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Rwanda: Coronavirus in the land of a thousand hills

Each year, at the beginning of April Rwandans get together with their families and friends to commemorate the lost ones of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This is a difficult time for Rwandans but this year the COVID 19 situation has made the commemorations even more complicated than usual, reports Alice Kayumba, Office Manager of KfW’s office in Kigali.

Commemorating Genocide during the lockdown

Rwanda was quick to react when the first COVID-case was reported in mid-March. Cautious measures were followed by a country-wide lockdown that lasted until May 1. All Government agencies (except for services deemed essential), international development partners and also KfW’s Office directly went into home office and have been working via phone and virtually ever since.

As the 26th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi approached, all official ceremonies were cancelled. People were used to mourn at the places which preserve the memory of their loved ones but due to COVID 19 pandemic, the 100 days of commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is happening in unusual ways. IBUKA ("remember"), a non-government association with a mission to preserve the memory of the genocide and to defend rights and interests of survivors, has suggested channels of communication through which the affected families could talk about their killed relatives using internet platforms and remembering as a group while being at home. Hotlines caring for those in need were set up to offer their services during mourning.

Frauen in Uganda schöpfen Wasser am Brunnen ab
The supply of clean drinking water is more important than ever in times of Corona.

Social impacts of the current crisis

While the number of new cases has remained steady and on a relatively low level during the lockdown, the social impacts are expected to be significant. 40% of the population already lives under the national poverty line and the informal sector constitutes a large part of the labor market. The economic impact on the most vulnerable is severe. Against this background the government has been quick to announce an Economic Recovery Plan including extended measures in the area of social protection.

In addition people have been voluntarily making contributions by putting together money and other essential items such as food for families that need help during the current situation.

Unter Hallendächern in offener Ständerbauweise findet ein Markt statt, auf dem Textilien angeboten werden.
Dense crowds - here on a textile market - as it was in times before Corona.

KfW’s team in Kigali experiencing home office

As the country continues its fight against the corona pandemic, KfW continues working from home and supporting the projects virtually. “Home Office is not a popular concept in Rwanda yet. Also, as our office serves to support our colleagues in Frankfurt in the coordination with our partners in Rwanda, our work relies on personal contact, work meetings and official gatherings. The current situation has completely changed our day-to-day work”, says Office Director Charlotte Povel.

As an Office Manager Alice Kayumba’s job is not only to manage the administration of the office, but also to facilitate work processes and maintain the team spirit. Organizing the office during lockdown and the transition phase has meant to make sure that the office complies with all government regulations and KfW recommendations especially regarding distancing and sanitation. In addition, office staff needed to be adequately equipped to be able to work from home. Alice Kayumba recounts, “Lockdown was strange in the beginning but I managed to cope with it by staying positive and using most of my time for productive activities. For me, staying fit and active during lockdown is a daily challenge. I have realised that when I work out I tend to feel better, calm and sleep well, and that really gave me the courage to carry on and stay motivated. I hope I can pass this positivity to the colleagues in our office.”

Given Rwanda’s aspiration to be the leading ICT hub in Africa, the Government has made huge efforts in the past to digitalise public services and create an ICT friendly business environment. “Even though we went into home office quite suddenly in mid-March, our communication with our partners has continued on a regular and virtual basis. Mobile money, online banking and other digital services have also helped to make transactions and grocery shopping easier.” says Yves Tuyishime, project coordinator for decentralisation and energy.

Lokale Fachkraft, Annalyse Umunyana, im KfW Büro Kigali im Home Office mit ihrem Baby.
Annelyse Umunyana, local expert in the KfW office in Kigali, multi-tasking while working from home.

Even though education is mandatory in Rwanda, the education level remains comparatively low. Jacques Niyonsenga, office driver and logistician and father of four kids, knows how important education is for his kids. As his job mostly requires him to be on the ground physically working from home has been challenging. While he prepares for all necessary steps when reopening the office, he also realised that “Staying home is an opportunity to spend time with my family in the village and to help my kids continue learning during lockdown as schools will remain closed for some time and education is important.”

With more than 60% women in Parliament, Rwanda has been ranked under the top countries with gender equity. Being a working mum therefore has never been much of an issue for Annelyse Umunyana, Senior Project Coordinator for vocational training and financial sector. Yet, as she explains “Working from home is quite challenging when one has a 10 month-old baby requesting one’s presence. Balancing home office and family life has been a new experience, as it’s not like you have eight hours straight to concentrate. Sometimes you have to multi-task work and home activities, and conduct meetings when the baby is babbling in the background.”