#FRONTROW: A terrifying night experience in Kigali, ‘Africa’s safest city’

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By LARRY MADOWO
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RI had barely fallen asleep when the bedside phone rang with the anger of a thousand blaring horns that could have woken the dead. I take getting shut-eye like the religious experience it should be and interruptions tend to fire up my temper instantly. “Larry, this is Nick.”

He spoke with the confidence of someone who knew me rather well and if it was odd that he was calling me past 2am, it didn’t register in his tone.

I picked up the phone only because it had woken me up and automatically went for the receiver without thinking why anyone would be calling me at that ungodly hour. That, and also because I didn’t know how to put the damn thing on silent or turn off the ringer, even if I wanted to.

“Nick who?” I barked at the caller, who was clearly raised by monsters because he hadn’t even apologised for waking me up.

I was now sufficiently alert to be fully irritated by this unwelcome conversation in the dead of night. A wise man named Ted Mosby, quoting his beloved mother, once said, “nothing good happens after 2 am”, and it is one of my life’s guiding principles. Alright, the man wasn’t really all that wise because he is a television character in the series “How I Met Your Mother”, but you get the point.

“I want to see you right now,” declared the world’s most shameless man on the hotel phone that fateful Wednesday night last week. It was such a brazen request that I almost admired the one who said it.

“Alright then, come up,” I did not say. Instead, I hang up on him and went back to sleep.

About 10 minutes later, there was a knock on my door. If you’re familiar with the consistent rhythm of Sheldon Cooper’s knocking in “The Big Bang Theory”, know that it was nothing like that. Instead of just knocking repeatedly while calling my name at intervals, he was commentating through the whole thing.

His accent said he was Kenyan and the fact that he was truly outside my door implied that he was probably crazy. How did this mysterious character pass two access-controlled doors that required a card to open and end up within, right outside my room?

Getting into the Radisson Blu Kigali in Rwanda was like entering a fortress. Because of the Transform Africa Conference at the Kigali Convention Centre, which adjoins the hotel, an airport-style security checkpoint had been set up at the main entrance.

No cars were allowed inside the hotel and guests had to take luggage out of their taxis and walk in with them after going through metal detectors and scanners. Staying at the hotel with all those presidents in town was exactly like being under house arrest — but with room service.

“I just want to talk to you, for like 10 minutes,” the strange man called from outside. Then he tried to force open the door and I started to panic. I have watched horror movies so I know how this story goes.

It grew into full-blown terror when I tried to call the front desk and the phone line was down. I kid you not, all the hotel’s numbers had that busy tone you hear when your connection has been cut off. The man was still trying to open the door but now I could not reach the hotel’s security team.

I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming because I have also read too many vivid novels. I sent text messages to no less than four different Kigali contacts. I couldn’t call because I didn’t want the weirdo outside to hear me because that would be acknowledging him. I did tiptoe to the door to make sure it was locked and returned to the bed to keep vigil. The world’s most persistent man kept going, insisting he wanted to talk to me about something or the other.

Turns out he had convinced the Radisson Blu Kigali’s front desk that we were friends. They claimed he had my name and room number on a piece of paper when he approached them from another room in the hotel.

When I hung up on him, he told them I had asked him to come up so they allowed him. It was richly ironic that I was staying in Rwanda’s most protected hotel that week and here I was, fearing for my life. They had only taken a copy of his passport and let him go right ahead. After what seemed like forever, I finally got the hotel on line and they removed the night visitor from my door. I understand he was arrested and investigations are under way.

Not all heroes wear capes

A GLOBAL CYBERATTACK hit more 200,000 computers in more than 150 countries in the last few days, until it was accidentally stopped by someone calling himself MalwareTech.

The UK resident woke up on Friday to a threat called WannaCrypt racing across the world, thanks to the vulnerability of older Windows operating software. The exact nature of the attack is fairly complex, but all he did was register a domain contained in the offending code and that stopped its spread.

Kenya’s National Cyber Computer Incident Coordination Centre put out a statement discouraging “individuals from paying the ransom as it doesn’t guarantee access will be restored”.

The ransomware attack leveraged a hacking tool built by the US National Security Agency that leaked online in April, according to Reuters.

“This attack provides yet another example of why the stockpiling of vulnerabilities by governments is such a problem,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post on Sunday. Losses were estimated to range in the region of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It wasn’t as widespread in Kenya and certainly didn’t affect any major government agencies.

The impact would be unimaginable if such an attack were to hit the eCitizen portal and compromise government data.

Mother’s Day, Facebook style

ONCE A YEAR, MY SOCIAL media feeds fill up with people wishing their mothers well and thanking them for raising them right. This year’s Mother’s Day was no different, except there was now a whole group of people criticising the first group. “Your mother is not on Facebook, why are you writing about her here instead of calling her?” went the common chorus.

As soon as that started popping up, the pushback was fairly straightforward: “Who are you to tell me what I can write on my own page?”

In this era, any important milestone or life event must be performed for maximum likes. When you wish your mother a happy day on Twitter, you’re also suggesting that she is better than all the other people’s mothers. You’re also looking for the most retweets from that look inside your personal life. Of course, people should be free to observe their significant days in whatever way they please without being policed.

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