RWANDA'S LIVING LEGEND IN LONDON
Last week, on Monday, April 24, 2006, I attended the event of President Paul Kagame's visit to London, Ontario, Canada. I traveled three thousand miles from British Columbia and made a holiday out of the event by afterwards visiting family and friends elsewhere in Ontario.
The thrill of being at the London event compares only to the thrills I experienced during my Homage and Pilgrimage to Orwell, and I will be describing it in a similar way, mainly through photos with explanatory captions below.
Readers of my Orwell Today articles on RWANDA'S GOOD MAN KAGAME and HOW KAGAME BECAME LEADER will already know about my admiration for Paul Kagame. Most of them - in Rwanda and the diaspora - will therefore understand how exciting it was to not only SEE the President of Rwanda but to also actually MEET him. Afterall, how often is a person in the presence of a living legend?
The first event of the day of President Kagame's visit to the campus of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) was an 11am tour of the medical education facilities to which the media with passes were invited to follow along. I had previously arranged to be included in that tour and was waiting for a cab in front of my London hotel just after 10:30 am.
The cabs in London, Canada are as distinct in their own way as the cabs in London, England. In the former they are leather-upholstered Lincoln Continentals with "chauffeurs" more than "drivers" and this seemed very appropriate for a passenger on the way to see The President. While we were driving I was organizing my briefcase and hadn't had a chance to converse with the driver other than to tell him which building at the University I needed to be dropped off at and to impress upon him the need to get there as soon as possible.
We were already on the University grounds when all of a sudden we slowed down and stopped because a motorcade of around eight black sedans flanked by police cars and motorcycles was whizzing across the road in front of us and turning in where we were planning to go.
My driver said, "Hey, what is this? Someone very important must be at the University today." I exclaimed excitedly that this must be the President of Rwanda arriving because that is who I was on my way to see, being a part of the Media that would follow him on his tour of the Medical Sciences Building.
He interjected immediately saying, "Did you say President Kagame is coming here today?" and I said "Oh, you know his name?" and he said "Yes, he is a total hero of mine" to which I said, "Are you Rwandan?" to which he said "No, but I know all about President Kagame and how he is unique among leaders in Africa" to which I totally agreed, answering his question about whether the public was invited by telling him that President Kagame would be speaking to the Rwandan diaspora at 3PM and it would probably be open to the public. He said he would go home and pick up his wife and they would be there to see Kagame at 3PM. By this time we had not been able to proceed any farther as the street was closed to traffic and so I quickly paid the fare and walked toward the building to which he had pointed.
I joined other Media gathering in the Lobby, receiving our Press Packets and listening to the procedures to be followed upon the President's arrival and throughout the tour of the health facilities. Soon we all went outside to await his arrival, and within a few minutes his car pulled up to the curb and out President Kagame emerged.
Notice his extended hand ready to grasp the outstretched hand of any put before him. That is symbolic of his friendship and openness toward the world.
After entering the Lobby the President, his entourage and his University hosts stood together to allow official photos to be taken. Then the tour moved on down hallways to various departments.
At one point President Kagame was introduced to two student doctors and the real-life patient they were practicing diagnosis on. The patient, in his hospital gown, looked as dignified as he could while sitting on the examination table being observed by a visiting Head of State. After this demonstration the Media returned to the Lobby to await the finish of the tour there.
Above is a photo of the two presidents, one Paul Davenport of the University of Western Ontario and the other Paul Kagame of the country of Rwanda. President Davenport is explaining that although President Kagame might enjoy the walk to the next building to preside over the News Conference, for security reasons he would have to be driven and surrounded by police escort, as on the drive in. But we had no such restrictions and hurriedly walked the short distance to the location in the Somerville House building.
My question to President Kagame, during the Press Conference, was to ask what were the prevailing medical needs of the patients requiring care at Rwanda hospitals and if many of them were genocide-injury related. The President explained that the needs did include genocide injuries and also malaria, AIDS and various other ailments.
After the Press Conference was over it was time to leave for the Great Hall where a luncheon for 250 invited guests had been prepared, and at which President Kagame would be the honoured speaker. Thanks to having become somewhat known to some of the organizers of President Kagame's visit in Canada, I was invited to attend.
The above left photo is a close-up of President Kagame speaking from the podium to the assembled guests, many of whom were from various departments of the University which is helping Rwanda train nurses and other medical personnel. President Davenport had recently returned from Rwanda where he toured the hospitals and met President Kagame for the first time - the highlight of his visit. President Kagame's speech expressed the appreciation Rwanda holds for the University's help in Rwanda. The photo on the right, of President Kagame in the distance, sitting at his table, gives an idea of the size of the Great Hall and the crowd. If that had been the closest I had ever come to seeing him it would have been an exciting enough event.
But, as fate would have it, my request to President Kagame's extended entourage that I be able to give him a gift I had brought was granted. After arriving at the University College building, where the meeting with the Rwandan diaspora was to take place, I was invited to the room where President Kagame and his entourage were sitting.
Somehow I floated into the room and the next thing I remember is giving President Kagame a book I had compiled of the Rwanda articles that have appeared on my website over the past two years and which I had wrapped in an Orwell Today T-shirt. There were T-shirts as well for the entourage to wear upon their return to Rwanda. Then President Kagame graciously wrote and signed his name in my copy of the book WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES that I had brought with me to London just in case I got close enough for an autograph.
It is the first and best book I've read so far about the genocide in Rwanda, and the one where I originally learned of the heroism of Paul Kagame and his army, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF).
The above photos of President Kagame and myself were taken in front of the fireplace in the elegant sitting room where our meeting took place. The ancient-looking statue behind us reminds me of a depiction of St. George and the Dragon, a legendary character to whom I have previously compared Kagame. So too have I pictured him as a knight on horseback riding into victory with the flag of his people raised triumphantly in his upstretched arm.
I don't remember saying goodbye or leaving the room but in a few minutes I was back in my chair near the front of the room where hundreds of Rwandans living in Canada (the diaspora) were excitedly anticipating His Excellency's arrival. I chatted with people sitting nearby until before long President Kagame and his entourage arrived and seated themselves at the long table on the stage. After introductions by the Rwanda Ambassador to Canada and a welcoming speech from the President of the Rwandan Diaspora in Canada, President Kagame took to the podium to speak.
This time His Excellency (H.E.) spoke in Rwanda's native language, Kinyarwanda, and although I didn't understand a word of what he was saying, I could almost sense his meaning from the reaction he drew from the crowd. When they clapped, I clapped, and when they laughed, I almost couldn't help but laugh as well. He has a voice that seems to kind of vibrate and at times I could almost hear a low hum, like a tuning fork. I'd noticed this as well when listening to an interview of him by the BBC two years ago. At one time I asked the person sitting beside me to translate and he said he was talking about how Rwanda is one country made up of Rwandans, no matter if they are Hutu or Tutsi.
No sooner had President Kagame sat down than the sound of singing voices and drumming was heard advancing from the very back of the room and Rwandans in native dress performed for the crowd and the Presidential Party.
Then the floor was open to comments and questions from the audience, with a cordless microphone being placed in their hands as they stood to speak.
At one point a woman stood up and started speaking (in Kinyarwanda of course) and I heard her say my name "Jackie Jura" and "Rwanda's Good Man Kagame" and I knew she must be talking about the essay on my website. I don't think she knew "Jackie Jura" was in the crowd, but I snapped this photo of her, not wanting to miss a fan when I find one. President Kagame talked through a microphone seated at his table and his responses usually generated laughter and warm comraderie. But soon it was time for the Presidential Party to leave as they had a dinner to attend in Montreal that same evening.
President Kagame hoisted high the trophy he had been presented with by the President of the Rwandan Diaspora in Canada (she is the woman wearing the orange sari) and quickly he waved and exited the room, followed by his entourage. Outside I took photos of the diaspora mingling and recounting the event.
The woman in the photo on the right is Beatrice, who I had talked to inside, and who had told me she had read my Rwanda writings and liked them. She had been an independent journalist in Rwanda until moving to Canada approximately two years ago. She has a book inside of her that she feels is important that she write and share with the world. It will tell her story of Rwanda and the genocide.
Soon the sound of engines revving up could be heard and I rushed to the side of the building to see the Presidential Party emerging from a side door and into their waiting motorcade.
The Rwandan flag on the hood of the President's car was flapping in the breeze as it passed by. From the joyful reaction of the Rwandans looking in his direction, it is no doubt they saw him and caught his eye.
At the end of the driveway, as I reached the road leading out of the University grounds, I met up with Rwandans I had talked to inside. They were all familiar with my writings and said I told the truth about Rwanda and President Kagame on my website. Tony, in the white suit, works at the Rwanda Embassy in Ottawa.
I hope they, and all those who are following the story of Rwanda, enjoy this pictorial sharing of the visit of Rwanda's living legend - Paul Kagame - to London, Ontario, Canada. ~ Jackie Jura
Kagame seeks peace ("Rwandan genocide victims have paid a huge price for peace") & Kagame: Sinner or Saviour? ("doesn't fit African leader mold, he isn't anyone's puppet"). Toronto Star, Apr 30, 2006.
LOVE'S BLIND SAYS KAGAME HATER KAGAME IS WELCOME IN CANADA ("the Napoleon of Africa is the personifcation of hope after horror"). Montreal Gazette, Apr 7, 2006 Rwanda's President visiting Canada (star attraction at conference for Education & Economic Development) & Canadian univeristy assissting Rwanda (in public health & hospitals). EmbassyNews/UWO News, Apr 19, 2006 Jackie Jura email: email@example.com
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
LOVE'S BLIND SAYS KAGAME HATER
KAGAME IS WELCOME IN CANADA ("the Napoleon of Africa is the personifcation of hope after horror"). Montreal Gazette, Apr 7, 2006
Rwanda's President visiting Canada (star attraction at conference for Education & Economic Development) & Canadian univeristy assissting Rwanda (in public health & hospitals). EmbassyNews/UWO News, Apr 19, 2006