Will ‘Made in Rwanda’ become the new ‘Made in China’?

image1On Monday, renowned local designer Sonia Mugabo (of the ‘SM’ fashion brand) outted ‘House of Hippo’, a local clothing store, on Twitter and Facebook for using images from her Remera-based store to promote itself.

“This is unacceptable. You don’t have the right to promote your business using my brand name. Please delete these photos ASAP”, Mugabo posted on the House of Hippo Facebook page. In response, House of Hippo defended itself, saying that it did nothing wrong. This despite the fact that the images that purported to show their store’s goods had the SM brand watermark!

 

 

 

 

 

image3Ms. Mugabo’s Facebook and Twitter tirade against House of Hippo opened the floodgates.

A local businessman, who runs a grocery delivery service, revealed that one company had actually copied his own company’s logo and was now was advertising its own delivery services using the very same logo.

The online conversation then moved from “we cannot believe the gall of these people” to “what can be done?”

While previously the issue of protection of intellectual property rights wasn’t one that made it into mainstream conversations (probably because, to be honest, Rwandans weren’t really making a whole lot of original products), it’s my belief that this issue has the potential to become a hot potato especially as local brands become more and more valuable financially.

 
While this issue might seem of little consequence right now, I worry that fakes can become the new ‘normal’.

Think I’m exaggerating? While living in Beijing from 2013-2014, I discovered Yashow Market, a tourist magnet located in the swanky Sanlitun district of the Chinese capital.

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In this multi-storied building, you could buy dirt cheap Nike sneakers and Levi jeans, Polo tee-shirts and Ray Ban sunglasses. The reason why they were so cheap? Because all of them were as fake as a Rwf 3,000 banknote. In fact, you negotiated the prices of the fake goods depending on how fake they were.

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Funny enough, Yashow Market wasn’t hidden from view; in fact, it was next to a major mall that sold $300 Adidas footwear and Starbucks coffee. It seemed as if Levi, Nike, Apple and Ralph Lauren had given up the fight against the fakes because there were simply too many producers of fake merchandise to go up against. These premier brands had gambled that discerning status-conscious customers would choose their real products, instead of the fakes.

Currently, we don’t have the kinds of issues that certain brands face in Asia, however I believe that it is only a matter of time that local brands, such as House of Tayo, Uzi and Haute Baso, face the scourge of counterfeiters.

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Haute Baso 

I know that we have laws that protect intellectual property rights. In fact, the Law N° 31/2009 OF 26/10/2009 on the protection of intellectual property is actually quite detailed.  However, I believe that there is a problem in how the law is meant to be enforced. While it purports to protect all the intellectual property owners, in reality it only protects those that can afford to pay a lawyer to take forgers and counterfeiters to task.

Our nascent creatives, who struggle just to break even every month, are in no position to hire lawyers to write cease and desist letters. All they can do is name and shame people online. This isn’t good enough.

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Sonia Mugabo (SM) 

Here is my suggestion; let us create a bureau, either in the National Police, or RDB, that provides a one-stop shop for those who want to report instances of intellectual property violation. This bureau would have the power to investigate these instances and warn offenders to desist from further action. I doubt that those warned would dare to continue committing the crime. Having such a reporting mechanism would, I believe, nip this growing issue in the bud.

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The author in a House of Tayo shirt

Recently, the Ministry of Commerce announced that it would waive VAT and import duties on textile raw materials and leather in order to encourage the local textile and shoe making industry; in doing so, the government, which will lose billions in import taxes and VAT,  hopes that ‘Made in Rwanda’ brands will flourish.

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However, I’m worried that we risk a ‘Made in China’ situation (where people think that anything made in China is fake, even if that isn’t necessarily true) unless there is a serious move against those who violate intellectual property rights.

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The Catholic Church: When an apology isn’t an apology

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Even though the church sent no body to do harm, we, the Catholic clerics in particular, apologise, again, for some of the church members, clerics, people who dedicated themselves to serve God and Christians in general who played a role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi”.

As reported by both local and international media, the above sentence was part of a multi-page communiqué, co-signed by all the Catholic bishops in the country, which was read out in all he parishes across the country on Sunday. The statement FINALLY acknowledges that church members planned, aided and carried out genocide.

The problem is, in my opinion, this statement not only comes decades too late but it also changes nothing to be honest.

First of all, the question that I need to ask is this, why this statement now? Its been 22 years since the horrors befell our country. Why didn’t this mea culpa come when the wounds were fresh? I feel that this ‘apology’ would have made much more sense then. I might be overthinking is, but was this communiqué simply an acknowledgement that Rwanda has changed for good and for always? Were the bishops biding their time, holding on to the hope that their old ‘partners’ would return, making such an ‘embarrassing’ apology unnecessary?

Secondly, if you read the carefully worded communiqué, you realise that the bishops aren’t actually apologizing for the Church’s actions and omissions. This isn’t an institutional apology that we are getting. This isn’t the voice of the Vatican. This is simply an acknowledgement that’s the Church’s priests and nuns participated in the killings. Ho hum. We all know that; a simple examination of the Gacaca records could show that. Why aren’t the bishops apologizing for not speaking out during the killings? Why are they not apologizing for not going on the radio, as a Church, and denouncing the plans being hatched to commit genocide? Why are they not apologizing as an institution for not giving more support for their members who bravely pushed back against the killers?

In his long reign as pope, Pope John Paul II formally apologied for the following; the legal process against Galileo Galilei, Catholics involvement in the African slave trade, the Church’s role in burnings at the stake and the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation, the injustices committed against women, the violation of women’s rights and for the historical denigration of women, the inactivity and silence of many Catholics during the Holocaust.

This is in addition to an apologies for the execution of Jan Hus in 1415, for the sins of Catholics throughout the ages for violating “the rights of ethnic groups and peoples, and (for showing) contempt for their cultures and religious traditions; for the actions of the Crusader attack on Constantinople in 1204, the Catholic sex abuse cases, the Church-backed “Stolen Generations” of Aboriginal children in Australia and for the behavior of Catholic missionaries in colonial times in China.

Anything about the massacres in Ntarama Church? No. Anything about the gun-yielding Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka? No. It’s been two popes now since John Paul II breathed his last and still the silence from the Vatican is deafening.

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The idea that only Church members are in the dock, and not the Church itself, is ludicrous in my opinion. Something about the Rwandan Catholic Church, and its teachings, made genocide possible. Perhaps it White Fathers and their views on Hutu and Tutsi that skewed the Rwandan church. Maybe it was Archbishop André Perraudin and his Kabgayi minions that poisoned the well. Whatever it was, the rot in the Church revealed itself in its horrendous splendor in 1994. And for the bishops to pretend that the issue was a few bad ‘apples’ and not the institution itself is a fallacy of the highest order.

So forgive me if I don’t get excited about Sunday’s communiqué. It is simply a waste of everyone’s time. We need to demand more. The Church must fess up.

The Trump lesson: Information is the only buffer against those threatening everything we have built

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So, the next president of the United States is the Republican nominee, Donald Trump. I will let that sink in for a minute.

A Trump presidency wasn’t something many non-Americans were excited about; I mean, not only would he probably annul many of the international trade deals that opened the US markets to goods from developing nations, his administration would also probably terminate many of the environmental deals that aimed to slow down global warming. .

Trying to understand the rise of ‘The Donald’ in the US gave me pause for thought. As I watched the Trump tsunami gather more and more strength, I kept asking myself, “Why were the poorest of the poor voting against their own best interests”? “Couldn’t they see that this man was simply using them to further his own political career?” “Couldn’t they see that if he won, the people who would benefit the most from his policies are the very people that they are railing against”? “Didn’t they understand that globalization was a GOOD thing”? “Didn’t they understand that clean energy was the only way that they could guarantee a future for their great-grandchildren?”

You know I’m a firm believer in the reasonableness of the The Average Joe (or in our case, the Average Umutoni). What most people want in life is to simply give their families the opportunity to prosper the best they can. It is as simple as that. Every choice they make is based on that one singular goal.

The problem is, for that goal to be reached, certain choices need to be made. And all these choices being made are all based on one thing; good and accurate information.

When you look at the average Trump supporter, you’ll notice just how weak on the facts that they are. I mean, they actually believed that he was a self-made man, who would build a wall across the entire US-Mexico border and ‘make America great again’.

When his Republican rivals called him out on his policies, saying that they were untenable, his supporters ignored them. When the traditional media called him a liar, a hypocrite and unworthy of the presidency, his supporters plugged their fingers in their ears. I found it fascinating that despite the wall to wall election coverage, the average Trump voter was as ill-informed as ever. What had gone wrong?

I understand that there were various factors to explain the rise of Trump, but is my opinion that the Trump phenomenon is simply a symptom of the disconnect between the establishment and the poorest segment of the population.

I was very happy last week when I noticed that quite a few readers took issue with the opinions I spouted in my column. What I found slightly disheartening was just how many reactions were based on bad and/or incomplete information. This bothered me more a lot more than the people who labelled me arrogant and all sorts of names online because I felt that it could have been prevented.

Whereas I could have blame those people for their lack of a factual argument, I came to the realization that the only reason that they took their stances was because they simply didn’t have the necessary information to form a coherent and fact-based argument .

In many of my interactions with both Rwandans and non-Rwandans, I’ve realized that there is a ‘fact deficiency’ in many spheres of our conversations especially when it comes to government programmes and other ‘complicated’ topics.

This is, in my opinion, quite easily remedied. All that government needs to do is TELL people what it is doing and WHY it is doing it. And most importantly, HOW it will benefit them. I am not saying that that is not happening because that would be the furthest thing from the truth. However, there is a certain disconnect that we cannot afford to leave unbridged. The media has a huge role to play in this. In mature media markets journalists can do this all by themselves but here in Rwanda, a little ‘spoon feeding’ might be needed.

Donald Trump was able to use the existing disconnect to rally millions to his side. That is something that we can ill afford. The Rwandan establishment must do all it can to ensure that our people have the necessary information to know when a snake-oil salesmen is using them to further their goals.

When did PR become such a bad thing for Rwanda anyway?

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Posing with health insurance cards at a health centre in Kicukiro District.

Last week when I discussed the recent Economist article, ‘Look before you leap; The notion of leapfrogging poor infrastructure in Africa needs to come back down to earth’, I noticed that various commentators returned to a familiar trope; a narrative centered around the existence of nefarious Rwandan PR (Public Relations) ‘machine’.

The PR machine’ narrative is almost as annoying to me as the ‘western darling’ narrative that many subscribe to when commenting about this country. What is even more annoying is the fact that even those who should know better, like people actually living and working in Rwanda, get caught up in this falsehood as well.

To those that see Rwanda though PR machine-tinted glasses, our media savviness begins immediately on arrival. Visitors and returning citizens are met with friendly staff, orderly lines and electronic checks. Then they are ‘accosted’ with well paved roads.  Their eyes get ‘harassed’ by the brightness of working traffic lights and their noses are left unattacked by the smell of rotting garbage strewn on the street. “This is all a gimmick”, they say, “meant to mask the dire poverty”.

When Zipline launches the very first medical drone in the continent (if not in the world) in Muhanga, I saw it as an innovation that would help supplement the existing healthcare provision system by making emergency blood deliveries faster. Nothing more. Nothing less. What the cynics saw was a headline grabbing stunt that took focus away from more traditional modes of blood delivery such as vans and motorcycles.

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A drone at the Muhanga droneport ready to take off. / Faustin Niyigena/ The New Times

When some cynics look at the number of women in Parliament (and other branches of government), they believe that the world-beating numbers are simply window dressing, meant to paint Rwanda as a nation leading the world on gender relations. While what I see is simply an attempt by the framers of our Constitution to bring an essential segment of the Rwandan population into the political process.

There are many examples of this continuous back and forth, with each side trying to argue its point. But I would like to change the goal posts a little; I would like to start with the premise that Rwanda IS media savvy. That it indeed works hard to present itself in a certain light. So what?

When I leave my house in the morning, I make sure that I present myself in the best way I can. I brush my teeth, make sure that my shoes are polished and my clothes are pressed. I COULD show myself in my unwashed, filthy glory but I understand that the way that I present myself affects the way that I am treated. This same theory goes for nations as well.

Just look at how the United States presents itself to the world. Its president is the ‘most powerful man on earth’, it’s a ‘beacon for democracy’ and it’s the leader of the ‘free world’. Now if that isnt PR I don’t know what is. The United States, like any other country in the world, faces real challenges. Both its citizens and leaders realize that. But when it presents itself to the rest of the world, a certain narrative and image is presented.

So, yes Rwanda is media savvy. Yes, we show our best side to the rest of the world. And yes, it has benefited us. In a world where, on the whole, poor African nations are ignored except when their citizens are either killing each other or starving to death, we should be proud that we garner some positive headlines. In fact, it is actually amazing that Rwanda garners even the little positive press that it does. Remember that our sad claim to ‘fame’ is the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. This is a testimony to just how successful the PR efforts have been. We have nothing to be ashamed of; rather we should be extremely proud.

If Rwanda’s development was predicated on PR stunts and ‘white elephant’ projects, then we would be in big trouble but the fact of the matter is, while we are thinking big, we are also thinking very small.

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The Kigali Convention Center by night

Ours is a country that can build a multi-million dollar hotel and conference center while at the same time putting in place councils for parents at the village level (umugoroba w’ababyeyi). We can unveil the first Airbus A330 in our region, while at the same time ensuring that the poorest among us is given a free Mutuelles de Sante card.

So, to those that call us media savvy, I say “why thank you. You are too kind”.

Of course we look before we can leap, we aren’t stupid you know

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A drone on a ramp at the Muhanga droneport ready to take off. / Faustin Niyigena/ The New Times

‘Look before you leap”, was the sage advice that the writers at The Economist gave us Africans.

Never mind the fact that the very same writers called Africa ‘The Hopeless Continent’ in the year 2000 and then went straight the other way and called the very same continent ‘The Hopeful Continent’ in 2013.

This despite the fact that while they were busy calling us ‘hopeless’, the average GDP in Sub-Saharan Africa was above 5 per cent per annum, HIV statistics were falling and more students were graduating from university than ever before.

But they didn’t let facts get in the way of a story they wanted to tell.

The Economist was given a right battering because of its ‘hopeless continent’ headline, but the publication has simply refused to learn from its chastening experience.

In its latest edition, The Economist columnist ‘Schumpeter’ warns us to ‘Look before you leap; the notion of leapfrogging poor infrastructure in Africa needs to come back to earth’.

Piggybacking off the recent unveiling of the Zipline medical drones in Muhanga, Southern Province, the writer attempts to make the point that, even with the drones crisscrossing our airspace delivering blood to hospitals and clinics, brick and mortar infrastructure, such as roads, water mains and electricity lines, are still needed to fully change people’s lives.

If he/she had kept it at that, I would have been in total agreement. Of course, we cannot build a sound economic and social system without both futuristic and traditional infrastructure.

That is why, for example, while we are planning for the droneport, we are also building the Bugesera International Airport as well.

We are not choosing one over the other; rather we are planning for, and doing both.

However, Schumpeter decided to write a 900 or so word article telling us Africans to ‘go slow. Here are some of the gems that I found noteworthy along with my counterargument.

“CAN entrepreneurs make up for a lack of roads”, Schumpeter asks.

No. But no one is asking them to do so. If we look across the continent, you will see just how serious African governments are in building the backbone infrastructure. 

With the help of either our Chinese partners or the usual lending institutions i.e. the IMF, World Bank and the AfDB, governments across the continent are building dams, power stations, hospitals, universities, stadiums and highways.

What the governments are asking entrepreneurs to do is simply use these facilities to increase jobs and the tax base.

“Just as drones can make up for poor roads, the (leapfrogging )theory goes, mobile phones can overcome a lack of well-functioning banks, portable solar panels can stand in for missing power stations and free learning apps can substitute for patchy education. But the hype about machines saving African lives ought to elicit caution”, Schumpeter opines.

Well, in my experience, the leapfrogging theory has worked a treat in Rwanda. Today, with a mobile phone, you can deposit and withdraw money from your bank account directly to your mobile phone.

You can pay for your electricity. And, one of my favourite functions, you can order food straight to your house, by using a mobile app.

With solar panels, people living off the national grid are now able to enjoy the wonders of electricity. And children using free learning apps (on their One Laptop per Child computers) are learning just how big and amazing the online world is.

In conclusion, Schumpeter throws in the tired Kibera slum trope.

“In Nairobi’s biggest slum, Kibera, the narrow dirt streets bustle with businesses charging phones from generators; …… What you won’t find are clean toilets, potable water …. The main leapfrogging that takes place is over the open sewers. That is not something you can fix with a mobile-phone app”, Schumpeter writes.

To use a very small example of a Kenya slum to make an overarching conclusion about the state of the entire country’s (and continent’s) infrastructural progress was, in my opinion, intellectually lazy, patronising and racially tinged.

I will conclude with this truism; KIBERA SLUM IS NOT KENYA (NEVER MIND NAIROBI). AND KIBERA SLUM IS NOT AFRICA. Don’t tell us to go slow.

Don’t tell us to go fast. We know where we want to and we know how to get there. Don’t worry, we got this.

Umuco Wacu: Kigeli V Ndahindurwa is gone, what comes next?

 

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The recent passing of Mwami Kigeli V Ndahindurwa has hit me pretty hard. Which is surprising given how little I actually knew about him. What I did know about Jean-Baptiste Ndahindurwa, the man, was gleamed from an article published in 2013 titled ‘A King with no Country’ in the Washingtonian magazine. In the article written by Ariel Sabar, I was saddened to discover that the scion of a centuries old ruling dynasty was living in the United States and surviving on food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of federal assistance.

After examining my own feelings about his death, I came to the realization that I was not mourning the man, but rather what he represented to me.

I might be mistaken in this, but I believe that there were four historic pillars that Rwanda once stood on; the kingship, the cow, religious rites and beliefs and, lastly, the Kinyarwanda language; everything else emanated from these four pillars.

With the overthrow of Mwani Yuhi V Musinga and the enthronement and baptism of his son Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa, the war for the soul of the Rwandan people was won by the Catholic Church.

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Mwami Mutara V Rudahigwa surrounded by members of the White Fathers

Our own religious beliefs and rites were discarded as relics of an ‘uncivilized’ time and we joined the global mass that worshipped at the Judeo-Christian altar. Mind you, this isn’t an attack on Christianity. I have no issue with those who believe in the son of Joseph and Mary. What I mean is that the vast majority of Rwandans became part of a global belief system and ditched their own; thereby losing a bit of themselves in order to be a part of something even ‘greater’.

The next pillar to fall was the kingship. With the Kigeli’s deportation by the Belgian authorities to Tanganyika in 1961, the Nyiginya dynasty, which had made Rwanda a cultural, political and military power in the Interlacustrine Region, was rendered irrelevant as a real political force. With his death, the door has been closed on the ancient Kingdom of Rwanda and all that it stood for.

So, the only things that remain from our ancient Rwandan past is our cattle culture and the Kinyarwanda language (and to be truthful, in my case, those pillars never existed).

I can only speak for myself when I say that the sort of Kinyarwanda I use is often a mix of English, Swahili, French and Kinyarwanda. I am pretty sure that if I could travel back in time and speak to my great grandparents, I would wager that they would have been barely able to communicate with me.

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The famous Inyambo cows

And when it comes to the fourth pillar of the old Rwanda, namely cattle, I, like the vast majority of younger Rwandans, see them less as symbols of wealth and beauty and more as simply livestock that provides beef and milk.  Today, not only do we see the intrinsic value of cattle differently, even the types of cattle we do have has changed. Whereas before we had many names for cattle based on the color of their hides and shape of their horns, today, with all the cross-breeding with European varieties, I envision a day when ‘traditional’ cows will only be seen in museums and zoos.

So, when I say that I am mourning the late king, I am actually mourning the demise of the great Rwanda of yore. The Rwanda of the Kalinga Drum, the Nyabingi cult and the Abakono, Abega and Abasinga clans. I am mourning the Rwanda of my forefathers.

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves today is, with the demise of the old pillars, what are we replacing them with?

I can see the green shoots of a new cultural norm that is based on ‘Agaciro’. But as it stands today, ‘agaciro’ means everything and nothing at the same time depending on the person using the word. The same goes with ‘Umuco’ (culture). So, the question that I ask those a lot more knowledgably than I is this; How do we remain authentically Rwandan? And what does being an ‘authentic Rwandan’ even mean? When we talk of culture, whose culture do we mean? And who gets to define that culture is?

It could be worse: Rwanda vs France Part II

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Will Francois Hollande and Paul Kagame preside over another diplomatic rift?

The classic 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day’ is about a weatherman, played by Bill Murray, who is caught up in a time loop, reliving the same day over and over again. Well, forgive me for believing that we are living a kind of Groundhog Day ourselves, playing the same old game with Paris.

Once again, French judicial authorities are opening the Juvenal Habyarimana dossier despite the fact that the original indictment by Jean-Louis Bruguière was discovered to be not only politically motivated, but grounded in false testimony from its star witness the late Abdul Ruzibiza. The exiled former soldier recanted his testimony, saying that he was promised political asylum if he testified that he heard the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) high command planning the assassination of the former Rwandan president.

This new investigation ignores the fact that Judge Marc Trévidic and his team came to Rwanda (something Bruguière never attempted to do), and arrived to the conclusion that whoever shot down the plane probably did so in close proximity to Kanombe Military Base, a Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) stronghold; an area that the RPA rebels were unlikely to be able to enter with a missile without detection and probable death.

This time, ‘investigators’ are travelling to South Africa to record testimony from Kayumba Nyamwasa, a man with a huge ax to grind with the leadership here. I mean, he seems like a man who will say anything and do anything to hurt his former colleagues. So, the question that I must ask is this, what is the possibility that he will tell a tale that doesn’t point a finger to the RPA and its high command, accusing them of planning and executing the assassination? None at all is my humble opinion.

Reacting to the news, President Kagame, speaking succinctly on Monday, warned that the severing of diplomatic ties, à la 2006, was within the realm of possibility if the judicial witch-hunt continued. What I suspect is that Paris took this possibility into account when it gave the green light to these new investigations.

What I am left to ponder is why Paris continues to flog a dead horse of an investigation that it knows will not only never see the inside of a French courtroom but serve to further dampen diplomatic ties between Rwanda and itself.  It is my belief that Paris has ‘done the math’ and decided that further damage to its ties with Kigali is worth the price of protecting its interests in Central and Western Africa.

Think about it, Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Benin, the Central African Republic have not only further consolidated diplomatic ties with Rwanda, their leaders are actually researching the Rwanda ‘Agaciro’ development model; a model that I believe goes against everything that the corrupt Françafrique model stands for. Whereas the former lauds self-determination, the latter extols the benefits of letting the Metropole control everything. So there is a lot of money and global influence that Paris stands to lose if all these countries go the ‘Rwanda Way’.

So, in order to protect their Pré Carré (backyard), Paris is willing to demonise Rwanda’s leadership in the knowledge that a gormless media will run with the ‘RPA shot down the plane and caused the Genocide’ nonsense and therefore poison ‘Brand Rwanda’. Therefore discouraging other nations from following its example.

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Paris, dont think that Rwandans don’t remember the role you played from 1990-1994. We do.

In fact, we should be thankful that the worst they can do to us in the public eye is paint our leadership in an unflattering light (what they can do far from the public eye in certain international financial bodies is a topic for another day). I mean, we have seen what Paris can do if there is a smidgen of disunity in a nation that is acting outside French interests.

All we have to do is look at Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Libya to see what can happen when Paris is given free rein to divide and conquer. Ivorian former president Laurent Gbagbo is now in the at the International Criminal Court charged with crimes against humanity; Captain Thomas Sankara was killed in a French-supported coup by his ‘friend’ Blaise Compaore, and Libya’s Mummar Gaddafi is just a memory (as is his country to be honest).

So, let us count our blessings and be thankful that the only thing they can do is make our lives a bit more challenging than we would like. Which should be a piece of cake when one remembers where we once were.