Emmanuel Gakwaya is a father of seven and has all his life lived on a remote Mazane Island surrounded by Lake Rweru in Bugesera district, Eastern Rwanda.
The island has a population of 2,000 predominantly a fishing community. Its size is 4 square kilometers stretching between Bugesera district of Rwanda and Kirundo province of Burundi.
The islanders previously used canoes to cross to mainland but early this year the Rwanda Defence Forces donated a modern boat to boost transport between the island and mainland.
With fewer infrastructures, the island population has a primary school. The nearest college GS Nkanga is on mainland in Batima cell; students have to pay Rwf 2000 to cross by boat to the mainland and then walk 3 hours to reach the school.
“After primary school in 1999, I called it quit because I couldn’t afford transport and lunch fees,” said Gakwaya. The Island has only one university graduate and a teacher.
He says essential services “can only be obtained offshore because we are isolated.” The island has no electricity and simple services like charging a phone, one has to go to mainland.
According to Nadine Mukanyandwi, the Mazane cell leader, there food is not enough at the island, “we grow maize, beans and cassava mostly but we hardly harvest because we are exposed to uncontrollable factors.”
“Floods invade our crops every rainy season. The surviving crops are savagery decimated by hippopotamuses from the lake.”
To try and save some crops, islanders organize day and night patrols. This pain turned farming a secondary activity; islanders have made fishing their main activity.
This activity is not that good neither because it turns men idle in the day since fishing happens at night.
“Polygamy is high on the island, early pregnancy is a burden,” says Mukanyandwi.
New homes, new hope
As Rwandans celebrate the 22nd liberation anniversary, the Mazane islanders have begun a new life after relocating in new homes on the mainland.
“Liberation celebration has never been this enjoyable to us before,” Speciose Mukakabera, a mother of three told KT Press.
Mukakabera arrived at Batima model village on June 28 alongside other 100 families. They settled in houses built by the Rwanda Defense Forces Engineering Brigade.
The housing units cost between Rwf 20 million and Rwf 36 million “The house is quite awesome; It has three bedrooms, a store and a kitchen; it’s a wonderful home,” says Mukakabera.
With just a single bedroom house back at Mazane island, Mukakabera used to house livestock and kitchen utensils in the bedroom, but she now has more enough space in a secure environment.
The house is equipped with essential furniture, including beds with mattress and sofa.
Mukakabera had never slept in a house with electricity before. Since June 28, she stopped using a kerosene candle because the new houses have electricity. The new village has clean piped water.
In the middle of the village, a multi-purpose hall was built mainly for entertainment and meeting purposes.
A workshop, commonly known as Agakiriro is also part of this village. It is a facility that will host several technical activities like carpentry, welding and tailoring to benefit mainly the youth.
Very importantly, the village is part of GS Nkanga whose classrooms of 1960s were demolished to pave away to a new modern school. The Brigade built 17 classrooms, three science laboratories and teachers’ quarter.
All these activities will cost a colossal sum of Rwf 5 billion.
Open to the world
However, the former fishermen are skeptical they may become idle.
Rwabuhihi Jean Chrisostome, executive secretary of Rweru sector told KT Press that Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has availed 100 hectares of land for cultivation by this new community. RAB has a station in Batima.
“Every family will be given a cow under the one-cow per family program and this will help them find manure and milk,” said Rwabuhihi.
“We have endless opportunities beyond farming, not like the other side where we were restricted to a small piece of land,” said Mukakabera.
Mukakabera has a tailoring machine, but she could not raise enough from it because there were not enough clients at the island. She intends to revive the service and serve the neighboring community.
Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame was at the Rweru model village to celebrate with the former islanders the 22nd liberation day.
Beneficiaries of the fully furnished houses told the president that their new life seems like a dream; “because we were isolated back at the island; charging a phone required crossing to mainland, our children saw electricity when we reached this place. We have seen our miracle,” said one of the beneficiaries.
Drawing from this testimony, president Kagame said that liberation is ongoing much as many families are still considering basic needs a miracle.
“Having access to drinking water, electricity and a home to sleep should not feel like a miracle. It is your basic right,” he said.
“The next stage is to liberate ourselves from any obstacles that stand in the way of our development.”
The president said living in such fully stocked village should be a right for all Rwandans and it will be achieved.
Liberation however, he said, is more than these houses; it’s also having a vision and a strategy how to reach it, without any external influence.
Beneficiaries, like thousands that had come to meet the president were all cheers to him because he is leading this liberation struggle.
A country of best settlements
By 2020, Rwanda could turn one of countries with the best settlements in the world. According to Augustin Kampayana, head of human settlement, planning and development at Rwanda Housing Authority (RHA), the country designed a roadmap that will pull every Rwandan from a dilapidated settlement and put them in settlements where they will benefit from basic infrastructure.
The program started in 2010 with the eradication of grass thatched houses (Nyakatsi) which took 40,000 families out of poor standard houses within 3 years.
After eradicating Nyakatsi in 2013, the country turned to relocation of 47,000 families that were settled in high risk zones which include 400 families in Mazane and Sharita islands respectively.
Community work, government and partners joined hands and drew the families from floods prone areas, steep slopes and hostile islands.
“We are remaining with barely 10,000 households which could also be relocated in a couple of years,” Kampayana told KT Press.
Last year, RHA conducted another survey to get informed of the status of rural settlement, imidugudu and realized that 360,000 families across the country are still living in scattered households.
“We have given ourselves two years to have these families in village settlement,” said Kampayana.
Meanwhile, at every liberation anniversary, apparently RDF will be showing Rwandans an exceptional project indicating that they are not just fighters, but members of community who will continue economic liberation for centuries to come.
Today last year, RDF launched a primary school which they built and donated to Gishambashayo residents in Gicumbi district, Northern Province, a place that served a sickbay during the liberation war, two decades ago.