Temper your enthusiasm for South Sudanese EAC membership

Today, the 24th Extraordinary Meeting of the East African Community’s Council of Ministers, taking place in Arusha, will start discussing the set up of a verification committee to probe if South Sudan meets the criteria to join the EAC. This development comes on the heels of November’s EAC Heads of State summit, which requested the Council to review the newly independent nation’s application.

I know I go against the grain when I say this, but I’ve always been of the opinion that South Sudan isnt ready to join the rest of the ‘family’, or rather, the family shouldn’t let it join for a while longer. South Sudan just become an independent state last year, born of war and strife, and I don’t think that it is the kind of stable partner that the EAC needs in order to take it to the next level. Yes, it has oil and hectares upon hectares of arable land, but I don’t think that is enough.

East Africa is enjoying a period of calm and relative peace, despite a few security issues here and there, and this period of stability is what is driving our economies forward, giving citizens the opportunity to leave poverty behind. What I see when I look north is nothing but bad news.

Only on Monday, the Sudanese Government announced that that it had killed 938 Sudanese People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Justice and Equality Movement soldiers in battles to push the South Sudanese out of the oil-rich Higlieg area. This after SPLM illegally crossed the common border with the north. The South Sudanese dispute the fact that they were defeated militarily; they say that they voluntarily withdrew. But this is beside the point; what is fact is that South Sudan broke international law and invaded the North. Of course you can say that the North started it. But the North isnt trying to join the EAC, the South is. And it therefore is a legitimate target for my misgivings.

Fortunately, the fighting has abated for now but I must ask, what guarantees do we have that peace will remain? Imagine what would happen if South Sudan declared war on Sudan, after being admitted into the EAC? Wouldn’t the rest of us get dragged into the mess? What guarantees would we have that this won’t happen?

Article 3 (3) of the EAC Treaty sets out various conditions for membership in the EAC. These conditions include universally acceptable principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, observance of human rights and social justice. The EAC Treaty further stipulates that for a country to be admitted as a member, it should be able to contribute towards the strengthening of integration within the region.

Just looking at the events of the past couple of weeks, I cannot, for the life of me, see how South Sudan (in the state it is in presently at least) can contribute to the strengthening of regional integration.

What I suggest is something that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, thinks the European Union should do, in regards to Turkey’s EU accession wish. Instead of giving South Sudan EAC membership, perhaps we should give them special observer status for the time being. This status will give them the opportunity to get involved in EAC activities while they fix the mess at home. The EAC can help them strengthen their economy and general good governance without the risk of getting involved either in an armed conflict with Sudan or with other South Sudanese rebels. Plus, the incentive to receive full EAC membership will help focus Juba’s mind. EAC membership should be seen as a reward for reform and good governance, not as simply a reward for geographical proximity and crude oil.

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Our court system must be given the respect it deserves

It’s times like these that I regret not joining the legal profession, having opted instead for a career in the media.  I would have loved being part of the Leon Mugesera and Victoire Ingabire and Co cases because of the controversial nature of these trials. It’s not every day that a demagogue, infamous for calling for the murder of a section of populace, is expelled from a western nation and delivered into the arms of the victims. And it isnt everyday that the constitutionality of a law is challenged by a defendant, needing the involvement of the Supreme Court.  It’s exciting times.

However, I have been somewhat disappointed in the antic of the defendants, Mugesera and Ingabire.  First, Mugesera asks that the trial be held in French, despite the fact that he is fluent in Kinyarwanda and his 1992 incendiary speech, which preceded his flight to first Spain and then Canada, was in his mother tongue. Certainly, he must have been playing a silly joke on all of us when he made this request. Really, did he really think that the Court would roll over and allow him to make a mockery of the proceedings? But at least he hasn’t childishly thrown his toys out of the pram and refused to ‘play’. He is letting the case proceed in his roundabout way. I can’t say the same about Mrs. Ingabire.

She’s facing serious charges of terrorism, endangering state security and genocide ideology. Instead of doing everything possible to defend herself of the charges, she has decided that it’s a good idea to withdraw from the case and dismiss her lawyers. I don’t know what advice she is getting but all I can say is that it is bad. Yes, she will get a few headlines, but at the end of the day the charges won’t mysteriously disappear. Nor will the evidence vanish either. So, Mrs. Ingabire, play for the cameras all you like, at the end of the day nothing will change.

I’m personally sick and tired of hearing the ‘Rwandan legal system is a dud’ mantra because it simply isnt supported by facts. Why then would the ICTR, the European Court of Justice, the Swedish, Dutch, American and Canadian court systems send genocide fugitives back to Rwanda for trial? None of these organisations and nations would’ve sent Mugesera, Jean Uwinkindi, Enos Kagaba and Jean-Marie Vianney Mudahinyuka to Rwanda if they believed that they would not get a fair trial here. She is playing for the cameras, which is her right. But, in my humble opinion, she is disrespecting the entire judiciary. She must be allowed to get away with it. The trial must continue, with or without her.

On another topic altogether, the World Bank has confirmed the appointment of Jim Yong Kim as its new president. His opponent, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was the first person to seriously challenge a US candidate since the organisation was founded at the Bretton Woods conference after the Second World War.

Ahead of the announcement, Okonjo-Iweala said: “You know this thing is not really being decided on merit. It is voting with political weight and shares, and therefore the United States will get it,” she told reporters.

I personally thought that her candidacy was a huge joke. I found it amusing that she thought that she could compete against a candidate supported by the Bank’s majority shareholder. Instead of complaining about US and European influence, what developing nations must do is earn the right to sit at the table. If you want to have a majority shareholding, you must buy the shares. You cannot be a minority shareholder and then want to choose a company’s CEO. What developing nations need to do is justify the ‘noise’ they are making. Pull more people out of poverty, innovate, have strong systems and become major players at the international level. Only then will you EARN the right to play with the big boys.

We aren’t in a state of normalcy, don’t ever doubt it

Last Thursday, I joined various experts, embassy staff, journalists and politicians in the Serena hotel to participate in CNLG’s International Conference on Genocide, under the theme ’18 years after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, testimonies and reflections’. The two day conference, which aimed to discuss the dehumanisation process, victims in the aftermath, assessing the legacy of judicial processes and preserving memory in the face of negationism, was extremely interesting.

Three speakers at the conference made my heartbeat quicken in excitement. Dr. Angela Ebert of Murdoch University, Australia, who spoke about ensuring our understanding of genocide victims, Kenyan professor Wandia Njoya, who talked about the notorious Lantos Award to Paul Rusesabagina  and Canadian genocide expert Gerald Caplan, who talked about an extremely controversial topic ‘why does the RPF polarise the world’.

Listening to these experts discuss my own history, I felt slightly ashamed. I felt ashamed because, here were foreigners, teaching me about my own country and people. What these academicians talked about wasn’t rocket science; their arguments should have been my own. But they weren’t and I know why. I was ignorant because I did not seek the information they had nor was I interested in doing so. Looking around, I couldn’t see people my age participating in the conference. I think that there is something wrong with this lack of interest.

It’s been eighteen years since 1994, and I feel that the memory of what happened in those 100 days is being lost as a new generation of Rwandans take their place at the table. A few days back, I overheard a bunch of teenagers gripe about the lack of ‘fun’ during the commemoration week. This would’ve been impossible a decade back. The progress and normalcy that the country has enjoyed is making some of us complacent. We are forgetting that in living memory, our streets were flowing with the blood of innocents killed simply because of a lottery of birth. Yes, our country is looking at the future, and actively pursuing it, but not at the expense of our past.

Professor Wandia Njoya talked about this false sense of normalcy as she put the Lantos Foundation, and other organisations that refuse to acknowledge the special challenges Rwanda (and Africa) face, to task. “When they [those organisations] talk about going back to ‘normal’, what ‘normal’ are they talking about”? I would like to expound on this. We, Rwandans, must never forget that we are not living in ‘normal’ times or in a ‘normal’ country. As long as there are still proponents of an ideology of genocide hoping to turn back the clock, as genocide financiers like Felicien Kabuga still lurk in the shadows, as long as survivors still get targeted by the very people who destroyed their lives, as long as some self-styled opposition leaders attempt to negate 1994 and FDLR still thinks that it will conquer Rwanda, all guns blazing, then we can never talk about a case of ‘normal’.

I suggest that parents, and the older generation teach young Rwandans just where our country came from. A vast number of Rwandans were born after 1994, meaning that the commemoration period is simply an ‘event’ for them where people wear purple ribbons, the President marches with young people and then makes a speech at Stade Amahoro and nightspots close. For this period to come alive for them, they must be educated. As parents and guardians, you cannot take it for granted that they will learn about the Genocide from school or on the radio. You have the responsibility to educate the next generation; if you don’t, one day the only people who commemorate the Genocide will be survivors and government officials. And that would be tragic indeed.

Guns, abortion…let us end the madness

I have a horrible habit that I’ve found extremely hard to get rid of; as soon as I get to bed I switch on my small bedside radio to listen to the BBC, and falling asleep without switching off. I’m a horrible news junkie and I constantly go online to see what new thing has happened in an obscure part of the world. But while I sometimes find out some good news, more often than not, I’m besieged with bad news. Like on Monday, some crazy person entered the Oikos University campus in Oakland, California and started shooting randomly. The 10:30 am (local time) attack has ended the lives of seven innocents and grievously injured three others.
Taken as an individual occurrence, you can say that crazy people do crazy things. But this shooting comes hot on the heels of another attack that took place only a month ago, where an Ohio high school student entered his high school’s cafeteria and proceeded to shoot to death three students. This attack wasn’t that bad, if you compare it with the Virginia Tech attack (where mentally deranged Seung-Hui, killed 32 people, wounding 25 in two separate attacks before he took his own life) and the grand-daddy of them all, the massacre at Columbine High School, where two dissatisfied high-schoolers took automatic firearms and indiscriminately shot to death twelve students and a teacher.
I always ask my American friends why in the world they allow such things to happen. “Can’t you just prohibit some people from getting guns”, I ask. They say that the right to ‘bear arms’ in constitutionally protected. And they are right. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution states, among other things, that ‘a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed’.
But I then I ask, “if a law is doing more harm that good, shouldn’t it be amended”? Shouldn’t the political class have the gumption to change the law, especially when it is causing untold suffering and has lost its original raison d’etre? The US has the best armed military in the world, it certainly doesn’t need a militia anymore. So, why still have the right to bear arms? It seems to me that this is only so because the political class in the US don’t want to annoy the pro-gun lobby because it has money and, therefore, influence. The facts (for example, gun deaths would fall), which would rock the boat, are being ignored in order to maintain the status quo.
Which brings me to Rwanda. This weekend, while doing a bit of Umuganda, I listened to the debate on the popular BBC Kinyarwanda programme ‘Imvo n’Imvano’. The radio show, about abortion, pit various people (all men) on opposite sides of the pro and anti abortion debate. What frustrates me is the fact that, more often than not, this debate is governed by religious and legal principles and not real people. Abortion isn’t a theoretical issue. It isn’t about sin, legal texts and what not. It’s about real women facing real challenges. This debate should be guided by this principle, ‘a state should do whatever it can to protect the rights of its people’. When a law is promulgated, it must protect that one person, whose rights are being trampled on. In this case, the people whose rights to proper medical care and protection are being trampled are the 60,000 women annually who have to seek backroom abortions. These 60,000 women should be the ones that people, most especially lawmakers, think about. Not some vaunted legal concept of this and that. Make abortion legal, protect our women. Let’s not pretend that everything is okay because it is not. The US has made its choice and now barely a month passes by without tragic gun violence. Let’s not go the same way. Our people are the only resource we have, and we need to protect this resource.