Imihigo performance contracts: tough but fair

While at university a few years ago I had the opportunity to study a few courses on contract law. We were taught that contracts signed between parties were binding and that, in fact, they were law.

So, I quickly decided that I would forever make sure that anytime I made or signed a contract, I would do so soberly. When I first heard of the ‘Imihigo’ or performance contracts, I honestly thought it was a bad idea.

I felt that the leaders who signed the documents didn’t have any idea of what obligations they were signing up for.

I was thinking, if you’ve pledged to “provide water to each household in the district” and then failed because of whatever problem, you were in trouble. Which leader in his/her right mind would put their signature on such a document?

Didn’t they know that the dark art of justifying ‘broken promises’ was one that every politician had to master? Why would they put themselves in a position where their own signature indicted them and found them guilty of failure?

But the more I thought about this the more I understood. What Rwandans need aren’t politicians but rather, leaders. Leaders set goals, work hard, are honest and diligent. Politicians on the other hand live for one thing and one thing only; power.

It doesn’t matter to them if the country is falling apart and people are living in squalor, as long as they can continue ravenously feeding on the dwindling national cake they are happy.

‘Accountability’ is a word that the classical politician has no time for. Why be accountable when you can be ‘untouchable’? The Imihigo performance contracts bind leaders to set targets and goals.

And with all honesty I think that’s fair. Would your househelp keep getting paid if they never actually improved the cleanliness of the house? Would YOU get paid if you never, ever met any of your targets at work? No, you would be fired and replaced with someone willing to fulfill the job requirements.

I’ve heard people criticize the system, calling it ‘” political blackmail” (because leaders don’t have a choice of whether they want to sign the documents or not), “too ambitious and likely to cause high turnover” and I can understand why they would say that.

They say that because never before have leaders actually had an ‘obligation’ to deliver on the promises they make to their people.

Very often people say that leaders are accountable to the people and if the people aren’t happy they will change their leadership. But let’s be honest here. How many politicians have stayed in power simply because they knew how to bride the right people at the right time?

These politicians aren’t accountable to the people; they are accountable to ‘special interest groups’.

The most successful businesses in the world are run on targets and forecasts, they aren’t haphazard. Why shouldn’t a nation be run on the same principles?

Experience has shown, all over the world, that political accountability isnt something that citizens can take for granted. Even in the nations with mature political systems people often find that the political elite show accountability when they want to get votes and the rest of the time do whatever they choose. All on taxpayer dollars.

I’m glad that I live in a country where rhetoric isnt what sells but rather hard work. And if a leader has to resign and lose their post, no matter how charismatic, I can live with that.

I much prefer a dour politician who quietly delivers rather than a charismatic one who sells hot air. And so does everyone else.

I’m calling for a militantly feminist FFRP

Next Friday, the Rwanda Women Parliamentary Forum (FFRP) will celebrate 15 years of existence and, if the news conference members held is anything to go by, they are pretty pleased with themselves.

They took the opportunity to highlight their achievements in championing women rights and gender equality, and truth be told, there are some awesome achievements.

Rwandan women now have equal rights to property and inheritance, and can sign contracts with banks without the permission of their husbands.

But I have a bone to pick with women members of parliament.  My ‘beef’ is with the fact that, despite their numbers in the law-making chambers, some of the laws they help enact aren’t exactly pro-women.

For instance the law on abortion. While the old penal law forbade abortion, unless in cases of life and death for the mother, I thought that the draft criminal code would be different.

According to the draft law, abortions will be performed in case of incest and rape. However, I don’t think that is good enough. One would assume that a parliament full of women would do all it could to fight for a woman’s right to choose, but not ours.

Which brings me to the point of this column today; do women in leadership roles necessarily know what is right, and good for other women? I think not.

I can understand why my views might sound a little controversial, however bear with me. I have to ask, how many of the pro-women laws that we’ve enacted, are a direct result of the women’s caucus?

Wouldn’t a male-dominated parliament have changed the laws on inheritance? Wouldn’t they have reformed the property laws? I believe that they would have done so.

So, again I must ask what have the members of the FFRP done that can be attributed directly to them? I’m sorry but I can’t think of a single law or amendment.

So, honourable FFRP members pat yourselves on the back, but it’s my hope that I will see a more militant FFRP caucus driving a more pro-women agenda in the next couple of years.

On another note, I must say that I was shocked by the terrorist attack in Norway. More than 80 people have lost their lives and all I can wonder is why?

How can someone refuse to value the life of their fellow human being? Whether it’s based on religious fundamentalism, or simply right-wing hate, it is all horribly wrong.

How someone decides to pick up a gun and mow down children is simply baffling to me. It was rather interesting how I, and I believe a lot of other people, automatically looked for an Islamic angle.

I guess I have become somewhat prejudiced; somehow Islam has become synonymous with terrorism, which is a bloody shame because Islam is actually a religion of peace.

I’m pleased that this bias wasn’t proved to be based on fact in this sad circumstance; the ensuring debate won’t be along the tired ‘Islam is a violent religion’ line.  A wider debate on what causes such an attack is guaranteed and I believe that that is a good thing.

I find it rather interesting that the biggest stories in the international media are the Norway attacks, the failing US budget talks between President Obama and Speaker Boehner and the phone hacking scandal in Britain.

All while hundreds of thousands of people are in danger of starvation in Somalia. One has to wonder what people’s priorities are.

Are you sure you want a handshake?

How many times have you gone to shake someone’s hand, looked at it and wished that the Earth could swallow you? It’s okay, you don’t have to go first, I will. A few times I’ve seen someone blow their nose, wipe the mucus on their trousers and then thrust their hand in your face. That is pretty bad but the worst is when you actually see someone urinate behind a grassy knoll,  then have to keep a fixed smile on your face as they come forward, arms extended for a hug. If you are Rwandan, live in Rwanda or visited Rwanda you’ve either seen this happen to you, or it has without your knowledge.

I love just how much we hug, kiss and shake hands. It’s an everyday manifestation of our sense of community. I remember, back in 1994 when I first came to Rwanda from exile, I felt besieged by hands waiting to be shook. But as I became more and more familiarized, I actually found it odd that I didn’t get hugs from random people when I travelled to say, Kampala. A European friend of mine finds all the physical contact rather beautiful. I cannot disagree. Until, that is, I go to the public bathroom in Union Trade Centre mall in town and notice just how untouched the hand soap is.

Yesterday I attended the opening of the third Africa Conference on hygiene and Sanitation (AfriSan3) at the Serena Hotel. The first session of the day was headlines by the indomitable ‘Princess of Africa’ Yvonne Chaka Chaka, the South African songstress best known for her hits ‘Thank you Mister Deejay’ and ‘Umqombothi’. I expected a song and jig, but all I got was a welcome lecture on the importance of washing your hands with soap. Mrs. Chaka Chaka, who also happens to be a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador, told the gathered press corps that 50 percent of diarrheal diseases can be prevented by simply washing your hands with soap. This solution seems incredibly simple, but obviously something isnt working.

When asked whether the problem was a lack of soap Dr. Myriam Sidibe, a public health expert, said that more than 90 percent of households had access to soap. According to her, the issue was that people were either not using the soap at all, or using it wrongly. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe that, in today’s’ world where information is on ones fingertips, people didn’t know how to wash their hands properly or, in fact, when to.

I’m of the opinion that a huge campaign should be undertaken by our society. We mustn’t just leave everything to MINISANTE, UNICEF or any one organization. It has to be cross cutting. For example, what is the point of having a huge media campaign, where a big personality publically leads a bunch of kids in a hand washing exercise, when there are simply not enough public toilets? Will these newly educated children refuse to defecate when the urge hits them simply because they cannot then wash their hands after they are done? I think not. An entire infrastructure has to be built around this sanitation drive.

Rwanda is not doing too badly if you look at the Millennium Development Goals on sanitation; in fact, we are among the five sub-Saharan nations that are on schedule to meet the goals by 2015. But I think that these statistics aren’t good enough and they don’t tell the entire story. While ACESS to sanitation and hygiene is one thing, getting people to use these tools is another thing altogether. That is what we must do. If not, don’t get offended if I don’t offer you my hand in greeting. My hands are clean, but are yours?

The Fourth Estate isnt and shouldn’t be a law unto itself

“Thank You and Goodbye”. This headline is the last one that readers of the News of the World weekly tabloid will ever see after Robert Murdoch pulled the plug last Sunday. This after being in business since 1843.  The demise of any newspaper is unfortunate because that means that the journalists, editors, proof readers and hundreds of unknown people that depended on the publication have their bread swiped out of their hands. However, the News of the World surely deserved everything it got. People working for the newspaper went way beyond the realm of good taste and descended into the mire. The hacking of celebrity voice mails was bad enough.  I can understand the desire to give their readers a scoop on Sienna Miller, Michael Jackson or any other media personality; while its wrong, it can be justified by the ‘publics right to know’.

But when these people illegally accessed the voicemail of Milly Dowler, a teenager that was kidnapped and then murdered, they totally lost me. And after watching the aftermath of this revelation, I am not the only one that washed my hands of these hacks. Yesterday Les Hinton, the head of the Dow Jones and former chief Executive of News International (the parent company of the News of the World) during the hacking scandal resigned, following in the footsteps of Rebekah Brooks, News International chief executive.

While the shutting down of the newspaper and the cull at the very top of News Corp, the media behemoth that Rupert Murdoch owns, is all well and good, I think that the entire phone-hacking debacle should be debated. I don’t look at the scandal as a one-off thing but rather a challenge to the assertion that the Press is always a force for good, a force that is untouchable and unquestionable.

The classical aka Western liberal view of the press is that it is a bulwark of democracy. The ‘Fourth Estate’, as my fellow journos call themselves, think they are as indispensible as the judiciary, legislature and executive is to the running of an effective state and open society. Guess what? That’s the kind of attitude that leads to the phone-hacking scandal. Because, unlike the other arms of government which are ultimately at the mercy of the electorate, the Press is responsible to no one but themselves.  For example, when President Nixon was found to have asked his people to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex impeachment proceedings begun against him, forcing his resignation. The People’s representatives took him to task. However, if Robert Murdoch had stuck to his guns no one, not even the Queen herself, could force him to close the News of the World. And, let’s be honest, its readership wouldn’t have disappeared. That, in a nutshell, is the undemocratic nature of the Press. Despite all the power publishers’ yield, they aren’t accountable to anyone. Not even their own readers.

Rwanda has attempted to find a way to make its Press accountable to the people by enacting laws such as the Media Law and the laws against divisionism and genocide ideology. The right to free speech and freedom of the press isnt paramount here in my country. And that’s why people like Agnes Nkusi, publisher of the Umurabyo newspaper, are in jail. She refused to realize that while free speech is encouraged here, when this free speech is abused and threatens the lives of innocent people, the Press isnt untouchable.

And, by the way, if you think that ‘poor’ Rupert Murdoch didn’t get calls from politicians asking that he do something about his paper then you are naïve. He listened. The very same people that nag us about our ‘interventions’ do exactly the same. But I guess it’s too much to expect fair treatment

Is China the new West?

I had an interesting conversation last night as I sipped cold whiskey with friends. Do Africans have anything to worry about China’s ascent? Do we want China’s aid? Is China’s policy of ‘non-involvement’  in the political affairs a bad thing? Is the Western attitude to aid better than theirs? I’m of the opinion that both Western aid AND Chinese aid is bad…but, we cannot live without either. So, which one do we choose? I prefer Chinese help; with them at least, you know what you are getting into. But what do I know anyway?

Development: you cannot choose one without the other

What is development? That is the million dollar question. Let me ask you, how many times have you heard this; “Rwanda is developing economically without doing so politically”? I know that my thoughts on this subject will bother some, but bear with me. I believe that you cannot have one without the other. It’s actually impossible.

When a person is poor, uneducated, unable to access medical care and take their goods to market, can they then be participants in the political process? I think it’s impossible. Sure they can go to the polls and vote, but do they really even understand what they are voting for? I did my high school in Uganda and as a result I saw quite a few school elections. What I learnt was that the fellow with the most money always won the election. At school, the bribes were sweet bananas, buns and alcohol. Almost every single time, the fellow who had the best manifesto but without deepest pocket lost. You know why? Because we were starved for good food. Posho, beans and maize porridge without sugar was our daily meal. What we were really doing was prostituting our votes to cater for our empty bellies. Do I think that we’d have voted a lot differently if we had full stomachs, yes. I’m of the opinion that, if you are poor, then you cannot really freely vote.

I wrote ‘freely’ because while anyone can vote, they aren’t able to really understand the significance of their act. By the way, this isnt just an African problem. Look at the United States. Why is it that the very poorest people, who are found in rural America, are more likely to vote for the Republican Party- a party that is opposed to universal healthcare and would cut many of their benefits? Why is it that, as Americans become more affluent and better educated they often change their political allegiances?  Can that be merely a coincidence that richer Americans are will, more often than not, vote for a Democratic candidate?

Back to Africa. What I’ve observed is this. The political class looks at the ‘lower’ class as an inconvenience that they have to bear with every election cycle. An inconvenience that they can placate with a few choice words and bribes. And because political power is often the only means for wealth, then they will do anything to get back to the table. Even if it means that people will die because, at the end of it all, these people are nothing but a means to an end.

But what happens when these people aren’t bribable anymore? When they are not worrying about where their next meal is coming from? When education isnt a gift given by a politician but a right that every citizen enjoys? You end up getting a more politically-savvy body politic.

Somehow, the conversation about economic versus political development has been high jacked by people who have never suffered poverty and the dehumanization it causes. Trust me, if you went to the village and asked someone, “do you want food and money in your pocket, or would you like to vote”, they would look at you like you’re a crazy person.

And honestly, there is some weird belief that many Rwanda critics have that there is no political development here. They are obviously not looking for the answers in the right place. Have they talked to the average ‘Joe Rwanda’?  I doubt that.

Get Juba into the EAC, but not too fast!

Today is a great day. Last night, at the stroke of midnight, we welcomed a new brother nation into the African fraternity, Southern Sudan. Last night, the dreams of the late, great Col. John Garang were brought to fruition. Like Martin Luther King Jr he didn’t get to the Promised Land, but he climbed to the mountain peak and gazed upon the green fields of freedom and self-determination. The blood, sweat and tears that the SPLM/A shed since the war of independence begun almost 30 years ago have been rewarded with the grand prize of a new flag, anthem and government.

But that is the easy part. We, Africans, know that independence is the first step. Our experience since the 1960’s has shown that just because you unshackle yourself from one oppressor doesn’t necessarily mean that everything will go as planned. To build a properly functioning state, Salva Kiir will need to tap into all the things that made his nation’s independence possible. A resilient people who refuse to accept the cards they are dealt, a strong and educated Diaspora that has always remembered where they were from and international goodwill. He has a great trump card that can make this state possible; hundreds of millions of dollars of natural resources under his very feet.

I don’t want to sound like a harbinger of doom, but the hardest part is about to begin. Back here in 1994, we were all drunk off the feeling of ‘intsinzi’ (victory), which we had every right to having defeated a genocidal regime, but to get where we are now demanded sacrifice. I remember talking to a relative of mine who joined the civil service right after the war was won; he had a great degree from a western university, and could have made thousands almost anywhere in the world. He instead chose to come home and make one hundred dollars a month. All while trying to cater for a family. When I asked him why he did it he said “that’s the price we had to pay to build our home. You couldn’t put yourself first”.  Thousands of Rwandans did exactly that and now we are reaping what they sowed. A country that’s growing exponentially in every single way.

So, I expect a huge amount of teething pains for awhile but if the people of Southern Sudan pull in the same direction refuse to let outsiders dictate to them and, let’s be honest here, have savvy relations with northern Sudan then they will be alright.

This brings me to my next point.  Southern Sudan and the East African Community (EAC).  I have heard that the nation might become the sixth member of the EAC very soon and I can understand the temptation to fast track the process. It’s a largely untapped market with indefinite potential. There is a lot of money to be made and its oil wealth might be the catalyst that the EAC needs to fulfill its own potential.

However, the issues that I know see in the European Union should serve as a warning to our leaders. The monetary issues that are besieging Greece, Ireland and Portugal have the potential to sink the European dream. Luckily, Germany is an economic powerhouse and it might be able to able, working with the International Monetary Fund, to stave off the collapse of the Euro. But what I’m taking from the European malaise is that proper due diligence needs to be done in a clear-headed manner.

That’s why I feel that East Africans have to employ a wait-and-see approach to Southern Sudan. While I hope that things turn out great, there are too many answered questions that only time will answer. And we cannot be saddled with a nation that might end up imploding. Fingers crossed that will not happen.

Look around and feel proud to be Rwandan

Today you shall not hear a single gripe from me. I will not react to Freedom House’s yearly report stating that Rwanda is not ‘free’. I will neither rubbish the court procedure in South Africa nor the sensationalist reporting that is accompanying the case; however, since I’ve mentioned it already let me give you my take on the initial proceedings and the headlines that are accompanying it. The headlines are alarming because Prosecution witnesses are taking the stand, they haven’t been cross-examined by the defense lawyers and defense witnesses haven’t taken to the stand yet. So, to all those observing the going-on in Johannesburg, don’t fret. Even the State Prosecutor Shaun Abrahams has called the case ‘jinxed’. And it’s only the second week.

What I want to do is to look back to where we came from, where we are now and where we are going. I listened to President Kagame speaking at the Amahoro National Stadium at the Liberation Day celebration. He said, and I’m merely paraphrasing here and there, that since 1994, we have been climbing and climbing a huge mountain and now we’d conquered the peak. We are now going down the mountain. While we shouldn’t think that everything is easy and automatic now, because we are still in danger of tripping over our own feet if we run helter-skelter downhill, the hardest part is over.

Sometimes I feel that in the ever-present desire to do better that beats in the hearts stops us really appreciating where we are right now. Personally, it’s impossible to spend an entire day without shaking my head and complaining about something wrong with the ‘Rwanda’. Either the service at a bank isnt up to my standards or the café I frequent doesn’t have internet connection. Or some overzealous traffic policemen are needlessly giving me a hard time. Or there is a power cut in the neighborhood and I can’t watch Dstv. I can go on for days and days. And I’m sure that all of you can do the same.

It often takes someone who isnt from here, or left Rwanda years ago, or in this case, a president’s speech, to make one step back and appreciate just how well we’ve done. Let’s look at my gripes; while I might complain that my bank is rubbish, it’s only because I expect great service now. In many nations, good customer service isnt a big deal but we’ve made it a priority. And although we have still a huge way to go, we ARE moving forward.

Or what about my complaints about the traffic police? Well, if you want to appreciate them and the tough job they do the best way they can, then travel around our darling continent. You will never look at the neon green-jacketed officers the same way again. So while they can improve, they are leagues ahead of their African counterparts. And what about the poor café manager who I besiege when my FREE wireless internet isnt up to par? I should remind myself of the time I went to Kampala, trawled around for free wireless internet for hours before I simply gave up and marched to the Kampala Serena hotel (paying a ridiculous amount of money).

I have started taking our progress for granted and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Take a deep breath and look around. Where once was the chaotic ‘taxi gare’, we now have a building, Kigali City Tower, that is at home in any western capital. In corners where ‘publi-phones internationale’ were situated are men and women selling internet modems. We have made huge progress and the foundations of a proper state are now present. We must allow ourselves to be proud of our achievements. It doesn’t mean that we should rest on our laurels, no. We must continue forward but not while taking everything we currently enjoy for granted.

Be liberated, don’t care what people say about you

On Monday we are celebrating our 17th Liberation Day, the day that the yoke of genocidal government was finally removed from the necks of all well-meaning Rwandans. The reason I write ‘well-meaning Rwandans’ is that, even to this day, there hordes of my fellow countrymen and women, who are plotting a return to a pre-1994 Rwanda, one which was characterized by sectarianism and discrimination.

The theme of this year’s annual celebration is ‘Shaping our destiny’. I think that that sentiment is extremely timely. In a world where very often we, the small guys, are buffeted from side to side like a canoe in a category 4 hurricane by events that we absolutely have no power over such as for example, the price of a barrel of petrol or the whims and politics of a donor country, its essential that we take as much control as we possibly can.

Before we talk of shaping our destiny, we must understand and articulate what we want our destiny to be. I’ve read the literature and I’ve watched the videos, so I kind of know where Rwanda’s leadership sees the country in the coming years. But it’s not enough for just the leadership to understand and implement the vision. It must be shared with the end users-the ‘baturage’ in the deepest, darkest villages. Because if this doesn’t happen, then forget about the visions of Rwanda being a middle-income country in less than a decade.

The late, great Bob Marley once sang, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. ‘Redemption Song’, my favorite reggae song, is one long cry for self-determination and human dignity. When Mr. Marley talks about mental slavery, I believe he’s talking about the habits and cultures that keep us entrenched in the miserable state we are in. There are so many things that I find absolutely wonderful about this culture of mine. But I feel that there are so many things in this same culture that will keep us away from our intended goal as a nation and people.

An example of this dangerous societal mindset is our love of having children.  We are taught that children are blessings, gifts from God, proof of a healthy marriage and, truth be told, a free workforce. That is all true. However, we must understand that these tenets of our culture were formed in pre-colonial Rwanda when a horribly high rate child mortality was a given and average life expectancy was in the early 30’s. What all that early death meant was that population pressure on the limited territory of Rwanda wasn’t really an issue. If you travel to the National Museum in Butare you will see photos taken in 1950 showing swathes of unpopulated and pristine hills all over the country. Visits those hills now, they’re probably close to bursting with human activity.

I read somewhere that unless rural and URBAN women stop bearing an average of six children we might have a population of 40 million people in a few decades. That is crazy. Our gross domestic product of 7% a year simply cannot feed all these mouths. But even with these statistics, I’m still bothered by every older person I meet, asking me why I haven’t gotten married and had children. Societal pressure should move from pressuring me, to pressuring those getting married too young.

Recently, a Swedish friend of mine doing her doctoral thesis on rural Rwanda and the effects of development, asked my opinion on Mamdani’s book on Rwanda “When victims become killers’. I told her that I had heard of it but I hadn’t had the time to read it. And neither did I want to. I can barely understand the intricacies of being Rwandan and what made people turn on their neighbors in 1994. So, if I can’t really understand it all, and I’ve lived here since 1994, how can someone who’s barely been here do so? Honestly, I don’t really care what they have to say, I have better things to do with my time.