Africa and its potential for the online gambling industry and Blockchain technology has been a popular topic of discussion for months amongst professionals in these two spaces. I couldn’t believe it when I found out I was going to Rwanda to cover Blockchain elements of the Transform Africa Summit, so many thoughts were going through my head.
Is it safe? How many vaccines do I need? Can I eat the produce? Drink the water? What’s the time difference? Where in Africa is Rwanda? Is there a danger of getting kidnapped? Do the civilians have guns? What are the hotels like? Are the roads paved? Honestly, so many thoughts circulated my head on that day.
Part of the reason why my mind went wild is because when the possibility of an iGaming focused event taking place in Africa- Nigeria, for example- was floated, the reaction from my peers was “no way, I’m not going there, its not safe”. Undoubtedly, this type of instant fear is partially the fault of the media because they glorify bad news.
Regardless of the above, I’m not one to shy away from traveling to third world countries and thanks to my father, I’ve been to plenty of them for vacations throughout my life. The difference being we were on organized tours leaving from the States with American and local guides holding our hands the entire way. Traveling to Africa for a conference however, that’s a whole other ballgame.
After doing some research online, I learned Rwanda is a small land-locked country in Africa, bordering Tanzania and situated up in the mountains. I was reminded Rwanda suffered heavily from Genocide in the mid-90’s (think the movie “Hotel Rwanda”) and the country is notorious for gorillas and therefore “gorilla trekking” is a massive tourist attraction. I also learned there is a high risk for contracting malaria through mosquitos, yellow fever vaccinations are required to enter the country (although they did not check my vaccine papers at passport control) and I learned you must NOT drink the tap water (or eat anything that is washed in it) or else…
The week before I left, I visited a London travel clinic and £140 later, I walked out with an immunity to Yellow Fever for life and 14 malaria pills, to be taken once a day from two days prior to travel until finished. I suffered minor side effects from the Yellow Fever vaccine 24 hours after the injection (a sore arm, headache and drowsiness for a few hours) and no side effects from the pills, thank god.
Next up was booking a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city and the location of the Transform Africa Summit. I spent hours online reading review after review on Trip Advisor and Expedia as the conference hotels such as the Marriott were fully booked. I came across “The Retreat”, a newly renovated part of the “Heaven” property with outstanding reviews and tight security, so I crossed my fingers, booked and hoped for the best.
We flew to Kigali bright and early, connecting through Amsterdam, arriving fourteen hours later with a one-hour time change. The airport was small and felt new, but it took forever to get through passport control and it was pouring outside, like something I’d never seen before.
Thankfully the weather improved throughout the week and when the sun came out, Kigali revealed itself as a beautiful city with modern touches such as traffic lights that count down the seconds until they will change. The streets were sparkling clean, the buildings shiny and new and plastic bags are not even allowed in the country, if you can believe it.
My company organized local drivers for our transport to the hotel, back and forth from the conference center and we were advised to stay within the boundaries of our hotel property at any other time. Thankfully, The Retreat turned out to be one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in and we felt safe and secure the entire time- it was worth every penny to feel this secure and comfortable.
With everything in place in terms of security, hotel, transportation and health precautions, I was ready to experience several Blockchain events, the first targeting local students and entrepreneurs and the second targeting African presidents, government officials and other professionals.
I was amazed at how young the audience was and learned Rwanda (and Africa in general) has an incredibly young population. I was amazed at how eager the delegates were for education on innovative technology to improve their country and businesses. I was amazed to see mobile devices in everyone’s hands- including the local students- all using WhatsApp, Facebook and all the other goodies we enjoy in the West.
Now I can see why there is such potential in Africa for digital technology, but I think you have to go there yourself to really understand it.
Another reason why its absolutely essential to travel to events such as Transform Africa Summit if you wish to do business in places like Kigali is to meet the locals in person. The networking was incredible, deals were taking place before my eyes between delegates and speakers from the USA, Europe, UK and the locals.
If you take the right precautions before traveling, something that takes minimal but smart planning, I cannot recommend going to Africa-based events enough. Its where the real action happens, not at Africa-focused sessions in the West.