Project progresses.