Rwanda, CMU deal creates controversy

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The recent visit to Carnegie Mellon University by Rwandan President Paul Kagame was met with controversy from outside organizations. The announcement of a partnership between Rwanda and the university brought human rights advocates from around the country to the campus, but few represented the voice of Rwandan immigrants or those still living in the Republic of Rwanda.

At President Kagame’s speech at CMU Sept. 16, the university announced their plan to establish and operate a CMU campus in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. CMU is the first U.S. research institution to offer degrees in Africa with an in-country presence.

Rwanda
PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME

“Indeed this is an important occasion for us because the partnership between CMU and the government of Rwanda has seen the construction of the campus starting in our region,” Kagame said. “We know that despite decades of partnership between developed and non-developed nations, the world remains largely divided in terms of economic ability. Often the quick fix to these imbalances has been that aid flows from rich nations. In many ways this aid has been misused. Countries that possess the skills and knowhow can work with those that do not yet have them. Developing nations will have to review how they conduct their business.”

Rwanda has been touted as East Africa’s leading information and communications technology nation. CMU will initially offer a Master of Science degree in information technology and will begin working to create a Regional Centre of Excellence that will develop an innovation incubator with the hope of spurring job growth.

“It’s clear to us that technology is a great goal in supporting these objectives. We have invested in the communications infrastructure. With those technologies our institutions are able to tap into a global pool of knowledge. Education institutions, government and industry need to work together to make these partnerships sustainable and available to as many people as possible. The CMU campus in Rwanda will offer our citizens a chance. The advantages of in-country training will allow more students to afford and to access a wider range of skills and knowledge.”

While Kagame addressed the crowd of approximately 1000 people in CMU’s Rangos Ballroom, protesters from around the country raged outside. They charged the president with “crimes against humanity” and accused him of working to silence free speech.

“I’m here protesting because CMU and President Kagame are the reason 8 million people died. Forty-seven women get raped an hour. When we knew he was going to be here, we came to get justice,” said Pierre Gahima, a Congo native living in Braddock. “CMU should not let a man like this in this beautiful school. There is terror and genocide.”

There was also a small group of counter protesters advocating on Kagame’s behalf in support of his commitment to improving education in Rwanda. Not among them was 22-year-old Shantal Sangwa, a Rwandan studying biology at La Roche College who although supportive of the CMU Rwandan partnership, painted a different picture of accessible opportunity in her home country.

“When you get a visa, the country is poor so when you get here it’s so different. I was at a good school in Rwanda, but the security is not good,” Sangwa said. “Even when you get the chance to go to school there, it’s hard to get a good job unless you know someone in the government. Some of my friends have graduated and can’t get jobs there. Even if I graduate the only way I could get a job is if I know someone in the government.”

Completion of the campus is slated for next year.

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