Viewpoint: Africa’s Cold Rush and the Promise of Refrigeration
At one in the morning, several hours before fishing boats launch, François Habiyambere, a wholesale fish dealer in Rubavu, in northwest Rwanda, sets out to harvest ice. In the whole country, there is just one machine that makes the kind of light, snowy flakes of ice needed to cool the tilapia that, at this hour, are still swimming through the dreams of the fish farmers who supply Habiyambere’s business. Flake ice, with its soft edges and fluffy texture, swaddles seafood like a blanket, hugging, without crushing, its delicate flesh. The flake-ice machine was bought secondhand a few years ago from a Nile-perch processing plant in Uganda. A towering, rusted contraption, it sits behind a gas station on the main road into the southeastern market town of Rusizi, on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Its daily output would almost fill a typical restaurant dumpster, which is considerably less than the amount required by the five fishmongers who use it.
“The first one who comes gets enough,” Habiyambere told me when I accompanied him one day in May. “The rest do not.” He said this in a tone of quiet resignation. The machine is five and a half hours’ drive south of where he lives, which is why his workday begins in the middle of the night. He rides in one of the country’s few refrigerated trucks, driven by a solid, handsome twenty-eight-year-old named Jean de Dieu Umugenga, and laden with spring onions and carrots bound for market. The route is twisty and Umugenga swings around the hairpin bends with panache, shifting in his seat with each gear change, while twangy inanga music plays on the radio.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.