Under The Hoodie—Emmanuel Adigwe, Product Designer at Co-creation Hub
A few weeks before the offer to move to Rwanda came I had been harassed by SARS officials. It had almost become a monthly thing too. On one occasion, I almost spent the night in a cell.
Under The Hoodie is a weekly series where we talk to people about their journey into tech. It focuses on the intersection between life and career. UTH Week 4.
In 2019, Emmanuel Adigwe got a job with Co-creation Hub that would take him to Rwanda and change his life in very significant ways. In today’s edition of Under The Hoodie, Emmanuel talks to us about leaving Nigeria, and some of his favourite things about the place he now calls home - Rwanda.
Hi Emmanuel, tell us a bit about yourself
Hi, I’m Emmanuel Adigwe, a product designer at Co-creation Hub, Rwanda. Prior to my time at CcHub, I worked as a product designer with Access Bank and Globus Bank.
How long have you been in Rwanda?
One year and 5 months, so that’s about 17 months now.
How did you get into Rwanda?
I got in through my current job at CcHub. The job opportunity came with moving to Rwanda and I took it. Before then, I had heard a couple of things about Rwanda and it felt easy to accept.
Did you have any concerns about leaving Nigeria?
To be honest, not really. A part of me was already tired and wanted to leave Nigeria. A few weeks before the offer to move to Rwanda came I had been harassed by SARS officials. It had almost become a monthly thing too. On one occasion, I almost spent the night in a cell.
For the questions I had, I went to YouTube and watched a couple of videos from Wode Maya—he does videos about different African countries.
But at that time, I was ready to pack my bags and go.
So, how did it work?
I got in with a visitor’s visa for a month or so---that was how I got into the country. Then as soon as I got in, I started processing the work permit through CcHub. The permit got accepted within 3-4 weeks, and I was able to set up a bank account and everything I needed.
That sounds like it was very smooth…
Yes, it was
17 months in Rwanda now, any regrets?
I won’t say there are any regrets. I miss some things like the food and the people. There are a lot of Nigerians here, so there are some Nigerian foods. But the one food I miss and haven’t been able to find yet is Amala.
For the people, I miss my family but there’s also a culture shift. I don’t know if this is true universally but East Africans are quite different from West Africans culturally.
There’s a way Nigerians are always motivated to seek profit [legally] that the people here aren’t. And I understand it. In Nigeria, resources are scarce and everyone is fighting for them. Here in Rwanda, there is more of a social safety net for people, so there’s no rush to make profit.
Interesting… What are your favourite things about living in Rwanda?
First thing is that Rwanda is very safe. On my first weekend in Rwanda, I met these ladies walking on the streets by 3 am. I wouldn’t try that in Lagos with my full chest.
I’m sure you’ve already heard of this but Rwanda is very clean. It’s not just Kigali, everywhere in Rwanda is clean. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t seen a single rat, and I've been keeping track.
Also, the power is good. I have been here for 17 months and I haven’t heard a small generator once. The only time I ever hear a generator is at work. They only put it on sometimes to make sure it doesn’t stay inactive for too long and develop issues.
If they ever take the light here, it is because they are fixing something. And they send notices via their Twitter account when they want to take the light. The light was so good that these days, I get angry when they take it for even five minutes.
Have you experienced any culture shocks?
Yes, a lot of them. Compared to Nigerians, Rwandans are very calm people. No one is rushing anywhere.
Initially, I used to think it wasn’t a great thing but I’ve had a rethink. Maybe life is not supposed to be as gung-ho as we're used to in Nigeria. What if they're living life the right way?
The calmness also transfers to their over-all culture. For instance, if you call a customer-service person and they tell you they will get something done, they likely mean you will have to wait till the next day to get it done. Even the bike men here aren't in a rush.
Not everyone is calm–that would be a generalisation, but most people are.
Would you recommend people leaving Nigeria for work?
I recommend people leaving Nigeria for anything.
Since coming to Rwanda, I haven’t had to worry about many basic things - traffic, power, buying fuel, etc. Because of that, it was easy for me to plan my next phase. I recommend leaving Nigeria even if it’s for a short break. Having those times when you’re not worried about the basics can do a lot for you.
Nigerians should travel to other African countries more often. I think we have an ignorance from being “giants of Africa” that can be challenged when we see what other countries enjoy that we do not.
It’s not just Rwanda, even places like Botswana and Tanzania are very beautiful. If not for Covid, I should have travelled to Tanzania.
Younger people, especially, should try to travel. This is the time to experiment. Even if you think you want to go and come back, just go and live a normal life for once.
What’s the Rwandan tech ecosystem like?
Compared to the Nigerian scene, the Rwandan scene is still very early. There are no big companies like Flutterwave and Paystack. Interestingly, there are also not a lot of small startups, and I don’t know why.
As for products, Rwandans rely more on Mobile Money (MoMo) than mobile banking applications. MoMo is very reliable—you can use it everywhere from paying a bike man to paying for a room at Radisson Blu in Kigali; everyone has it.
However, when it comes to higher-tech services like mobile applications, adoption is still a huge problem and I’m not sure why. For example, there’s a food delivery service we use—VubaVuba. While Expats like myself prefer to use the mobile app, indigenous still prefer to call-in their orders.
I'm not sure why it is that way, though.
It doesn’t sound like there are a lot of job openings for people in tech to move to Rwanda. Are there alternative ways?
The Rwandan Government has a visa plan for people who have a reliable source of income. That means if you have a remote job that pays well, you should be able to get a visa to work in Rwanda. So, if you have an employer in Europe or North America, you may be able to migrate to Rwanda. I don’t know anyone who has done it but the details are on the government website.
There’s the refugee visa, if anyone wants to try that. There’s also a retirement visa too, but I don’t know anyone who has used it.
What do you think people should keep in mind when leaving Nigeria for Rwanda or other countries?
Ultimately, they should get ready for another culture. I’ve heard complaints from some of my African friends about how Nigerians are quite resistant to new cultures. Something as little as eating their foods can make the indigenous people more receptive to you.
There’s also a thing about being open-minded. People are going to have different cultural and societal practices, if you won’t be able to live with them, don’t travel. There’s no point travelling then going on to make fun of other people’s culture.
For instance, people don’t talk about things in Rwanda as freely as we do in Nigeria, and that’s because they’ve come from a difficult place in their history. So, when certain things happen, and these don’t even have to be government-related things, you may be surprised that your Rwandan friends don’t say anything about it.
The Stockholm syndrome of being in Lagos also affects a lot of Nigerians—they miss the violence. You have to try not to miss it because it’s not healthy.
Haha. Thanks for doing this Emmanuel. I’m sure this will be useful for a lot of Nigerians looking to move to other countries.