An initiative by the United Kingdom (UK) Member of Parliament (MP), Brooks Newmark to assist vulnerable Rwandan children acquire education has taken a bitter and acrimonious turn. Now the lawmaker, who got involved on humanitarian grounds and the local NGO catering for the children known as Girubuntu Education Center are fighting over ownership of the school.
In 2007, Hon Newmark visited Rwanda to work on a social action project at Girubuntu Primary School. Together with a team from the UK Conservative Party, Newmark helped to refurbish the school for 80 children, building a new classroom, installing electricity and carrying out various other renovations.
However, the school was later closed by Gasabo District officials for being substandard. When Newmark learnt about the closure, he proposed to construct more classrooms for the school. As a result, Newmark registered an NGO called A Partner in Education (APIE) with Kitty Llewellyn, another British national in 2009. Together, they began working towards a new vision for Girubuntu primary school – resulting in constructing modern ten classroom blocks, a stocked library and a football pitch.
On behalf of the parliamentarian, Llewellyn is said to have purchased a piece of land worth Rwf 20million in Niboye sector, Kicukiro district from a man identified as Yusuf Kubwimana . The agreement of the transaction which is in hands of the Kicukiro district identifies MP Brooks Newmark as the buyer of the land and Mr. Eugene Rudasingwa, the founder of Girubuntu as a witness to the transaction.
However when it came to the requisition of a construction permit, the district told Newmark’s representatives that the land would be registered as a commercial usage asset, if it is registered in an individual’s names. This meant that if the land construction permit was to be issued in the names of Newmark, he would be charged taxes yet the land was for social usage hence, his representatives opted to have the construction permit in the names of APIE.
In a twist of events, during her visit to Rwanda Joanna Mannand Pippa Richards who was at the helm of APIE at the time, donated the land to the Girubuntu group. According to the document of the donation signed between her and Mr. Rudasingwa Eugene, she requested the district officials to transfer ownership of the land and the property thereof from the names of Brooks Newmark to Girubuntu Education Centre.
As a result, according to Kicukiro District Mayor, Mr. Paul Jules Ndamage is what led to the sector and the national land offices to process land documents in the name of Girubuntu. Mr. Ndamage told The Chronicles, "It is not clear how Joanna got to donate something that she does not own without the authorisation from the owner of the property who in light [of] available documentation is MP Newmark”.
Controversy arose when Newmark started claiming that he wanted the transfer of ownership of land and property from Girubuntu to his name. When The Chronicles contacted the founder of Girubuntu Education Center who also signed as a witness during the purchase of the land on which Girubuntu Education Centre seats by Brooks Newmark, Eugene Rudasingwa confirmed the development saying that indeed, Newmark and APIE have a problem to solve.
Mr. Rudasingwa added, “The school started in 1998 to help the least advantaged children. We sought support for the school until in 2007 when MP Brooks Newmark through his organisation APIE decided to support us. After taking on the new property in July 2011, we have tried to survive all the odds and for sure we are not complaining". Rudasingwa went on “I have nothing against Newmark. I am just protecting the children, I am open to any decision as long as we keep the children in school studying and not deprived of the privilege they have and if there is any complaint that Brooks [has], it should be taken to the concerned parties not to me”.
Rudasingwa pointed out that at one point, he wanted the misunderstanding to be solved through arbitration but the British lawmaker refused; he later proposed to enter into a partnership arrangement but still the lawmaker refused claiming that all he wanted was to have the land registered in his name.
Efforts to contact Newmark through emails were fruitless as he did not respond to the emails sent to him. When The Chronicles contacted Llewellyn, a co-founder of APIE, via email, she only responded saying, “Please hold off writing anything until you have spoken to a member of APIE. Newmark will call you.” However, by press time, four days later, Newmark had not called. When we contacted Kate Hannon, a member of APIE based in Rwanda she refused to comment.
“I am sorry I am not authorized to speak for Newmark and I can’t give you his mobile number, because I do not see anything to comment about the situation” said Hannon. In a latest development, the Mayor of Kicukiro District Paul Jules Ndamage recently called for a crisis resolution meeting which was attended by Rudasingwa and Hannon. After the meeting, the mayor announced that he had established an interim leadership of the school and transition period of three months to determine the fate of the situation.
“The District has appointed Juvenal Muhire as the current headmaster of the school; Girubuntu is to appoint the deputy headmaster in charge of academic affairs while APIE will have to produce the deputy headmaster in charge of Finance and administration,” said Ndamage. He added that; “the case is now being handled by the ministry of justice and that Mr.[Hon] Tharcisse Karugarama might have already come up with the solution". However, according to the mayor all lights are green for Mr. Brooks. "All the earlier documents reveal that the school's property belongs to Newmark and [I don’t know] what those who issued the documentations in the names of Girubuntu based on", the mayor commented.