They came from all corners of Rwanda. They were predominantly young people. Many borrowed money hoping to win quick returns, which turned out to be too good to be true.
Some estimates say more than 6,000 people have been conned by an unknown group with a promise of winning $197 or Rwf 190,700.
The D-Day was today June 25. The entrance and inside the venue Kigali International Convention Center (KICC) turned so rowdy, the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre Kigali called in the police.
The Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) has launched a full scale investigation into the scheme, with the organisers at the venue all arrested. A government minister was also at the scene to help deal with what seemed like crisis.
It all started in mid May. A message started circulating on Facebook, and then WhatsApp groups advertising a conference scheduled in Kigali, Rwanda where attendees would be taught how to get rich.
The online posters were advertised by “Wealth Fitness International”. People who registered recieved confirmation emails from Houston, Texas.
Each person received message:
“Thanks for confirming your attendance! We hope you’re excited for Wealth Fitness Event Kigali, Rwanda.
You may receive periodic phone calls from our office to address any questions you have prior to the event. We will also send you emails and texts with any event updates or changes including the location and ticket, so please keep an eye out.
You will be receiving very valuable information on the day of the event so please bring something to take your notes with, business cards if you have for networking purposes and off course the dress code is business casual. (dress to impress)
See you in Kigali, Rwanda
Wealth Fitness Events Team”
They got a series of other emails. One of the message informed all those who had registered that tickets to enter the Kigali International Convention Center were limited. But that there was the option to get early seat by paying via phone transaction.
There were three categories of tickets. Expert package (Rwf 4,550), VIP (13,650), or Diamond (Rwf 23,300).
It remains unclear how many people paid in the various categories.
They were to send the money to this phone: “In order to guarantee your seat at this event please purchase one of the below packages or you can purchase via mobile phone. 0781990341 (Name: Niyonkuru Mouhamed)”.
The organisers also told the registered that they would still be able to get a seat if they arrived early.
Four days ago on June 20, the registered got this message:
“Your workshop is just around the corner, so here are a few reminders.
Arrive early to get registered before the event starts. You won’t want to miss anything!
Dress to impress. Business casual attire is recommended.
This is a great networking opportunity so bring some business cards if you have any. Are you bringing a guest? If you are, please register your guest here.
Be ready to take notes. Bring a notebook, laptop, iPad, or whatever you are most comfortable taking notes with.
You will be receiving a ticket via email. We suggest either printing it and bringing it with you or having it handy on your phone to speed up the registration process.
Now you should be prepared for your upcoming event! And don’t forget to stay for the entire event to receive your BONUS!
For any question please contact at email@example.com.
See you soon,
Wealth Fitness Team”
The attached message also read:
June 25th, 2019
Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre Kimihurura Roundabout, Kigali
The event will start at 9:00 am, and registration will begin at 7:00 am.
This is a full day event.
All attendees who stay for the entire event will receive a $197 VALUE BONUS
We look forward to seeing you there,
Wealth Fitness Team”
By 6am, people were already arriving at the KICC. As the crowds became bigger, the security team at KICC was overwhelmed and let them enter. The grounds infront of the venue were parked with attendees.
A team acting busy arrived to announce that those who had not paid for the ticket can pay at the entrance. There was a big fight. Those paying Rwf 5,000 notes did not even bother to claim their change.
The females could be seen looking on helplessly as the males fought to pay. No receipt was issued for the money, just a paper, which also got finished and the organizers started using pages of KICC branded books usually given to conference delegates.
Inside the conference room, the attendees became unruly as information spread that no high profile guests were scheduled to address the event.
The Chronicles team which was there reports that there was varied information as to what was the intention of the event. Some said they had come to receive free $197 or Rwf 190,700 cash.
Some said there would be a competition and the winners would be given this money at the end of the one-day event. Each person had a plan waiting to spend the expected cash.
Here is what was to take place from the data which many did not understand; Attendees were not scheduled to be given cash. Instead, a series of exercises would be done and the final number of attendees would benefit from a host of knowledge and goodies like food worth that amount of $197.
In other words, the organises did not clearly communicate to the attendees that the promised bonus was not cash, but the worth of the knowledge on making money they were to get.
Nshimiyimana Jean came from Nyabihu district on border with DR Congo. He borrowed Rwf 10,000 for transport and the balance for the entrance ticket.
“I thought thieves are found in other places and not the Convention Center which is a government building,” he said. “I sold my harvest and borrowed some from my neighbours, promising them I would come back rich. What am I going to tell them?”
Mimi Uwihayimana from Gisagara district, southern Rwanda, is a graduate from the University of Rwanda. She has been unemployed since she completed her social sciences degree three years ago.
Their stories are typical of many of those who came for the event where they had hoped to gain.
The RIB officers who arrived at the scene spoke from the public address system announcing that all those who had come to attend are urged to file cases at the Remera police station. It is about 5km away.
In the hours which followed, the angry and disappointed youth could be seen trekking from KICC to Remera.
Unofficial figures circulating suggest that the organisers may have collected more than Rwf 30m at the entrance, in addition to other payments made via mobile phone transactions.
Modeste Mbabazi, the spokesman of RIB told The Chronicles that several people who were found at the venue operating as the organizers were arrested. He also said they are yet to establish how many people came for the event and who was involved in the organisation.
Youth Minister Rosemary Mbabazi and RIB chief Col Jeannot Ruhunga did address the attendees and committed that all those who had paid their money will get a refund.
Additional reporting from Celestin Ndereyehe