Meeting President Paul Kagame

How it began: the background to the story
It all started with a tweet. Rather, two tweets.

 

The tweets to President Kagame that started it all.
The tweets to President Kagame that started it all.

Let me backtrack a little

Friday morning. My last day at work. Fridays are easy days around here, we report to work at nine in the morning, which means I get up at 8, and on most days, I oversleep till 8.30 and I have to shower, dress, have breakfast and do the 10-min walk to work in 30min! Today at around 4pm, there is a farewell party for me. I don’t really have that much work, so I spend most of the morning tweeting, Facebooking, blog reading and emailing.

Julie, my wonderful boss (I know you’re thinking am just saying this because she might read this blog but it’s the truth). Where was I? Julie, my wonderful boss, was playing tennis in the morning when she noticed Coach Tony (the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club coach) planting bananas/flowers around the tennis court. So she asked why he was doing that, and he said President Kagame was going to pass through on his way to Kigali. They were not sure he was going to stop, but the coach and the tennis kids were going to wave at him when he passed by.

The Ibirunga Tennis Court in Musanze Town was in a bad state, until the organization I work with, Art of Conservation, came in and helped rehabilitate the club. We also sponsor a few kids to be coached on weekends, since they go to school on weekdays. They are the tennis kids (duh!). The United States Tennis Association provides some of the equipment needed at the court.

 

Coach Tony and others during the early stages of the tennis court rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of AoC
Coach Tony and others during the early stages of the tennis court rehabilitation. Photo courtesy of AoC

Back at the office, Julie told me about the president passing through today and I told her you know what? The president is on twitter, I could tweet him. She was like, why not?

So I tweeted him, and kept checking my replies every few minutes. Finally, 30 minutes later I get a reply:

 

President Paul Kagame's tweet to me!
President Paul Kagame’s tweet to me!

I’m ecstatic.

The Party That Was Not

The president’s timing is er… inopportune since it clashed with my party. He was to come in at around 4pm or 5pm and that’s when guests should be arriving. At first we are not even sure he’s coming so we get on with the party. We have some pizza, wine, soda for the kids and beer. Two of AoC’s staff go to the tennis court, just-in-case.

There are a few guests who’ve arrived so far, and two of them, little angels 7 years old, are drawing something for me as a going-away present. In the end, it’s something a little strange, if abstract, but I appreciate the gesture and will keep the drawings for as long as I can.

The Signs of His Coming

Apart from his tweet, and the excitement in the air as the tennis kids were told to come in their best club t-shirts, there was little to show the president was going to stop by. But at around 5pm, the commissioner of police in this area (I think) called and started asking all sorts of questions about the club. Then we knew things were getting thick! Later, a few security guys (a part of the presidential guards perhaps) arrive and also start asking questions. We’re called from the office. We (AoC staff) have to leave the party for the tennis court. We tell the guests not to worry, we’ll be back to continue it but for now, well…

More army guys arrive. They surround the tennis court and melt into the shadows. They go into the houses neighbouring the court and command the residents to stay indoors. It’s all very movie-like. They are asking questions. They are polite, because they ask me, “may we please speak to you” and then pull me aside and ask me all sorts of things. Then they call Julie aside and do the same. Then they call me back. Then they call Valerie (another staff member) and do the same. Then back to Julie. It is just so very exciting.

The rain and the waiting

Then we begin the wait. The kids continue playing tennis, it would be fantastic if the president sees them in action. The security guys ask us to brief them about our plan. How should we receive the president? What gift do we have for him? Here we show them the various t-shirts we have and wonder what his size is. We plan how we will say hi, introduce everyone, coach thinks of what he’ll say, Julie thinks she should be brief but hit the main points, I think of how I first want to go to the bathroom quickly before he comes.

Unfortunately, it starts raining and I know it will ruin the pretty little picture of the president playing a little tennis in the dust. We wonder what to do. There is a small shelter that will eventually become a bathroom but is currently not functional. The kids shelter there. We run to the car and wait for the rain to stop. I tweet the rain and tell it to please stop.

It stops after a while and we get out. We ask the security guys how long before he comes, they say “we will tell you when he does, don’t worry”. The guests at the party have excused themselves. It’s okay really, since the focus is now elsewhere.

The security guys decide the t-shirt we have for the president is too wet and drive us back to the office to get another one.

It’s now six in the evening and the rain starts again. We rush back to the car. It gets dark. 7pm and we’re a little wet from the rain, we’re cold and the little kids are starting to have long faces. It finally stops raining, the lights at the tennis court come on (well, some of them) and we’re searched before entering the court. We are told to keep our mobile phones away. The camera is examined. No one else will be allowed in/out except the original party.

He’s almost here

You can tell just the moment we realize he is near. There is an increase in the two-way radio static. We’re told to move from the tennis court onto the road. Phone calls are being made. Traffic is diverted so there is an empty stretch and we all look into the distance.

There are several headlights in the distance but they keep turning before hitting this stretch. Another nobody, we sigh.

 

We look at the headlights in the distance!
We look at the headlights in the distance!

Finally, a car travelling at high speed blazes through, flashing lights and hooting horns. Or maybe a siren. In our excited state, we see and hear things. Off it goes past us. It must be the decoy car, I think. The presidential motorcade finally weaves its way and at the tennis court where we wait by the roadside, a small sleek car stops. Someone opens the door. And Kagame steps out.

I wave to A. A is our unofficial photographer tonight. We have done several practice shots so we are ready to go. I must say I’m hogging the limelight, at one point making sure I am looking into the camera all the time. I hope no one notices this.

Julie is the first to greet him and to introduce herself. I shake his hand next. He then greets everyone by hand, paying special attention to the smallest kid here. He speaks with Coach Tony. He says he has a gift for us and hands us an envelope. We thank him and clap for him. We remember the t-shirt we promised him. We give it to him. He holds it up, saying “thank you, it’s my size.” We couldn’t be happier at this moment!

 

president kagame
With our best smiles, we let the president know just how much we appreciate his stopping by and accepting our gift.

There is a pause in conversation and activity, and I seize the chance to tell him I’m the one who tweeted him. He turns back to some of his entourage and says, “she’s the one who invited me.” Then I tell him am going back to Kenya soon, and he said no, you should stay. I tell him I want to be the president of the EA Republic when it’s formed in 2032.

Julie invites him to the pizza and wine party but acknowledges that he’s probably tired. She thanks him and we all clap for him and thank him yet again. Then he waves bye, slides into the back seat of his car and they slowly leave. The security guys are leaving. Traffic resumes. Then it hits us: the president came!

His Gift

We open the envelope. Crisp bank notes. We’re so happy, we’re shouting and laughing and whooping and singing as we walk back to the AoC office. It’s about 9pm (we don’t have our phones so I’m not sure of the time). We make more noise and sing louder.

 

Excitement is in the air
Excitement is in the air

The After-party That Was

Singing and dancing, we arrive at the office and distribute pizza and soda to the kids. Drinks are handed to the adults. The mood is buoyant! We’re high on adrenalin.

After a while, the tiredness starts to kick in. I stop the music and give a little speech. I’m kind of emotional right now, I’ve encountered nothing but love all around (most of the time). I love this place yet am leaving soon.

Then my co-workers start handing me gifts, giving a little speech about how they will miss me and tears are slipping from my eyes. Anyone who has something to say says it. We allow the kids to go. The adults remain and continue to have fun. More wine and music and dancing. It’s two in the morning when the last people leave the party.

Meeting President Paul Kagame is definitely the highlight of my two-month stay here. I like this town a lot, I would love to come back. Perhaps I will.

The Aftershocks

We wake up on Saturday to a flurry of phone calls left, right and all over. Definitely, a lot of questions about Art of Conservation. In short, we carry out conservation and health education to kids living near the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. For more, check out the AoC blog.

We count the money the president gifted the Ibirunga Tennis and Running Club. One million Rwandese Francs (about 2000 USD).

My impression of him is that he’s a very nice guy. There, I don’t have glowing descriptions. It was humbling for me, for all of us. He’s generous and polite. A great man.

There are also a lot of questions about Twitter. What is this twitter thing? And we have to tell them it’s like Facebook, you know, the internet site?

What are you all waiting for, sign up and follow me on twitter!

  • http://iwittness.blogspot.com Iwittness

    Great stuff maam.you should actually consider staying there a while longer if they let u…

    if they let me, I’ll stay.

  • SupremeGREAM

    Then I tweet the rain and tell it to please stop……..LOL

    How dare you call it the highlight of your two months stay? That would be the highlight of twilife! Ever shaken our president’s hand?

    That’s the tweepup of the year!

    you’re quite right, it’s the highlight of my twilife!

  • http://reflectionsanddeflections.blogspot.com/ OtienoHongo

    Wow, ok, after reading this I am going to tweet Obama! Anyway, nice to know he actually manages his twitter account, I know some public figures get their assistants to do such stuff – what this means is that we shall be twitting him with more confidence now in the knowledge that he will read them! Good to know you enjoyed your stay in Rwanda as well!

    Don’t go spamming his account though :) It’s good that he manages his own account.

  • Mo

    What an exhilarating experience, Savvy! And quick-thinking initiative on your part! Three cheers for you & for twitter!

    thanks! If I hadn’t taken my chances with twitter… this would have been a different story!

  • iamthealbert

    Waagwan yuh are destined fi greatness. Bigup

    thanks!

  • http://www.myinkdropshere.wordpress.com jacquendinda

    This is big!!! for a tweet to turn into something as big..uuuwi! I dont think I would have eaten hio usiku…excitos!!!
    I like Kagame because he replies to tweets..that says a lot about a person, especially one who is a leader….

    This deserves a congratulations…you did good!!

    thanks. It took a while for us to calm down that night!

  • http://kiruikenn.wordpress kiruik

    Go Savvy, next is Obama ama hayuko Twitter?

    he’s on twitter but I don’t know if he handles his own account…

    • http://greatrnk.wordpress.com greatrnk

      Obama is actually on twitter

      but does he manage his own account? that’s the question

  • http://5goodexcuses.wordpress.com danzo

    Wow, so when you come back you will be defying a presidential directive (you know presidents don’t suggest). Anywho, big up. I really believe you are destined for greatness. That’s why I wanna be around you when it happens! It will. Cheers!

    I hope I’m destined for greatness…. let me work out a few logistics then consider if I should go back

  • Sarah

    Good stuff girl! No chance of extending your stay then. That was quite a two month stay ei?

    there is a chance but it’s slim and I’m thinking about it. It was definitely a worthy stay.

  • Poji

    Touching. Very selfless president and a humble blessed tweep you are Savvy. God bless you.

    Very touching, yes. Thanks, God bless you too.

  • Nzembi

    That was quite something!

    That’s it! If I’m not doing anymore tweet ups unless it’s with a president. :) :D

    that’s the spirit!

  • kimanig

    impressive girl impressive. I am sure you were star struck with power puff eyes. I like the bit about asking you not to leave. maybe you can make your bones in Rwanda. virgin territory. too many cutthroats in Kenya. then you’ll be @savvyrwanda. thumbs up

    I think savvyrwanda has quite a ring to it!

  • Gaspard Kayitare

    Impressive great story

    still can’t believe it happened :)

  • http://www.techmtaa.com RobertAlai

    This is such a great post. I will share it wide. Nice thinking of you

    thanks for sharing it!

  • fiona mbabazi

    Gal u did well ,on behalf of my fellow Rwandans thanks for giving that Tennis club recognition!! and yes AM proud of PK .not every president would have stopped by..

    If it wasn’t for the president stopping by, this would not have turned out the same! I thank him a lot

  • http://wwww.talegorillahome.com takegorillahome

    Awesome! Great job! You just hit History, in a hard way !

    Thanks! Wouldn’t have happened without the support of friends and tweeps alike!

  • Mrembo

    That was so cool. Thst you tweeted President Kagame and he stopped by…way sooo cool. Yani i am excited for you

    Cooler than cool! You could feel the excitement in the air

  • Mrembo

    Lazima we make this news/tweetup viral….yani how many people tweet a prsident and that same day the president shows up. Off to spread it the news. Good on you

  • Pingback: Pass it on « Here we go once again

  • http://kbaab.wordpress.com Kbaab

    That was the COOLEST thing any tweep has ever done! I’m totally jazzed like you won’t believe. I’ve always like President Paul Kagame, but now I think I love him. That was such a sweet and humble gesture. I’m sitting here, thinking, would our President do that? Really? I don’t think so. Power to you girl! Here’s to more Presidential tweet ups. :)

    I doubt our president would do the same. PK is the coolest EA president.

  • http://www.paulkagame.com Jassax

    Perhaps you forgot to tell them that when you twitted him, he was officiating the conclusion of a four-day government officials retreat in Rubavu, a few kms away at the Congo-Rwanda border. PK is a very energetic man who will not preserve himself when it comes to matters concerning his country – however small this may look to others. “When you consider yourself too heavy (important) you become a big burden to the people you serve,” this is what he tells his team of leaders. fare thee well Savvy Kenya. You leave in style i should say

  • AfricanQueen

    Wow!! Great stuff gal!!you def goin’ places!!

  • Alex Owanoh

    This is very great stuff! Trully amazing and…..just too moving….

    :-)

  • http://www.wamathai.com Wamathai

    Coolest tweet-up ever & one to remember too.

    don’t think I’ll ever forget this!

  • http://cesily.wordpress.com cesky cess

    That’s so so cool! He must be a great guy to keep his word like he did. I’m happy for u my dear. :-)

    It was such a wonderful time!

  • Pingback: Rwanda: Blogger Invites President Through Twitter :: Elites TV

  • http://www.techweez.com Martin Gicheru

    I tell you that’s a great highlight of your life. I like, i envy.

    :)

  • http://www.kunemaajabu.wordpress.com mehboobah

    Amazing guy, PK! Lovely country with lovely people I must say

    I had the time of my life there.

  • http://lifeishorteatadonut.wordpress.com/ nuttyphilosopher

    WOW! What a wonderful story! Kudos to you for making it happen for the kids. It must be a very rewarding experience for you now that you’re leaving Rwanda and what a way to exit. Please put this on your CV and mention it in every job interview:) Congrats dear!!!

    this will definitely find its way somewhere on my CV and interview!

  • Rudchris

    Wonderful story,
    You will have to note that we have the coolest president ever! Never joke with his promises.
    Congs again!!

    He does keep his promises for sure!

  • http://www.siku-moja.blogspot.com Nairobian Perspective

    wow, im just imagining our President reading twitter! nothing of the sort-congrats to you quite a mean feat!

    I took my chances and it paid off!

  • http://Fauzkhalid.blogspot.com Fauz

    PK is the best.I once tweeted him and he replied…Alykhansatchu,another great Kenyan loggers also invited him to #MINDSPEAK on twitter and yes,he came.So did Jeff Koinange on the Bench!!

    He’s a great president. Setting an example for the rest of the EA presidents.

  • http://greatrnk.wordpress.com greatrnk

    Way to go, girl. Congratulations.

    I wish .ke would be blessed with a president of PK’s caliber.

    there is always the future to think of, so maybe someday!

  • http://www.theyouthcongress.org Raphael Obonyo

    Girl, technology coupled with bravery supplant protocol…

    Paul Kagame…humility, simplicity and being in touch with reality is real leadership…

    All of us…facebook and twitter are the new and perhaps most effective spaces for organizing…

    Twitter more so, it’s immediate and personal.

  • Timothy

    Hey Harriet, nyce stuff…you just joined the league of great women, not so far from Womens Day…kuddos!

    it happened on a few days before women’s day! Maybe that’s a sign!

  • http://www.akilahinstitute.org Elizabeth Davis

    What a great story! You are a wonderful writer, this story made me cry ! So sweet and its apparent that you have a wonderful team of people up there, keep up the great work!

    It is a wonderful team that we have yes. It was a special moment for all of us.

  • Edmund Kagire

    Hi Savvy Kenya

    You pulled it off Girl!!President Kagame is the most amazing, modern President I have known. When I heard he handles his Twitter account, I couldn’t believe, so I tweeted him just to confirm. He replied and I almost got a heart-attack,I couldn’t believe it.

    That evening, I heard just passed just the place a few minutes before he stopped off, I would have gladly interviewed you!! Nevertheless, I think this story is worth reproducing in The New Times

    It’s an amazing story of a tech-savvy president who keeps his word! I would gladly share it with the rest of the world.

  • http://www.kijiji.co.ke Kijiji & Klassifieds

    Must have been an experience. Congratulations!

  • Vivian Nereah

    Wow! savvy gal thats encouraging. It never hurts to try and for sure if u hadn’t sent the tweet, then maybe you would never have met! Thumbs up

  • Pingback: The Honor of Meeting The President – Art for Gorillas

  • Olivia

    Hello Savvy,
    Thank you for sharing this experience! He never ceases to amaze us, Rwandans! We are so blessed to have him as our Leader! I hope that beyond praising him, we get inspired to work, behave and lead like he does! Thank you, and the rest of AoC for contributing to the improvement and well-being of our country! Wishing you all the best in your next move.

  • http://randomcarole.wordpress.com/ Randomcarole

    How totally cool!! Seriously you are an inspiration for taking the chance. Maybe I should try and figure out this twitter thing after all, hmmm

  • Kagabo John

    My dear, I wish you knew the evil Kagame is!!!! If you knew the millions of people Kagame has killed, you would certainly not wish to get anywhere close to that evil. Do you think Spain, a country that has indicted his guy for terrorism, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide is stupid? Do you think France is stupid to be investigating Kagame for terrorism, crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide? My dear friend, do you know that UN has settled at a point where they say Kagame should be tried for war crimes,crimes against humanity and genocide. Of course, Kagame is now out to look for any organization, hoever small it might be, that can do some marketing for him. He is an isolated fellow. Remember, the Spanish government refused to receive him. In Belgium, he vanished after being ignored by Belgium officers when he had gone to meet Rwandans in Belgium. Recently, and this is more interesting, he went to Havards school of Economics!! Do you know what happened? Professor Porter intitially presented a proposal to the University for an official invitation of Mr. Kagame. Havards University refused that saying that their University has a name to protect. They do not want to see Kagame in the dock for international crimes when he was once identified with the University. Professor Porter then sold the idea to the School of Economics. The school refused for the same reasons. They advised Professor Porter to take the risk as an individual and invite President Kagame as a speaker in his own class he was conducting. Kagaem was invited by Professor Porter into his class, as part of his lecture. In the US, any professor has a right to invite anybody to say something to his students in the course of his course. That is how Kagame ended into Professor Porter’s class!!! That is your Kagame you are praising. I pity your NGO!!! What will you do at the time Kagame will be in the dock ofr these international crimes? And it might be soon!!

  • Aimable

    Kagabo tweet and stop your long baseless statements and malice. PK is loved by all without sweat, a man with a great personality, well done Sawy

  • Joseph Rurangwa

    Kagabo John, Kagame has his own weaknesses just like you and me but please give him credit where he diserves it including the humility he manifests in this story.

  • Mugisha

    Kagabo

    You cant take away facts. You are one case of a disgruntled,disillusioned African, who can only refer to something bad because Spain does so. Why not give credit where it is due?Do you know the extent he has turned Rwanda around?He is an icon, a true African hero. It doesnt matter what Spain or Belgium thinks of him. Your mind is still colonised. Trust me Kagame will never go to ICC-the western tool used against Africans.

    Kagabo, i hold you in contempt for one reason, you cant give evidence to back claims your claims….but anyways, there are always people like you trying to drag others down, but judging by the comments here, you shd be ignored, every one sees the positive side of the story, and yes, you deserve your opinion. They say, opinions are like a***ses, everyone has one.

    As for Havard, you are such a liar, Havard sends delegations to Rwanda atleast 3 times a year and all of them cannot go without seeking Kagame’s wise counsel.

  • http://www.gmwaura.blogspot.com Grace

    Gal, you are such a star!!!! Keep up!

    No one has ever called me a star before… thanks you!

  • Mugiraneza Alain

    Hello Savvy! thank you for sharing this wonderful story!!! We are so proud to have such a leader!!! Forget the Kagabo Johns! They are not able to appreciate the fortune we have!!!

    I don’t think there is anyone who’s capable of doing for Rwanda what Kagame has done so far!

  • Pingback: How Twitter can work for or against you « Revealed

  • http://ijustsaidthat.wordpress.com shekyn

    Wow! Wow! Wow! This is just too awesome. Twitter is that thing! And you are that chick. Big up Savvy. So proud of you girl!

    Thanks!

  • http://pitzevans.wordpress.com pitzevans

    wow a true statesman indeed, too bad there arent many of them around. As for you being ea president, you can count on my vote.

    Thanks, I’ve started my campaign early enough!

  • http://joliea.wordpress.com Joliea

    I am so happy for you girl! That must’ve been beyond exhilarating!! Wish I was in your shoes!

    Thanks! It was a dream-like moment, definitely!

  • http://twitter.com/iraukagatuiri Gatuiri Irauka

    wow, am also humbled by this sory

    • Anonymous

      A humbling moment for me too!

  • Info

    This is what is called real story. Really inspiring.

  • Markarski

    A very humble Guy

    • savvykenya

      No doubt about it!

  • http://econke.wordpress.com/ Econke

    A good piece Savvy. I loved it