Why I hate Miss Rwanda

 

 

 

 

 

(As you probably realize I have a guest blogger today, Janet K Karemera. Hope you all enjoy this, frankly, hard hitting piece of writing. I certainly did)

 

Well let me clarify on that. I don’t hate either the girls who unfortunately compete or the eventual winners. Actually I fully support young Rwandan women striving to achieve something, even if it is being considered the most beautiful girl in Rwanda. Everyone has their own goals.

 

If you live under a rock, unable to tune into any of the ubiquitous local radio stations, the 2012 Miss Rwanda will be crowned today at the Gikondo Expo grounds here in Kigali. This after a month of boot-camp where they underwent “intensive” social media training, discussed charity and entrepreneurship and learnt the most important thing a woman should know; how to maintain their hair.

 

This event is quickly becoming extremely popular amongst Rwandans and the PR campaign for the event is top notch. It seems like everyone will make the trip to Gikondo tonight. But before you go, I want you to ask yourself, what does this beauty pageant add to our society or the advancement of young women?

 

People will argue that it is good to see beauty pageants get introduced to our typically conservative society and yes, I will agree with them on that point. Our society DID need some local entertainment but I must ask, at what cost?

 

I don’t understand why the Government is supporting such events, which will cost a whopping Rwf 120 million, when we don’t even have sufficient local community centres where youth can participate in various programs.

 

You have the Ministry of Culture and Sports, Ministry of Education and the Rwanda Development Board amongst many other government institutions financially supporting this beauty pageant when you probably have schools in the rural areas that don’t have a library or a computer lab. The Ministry of Culture has decided to attach buzzwords like “tradition” and “culture” to this event so that it can be more acceptable to society while RDB has decided to put this under their tourism department. But, hold on a second, since when have young women become tourist attractions?!

 

Do the organizers understand the ramifications of teaching young women, that the easiest way to win a new car and attract certain notoriety is to have a certain standard of beauty and be able to sashay down a catwalk in an evening gown?

 

The winner of this year’s contest will have the opportunity to participate in the Miss World pageant. While this contest will give our winner the opportunity to travel the world, what is the overall damage at the end of the day?

 

The organizers need to realize that international competitions come with international standards of beauty. I have always believed that Rwandan women have healthy amounts of self-confidence and know that they derive their dignity and self-worth from what they achieve through hard work and not their looks. Major body image issues like eating disorders that result from low self-esteem and self-confidence are not common amongst girls here because they know their ‘Agaciro’. Once you begin to dictate what is the ideal height and weight of women, you run the risk of young girls concentrating more on how they look, rather than the more important things in life.

 

I’m very disappointed in the Government for attaching itself to such a farce. Especially when you have organizations like Imbuto Foundation working hard to empower young girls. Their educational programmes help create real self-confidence in young girls, by concentrating on the achievements that they work for and not the physical attributes they are born with. A Ministry of Culture official says that Miss Rwanda will help “promote young Rwandan women in both their intellectual and aesthetic qualities”. I did not know the aesthetic qualities of young Rwandan women such an important issue that the Government had to step in.

 

However, I DO know that one of our national development goals is to create a strong knowledge based society but instead of sponsoring and organizing national educational competitions like spelling bees, math competitions, science fairs, sports events, or investing in schools that develop real talent in the fields of music, drama, and dance , the Ministry of Culture and RDB has shown that flaunting yourself in a bikini and a nice dress will get your more recognized than your other natural talents.

 

In countries like the USA, they can have all the beauty pageants they want because they have developed various ways for young people to succeed in their interests like Scripps Spelling Bees or have schools like the world renowned Julliard School, where kids go to develop their artistic talents.

 

We need tore-evaluate our national priorities. What kind of future leaders, more especially women leaders, are we producing?

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Proposed communications intercept law: is our privacy adequately protected?

A few or two ago, I read a rather interesting take on the proposed communication intercept law. Written by Clive Muhenga, a correspondent for Radio Netherlands Worldwide, the article calamitously titled ‘Big Brother Kagame is watching all Rwandans’ (15th August) aimed to inform the world about the ‘draconian’ law that was just passed. I have my own issues with the law, as I shall discuss further down, but first of all, I will fact-check every one of his assertions. I’m presently on a crusade against lazy journalism and the peddling of falsehoods because I believe that we deserve better. This nation is all about accountability, and I want to hold this journalist accountable.

The Rwandan parliament recently passed a law authorising high-ranking security officials to monitor email and telephone conversations of individuals considered potential threats to the national security.’

That is UNTRUE. This law DID get passed in the Chamber of Deputies but it is currently in the Senate awaiting further deliberation as soon as the parliamentary recess ends next month. Therefore, saying that it was passed by Parliament is NOT TRUE.  Secondly, the law doesn’t authorise ‘high-ranking security officials to monitor potential threats to national security’. It authorises our security organs (police, army and intelligence services) to monitor ANYONE who they think is conducting illegal activities. As long as they have a warrant, given in writing or verbally by the Prosecutors of National Jurisdiction (there are only 15 presently), the intercepts are legal.

‘The law, which has just been passed by Parliament, also prohibits accessing banned websites or reading certain materials. Reading documents considered subversive by the government is equated with complicity with the author and carries the same sentence. “It means that if I were to call Patrick Karegeya or read his party’s communiqué, I would be punishable by law,” comments an independent journalist who wishes to remain anonymous.’

That’s probably the biggest lie I’ve seen all year. I’ve examined the 16 article-long DRAFT law in minute detail and NOWHERE are websites or reading materials even mentioned.

[The law] means that we are now at the mercy of these three big men of the police, army and intelligence, because the threat to national security is an umbrella charge than can include anything and everything,” explains a young lawyer, who also doesn’t want to reveal his name. “It’s a means of silencing us. It’s censorship, plain and simple,” says a young university student.

I don’t want to say that Mr. Muhenga is ‘inventing’ sources. All I will say is that his ‘sources’ obviously haven’t examined the law and if they’ve done so, I wonder about the intellectual capacities of the young lawyers and students our country is producing.

Communication intercepts vis-à-vis the right to privacy

Call me a cynic but I refuse to believe that people are ALL good, ALL the time. They overstep their boundaries and they make mistakes. That is why there are mechanisms that ensure accountability, which brings me to this law. Before I go any further, I must state that I DON’T think that my right to privacy is being violated by the Government, either today or in the future.

I’m uncomfortable with the fact that, when it comes to tapping my phone calls and emails, all police needs to do is simply ask a prosecutor.  This despite the fact that my correspondences and communications are constitutionally protected (Article 22). While this system (of prosecutors handing out warrants) occurs in other countries, like Belgium for example, I must ask. As a citizen, how do I know that my rights are not being needlessly trampled? According to Article 44 of the Constitution, members of the judiciary are the “guardians of rights and freedoms of the public”.

In my humble opinion, we would be better served if permission to tap our communication came from judges. Our system of government dictates a separation (and therefore a balance) of powers, holding each other accountable. How can we say that this is happening when, in this case, the security organs (which fall under the Ministries of Defence and Internal Security) obtain warrants from National Prosecutors (who fall under the authority of the Ministry of Justice)? What is the chance that that the latter institution refuses authorization due to a lack of probable cause?

I urge the Senate to examine the law and make sure that, in absence of a change in the law relating to the Code of Criminal Procedure (which in Article 70 states that a search warrant is issued by the Prosecution services), there is more oversight. Fundamental rights aren’t to be bandied about irresponsibly. No matter just how well-meaning the law is supposed to be.

Aid cuts: Hold your horses, the sky isnt falling (Part 2)

Rwanda’s interference in Congo destabilizing region, SADC leaders say (Tehran Times, 21 August), ICC asked to prosecute Rwanda’s Kagame (AFP, 18 August)!!!!  

On the first of this month, in reaction to the Blogospheres and Twitter world’s Chicken Little-like excitement about the aid cuts and delays, I wrote a column titled ‘Aid cuts: Hold your horses people, the sky isn’t falling’. I argued that, despite the unfortunate foreign aid-M23- DRC imbroglio, things weren’t as bad as the naysayers liked to believe. The $46 million in ‘delayed’ aid, while certainly nothing to be pleased about, paled in comparison with the $918 million that hadn’t been cut or delayed. The headlines weren’t in tandem with the reality on the ground.

I’ve decided to serialize the ‘Hold your horses, the sky isnt falling’ articles because, first of all, the aid cut debate is still on people’s lips and secondly because, honestly, I like rubbing our detractors faces in the dirt.

Few people like bankers or to be honest, anyone working in the financial services industry. But these annoying men and women have one characteristic that you must respect. They have the enviable ability to smell a good deal, and the good sense to flee a sinking ship when they need to. Enter Finch Ratings.

Fitch Ratings is one of the NRSRO Big Three. The other NRSRO’s (Nationally Recognised Statistical Ratings Organizations) are Moody’s Investor Services and S&P (Standard and Poor’s). These American companies are the industry leaders (and gold standard) in measuring the probability that companies and countries (securities) will default on their loans. As anyone who has tried to get a loan in a bank will know, the more the bank trusts the fact that you will repay the loan, the less interest you will have to pay. This is simply because you present a lesser risk to them. Well, use this bank loan analogy and you will understand why Finch Ratings is so important to us.

The higher the rating, the easier it is to sell bonds and treasury bills on the international markets and the less interest we have to pay. And since it’s almost impossible to develop without tapping into the global money market, what Fitch Rating says about a country impacts on its ability to attract investors.

Well, last year Fitch gave Rwanda a ‘B’ rating. What the rating meant was that Rwanda was judged to be a “stable” destination for credit. Other nations given this rating included Argentina, Seychelles, the Dominican Republic and Ukraine. We are currently rated above Ecuador, Greece, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Malawi, Zimbabwe, both Congo’s and Tanzania.

Last year was a good year for Rwanda because there were hardly any negative headlines other than, of course, the usual Op-ed’s and HRW reports. We cannot say the same this year. Not with the GoE report and what not. However, I’m interested in knowing how the moneymen reacted.

Well, in a statement released on Monday, Fitch once again gave Rwanda a ‘B’, supporting its rating by adding that Rwanda has “solid economic policies and a track record of structural reforms, macroeconomic stability and low government debt (22.8% of GDP)”. And the aid cut situation? “Fitch’s central scenario is that Rwanda will continue to attract significant budget support flows reflecting its strong track record in poverty reduction and control of corruption.”

What does the Fitch Ratings tell investors?  It “forecasts the budget deficit will reach 2.3% of GDP by FY2014/15 (from 2.6% in FY12/13 and 0.4% in FY11/12) essentially reflecting lower capital expenditure and the increase in tax revenue owing to GDP growth and on-going reforms to increase tax compliance monitored by the Rwanda Revenue Authority”. So, in layman’s terms, the outlook, despite all the negative headlines, is as positive as it always was.

Think that this rating is all talk? Well, a source in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning told me that “major American and European banks such as JP Morgan Chase and BNP Paribas have come to Rwanda with the interest of selling our debt internationally”. These aren’t chumps. If they think they can sell our debt internationally, they probably can. Easily. The smart money is on Rwanda and this Government’s socio-economic strategy. All else is simply hubris

What is it about the Congo that attracts lazy journalism?

I’ve heard that it is bad form to attack colleagues you share a profession with, but it’s really hard when your profession is journalism. Especially when you’re a journalist living in, or covering, the Great Lakes region. I often wonder to myself, why do people with a semblance of rational thinking, suddenly lose all perspective and unbiased thought, when it comes to this region? I understand that there will be different points of view vis-à-vis the issues this long-suffering region is grappling with; however, what boggles my mind is the intellectual dishonesty and downright ignorance that is allowed to be peddled as ‘fact’ and ‘journalism’.

To names like Laura Seay, Susan Thompson, Steve Hege and Jason Stearns (all self-styled experts), I would like to Michelle Faul, the Associated Press correspondent who wrote a hilariously atrocious article, ‘Captured fighter says he was recruited, trained in Rwanda to fight in Congo war’.

Here are some excerpts from the AP article, followed by my rebuttals.

‘Ibrahim Nsanzimana says he can no longer return to his home in Rwanda for fear of death…They’ll kill me,” he said bluntly, referring to Rwandan officials’.

That’s rather interesting. Why would Rwandan ‘officials’ want to kill him? Did they kill Former FDLR officers, Captain Eraste Nshimiyimana or Colonel Etienne Mbarushimana? No. Despite the fact that they were sworn enemies of the Government, they were welcomed home and reintegrated into Rwandan society along with their families. Over 10,000 former fighters have been reintegrated through the Mutobo Reintegration Centre since 2001.

Our area chief called a youth meeting, I think it was July 1, and there were about 300 of us young men at Amahoro Stadium. Military police in red berets told us we were all going to become soldiers, and they promised us a salary” equivalent to $60 a month, he said.

Are you kidding me? July 1st was Independence Day.  Is she trying to tell us that 300 men were gathered at the stadium right under our noses? How is it possible that no one saw ANYTHING? Is it perhaps because Mr. Nsanzimana is lying like Pinocchio on steroids? It gets more and more ludicrous.

‘They were crowded into five Rwandan Defense Forces trucks and driven at night to Gaviro military camp…where they spent a week learning how to shoot with AK-47 assault rifles.’

First of all, Gaviro does not exist. Second of all, basic military training for ANY soldier-to-be cannot be less than one month as per RDF guidelines.  Thirdly, if this poorly trained man is the sort of support Rwanda is giving M23, then why are the mutineers such a formidable force? I would have thought that the FARDC and MONUSCO would’ve taken them to the cleaners.

Only then did they tell us that we had come here to fight to take North Kivu province and to make it part of Rwanda,” Nsanzimana said. He said the announcement came from Rwandan army Capt. Francois Mugabo.’

I really can’t even begin to rebut that. That’s how ridiculous it is. Moving on swiftly.

‘When I woke up the next morning, we were in the volcano area in Congo,” he said, brought to fight a war led by the Tutsi tribe that he considers a mortal enemy of his Hutu people. Terrified that he was going to be killed, Nsanzimana fled into the forest and wandered for days before he was captured three weeks ago by Congolese soldiers. He is being held in an overcrowded holding cell of the military intelligence agency in Goma…. Nsanzimana believes Rwanda’s latest adventure has left him homeless. “The Rwandan Defense Forces are the same Rwandan Patriotic Front (rebels) that killed my brother and are responsible for the death of my father,” he said. “They are the same Tutsi military that trained me how to fight and brought me to this battlefield.”

I think this was probably the most disappointing part of the entire article and for this I put all the blame on the feet of Michelle Faul’s editors. Why didn’t use basic logic to see that the story the man was weaving was a bunch of bullshit? How can it be that this man, who obviously has some serious sectarian issues, was allowed to spout this nonsense? If you believed anything he said, you also probably believed in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny.

The contradictions in the story should have made both the journalist and her editors pause for a minute and verify his claims. How could they have not challenged a SINGLE word he said? I’m not a clairvoyant and I won’t assume to know what is in this young man’s head and what his motivation is but I will hazard a guess. Is it possible that he’s USING Michelle Faul to get foothold in the asylum system? After all, he himself says that ‘his only chance is to seek refugee status far from Rwanda and eastern Congo, where he believes the history of hatred between Tutsis and Hutus can never be resolved’.  

Olympic Games: is it enough for Rwanda to just participate?

Before I even begin to get to the crux of my column this week, let me first of all acknowledge the hard work of this year’s Rwandan Olympic team.  Swimmers Jackson Niyomugabo, Alphonsine Agahozo, , marathon runner Jean Pierre Mvuyekure, 10,000m runners Robert Kajuga and Claudette Mukasakindi (32), judoka Yannick Uwase Sekamana and mountain bike rider (and team captain) Adrien Niyonshuti have cemented their places in our athletic folklore simply because they represented their country in the London Games. So, whatever follows must not be seen as a dig at our athletes.

A week or two back, The New Times’s sports journalist, Bonnie Mugabe, wrote that “though they won’t win medals, unlike our neighbours Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia because of reasons beyond their capacity, there at least hope they will put up a spirited fight”.

A spirited fight is what they certainly put up, but I can bet every single penny I own that none of our athletes will finish among the top ten in their categories.  The Olympic Creed, as purported by the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, states that “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” To this I say, give me a break.

I don’t watch athletics to cheer on the losers and neither do most people. Winning is all that matters and barring that, at least get a good position. I can’t really fault our athletes though. It’s not their fault that they aren’t at an international level. I put the blame firmly on the doorsteps of our local Olympic Committee and the Sports Ministry.

I cannot fathom why a country such as Granada, with a population of not more than 200,000 people, can get a gold medal while Rwanda, with a population of more than 11 million, cannot even place in the top ten of any category. Throw in the fact that, historically we had quite an athletic culture (if you doubt me, travel to the National Museum in Butare and see some of the old photographs depicting high jump competitions) and this lack of medal success moves from being simply baffling to scandalously outrageous.

While travelling through the countryside last weekend, I couldn’t help but marvel at the dizzying heights some of my compatriots built their homes. A few of the houses I saw were right at the summit of extremely high hills. Now, I can only imagine just how physically fit children living in those homes are. They probably have to go all the way down into the valley, hundreds of meters away just to fetch water or go to school. If I walked half as much as they did, I would have the stamina of an ox.

Some scientists believe that the reason that Kenyans, Ethiopians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Eastern Ugandans excel in middle and long distance running is because they live in high altitude climes. Well, if it was simply altitude, Rwandans athletes would be world beaters. But having high altitudes isnt nearly enough. A few months back, I read an article about an American runner, who travelled all the way to rural Ethiopia, to train with local runners. The article was eye opening for me. I learnt that the basic tools for Olympic success was simply hard work, organisation, a talent spotting system and rudimentary coaching. So, back to our sports authorities. Why is it that one never hears of district-level athletic competitions? Or provincial level ones either? How do they nurture talent? How do they spot the next Usain Bolt? So far, we’ve attended seven Olympiads so far and sent 37 athletes but still have nothing to show for it. The status quo simply isnt good enough.  Perhaps we should start wanting to WIN, instead of simply taking part. And we won’t win until we overhaul the way we scout, nurture and prepare talent.

Aid cuts: Hold your horses people, the sky isn’t falling

Germany suspends Rwanda aid (DW, 28 July), UK blocks £16m aid to Rwanda (The Guardian, 27 July), Dutch cut aid to Rwanda over DRC support (Big News Network, 27 July), US cuts military aid to Rwanda over Congo concerns (Associated Press, 21 July), DRC Official Applauds US Aid Cut to Rwanda (VOA, 23 July), Rebel row sees Rwanda aid cut (Scotland Herald, 29, July), Aid to despot must stop (The Telegraph, 30 July).

These are the headlines when you type ‘Rwanda’ into Google. It’s all very exciting isn’t it? If you are to believe these headlines, what is going on in the Blogosphere and on Twitter, you can’t help but feel that everything is going to the dogs. To you I answer, “Chicken Little”.

The story of Chicken Little is a folktale about a chick that thought the “sky was falling”, after an acorn fell off a tree and hit it on the head. Panicked, Chicken Little rounded up the rest of the village fowl and embarked on a journey to tell the king. Sadly for all the barnyard animals, a fox appeared, tricked them and then had them for dinner. What is the moral of the story? It’s simple; ‘do not believe everything you are told’.

Because I couldn’t understand the whole picture, what with all the noise and hysteria, I did what every smart person would do, I went to the experts. In this case, I walked over to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and asked, “What is really going on, and what does it all mean”? Well, this is what I was told.

First of all, only one country cut ANY form of aid. The United States. The 200,000 dollars of military aid that has been cut would have gone to further professionalize our armed forces. While this is unfortunate, especially because this decision to cut aid was premised on a falsehood, it is not exactly a case of the ‘sky is falling’. The fact of the matter is that the United States government sends about $223 million to Rwanda through an initiative called ‘Programmes, Projects and Basket Funds’. While this money doesn’t go straight to our national coffers, it does reach the grassroots level, helping us win the war on poverty and disease.

What about our European friends, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany? They ‘suspended’ direct budgetary support to the tune of $16 million, 4 million and $26 million respectively. Now, losing $46 million dollars is unfortunate, but worthy of concern, but let’s scratch underneath the surface and look at the cold hard facts. The United Kingdom, while cutting budgetary support has not cut out sector support. In fact, more than $80 million has been allocated so far to various sectors such as health and agriculture. The same goes for the Netherlands.

 

Another interesting aspect of the whole aid suspension brouhaha is the fact that although it has been suspended, the fact of the matter is that the budget support monies where to be handed over to the Ministry of Finance between July and September this year. What this means is that there is plenty of time for these three nations to reverse their decisions. After all, what they are waiting for is, as a Dutch statement reads, to “receive (d) reassurances from Kigali”. Well, after the Governments strong rebuttal to the Group of Experts report, and the continued diplomatic offensive, I will stick my neck out and say, the inflows will continue, without hiccup, by September.

And let’s say that that doesn’t happen. Here are other statistics that I will let you mull over: 46% of our national budget (which totals about $2 billion) is supported by our development partners. That means that they give us approximately $964 million. So, out of close to a billion dollars, we might have to wait a little before we get forty-six million. Not exactly ‘panic station’ numbers.

Funny thing is, when this manufactured ‘crisis’ ends, a lot of people will end up with eggs on their faces. And trust me, it won’t be us. The Congolese government in Kinshasa will STILL be mired in conflict with its own people, and the Rwanda naysayers will STILL look like a bunch of disgruntled children.