In profile: Alfred Ndahiro (PhD 1998)
Alfred Ndahiro (PhD 1998) is an adviser in Communications and Public Relations to the President of Rwanda.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Rwanda and fled in 1960 after the first wave of troubles. My education started in a refugee camp in Uganda, where there were no classrooms or teaching materials. Often we studied under trees taught by unpaid volunteers. There was nothing to write on, so wrote on our thighs and get marked on our thighs! Really the aim was to keep the young occupied and stop us being unruly. Food was scarce and we were reliant on the Red Cross. Many went through this experience, including the current Rwandan President Kagame. In 1961 my family returned to Rwanda, but we had to flee again when security conditions became even worse.
Why did you choose to come to the University of Liverpool?
It was a complicated journey paved with problems. I spent my secondary education in Uganda and did a degree in English and French at the University of Makerere, however I had to move on as a refugee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo because of the turmoil in the country during Idi Amin’s rule. In the Congo I had to start all over again. I managed to get a job as an Assistant Lecturer in the University of Kinshasa, and then I was awarded a scholarship in the UK to do a master’s degree at the College of St Mark and St John’s in Plymouth. At that time the college had a partnership arrangement with the University of Liverpool and I was encouraged to do a placement there, which led to my PhD.
What memories stand out from your time in the city?
In Plymouth at that time, international students were advised not to venture out into the city alone, however when I went to Liverpool I remember being offered a beer in a pub - it was such a difference! I made many good friends at the University and in the community, especially through the parish of St Bernard’s. The priest actually travelled to Rwanda this year to bless my daughter’s wedding, along with 10 others from Liverpool.
I was so happy in my studies and work, but life became very difficult. I came to the UK on a Zairean passport but it was later identified that I wasn’t Congolese but a Rwandan refugee. The University offered me a research assistantship, but I couldn’t get a work permit and my visa was under threat, so no scholarship. It was a very stressful time. However, 10 years on, my connection with Liverpool is still very strong. Our first daughter is a Liverpool graduate. She has a degree in Development Studies and met her husband at the University. Our third daughter also has a Liverpool degree in Pharmacology and is hoping to do a master’s. Whenever I go back to Liverpool it’s like a homecoming!
What did you do after you achieved your doctorate?
I was offered a job teaching Key Skills and Communications in the University’s Department of Continuing Lifelong Learning , but in 2002 I had a phone call that changed my life. The Rwandan High Commission and President’s Office rang to say that President Kagame wanted to see me. He told me that Rwanda needed my services and said that they would arrange for me to return. It was the toughest decision I have ever had to make; my four children were happy in Liverpool schools, my wife was working at the Royal Liverpool Hospital - how could I disrupt their lives? My colleagues did not understand how I could leave a secure job and were fearful for me because of the image of Rwanda, but in April 2002 I decided I had to move back.
What do you do now?
I’m now working as Adviser to the President in Communications and Public Relations and as his speechwriter. It is a great feeling to be part of a success story in rebuilding my country. I have been in Rwanda for nearly 10 years and see positive things happening every year. Rwandan people feel that the country is now on the right track. We still have a long way to go and have to keep up the momentum, but we now have peace and financial stability. It entails a lot of commitment and self sacrifice, but this is our country and I am proud to be part of a successful government.
What does an average day involve?
Everyone in the government works very hard to make things happen. My work involves me in liaising with the media as I am concerned with improving Rwanda’s global image. Sometimes I have to represent the President in meetings with dignitaries and have visited many countries with the President, or on his behalf, including China, India, Malaysia, 20 countries in Africa, USA and Canada and most cities in Europe. Tomorrow I am flying to Perth for the Commonwealth Heads of State meetings.
How has the University of Liverpool impacted on your career?
My PhD has equipped me for my current work, and Discourse Analysis has helped me enormously in communications and in training government officials. It has given me resilience when I had to cope without a scholarship, with no revenue and with refugee status. Being at Liverpool has really helped create who I am today and given me a sense of vision.
What words sum up your time at Liverpool?
Liverpool will always be my second home. I was there 13 years and I will always have a place to go back to. I think it is probably the best university in the world as it offered me everything you could want.
The Alumni Relations team would like to thank alumna Sue Hoey (MEd 1999) who interviewed Dr Ndahiro during a recent visit to Rwanda.