Day 6, Embassy

Hot Tip: Don’t wear steel toed boots to the Embassy.  You’re gonna have to take them off to go through the metal detectors.  Yes, there are more than one.  And don’t take your laptop or your camera.  Both will be confiscated.

At the U.S. Embassy, we met up with representatives of USAID and gave a report of what we’re doing in Rwanda.  They seemed really excited about at least three things:

  1. iHRIS actually being put into the Ministry of Health and used.  We are actually implementing these tools and putting them into people’s hands.  They’ll have a place to collect information and analyze it.
  2. The Data-Based Decision-Making workshop IntraHealth is hosting. It is one thing to give people tools.  But if they’ve never used that sort of tool, they won’t understand the benefit it provides.  Unless someone shows them.  So IntraHealth is holding in-country workshops with the people at the Ministry and in the field who will be using the tools.
  3. Our focus on open source.  After a few encounters with software consultancies and vendors who provide solutions without source and require payment to foreign entities for ongoing support.

It is great when officials and administrators start talking to us about the benefits of open source.  They’ll mention another program that is government-funded and talk about how frustrating it is to have a system that they have to use being incomprehensible and expensive — because  that is just the way proprietary systems work. I hope that supporting native workers by bootstrapping their in-country IT (Information Technology) force with Open Source will undermine efforts like those described in Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.  The faster that Rwanda becomes self-sufficient, the less dependent they will be on foreign aid. And the desire for self-sufficiency is beginning to bloom.  While there is still a lot of dependency, people who make decisions and help provide direction are beginning to see that dependency on outside software firms is not the way to economic health.  As Rwanda focuses on IT (and the country is focusing on the industry as an area of growth), Open Source will provide the four freedoms of Free Software.  The government of any country (but especially developing countries) should be especially interested in the redistributive and communal benefits of Free Software and we are beginning to see it here.  When Rwanda has its own RMS, I’ll know we have succeeded. (NB: The mini-rms in me asks you to read “Free Software” where ever you see “Open Source” on my weblog. I am a Freetard, after all.  Unfortunately, the term “Open Source” is more widely understood.)

Day Two

(You may want to see my first post on my visit to Rwanda if you missed it.) Right now, I’m sitting in the Sentenary House, the home of the Capacity Project in Rwanda, upgrading a System 76 laptop with Ubuntu Gutsy.  I hope to prepare this laptop for a Rwandan developer for the iHRIS project I’ve been working on.  Of course, that’ll mean Emacs.  I hope to spread the Church of Emacs to Rwanda. In my last post I kind of left you hanging on the Mille Colline.  Yes, I had a coke there but I should tell you how disappointed I was that the movie showed a completely different building then the actual Hotel.  I’m sure they had their reasons (they always do) but I really do expect movies to give me an accurate portrayal of places I’m extremely unlikely to visit.  Just in case, you know, I visit. Also, we had a brush with fame.  The hotel I’m staying in (the Kigali Serena) is where Tony Blair was staying.  For a brief moment, we saw President Kagame rush in and then quickly back out.  I had no time to request an autograph.  Mostly because I didn’t recognize him. Dramatic difference between Kigali and the US: the number of gates and guards.  It seems that every major intersection has one or two men in uniform carrying AK-47s.  Almost every building and home has at least a guard and, unless it is right on the road, a fenced in courtyard with razor wire or shards of glass atop the walls. I remember similar gates and glass-topped walls in Haïti, but the guards are an unsettling addition. Vanessa told me that, in part, the practice started as a way to employ men who have been fighting most of their lives and hadn’t developed any marketable skills.  Fair enough. Another thing about Rwanda is the number of people walking along the road and the street vendors walking about.  Some (evidently) sell SIM cards or minutes for your phone.  This is in addition to a wireless shop on every other corner.  I was amused by the portable phones they carry that look similar to a desk phone, but without the desk. Finally, though I seemed to be on a normal sleep schedule after my first night here, I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  Seriously, I saw the sun rise.  I’m sure part of it was that I was up hacking away till 4 in the morning (“just one more thing”) but, still, right now I’m tired.  Thank God Rwanda’s primary export is coffee.  I need it now!