KIGALI, Rwanda, November 14, 2008 - Driving to the Gasabo 3D office, CEO John Rugamba announces "Tony Blair is coming."
Great. Doesn't everyone do Africa? Once it was to shoot animals with bullets, then with cameras, now to build huts or dig wells. The great white powers have given up on subjugating and exploiting, and are now are here for humanitarian causes -- at least on the surface.
"He is coming to Kigali?" I can already see the standard pictures of African head-of-state meeting ex-head of state from some powerful western country. Didn't President Bush come here? Didn't Clinton pause in Kigali to apologize for ignoring the Rwandan genocide?
"Yes, he is coming here." John is adding a odd emphasis.
"To the office?" I joke.
"Yes, he will be here on Thursday. He will have him for 8 minutes."
I can't believe it. Will I get to meet him? Maybe shake his hand. Get a photo of the two of us? I realize I have gone from cynic to star struck in a nanosecond.
The next day, John is not changing his tune. He's fully expecting the former British PM to show up and is gearing the team up. I had better get ready to cover the story.
Gasabo 3D is abuzz in anticipation. So are other tenants in the office building, who pop in to discuss. The day before, a Rwandan government official comes by confirm that we will not embarrass. The next morning, Gasabo practices the presentation, arranges images on the screens that are bound to impress, and even practices how to quickly assemble around Mr Blair if a photo op develops. The appointed hour comes and goes and still no Mr. Blair. But 2 security personnel come in to inspect the office. Blair must be on the way.
I expect a motorcade but I miss seeing it and a group files into through the door. Blair, handsome and immaculately dressed in a dark suit, is immediately recognizable.
Calm as ever, John takes over. He explains what Gasabo 3D is doing then asks politely if he can give a short presentation. Blair appears attentive and interested throughout. I wonder if he can "see" the part from the 2D drawing John has handed him.
"So you take what is given here," says Blair indicating the paper, "and make it into 3D?"
He gets it! Good work, John.
Blair isn't done. He starts asking questions. He seemed to be particularly interested in how the service Gasabo 3D is offering is being received by an international market.
We try to explain to Mr. Blair that nowadays everyone is connected by the Internet and with talent anyone can compete in the world economy. Why shouldn't Rwanda compete for work against established firms from India and China?
Blair wants to know what are the biggest challenges? We have to admit the world does not yet associate Rwanda with engineering services and educating the world may be an expensive proposition.
How do labor rates here compare to US? to India? We tell him Rwanda is a bargain.
It's a wrap. Our time is just about up. John asks if we can take a group shot.
"Yes," says the ex Prime Minister. Sweet. I jump for the camera and am lucky to squeeze off a couple of shots.
Local coverage of event in The New Times here.