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Norrsken Africa Week 2023 – The Uganda Perspective

I like to categorise myself as a travel writer. I also like to think of myself as an innovation enthusiast. Last week, I got to embrace both identities. Just next door here here in Rwanda.

I got an invite to the 1st Norrsken Africa Week at the fantabulous Norrsken Africa House in Kigali thanks to a through pass from the Leo Africa Institute and The Swedish Embassy in Uganda. The lesson here is to build those networks, they can do unexpected things for you.

After participating in the opening day of Uganda National Science Week, I left my people handling things and jumped on a 9 pm Volcano Bus to Kigali. The highlight of that journey was our Hyundai bus showing dust to all the other Chinese buses that plough that route, and helping my neighbour get his ‘excess’ Uganda Waragi across the border. My East African comrades, tell your authorities to stop this UG hateration.

We arrived in Kigali around 6.30 AM but the sun was already out and cheery. Time zones are weird. To allow my body to adjust and stretch, I decided to walk the 5 km to my Airbnb. Kigali is nice for walking. Kigali is just nice, man. The entire walk, I was just shedding tears of what could be back home. Anyway, it’s good they are next door whenever one wants a quick dose of organised society.

I finally got to my Airbnb in the neighbourhood of the police headquarters after a couple of wrong turns – as it goes, took a nap and then made my way to Norrsken House to pick up my tags and get a feel of the area. The place is really well put together and the buzz of ambitious activity is intoxicating. Everyone has visible idea bulbs floating above their heads as soon as they enter that place. I met some friends who I was pleasantly pleased to learn were based in the space. The Swedes have not come to play games but also, how was I just finding out about Norrsken..?

The evening ended up at Impact Hub Kigali for a Women in Storytelling event and then on to a dinner at a place called Picaddily that serves fire chicken. I had the unplanned company of a Rwandese lady who grew up in the Netherlands and was in the process of falling in love with Rwanda in adulthood. Lessons, the African future is afropolitan and the Dutch also practised colonisation.

Day 1 of the event found me at the venue early and ready to dig into breakfast. I then gravitated to my Uganda people and we swapped entrepreneurship war stories. The networking quickly took off and the faces, elevator pitches and business cards went into rotation. The Rwandese with their elegance, Nigerians with their flamboyance, Kenyans all sounding articulate, Ugandans with vibes, the Swedes looking focused… This part, I don’t enjoy so much tbh, selling is draining. I like listening though and imagining what I’d invest in if I had the dime. One day.

HE Kagame entered the building as a surprise act and that’s when the official program kicked off. He said made strong Pan-African statements and handled some goofy questions with charisma but me as me, I still believe he can shoot lasers out of his eyes. They have a certain intensity…

The people were plentiful and I was over the networking real quick so I decided to focus on meeting the folks relevant to Muwado’s ambitions. If you are finding out about us for the first time, we are on a mission to financially empower African storytellers with different tools on our platform. We were the only Media company listed on the event website which I found sad. More support to media innovation, please. The cool thing about the event website was interested parties could send you a message requesting a meeting so those are the meetings I focused on. It’s nice to be wanted.

Mr Eazi was there. Man’s into VC now. Runs Zagadat Capital which invests in cool shit as their slogan. This made me very happy. He talked about some of the creative investments and the impact they are having and I felt hopeful. I got the contact of a team member coz you never know our shit might be cool enough for them one day.

Because there were so many people, it was hard to pay attention to the panels so I got lost in non-selling conversations with other founders and it quickly turned into an Entrepreneurs Anonymous ranting session. Scaling Issues. Money. Working with teams across geographies. Co-founder issues. Too many trainings, not enough cash. Money. Work-life balance. Product Market Fit. Regulation. Money. Helpful suggestions here. Useful contact details exchanged. Money. AI. Battles with investors and boards…. Forget all those excited, privileged, enthusiastic LinkedIn updates and give your entrepreneur friends all the hugs, they are going through it. Lesson, be vigilant about identifying good opportunities from ones that are not the right fit for you.

Day 1 ended at a lounge, toasts were made, a birthday was celebrated, new acquaintances were made and life was good. But this place can really want to be a high school because what in the curfew is going on? Are these guys still in the pandemic? There’s an opportunity for Uganda here to provide a place for all this energy to go. I was actually informed that the weekend sees migration to Kabale and even Kampala for folks who want to go all out. Anyway, the lesson here was champagne also gives hang-over.

Day 2 had less traffic because 2 other major conferences had kicked off in town. Kigali has put in the work to be an events destination and from what I witnessed, it’s paying off handsomely. I was also happy to hear about all the pro-entrepreneurship policies they are passing to make it easy for anyone from within or out to quickly start a business. I love Uganda but all these functioning systems are starting to look very attractive.

I was running low on social battery so I mainly sat and listened in to the panels. Very many interesting insights but if you’ve been to enough of these events, Africa is a country in terms of issues and entrepreneurship challenges sound the same around the world. There’s some weird comfort in that.

The event ended with performances from Teta Diana and Bruse Melodie. Top marks to the organisers all around. I jumped on a boda and went straight to board a bus back to Uganda. My neighbour this time was a Rwandese lady going to Jinja for her first Nyege Nyege. Ah, Uganda, at least we have that going for us.

Images: Norrsken

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Written by Byagaba Roland (3)

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