KCC, talk to people first before you act crazy

This Saturday I awoke to a horror headline in my favorite Rwandan daily, ‘KCC limits party hours’. According to the Kigali City Council’s (KCC) communication guru, Bruno Rangira, a security meeting  on Thursday resolved to ‘ban music, church concerts, house parties and other social gatherings that will exceed midnight during Christmas time and New Year’. The city authorities decided to give Kigali residents a quiet holiday season because, and I quote the official statement, ‘due to the excitement during the festive season, people tend to indulge in drinking excessive alcohol which results into [sic] drunk driving, fights, noise pollution and other crimes”. The Police Spokesperson said that the loud music and such disturbed peoples “peace”.

I was extremely disappointed in the decision. I know that I’d complained about some of the noise pollution in residential areas a few weeks back in this very column, even I knew that there were exceptions to the ‘no loud music’ rule; New Year’s Eve certainly was one such exception. However, KCC didn’t see it quite like me. But, as a law abiding citizen I had to swallow my dismay and try to find a way to start partying even earlier, making sure that the music speakers were put away at the stroke of midnight.

While I was making those plans I took a look at the next day’s issue of this publication. Imagine my confusion when I saw this headline, ‘No limit on party hours-Kigali Mayor’.  Reading on, I found out that the Lord Mayor, Fidele Ndayisaba, had rescinded the Kigali Security Council’s decree saying “people going for parties or concerts during the festive season have the right to go out for as long as they want”.  Explaining the decree, the Mayor said that KCC “only wanted people to party peacefully and in a responsible manner that will not deny others their rights”.

Hearing the Mayor attempt to explain the reasoning behind the resolution I was dismayed by the paternalistic nature of the decision. I don’t believe that we are children and we shouldn’t be treated thus. And I must ask, how in the world was KCC going to enforce this directive? Had they even thought about that? I mean, I bet that there will be festive gathering in almost each and every home- and with good reason. New Years Eve is a big deal.

The issue of the directive’s enforcement isnt what I take with issue with. What I’m most confused is why KCC felt the need to embarrass itself like it did. Flip-flopping on decisions isnt something that garners public respect, it’s not a ‘good look’. It makes it seem like KCC is a body full of rogue departments that operate outside the KCC rules and procedures. Honestly though, I would prefer to think that the Kigali Security Council took this decision without telling the rest of KCC. Because if it was a collective decisions, then I have to ask, why then did they change their minds within 24 hours? I think that the answer is obvious, someone with a lot of clout made a few phone calls and gave KCC officials a piece of their mind.

But I have to ask, why did it have to go so far? KCC could have simply consulted as many as people and found a way for people to have a fun, and secure holiday season. This fiasco should be a lesson to KCC and other government bodies. Consultation isnt something to be sneered at; Rwanda is a democracy and making decisions without any consultation with us, the people, is patently undemocratic. I hope that this confusion isnt repeated.

Canada has struck a blow for cheapskates everywhere

I read an article on the Deutsche Welle a few weeks ago that Rwanda could earn about a million dollars from the Gishwati Forest reserve. Not through cutting down trees or exploiting the forest in any way but rather through selling carbon credits to developed nations. Throw in the forest cover in Nyungwe and we could possibly earn two or three million dollars more. But we might not get some of that badly needed money because Canada simply doesn’t want to hand it over.

If you aren’t a huge news buff or an avid environmentalist you’ll be forgiven for not knowing that, early this month, a huge climate change conference took place in Durban, South Africa. The Durban meeting, technically known as COP-17, saved the Kyoto Protocol on climate change; the first binding international agreement that made it mandatory for developed nations to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions. While our developing nations weren’t asked to cut down our emissions, there were clauses that can benefit us quite a bit. One of the clauses determined the manner in which emissions trading could take place.  This trade, often between the West and  the rest of the world, rewarded our countries for not emitting a lot of carbon dioxide and having carbon sinks (such as forests, swamps and bogs) and penalized those nations that emitted large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby causing global warming.  It should have been a win-win situation for all the parties concerned. It let the western polluters continue to spew as much pollution they could afford into the atmosphere and the poorer nations could make some money for their lack of heavy industry.

That is, until big, bad Canada ruined a beautiful thing. It has left the Kyoto Protocols, despite the fact that it was the first nation to sign the international treaty when it was formulated in 1997. The Canadian Minister of Environment, Peter Kent, said his country was invoking its legal right to withdraw because the Kyoto did not represent the way forward for Canada or the world. According to environment minister, the move saves Canada $14 billion in penalties for not achieving its Kyoto targets.

“To meet the targets under Kyoto for 2012 would be the equivalent of either removing every car, truck, tractor, ambulance, police car and vehicle of every kind from Canadian roads or closing down the entire farming and agriculture sector and cutting heat to every home, office, hospital, factory and building in Canada”.

Is it politically correct to call him a liar and charlatan? Because he isnt being honest at all and as one of the largest polluters in the world, the Canadians are choosing their present prosperity over their grandchildren’s future. I wouldn’t have minded their withdrawal if it affected just them but climate change is a cross-border issue. The Conservative government of Stephen Harper is simply making a politically suave decision, especially in this economic climate, but this decision isnt statesmanlike at all. For the administration to choose short term goals in place of long-term sustainability is a kick in the teeth.  Not just to us poorer people, but their nationals as well. Global warming will affect Canada just as much as the rest of the globe and all the money in their treasury will come to naught.

I have to ask, when did Canadians because so hard-hearted? When I lived in the nation years ago, they were among the kindest, most welcoming, polite and environmentally-conscience people. How did these nice, kind-hearted people vote for this administration? And how did it then decide that it could turn its back on the entire world? It’s a shame.

Is the Ombudsman’s Office attempting a putsch on our judges?

Putsch (plural putsches) is defined as a ‘coup; an illegal effort to forcibly overthrow the current government’.  While in no shape or form am I saying that the good people working at the Kimihurura headquarters of the Ombudsman’s Office are secretly planning to overthrow the government of President Kagame, I cannot say the same for our beleaguered legal system. That is what I’ve been deducing while reading the Draft Law Establishing the Responsibilities, Powers, Organisation and Functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman, which is currently before the august Chamber of Deputies.

Very few articles in the draft law are controversial, but when they are, it’s slightly frightening. I have huge issues with Article 30, which is titled ‘Powers to review judgments’. The draft law states that in the interest of the law, the Office of the Ombudsman has powers to request the Supreme Court to reconsider and review judgments rendered by any court at the last instance, if there is any instance of injustice”.

If you read that article simplistically it sounds like a good idea. I mean, who doesn’t want to make sure that judgments are rendered fairly? Justice is good right? Of course it is. But when the drafters of this proposed bill wrote ‘in the interests of the law’, what interests where they talking about? Not in the interest of empowering our judges that’s for sure. How would it feel if someone kept looking over your shoulder as you went about your daily tasks at work, waiting for you to trip up so that they could point out just how incompetent you were? You’d feel unduly pressured and more liable to making errors.

Our judges, nay, our entire judicial system prosecutors, public defenders, bailiffs, court secretaries are overloaded with work but they are doing a great job nevertheless. Forgive me if I sound a bit too sympathetic to the judiciary but if I hadn’t ended up working with this newspaper, I might have ended up being a judge or state prosecutor someone; I have quite a few classmates from the National University who are dispensing justice all over the country. So, when their integrity is so shamelessly attacked I cannot but stand in their corner.

I won’t even pretend to believe that all our judges are angels fighting for truth and justice. There certainly a few bad apples in the barrel. However, I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Ombudsman’s Office wants the powers to second guess a lower court’s decision simply because they don’t like it. I don’t think this is reasonable because we already have an appeals process that works perfectly fine. If I don’t like the decision rendered by one court I can simply appeal to a higher one. This appeals process is well documented in our statute books on criminal and civil procedure. So I must ask, why fix something that isnt broken?

I believe in the sanctity of the separation of powers. The judiciary, legislature and the executive all have important roles to play in a smooth running of a government and I think it’s dangerous when one meddles in the daily business of another. The Ombudsman does a lot of great things I presume but honestly, how do they expect me to believe that they will advise the Supreme Court in matters relating to a decided case when they can’t even properly frame an article of law? What in the heavens do they mean when they … “if there is any instance of injustice”? Who judges whether there is injustice or not? Legal scholars, senior judges, members of civil society or just Ombudsman staff? Who defines ‘injustice’ anyway?

I have a premonition that what we’re witnessing is a power grab and I cannot stay silent on the matter. I sincerely hope that our Members of Parliament strike that offending article out of the draft law and strike a blow for judicial independence.

Rwanda isnt the bogeyman, no matter what you imagine

What is going on in the world? The mighty European Union might bite the dust if its leader’s don’t find a way to save their common currency. The on-going nomination process for the Republican Party presidential ticket for next year’s election includes candidates who actually believe that the world was created in seven days and that global warming is a myth. Iran seems likely to become a target of a bombing campaign from Western powers despite the Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan debacle, leaving me to wonder whether people ever learn. And now it’s not safe to walk the streets of continental Europe.

On Tuesday, Rwandans living in the France and Belgium were formally warned by none other than our Foreign Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, to be careful where they go and who they hang around with. In other words, she was telling Rwandan citizens to be careful because crazed individuals might harm them simply because of their nationality. Who would have ever thought that the Minister would ever have to make such a warning? I mean, aren’t these capitals supposed to be safe?

By the way, did I mention that this warning from our country’s top diplomat was a direct result of the firebombing of our embassy in Paris with home-made Molotov cocktails? Thankfully no one was hurt and the only damages inflicted on our mission by the attack were broken windows and shredded curtains.

Commenting on the possible motives for the attack, the Foreign Minister said that the French Security services suspected Congolese citizens disgruntled with the recently concluded presidential elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo; an election in which incumbent Joseph Kabila has recently been declared winner. “These same Congolese have been blaming Rwanda for supposedly supporting a candidate who’s not of their choice. If that’s indeed the truth, it’s unacceptable to our Government and we expect the host countries to protect our citizens at all costs”.

In fact, this stunt allegedly conducted by Congolese rabble-rousers was followed by similar illegality in London, where a group of more than 200 DR Congo demonstrators caused the emergency evacuation of Oxford Circus Tube station in central London after setting off a passenger alarm on a train they had boarded following an earlier protest.

Notwithstanding the utter scandal that this attack on our embassy was (the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, stipulates in Article 22 that ‘the receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity) I have some major issues with what transpired in Paris.

Firstly, I cannot even begin to understand how people yielding home-made firebombs were allowed to get within throwing distance of our embassy. Where was the security? While I agree with the foreign minister when she called the attack “unusual”, surely it wasn’t totally unexpected especially when one remembers that some members of the Rwandan community were targeting by Congolese nations during the President’s official visit to France. The vitriolic campaign by some members of the Congolese community in Europe surely should have raised a red flag.

Secondly, other than in The New Times, did any of you read about the attack on the embassy? Isnt it extremely hypocritical that when, for example a Rwandan national loses his life in another country it becomes a stick to beat the government with, yet when our diplomatic premises get firebombed there is nary a peep? If such an incident happened to a US embassy there would be an international incident.

Thirdly, and this question I ask my Congolese brethren. When will you stop blaming all and sundry for the issues and challenges in your nation? Eventually you must stop looking for foreign scapegoats and finally admit that the solutions to your issues are all home-grown.

Was the law really fair to Andre Karekezi?

You have probably never heard of Mr. Andre Karekezi, son of Aloys Karekezi and Rose Nyiramibyuko. He is a farmer from Rusizi he’s in a spot of bother; for you see, he was recently sentenced to five years in jail and mandated to pay a fine of Rwf 4,000. Not for robbery, assault, arson or a major felony but rather for attempting to bribe a public official with Rwf 2,000. I’m not attempting to put our anti-graft laws to task because, truth be told, they are quite effective if Transparency International is to be believed. It ranked Rwanda as the fourth least corrupt in Africa in its 2011 Corruption Perception Index and this was only possible due to the strong anti-graft legislation that our parliamentarians put together.

“If you do the crime, do the time”, is a motto I subscribe to in almost every circumstances. Just as long as the crime warrants the punishment. In Mr. Karekezi case I feel that this wasn’t true. It feels like overkill; while deterrence is a good thing, let’s not for one second forget that we are dealing with human beings who’ve made an error in judgment. And it’s truly unfortunate that a man loses five years of freedom for a bribe worth not even the price of a beer at the Serena Hotel. But even if I agree that his crime warranted the punishment, which I don’t, many of the corruption convictions that were publicized by the Office of the Ombudsman (and discussed in yesterday’s New Times) don’t even make sense logically speaking.

For example, why would Charles Ayirwanda get sent to jail for five years and fines Rwf5000 for receiving a bribe of a mere Rwf 500 while police officer Sergeant Vedaste Kagiraneza received a three year sentence and a fine of Rwf100,000 after receiving a Rwf140,000 bribe? Where is the justice in this? I would think that the judge would be extremely harsh towards the police officer merely because of his position as a custodian of the law but, other than making him pay a higher fine than Charles, Sgt. Vedaste received a shorter jail term. The Ombudsman’s list of 80 definitively completed cases is full of such disparities.

The Minister of justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, when put to task on these rather strange figures, quite honestly made me laugh. According to him, a “Rwf 50,000 bribe in Nyabihu District could theoretically be more valuable than a Rwf 1 million bribe in Kigali”. Well, first of all, I didn’t know that the Franc had various face values in different parts of the country. Secondly, I didn’t know that judges had the powers to define what this ‘new’ value was. But he’s the expert, not I. The Minister knows that there are many holes that need to be plugged in order for our anti-graft law to be deemed not only extremely punitive, but also fair; that is why the entire law is being reviewed. I just feel sorry for those already in jail.

Ignoring the long sentences and the issues they involve (such as the fact that the State will have to fully cater for these people; spending millions on their upkeep), why in the world did the Ombudsman think it necessary to divulge the names of the convicted peoples parents (how else do you think I learnt Karekezi’s parents names)? They aren’t guilty of doing anything other than bearing their children. Publicizing their names wasn’t necessary and I believe that it was an invasion of their privacy. Crimes are personal; if their children have committed crimes and had their names revealed to the general public, so be it. Their parents shouldn’t be punished as well. It is unfair, and despite what the Spokesperson of the Supreme Court Charles Kaliwabo thinks (he’s said that the Supreme Court is ready to defend itself on the issue), it leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

What do we need to do to see the end of racism?

During the past couple of week the ugly specter of racism and bigotry has been making headlines in both the United Kingdom and the United States. While it shouldn’t be something that surprises me, racism I mean, the mere fact that it still exists still shocks me. In this day and age, where the world is truly linked in countless ways, you’d think that people have moved away from some of their prehistoric instincts but I’m constantly getting a reality check.

In the UK, a 34 year old woman called Emma West, is currently in court for spewing racist nonsense on a train. The bile that came from the woman’s mouth  while addressing one of the black passengers, included tidbits of ‘wisdom’ such as, and you must forgive me for not writing the swear words,  “you’re in my country now. . Don’t ——- talk your —-. Talk my language, —- —-. “Talk my ——- language. You’re in my country now, you’re in my ——- country now. Talk my ——- language.”Don’t talk you language, talk my language you —- —-.”Don’t sit here and look at me like I’m a —-.

This tirade would’ve been just be one of ‘those things’ that are forgotten if not for one enterprising passenger, who recorded the entire episode on their camcorder and uploaded the video to the YouTube social media website under the title ‘My Tram Experience’.  This video has had over nine million views so far.

But crazy people on trains are part and parcel of ‘rail’ travel I guess, so I will let the incident slide.  But another scandal in Kentucky has truly got my goat. A church, of all places, has voted to ban interracial couples from attending Sunday services and any church activity except for funerals. This vote was a result of former pastor, Melvin Thompson’s crusade against miscegenation  (mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, and procreation).

Thompson’s move sprung from a church service in June attended by Stella Harville, aged 24, and her Zimbabwean fiance Ticha Chikuni, 29. Harville played piano, accompaniing Chikuni as he sang the hymn ‘I Surrender All’.

According to the Guardian newspaper, on 7 August, Thompson, still pastor at that point, approached Stella’s father, Dean Harville, who holds office as the secretary and treasurer of the church. “Thompson told me that Stella and her boyfriend were not allowed to sing in the church anymore,” Dean Harville said. Stella’s mother, Cathy Harville, confronted Thompson and asked him who precisely had a problem with the couple. “I, for one, do,” Thompson replied. “The best thing that Stella can do is take her boyfriend back to where he came from.”

This scandal has raised quite a bit of dust in Obama’s America, but one must remember that federal laws against miscegenation finally bit the dust as recently as 1967 when, in a landmark case known as Loving v. Virginia, the remaining anti-miscegenation laws were held to be unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. The only reason that the church isnt in more trouble is that anti-segregation laws don’t apply to churches.

Fellow countrymen and women, don’t for even one second dare to point fingers at our Western brethren and pretend that racism is something that they monopolize. I personally have many friends from all over the world and as such, I spend a lot of time with them. Racism doesn’t really rear its ugly head when I’m with male friends but heaven help me if I’m seen out with foreign women or even worse, dating them. Having done the latter and heard peoples snide remarks, I have to say that Rwandans aren’t much better than Westerners. I’ve had relatives and friends tell me things along the lines of “whatever you do, don’t get married to a foreigner” and what not.

The issue of racism isnt a black and white issue; it isnt about ‘we’ colored people being victims and ‘white’ people being perpetrators; if we continue to pretend that it is, we shall never be able to slay this monster. Everyone and I mean everyone, should look deep into their hearts and be honest about their prejudices. Only then will we be able to leave to our children a world where “they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed.