It is time for the sane to take back America

Insanitydoing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” –Albert Einstein

While I’m unable to wrap my head around his eerie Theory of Relativity, I can certainly comprehend what Mr. Einstein meant when he defined insanity. Interestingly enough, you’d think that some of the most intelligent people in the world would be able to see insanity if they met it, but alas.  A prime example of this insanity is the refusal of the American people to even contemplate life without their trusty guns.  In fact, if you want to lose an election fast, talk about gun regulation. This despite the fact that there were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control.

Why these fatal, and near fatal, incidents? Because some hoary men decided, in 1791, that the right to bear arms was a good idea and inserted it into the US Constitution, naming it the Second Amendment. I can see how it was a good idea at the time, what with the pesky British, brown bears and ‘Injuns’, but why is it still a good idea today? The US of 1791 was a dangerous place but the biggest threat the average American faces today is ANOTHER American carrying a gun.

Why was James E. Holmes, the 24-year-old man accused of killing a dozen people inside an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, able to buy legally and easily over the Internet 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun, making a New York Times journalist write that “it was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon”?

Because the US Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010, issued two Second Amendment decisions. In District of Columbia v. Heller the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia. And furthermore went on to decide that many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession as being consistent with the Second Amendment. In McDonald v. Chicago, the Justices ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government; therefore prohibiting any local authority from limiting gun ownership.

What have been the result of these choices?  Four successful assassination attempts on US presidents, , the deaths civil rights leaders (Dr. King Jr, Malcolm X come immediately to mind), the 1999 Columbine High School massacre (where two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold embarked on a shooting spree in which 12 students and 1 teacher died), the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre (where student, Seung-Hui Cho, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others), the 2011 Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tucson, Arizona (she lived but six people didn’t) and the 2012 Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.

The above are some of the best known instances of gun violence but every day someone dies because archaic laws are being held in higher esteem that people’s lives. They often say that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. And that is correct. But what happens when you remove guns from peoples grasp?

In 2009, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recorded 3.0 intentional homicides committed with a firearm per 100,000 inhabitants. In comparison, the figure for the United Kingdom, (where handguns are totally prohibited) was 0.07; about 40 times lower than the US figure. So, while the majority of the 40% of Americans who, in 1997, reported having a gun in their homes aren’t criminals, there is an obvious link between gun ownership and gun violence.

That’s when all the insanity comes in. President Obama travelled to Aurora to meet the survivors of the rampage and instead of using the pulpit to call for change, he talked about how, “even in the darkest of days life continues and people are strong”. And how, “what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy”. I disagree with him. What will be remembered is the fact that an insane man was able to get guns and shoot people for no reason, simply because he had ceratain ‘rights’.  Who cannot, in all honestly, not see imagine similar headlines in the future? Something needs to change, and fast.

Which brings me to Rwanda. After seeing just how the idea of free speech could be used by mad men and women to call for the annihilation of an innocent group, the Parliament passed into law in 2008 the Law relating to the punishment of the crime of genocide ideology. What was realized by the Rwandan leadership, and right thinking Rwandans, was that the freedom to life superseded any other freedom.  We saw a problem, and instead of burying our heads in the sand, we solved it. Today, hate speech is something of the past, and when it does rear its ugly head, the country has the tools needed to combat it.  The same cannot be said about those trying to reduce homicide rates linked to gun use in the United States.

So, what exactly do we need MONUSCO for?

I won’t lie. I’m not a huge fan of the entire UN system and this sentiment is one I’ve aired very often. While certain UN agencies such as the WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO and FAO do some really good work, many other bodies are not worth their financial burden, especially the peacekeeping department. Can anyone actually remember a conflict where a UN peacekeeping force had a positive role?  Not in the former Yugoslavia, not in Rwanda and not in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  And their failure in the Congo is despite the US$ 8.73 billion that has been spent since 1999.

Where has this money gone? To fund an operation that, in 2011, included 19,084 uniformed personnel, out of which 16,998 were military personnel, 743 were military observers and 1,343 were police. In addition the forces included 983 international civilian personnel, 2,828 local civilian staff and 600 UN volunteers. That’s a grand total of 23,495 people.  That kind of force equals and exceeds the armies of 55 different nations in the world. I don’t mean just little Pacific Ocean atolls but ‘proper’ countries such as Iceland, Botswana, Slovakia, Belize and New Zealand.

With that kind of fire and manpower, one would think that the Mai-Mai, FDLR and, most recently, the M32 mutineers would think twice about even attempting to do battle with this Armada of international forces. But that isnt the case at all. The Umoja Wetu offensive undertaken by a Rwanda-DRC military, which almost broke the back of the FDLR, didn’t involve MONUSCO. In fact, it had failed to do anything about the FDLR’s reign of terror and rape.

No one has confidence in it anymore. Not the Congolese people, not the Kabila administration and not Congo’s neighbors. I found the just concluded AU Heads of State summit extremely eye-opening.

The Presidents of Rwanda and Congo met for ninety minutes on Sunday and then endorsed an agreement hammered out at a meeting Thursday of foreign ministers of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The ICGLR-led agreement called for, among other provisions, “an immediate establishment of a neutral international force to eradicate M23, FDLR and all other negative forces in eastern DRC (Congo), and patrol and secure the border zones.”

So, here are two things I noticed. Firstly, the UN, despite its millions and ‘power’, couldn’t get two member states to sit down and iron it its issues. In fact, what we’ve seen is that this very body, meant to ensure world peace, was through its actions and inactions (and accursed reports) actually escalating tensions.

As a result, a small regional body was forced to do what the UN should have done. Bring people to the negotiating table. That’s UN failure number one.

Failure number two is MONUSCO’s perceived lack of neutrality befitting UN peacekeeping troops. The need to establish a ‘neutral’ force to do what the behemoth was mandated to do is its biggest indictment. So, here is the question I ask. If the Congolese, the Rwandans, the Ugandans, the Burundians, the Kenyans don’t think that the MONUSCO is a neutral force, then why is it still being allowed to operate in the Eastern DRC?

Is it perhaps because it’s ‘too big to fail’ and that its failure will make a similar peacekeeping force impossible to justify? Or is it because it’s too lucrative for too many people? One cannot ignore the fact that those billions are entering someone’s pocket.

This situation reminds me of the entire Somalia debacle. United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM), headquartered in Mogadishu from March 1993 until March 1995, made things worse instead of better. Instead of peace, the Somali people had to deal with the ‘Black Hawk Down’ incident, increased insecurity and famine. Its only today, with the AU force, taking care of business, that the Somalis finally have a real chance to build a viable and stable central government. So, once again I must ask, “so, what exactly do we need MONUSCO for?”

The world is twiddling its thumbs as Congo turns genocidal

Yesterday’s issues of The New Times lead with the rather sober headline, ‘Rwandan students evacuated from DRC, cite targeted attacks’. I say ‘sober’ because the contents of the news article were dynamite. According to the writer, 62 Rwandans, the majority of whom were students at Goma University and medical interns, fled because of “anti-Rwandan sentiments”. To them I say, welcome back home, but to the international community I say, shame on you.

What should they be ashamed about? A lot of things. They should be ashamed for peddling the lies found in the dastardly UN Group of Experts Report, which claimed to have irrefutable evidence that Rwanda was supporting the M23 rebels. Evidence that has never been brought to the public arena for proper verification. They should be ashamed of refusing to reform the MONUSCO behemoth, despite the fact that they aren’t doing a single thing of note in the Congo, despite its size and financial support. And shame on the international community for NOT playing a more positive role in the South and North Kivu peace process.

Because of the all the failures, we are seeing a dangerous situation in North Kivu becoming genocidal in nature at its most extreme, and xenophobic at its least. I use the word ‘genocidal’ with a lot of trepidation because it is sure to raise hackles both in this country and around the world. But let’s look at the evidence.

Reuters news agency reported on Monday that: “several hundred residents took to the streets on Monday to protest against the rebels and some went to the regional army headquarters to demand arms and training to fight. Local shops and markets closed. Anti-Tutsi mobs roamed the streets, demanding arms, while police had to escort some Rwandan students across the border

The New Times reported yesterday that: “Most of those (Rwandans) who returned home said that sections of Congolese civil society in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, had waged a persecution campaign against Rwandans. “Mobs of Congolese, including motorcyclists, are calling on the ordinary people to target Rwandans, claiming Rwanda is backing the rebels,” said Justin Nsengiyumva, a returning student.

This newest development follows what occurred on the 20th of June.  This publication revealed that 11 Rwandan nationals were handed over to local Immigration authorities in Rubavu district after being tortured by armed forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They bore grave bruises as a result of severe physical torture and said they were arrested and denied food for several days.

As one can see, there is a pattern developing here. The more successful the M23 get, the deadlier it becomes to be a Rwanda-phone in the region. This reminds me of two things. First of all, it reminds me of the kind of genocidal frenzy that occurred in 1994 as the Rwanda Patriotic Army advanced both southwards and westwards.

Secondly, this all reminds me of televised scenes in Kinshasa in 1998. I remember seeing a man, who the French news reporter breathlessly called a Tutsi, thrown off a bridge, into the crocodile infested waters of the Congo River. The drowning man was then shot at with AK-47’s. Here was what James Rupert, a Washington Post journalist, said in a 10 February report. “Mobs of residents lynched or arrested local Tutsis, their families and anyone suspected of rebel sympathies. Diplomats and officials with human rights groups have said hundreds of local residents may have been killed in such attacks, and virtually all other Tutsis fled.

I believe that this ethnic cleansing is about to occur under the noses of the international community, who instead of warning about this ugliness, are getting themselves into a lather over the M23’s advance and the Congolese Army’s helter-skelter retreat. Yesterday, Kenneth Roth, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch tweeted this: “UN Mission has received UNCOMFIRMED reports of rights abuses where Rwanda-supported rebels operate”. The so-called human rights advocate refused to inform his 19,164 Twitter followers that there are CONFIRMED reports of torture, starvation and threats to the lives of innocent civilians of Rwandan-origin.

And it’s not only Mr. Roth who is ignoring the obvious. Almost every single international organisation is guilty of looking the other way as well simply because it doesn’t fit into their prevailing narrative.  Are we on the cusp of something truly horrendous? Looking at past experience, I would have to say that we are. I just hope that I am wrong.

Women, move out and go get your own!

The catchword, ‘Rwanda 50: A Journey of Resilience’, can be found everywhere you turn as we celebrate a half century of sovereignty. While it is extremely difficult for me to find something positive about last fifty years, except perhaps the last decade and a half, I truly believe, fingers crossed, that the next fifty will be absolutely amazing.

While everyone has enjoyed Rwanda’s socio- economic transformation, no sector of the population has enjoyed such a change in fortune as the womenfolk. They’ve progressed from being seen simply as wives, mothers and domestic help to being seen as equal partners in the home,  as leaders and even as captains of industry. They’ve truly enjoyed the fruits of liberation and independence. Or have they?

Well, if you look at the way things were for women in the early 1990’s and compare them with the way they are now, it’s a quantum leap. Case in point; in 1995, if a woman was seen dressed in a skimpy outfit, drinking a glass of wine in a nightspot she was automatically viewed as an ‘Indaya’( prostitute).  Fast forward to today. In the same scenario, she isnt automatically classified as a fallen woman but perhaps a professional, empowered woman enjoying a tipple as she waits for friends to arrive. That huge change of attitude is certainly revolutionary. But if you think that the Rwandan women’s liberation movement has reached its zenith you are sadly mistaken.

While women here have certainly climbed to the top of our political and business ‘hill’, I feel that so much more is needed before we are able to say that our nation is truly equal. Our Constitution, which mandated a form affirmative action, has forced women to come to the fore and forced men to accept that change.

However, while this affirmative action has changed people’s attitudes to women in the workplace, I feel that the next step is going to be the hardest. And the biggest impediment that we shall face as a nation is balancing our culture as Rwandans, and our aspirations as a nation. While our culture is an excellent resource, we must also recognize that it is quite a hindrance as well.

Let’s look at one example. As soon as I graduated from university I was gently, but firmly, pushed out of the nest and encouraged to find my own path. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t making tonnes of money, to become a ‘man’ I had to get my own address. Plus, if I was to enter the dating game, I needed to be able to say that I “paid rent”. If I didn’t have my own spot, I wasn’t a ‘man’. When a young, FEMALE, relative of mine attempted to do the same, members of the family got into a lather, arguing that it was “unseemly”.  She stuck to her guns and they eventually relented.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why a fully grown woman, making hundreds of thousands of francs, thinks its okay to live at home. I can understand if she is staying home to help pay the bills. That is noble. But if she’s simply enjoying a rent-free, bill-free existence, I find it hard to respect such a woman. The cultural norm that states a woman should only leave her parent’s home to go to her husband’s is extremely archaic and, in my humble opinion, harmful. How can women ask to be treated as equal, if they have never sweated over household bills like their prospective husbands? What life skills are they getting?

I’ve met many young women who want to spread their wings but feel unable to go against the prevailing culture. They are worried about what their parents, or the rest of society, will think. To them I say this, freedoms are not given freely.

When I look across the border to Uganda, I see a society that has changed fundamentally. Women are just as likely as men to live by themselves. The same thing can be said about Kenya. Why not us? The societies in these two nations are similar to ours so we cannot say that we have special circumstances.

There will be a need for a critical mass of young women choosing to ignore our un-modern belief system, before we can talk about real equality. We will talk about ‘independence’ and ‘liberation’ in vain until we have a country where the aspirations of both women and men are the same. Until then, it’s all lip service.