Nearly twenty years ago, Rwanda was a very different country. Today, a group of young women are changing the future of journalism.
Have you ever thought of yourself as celebrity obsessed? How often does your banter debate Rihanna’s latest Instagram upload or Frank Ocean’s newest Twitter enemy?
Maybe we’re not completely fanatical, but for young women in Rwanda the concept of celebrity is a lot lower down their list of priorities. On our first day in Kigali, working with the young journalists at Ni Nyampinga, not one of our group jumped up for the Elle magazine with RiRi on the cover. The catalogue of Live Magazine back issues which had seriously weighed down my carry-on allowance caused much more of a fuss! But that’s to be expected right? They’re interested in people like them. Young people. Hard working, normal people. Don’t get me wrong, they know every word to Chris Brown ‘Don’t Judge Me’ and Alicia Keys ‘Girl on Fire’, but that’s where the interest stops.
It would seem quite cliché to say that my week in Rwanda changed my perspective on life, but I would be lying if I didn’t. Ni Nyampinga, the magazine and radio platform we were working with is all about appreciating both inner and outer beauty, and maintains that all girls are born that way. The only magazine of its kind in the country, loosely translated to “a girl who is beautiful inside and out, and who makes good decisions” it’s a mantra that we could benefit from here in the UK. These young women make opportunities for themselves. They’re journalists, they have talk shows on the radio, and their Ni Nyampinga billboards and logos decorate buildings. It’s obvious that in Rwanda, they are the superstars. They get the welcome we’d give Rihanna. And they deserve it!
During the week we got right into the heart of the Rwandan community, and saw the girls let their hair down and get the job done at the same time. The journalism needs are much more organic, with young people wanting to know what’s going on for other people like themselves across the country. And being ‘The Land of 1,000 Hills’, there’s a lot to know. We got stuck in with female drummers (a growing culture in Rwanda) as well as met a woman who turned her family-based basket making company into a business which gave woman financial independence and attracted the attention and trade of American super retailer Macy’s.
Considering the rather turbulent recent history that haunts Rwanda, from start to finish the only problems we encountered were the lack of road names and questionable role of zebra crossing in the busy capital (let’s just say the zebra crossings rules are different to the UK). The Rwanda of 2013 paints a very different image to those that shocked the world back in 1994, and although the topic of genocide is only ten minutes away from any conversation, this seems to be the only time you would remember problems ever existed.
The genocide is still too difficult for a lot of people to talk about, and after visiting the memorial on our final day, the reality of what our new friends had faced in childhood was difficult to stomach. But Rwanda is so much more than what it was. The girls of Ni Nyampinga can change the face of journalism, and bring people together in the process. Girls across the country already have parties to meet up and read the new issue or listen to the national radio show.
With friendship and harmony emphasised over difference, the power of the next generation of Rwandan women is a force to be reckoned with.
Keisha-Monique Joseph is the Deputy Online Editor at Live Mag in the UK. Her life is based on three words. Eat. Sleep.Tweet. She’s an imaginary DJ who is using journalism as a way to meet Kanye West. As well as bussing jokes in the office, Keisha has interviewed Eddie Murphy’s brother for UK publication Pride (and kept his number…gwarn!). Want to know what its like being a student, running tings in America? sit Keisha down…she has a load of stories to tell (some should be censored).