Nowhere to hide from virus across three continents for Bunyeshuri

Saturday June 11 2022

The empty arrivals terminal at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. In 2020, airports around the world from Heathrow to JFK in the US were deserted as all travel came to a halt with airlines shutting down. FILE PHOTO | NMG


The worst of the coronavirus pandemic could be behind us but for John Bunyeshuri, a Public Relations practitioner and founder of the Kigali Fashion Week, the events of 2020 were a rollercoaster. Caught up in Japan, he escaped to London, where it got worse and later to New York where reality hit.

Just after the conclusion of the 2019 Kigali Fashion Week in Rwanda, he travelled to Japan as part of the Kigali International Fashion Show Tour. “It was successful, and the team stayed on in the hope of doing more networking, and further working on the prospective deals we had cited,” said Bunyeshuri.

The fashion event in Japan had caught the eye of some people who were also involved with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games. So they met Bunyeshuri and his team to discuss how fashion could be added to the Games activities. “We signed a contract with the Tokyo Olympics to set up an African Cultural Fashion village, which had even attracted sponsors like Adidas, but it was all lost when the pandemic hit,” he recounted.

Bunyeshuri left Japan for London hoping that the pandemic situation would improve. He was wrong. He got stuck, trapped by a lockdown which eventually lasted a full year. He was living in Bethnal Green and recalled that “it was dead quiet. Not a single person was on the streets, it looked like the end of the world.”

From a busy vibrant place, “it looked like an Apocalypse, and wild animals freely walked the streets, like the end of the world had come,” he said.

For six months they just stayed indoors “we briefly went shopping, watch the news and wait on, hopefully,” he recalls, with a faint emotion in his voice.


He later moved to New York, US in late 2021, and was equally shocked by the once busy spots that were all deserted. “The airports from Heathrow in London to JFK in the US were ghostly empty, and it was a tense time,” Bunyeshuri describes.

He recalls how passengers at airport terminals were all curiously afraid of each other, a slight cough or a sneeze could easily scare people who moved away. Closer to him, the pandemic claimed the life of his brother who was living in South Africa in January 2021. South Africa was one of the worst-hit countries in the world. “It was tragic,” he recounts, “Only four people attended his burial. I could not attend because of travel restrictions then.”

A live fashion event organiser of 11 years, he admits how the virtual concept of events was not meant for live fashion shows, “I was part of the 2021 Mabenna Fashion Week’s organisation in Spain, and it was not worth it,” he remarks. He is of the opinion that for their uniqueness, fashion shows have an impact when participants are physically involved.

Bunyeshuri only recently returned to Rwanda after travel restrictions eased and he says in the three months he has been here, he is still surprised by how in a short time things have changed, with life quickly returning back to ‘’normal.”