Don’t fret, Rwanda will be Fine: A Reaction to Rama Isibo’s Letter to Fred Rwigema

“No more Fear, no more silence, no more, no more, no more. I am a Rwandan, I always was always will be, I was never given my country by any man, I will never give up on my country. Long live Rwanda”-Rama Isibo

RPA commander Paul Kagame touring RPF controlled areas in 1993

Those are fighting words but I must ask the author of the letter, “what exactly are you fighting for”? He makes a lot of comments that sound extremely sensational in nature. From “the RPF has lost its soul” to it “it believes in objectives, not ideology”.  He continues to state that RPF members have turned into “greedy hogs” paying themselves “liberation bonus while real fighters aren’t acknowledged”, while all his assertions leave a bad taste in my mouth, one of the worst is that “we can only mention Fred’s name on only two days, July 4th and October 1st”.

In the process of political change, nothing remains constant. You must differentiate the RPF from the 80’s, the RPF of the Virunga Mountains, and the present-day RPF that is the majority party in this governing coalition. Ideological purity must, and was, put aside in order to work with the various political parties in the aftermath of the signing of the Arusha Peace Accords. 

Honestly, I like the fact that OUR party (I’m historically RPF as well. It isnt only Mr. Isibo’s party) is driven less by ideology and more by goals and objectives. I think I speak for the vast majority of Rwandans who feel that the bread and butter issues (which, even he acknowledges, the RPF is good at) are what we need to take care of and the rest will follow.

About the “greedy hogs” paying themselves a “liberation bonus”, I cannot comment because he didn’t give those allegations enough meat to sink my teeth into. However, I think that the idea that leaders won’t enjoy the spoils of power is both naive and silly. It’s easy to imagine that we’d do anything different, we are only human. When we put things into perspective, we must not only notice the failures, but also give credit where it is due. The fact is, government works, people are happy (if we are to believe Gallup polls) and a million people have been pulled out of the pervading grip of poverty.

You say that we are “weak economically”. Okay, that is true but I must ask, what are you basing this on? Statistics and indicators prove that Rwanda is not as weak as it SHOULD be.  We’ve “lost allies”? Allies where? Not in Africa, where the AU has endorsed Rwanda’s campaign to occupy a UN Security Council seat. Not the EU. Not Asia.

Remember what was happening 18 years ago? Should I remind him of the more than one million people who were hacked in their homes and farms? I feel I should remind the author about the dead men, women and children because I feel he has lost a bit of the plot. He says that Rwanda wants “its unique history to afford it leeway in basic human rights development”. Its unique history SHOULD, and MUST, afford it leeway.

Rwandans participating in Ubudehe programmes in Gisagara District

To even pretend otherwise is a waste of time. Remember Kangura, Hutu Power, sectarian quotas in schools and government? We cannot pretend that all these things didn’t affect our national psyche.  Rwanda isn’t Uganda. It isn’t the United States. It isn’t South Africa. We have our own demons and we must face them the best way we can. You can say what you want, but are people moving on? Yes.

Feel tired of defending Rwanda to your expatriate friends? Then stop defending it. Give them your point of view and move on.   I’m sure that there is someone with a point of view different from yours which is okay, because the difference in opinion is something that our nascent democracy needs right now.

But calling members of your generation “hypocrites and liars” is arrogant and unnecessary. To go further and say that there is a “death of reason” is insulting. Its takes away from the conversation we should be having.

Rwanda is a work in progress, and we can look at it warts and all, and discuss the way forward.

Guest Blog: A Letter To Fred Rwigema By Rama Isibo

As I’ve done most recently with the “Why I Hate Miss Rwanda?” blog post, I give opportunities to guest bloggers to publish here. Although I don’t agree with a lot of what Mr.Isibo writes, I feel that his heartfelt piece of writing can spark a conversation.  Please remember, this blog post does not reflect my personal views.  

Dear Fred,

It’s been 22 years since you’ve been gone, your memory lives long, the more they try to extinguish it, the more it rises. You will always represent lost hope, what could have been and what we aspire to. You died too soon, a true hero of Africa, celebrated in many nations, your picture is like Che Guevara, handsome youth that belies an eternal optimism. I was too young to ever seriously talk to you, I never knew what your ideology was, but every ideology begins with an attitude that nurtures a belief. Your attitude is what formed our belief, that look in your eye that said “We can do it!” in that way you can never die, we had waited 30 years from 59-87 for that one sign. That belief died momentarily when you died, but a legend was reborn, and from this legend people got the strength to believe again. Today you would be amazed how far we have come, there are modern shining skyscrapers in Kigali, roads are perfect, it is peaceful, we are home, just like you dreamed.

We almost take this dream for granted, you would hardly recognise any of the people at the top, but of course you cannot expect the same guys to be on top. RPF is so many things now, it is a monolithic party that dominates the political landscape, it is also a multinational corporation, it is also an army, and a state of mind. To be truthful Fred, I don’t know what I believe anymore, I feel like such a hypocrite, I idly stand by while people destroy everything to gain so little. The RPF has gained the world but lost its soul, it believes in objectives, not ideology, it takes, it is not given, it is the embodiment of sheer naked power. We do not have politicians, we have people with sheer naked power, and people with access to sheer naked power. Some have turned into greedy hogs and are just stripping it bare, paying themselves a “Liberation bonus” when the real fighters we never acknowledged. All our families have fallen soldiers and injured brethren, they, like you, are rarely mentioned. We can mention your name on two days, July 4th and October 1st so we will honour you today.

State of play

Rwanda is at a crossroads, it has been living beyond its means for quite some time, going full steam ahead, without question, without discussion, like a battering ram pounding down the walls of poverty. All debate was crushed, the inryaryas took over, hypocrites and sycophants “Nje ndabona nta kibazo boss!” It was fine as long as the buildings kept going up, human rights could be forsaken for clean government, press freedom could be forsaken for because of the threat of Genocide, justice could be forsaken because we could not afford it. How did we get to this position, we are as weak economically as ever, we are as weak diplomatically as ever, and we have lost allies over a period of negative headlines. From just before the election, the Kayumba saga, death of opposition figures, arrests and jailing of journalists, Ingabire saga, Congo saga, on and on. If this was Benin or Honduras you would think it was a pariah nation, but Rwanda wants to live in its own moral universe, it wants its unique history to afford it leeway in basic human rights development, but it is the derogation of these rights that will bring the next cycle of violence to bear.

“Just not in Rwanda”

In that sense, Rwanda is like Israel, lives by its own rules, it wants to fit in but be different. I tired of defending arrests of journalists, of jailing opposition leader because you disagree with them. I tired of defending our right to attack Congo, knowing the millions who suffer as a result. I tired of explaining to my western expat friends why no independent opinions were allowed on public media. I tired of explaining that fear that is unspoken, the looking over your shoulder when you speak. A person who has lived in a democracy, knows a democracy, and if you have to look over your shoulder then chances are that you aren’t. So all my generation are hypocrites and liar, they believe in freedom of speech “Just not in Rwanda”, they are Western liberals, some believe in gay rights “Just not in Rwanda.” Most have passionate views on US politics, on taxation, on abortion “Just not in Rwanda” and many advocate for people in far-off countries who are detained without trial when we have people detained without trial here “Just not in Rwanda.”

Grand Fear/Bargain

Every nation has a FEAR and in Rwanda it is the Genocide happening again, it is what keeps the peace. It is the automatic excuse for any arrest of a journalist, or justification for lack of democracy but it is also allowing corrupt people to get away. It is the mutual fear between a master and servant, the master fears revolt, the servant fears the master’s power. That is the relationship between a ruler and the ruled in Rwanda, and will always be if we never change it. The Ruler is given unlimited power and from this the Ruled expect everything to change, it is fine until it goes sour. This is how we got here, we found a tattered and torn country after 94, the RPA was the only functioning institution. The genocide was ended by force, not voluntarily, but the seeds of doubt were already being sown. When you see the Free Syrian Army which is supported by the West and by all means is the next government of Syria, you see the FSA being accused of war-crimes before they even come to power, there is a pattern. The RPF were similarly accused during the Liberation war, even though they were the “good guys” it was to serve as leverage in the future against the RPF. So two prime fears dominate the power psyche, an internal revolt and external justice.

Death of reason

“When people feel inadequate they feel any criticism is an insult.”
The death of reason is so gradual, you hardly notice, you just slide into a stupor. It starts with the “Koolaid” that is the name of the super-sugary drink that refers to the mental brainwashing you get when you first get here. Rwanda is a victim of the West, they hate us for nothing, they were never there for us during the genocide, if we don’t rule this way then “They will kill us again.” I consider myself a hereditary RPF member, I got it from both sides of my family, you could never criticise the RPF, but every believer must have a crisis of confidence. It was worse for me, I left as a teen, saw the war from afar, felt even guilty because I could have even served the last few months. When you look at the rewards soldiers got, they were scant, many left with rancour, the ones who won the spoils were the ones closest to the top leaders but did little fighting. It is impossible to write a history of the RPF because it cannot agree on its own history, history has been rewritten to airbrush out people who fell out like Kayumba, and other current favourites have been inserted into history when they were mere schoolboys at the time. In Rwanda our history always serves the current regime and is contorted to suit the current picture.

Reason dies slowly, first it is frowned upon, then shouted down, then banned, and then you cease to think it, until you cease to think altogether. I learnt to watch my mouth for a while but younger people grew up in a world where you just don’t say, think or write anything controversial or political until it kills their imagination altogether. How will they innovate? You are brought up in a society where independent thought is punishable by jail, speaking out is punishable, writing is punishable. Will my children be born into this world of no imagination; will they grow up watching their tongue? All this talk of cyber-futuristic techno-savvy hub and we cannot allow contrary opinions. Last year I was threatened by government officials for tweeting our president about our need to reduce imports and move towards productions. I apologised, the fuss died down, then aid is cut, then its agaciro, agaciro, we need to reduce imports and move towards production. People still say to me “Watutse Affande” when I did no such thing, that showed me the other face of the situation. Every supporter has that moment when your childish innocence was broken, when you ask “If they can do this to their own, then what of ordinary baturagye?”

The big payback/ingaruka yi ngaruka

Every action has a reaction, in Rwanda there is going to be a payback for all our foolhardiness over 10 years. We lived off aid, didn’t bother with commerce, thought the aid would last forever and Western guilt could be milked forever. Now they are cutting, people are looking cautious, the global slowdown is going to grip. People have lived off loans, accumulated debt, spent on consumer goods, set up NGO’s aimed at “Empowering” some poor victim somewhere. Instead of moving towards production, and generating cash, the government, for all their words, was hugely complicit in this Aid-debt bubble. Its workers and leaders were eating first in this economy, most diaspora people think this economy is not safe to do business in, your property can be taken at anytime and sudden whims are the norm. Tigo invested some $300m and their CEO was given 1hr to leave the country simply because he angered the president. How can a multinational invest in a country that makes less than $300m and be expelled in minutes without due procedure? For all the reforms, the attitude of those in power is the biggest obstacle to investment. The idea that “This country is my personal property and you people are alive because of me, I can kill you, crush you, anytime I want because I have the power.” Investors see that straight away at the airport, a delicate house of cards waiting to fall.

You never truly feel at ease, all my friends will say this, there is an undercurrent, we all know things are not well, that this method of government is unsustainable but maybe we are weak, maybe we just settle for what we can get out of it. Maybe one can get a Rav-4, a nice house, and expensive schools for your kids, a plush lifestyle by any standards but there is always the ticking clock, you know the alarm is going to ring but you don’t know when. So we trade our principles for privilege, enjoy the lifestyle, but at the back of your mind, you know one day the party will be over, or maybe the music stopped and we didn’t notice. Every one of us has that moment when we look in the mirror and ask, “Do I really stand up for what I believe?” The privilege comes with a downside, that look, the look that the downtrodden give you when you walk past, as if you are responsible for their misery. Then they call me boss when I’m a socialist at heart, I’m the oppressor, I am the hated. The unspoken part of the bargain is that “If he goes, we all go” that has been the way in Rwanda since time immemorial, power is concentrated not just in one’s hand but in a single finger, so when that leader goes, most of Rwanda goes with it. Critics are ostracised, their families too, passports and identities taken away from them. Little children pay for the price of their parents, brothers for their siblings, sisters for their brothers.

A prophecy

God cannot abandon Rwanda, we have prayed too much. Rwanda is not well with God, despite all our righteous indignation, we cannot say we have clean hands. The chickens will come home to roost, the result of many years of dumbstruck silence when we saw minor things going wrong but we never commented. For all our mistakes we shall pay, hopefully we will learn to debate matters and not decide things behind doors. My prophecy for Rwanda is growth and success, but one based on solid ground, that uses the hard-work ethic of the Rwandans to make goods for export. I worked once at the Roll-Royce plant in Derby, I watched semi-illiterate Pakistanis make Jet engines, so a Ruhengeri villager can make a car. My prophecy for Rwanda is that the leaders will see the need to open up, to learn that criticism is not hatred. We will open up politically and then have the biggest boom Africa has ever seen but a boom based on solid ground not indicators. These industries the RPF commandeered will now be the millstone around its neck, most are loss-making and will file for bankruptcy in the coming year, they are uncompetitive and will not make it.

There is a whole underground economy in Rwanda, the Abacuruzi of Mateus have so much money stashed away, plus property, stock, and credit lines. These businessmen have been neglected and pay only nominal taxes, getting them to release the money is the problem. This deficit we have accumulated had to be somewhere, outside yes but also inside, all this money we spent on consumer goods is somewhere, billions of dollars in cheap Chinese goods, it is still here. The diaspora is ready to invest, they just need an attitude change from those in power, we have to build the private sector at all costs. What is 30% of Nothing? That is what we are fighting over now, we need to see liberalisation, or all the assets RPF has will just flop to be worth nothing. What of the credit bubble? Overinflated houses at 18%Apr, that is criminal, but the bubble kept getting bigger and bigger and houses worth $100,000 were the norm, people were lent 10 times their salary. Amazingly, it can be fine if all owners hold on to their houses.

Too many people have prayed for Rwanda to go down, we can’t let it happen again, if it does happen then we all deserve to die, let them say “Abanyarwanda bananiwe kubana.” It cannot happen, or there is no God, Rwandans believed God returned to sleep in Rwanda, it is the only reason why we recovered from the Genocide. Every nation goes through growing pains, Rwanda thinks it can be in a political coma forever and that is not possible. We will learn that we can get along, that every man must pay for his sins, that God turns all things to good. People should look to history, all things change, a nation goes through growing pain, matures, and prospers. The good RPF is doing is so great, on child mortality, women’s rights, social reconciliation, and so many things. It deserves its credit, but one aspect of our life is stunted, we are being kept from politically maturing. Maybe they do it out of trying to protect us, like if you lock your child away so no one can hurt it, but the first moment it encounters pain it was break down. Every generation has that defining moment where a society breaks along generational lines, when the younger generation agrees with the objectives but not the methods. Can RPF move towards exercising more soft power, other than the sledgehammer approach? My friends say “You don’t know how these people think, they don’t care.”

No more Fear, no more silence, no more, no more, no more. I am a Rwandan, I always was always will be, I was never given my country by any man, I will never give up on my country.

Long live Rwanda

Thinking beyond the Agaciro Development Fund

President Kagame launched the Agaciro Fund

First of all, here is the bad news.  Yesterday,  The New Times ran a story ‘‘Franc weakens against US dollar’ where it reported that  the national currency ‘weakened against the dollar over the last couple of months as traders increased demand for the greenback to finance the country’s imports’. In the first half of this year, the Franc depreciated by 1.3 per cent with the dollar selling at Rwf612.43, compared to Rwf604.14 during the same period last year.  Presently, a dollar is being sold for Rwf 645 at most forex bureaus in Kigali.

The weakening of the franc was attributed to rising imports, which sparked high demand for the dollar. From between July 2011 and July 2012, imports increased by 66 per cent.  Rwanda’s export to import cover (balance of trade), excluding cross border trader, stood at 27.8 per cent as of August this year.

“It’s good”, said Amb. Claver Gatete, Governor of the Central. While the balance of trade deficit sounds scary  analysts I’ve talked to say that, in fact, bearing in mind the size of our economy, it not too bad Especially because almost 75 per cent of the goods consumed in Rwanda are imported.

But, here is the good news: the only way is up. However, we shouldn’t assume that progress will occur automatically. A recent Financial Times article quotes the World Bank, saying that foreign direct investment (FDI) is “extremely low”. Statistics reveal that FDI has contributed only 1.9 per cent of GDP, at $371m, last year (up from $109m the year before). The article goes on to say that unless there is double digit growth for the next couple of years, Rwanda will not be able to attain its middle-income country status by 2020.

Very many things need to change.

I’ve been watching the Agaciro Development Fund campaign with a lot of interest. With Rwf18 billion collected and pledged so far, the assertion that there isnt equity in the country should be tossed to the curb. While I understand that the Fund is ‘special’, it makes me wonder, if people can give away such vast sums of money for ‘patriotic’ reasons in order to spur national development, why shouldn’t they be in the position to do the same thing, albeit for less altruistic motives?

Every day, while driving to work, I pass by the incomplete Kigali Convention Centre.

The incomplete Kigali Convention Center is fast becoming an eyesore

Unless I’m mistaken, the reason this city landmark isnt open for business is because it’s funding dried up. Honestly, at the rate it’s being built, it shall be completed by the time I have grandkids. So, here are my suggestions.

The Agaciro Development Fund should morph into a bond, which citizens can then buy into. During the Second World War, various governments availed to their citizens aptly named ‘war bonds’. These bonds were able to generate capital for the government and make civilians feel involved in their national militaries. Exhortations to buy war bonds were accompanied with appeals to patriotism and conscience.  These war bonds tended to have a yield which was below market value and are often made available in a wide range of denominations to make them affordable to all citizens.

I believe that the ‘Agaciro Bond’ would work the same way. Plus, unlike the bonds that are presently being offered by the Central Bank, the Agaciro Bond would mature between ten and twenty years.

The proposed Bugesera airport is still lacking the funding it needs

I understand that inflation would have to remain extremely low for such a long-term bond to make sense, but I believe that if the monies the bond generated were spent well, spurring growth, inflation wouldn’t be a problem. Plus, if it was marketed well, people would understand that they didn’t buy Agaciro Bonds to make a huge profit, but rather to have a real stake in the completion of development projects. These could include financing aircraft for the national carrier, investing in the methane gas project, the Bugesera airport and of course, the Convention Center.

But of course, no nation has thrown off the yoke of underdevelopment without a strong private sector. The problem I see is that our private sector is too miniscule and underfunded to compete both nationally and regionally. And that is something I put firmly at the feet of the business owners themselves. Let us look at one of our biggest companies, Ameki Color.

There is more money in people’s pockets that they’ve let on. But it’s up to local firms and the government to convince us to loosen our pockets.

Why has Innocence of Muslims and Kate Middleton’s boobies brought the world to a standstill?

With all the screaming headlines you’d think that an amalgamation of World War III, Ebola and the melting of the polar ice-caps was upon us.  The biggest global news stories involve two individuals who are as different as can be. A convicted California fraudster, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and the elegant Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton. One made a movie that then got uploaded onto YouTube, while the other simply decided to sun herself semi-nude in the south of France. While the cases are totally different, they are linked by one thing. They are a waste of time.

I think that Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is a victim. Not because he isnt an Islamophobe, because he is. Not because he’s not an attention-whore, because he is. Not because he’s talking cheap shots at a religion and a people who feel marginalized by the international system, because he has. The man is a victim because he’s being blamed for something that simply isnt his fault. The riots that occurred in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Malaysia, which have killed 19 people so far, having very little to do with the 15 minute long ‘Innocence of Muslims’ clip despite what some well-meaning observers believe. The Los Angeles Times’ Sarah Chayes goes as far as stating that, “the film…indirectly led to the death of the US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens”.

I’ve watched the video and I can understand why some people are unhappy. Those who love the art of cinematography will hate the fact that it has cringe worthy dialogue, poor acting and lousy sound and lighting. And those who love Islam (or in my case, religious sensitivity and tolerance) will hate the fact that it is heretical. In my opinion, this is a movie that should have never been made.

However, don’t for one second believe that the US Ambassador was killed by Muslim hordes, screaming for blood. He was killed in a coordinated attack using heavy weapons, not by stones or Molotov cocktails. There are other players in this tragedy and very few people are talking about them.

All politics is local

Instead of blaming the crazy Californian for provoking the riots and murders, we should ask ourselves this. Why did the majority of the riots happen after the Friday prayers? Is it perhaps because the imams and mullahs encouraged the young men to go out onto the street?

Call me a conspiracy theorist but I wouldn’t put it past factions on the fringes of the current political system to make some sort of power play. The post-Mubarak-Gaddafi and Ben Ali Middle East is still trying to find its feet and what I believe we are seeing is a fight pitting moderate Islamist factions such as the ruling Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt against the hardliners of Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Jemmah Islamiyah et al.

The hardliners are being pushed to the sidelines and they don’t like it one bit.  ‘Luckily’ for them the video arrived like manna from the heavens. And trust me, they will milk it for all they can. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called on Western leaders to “prove that they were not accomplices in this big crime” while Egyptian cleric Ahmed Ashoush has gone further, saying that “blood must be shed. Their (the movie’s producer, actors and directors) killing is the duty of every capable Muslim”.

So, when Westerners like columnist Jonah Goldberg write “if these people hate us…maybe we should accept that fact and stand up for what we believe”, I believe that they miss the point. These young men, aren’t just rioting because they hate Americans and their accursed Freedom of Speech. It’s a local quarrel, nothing more.

Peeping Toms

If you read the British press all you see are commentaries, op-eds and editorials loudly cursing the Irish Daily Star, the French Closer magazine and the Italian Chi magazine for daring to publish topless pictures of Prince Williams wife, Kate nee Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge. A spokesperson for the Royal Family has called the pictures, which were taken by long range lenses, “a shocking beach of personal intimacy”, and I can’t help but agree with them.

But I cannot help but smile at the hypocrisy in the English media’s smugness and faux outrage. This is a media that tapped people’s phones and bribed police. They aren’t angels. Just a few weeks ago, Prince Harry’s nude photos were splashed across The Suns cover. So, what’s the difference?

There are more important things to concentrate on than titillating pictures and provocative movies. Israel wants to bomb Iran, the Euro is still in a lot of trouble, the US presidential election is fast approaching, China and Japan are rattling their sabres and the Joint Verification Mechanism is up and running in Goma, Eastern DRC.

Frank Habineza’s Green’s won’t threaten Kagame’s RPF

 If you aren’t an avid Rwanda watcher then you’ve probably never heard of Mr. Frank Habineza, the grandiosely titled ‘Founding President’ of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, or the Greens as I’ve decided to call them.

Heard of the politician who was decapitated in Butare in the run up to the last presidential elections in 2010? Well, the deceased politician, Andre Rwisereka, was Habineza’s deputy. This is the gruesome picture of the man in the morgue. Look at it at your own risk.

Anyway, after unsuccessfully attempting to register his party, Frank left the country. While some Rwanda observers said that he fled political persecution in 2010, the politician himself said, in a press conference that he held today at Hotel Umubano, that he “had to go to Sweden to do other duties”.

He returned to Kigali last Thursday.

The press conference, which I attended, was meant to reintroduce the Greens to the Rwandan public and allow the Media to quiz him. But before we could do that, we were handed the Greens ‘Interim Political Platform’. A mishmash of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the US Constitution and Green Party themes, it is a contradictory and rather silly document.

The document states that, among other things, that the Greens will balance “the interests of a regulated market economy and community-based economics”. What in the world does that mean? Did the writers simply copy and paste some Swedish mumbo-jumbo? Perhaps the economists out there can interpret this for us lesser minds.

You know why people don’t politicians? Because they are populist liars. In one section of the Platform, the Greens believe that “Government MUST practice fiscal responsibility, limit taxation and control spending”….then two pages later say that the Party will propose “ a modernized social welfare system.  We will propose policies that can provide un-employment benefits”.

Now, I’m not a genius but even I can understand that you cannot lower taxes on one hand and then increase social spending at the same time. Especially when you are talking about a country where half of the people don’t even PAY taxes therefore overburdening the rest that do.  Throw in the fact that unemployment  was about eight percent last year   and one has an impossible situation. Mr. Habineza, the math simply doesn’t add up.

The rest of the press conference was kind of fun. He was bombarded by the press corps and he ducked and weaved. But will he be able to land a blow, never mind a knockout blow, of any kind to the RPF coalition? Not in a million years. He’s way out of his league and I mean no disrespect.

The world is wasting its time trying to rescue the DRC. Its a fool’s errand

HUMPTY DUMPTY SAT ON A WALL…  

What it is going on in the DRC is no joke, not for itself and certainly not for its neighbors who’ve been sucked into its internal issues. But I do see certain lessons Congo can learn from the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ nursery rhythm. Like Humpty Dumpty, Mr. Joseph Kabila, against all logic and good sense, decided to ‘sit on a wall’.  His refusal to heed any advice, either from his own advisors or from his Rwandan allies, as recently revealed by Gen. James Kabarebe in a revealing interview with Le Soir’s Colette Braeckman, has been disastrous.

He, and his administration, was urged by Rwanda to negotiate with disgruntled FARDC soldiers, such as ex-CNDP Colonel Sultani Makenga, who were complaining of poor pay and conditions, but he arrogantly refused to. Reminds me of Mr. Humpty Dumpty; what was the delicate egg doing on top of a high wall? Didn’t he worry that a gust of wind could knock him off his perch? Was he suffering from bouts of overconfidence and feelings of invincibility? Shouldn’t he have known just how precarious the situation was? Humpty didn’t and neither did Kabila.

…HUMPTY DUMPTY HAD A GREAT FALL…

While Humpty’s demise affected just him, in Kabila’s case the ‘fall’ affected millions of people on both sides of our common border. A region that was slowly coming out of its shell was forced, once again, to start from scratch. Instead of trying to see the error in his ways and dealing with the real issues besieging his people, such as the question of Congolese nationality and other governance issues, he looked to others to help him out

…ALL THE KING’S HORSES AND ALL THE KING’S MEN…

The international community i.e. ‘The Kings’, came to Kabila’s aid, responding in the form of military counterattacks on the M23 led by MONUSCO troops, human rights reports, aid cuts to Rwanda and, of course, the usual UN Security Council, AU and International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) summits.

I’ve been looking at the ICGLR resolutions emanating from the Head of Governments summit held on Saturday in Kampala and I can’t help but shake my head at the futility of it all. The resolutions talk about ‘expanding the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Joint  Intelligence Fusion Center’ and requesting the  ‘chairperson of  the  ICGLR  to  continue with  his  diplomatic engagement with  the parties to the conflict in  Eastern DRC with  a view  to securing a complete cessation of hostilities and putting an end to the crisis, if feasible, through peaceful  political means’. Which is certainly helpful.

…COULDN’T PUT HUMPTY TOGETHER AGAIN

But no matter what the international community does, whether it is using MONUSCO as a battering ram, putting in place a Neutral International Force or sanctioning Rwanda, its actions will remain futile. It is akin to placing a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. You might staunch a little blood flow but the patient will still bleed to death.

I agree with Minister Mushikiwabo. At the end of the day, the Congolese people need to stop blaming everyone for their problems and find an internal mechanism that works for them.

This brings me to a book that I’ve been reading the last couple of day, Murder in Amsterdam. Written by Ian Bruma, it examines the aftermath of the assassination of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri and how it affected the Dutch. I found the book especially interesting when the author attempted to describe the Dutch. They were “hospitable, straight talking to the point of rudeness and tolerant”. This description made me wonder, what would I deem as the one truly ‘Rwandan characteristic’?

I would have to go with proud self-reliance. Let’s just look at our past. Did we cry and sit on our hands, waiting for the international community to get us out of the refugee camps in Uganda? No. We understood the NOBODY would ever care about us more than we cared about ourselves. When we needed schools built for the 12 year Basic Education programme, the citizens either contributed their labour or their monies to ensure their children didn’t study under trees. Look at the Agaciro Development Fund. Look at Gacaca. We’ve always found local solutions for our problems.

The solution to the various Congolese problems will not come from Kigali, Kampala, Brussels, Paris, New York or Washington DC. They will have to come from Beni, Katanga, South Kivu and Kinshasa. Let neither the international community nor the Congolese kid themselves and pretend otherwise.

Screaming matches and personal attacks are an indictment of bad schooling

 

Is it me or are we impolite, unpleasant, and unwilling to debate intelligently? On Saturday, The New Times ran an opinion, ‘Why I hate Miss Rwanda’ , which I ran on this blog the previous day, that caused plenty of public consternation, which of course, is what a good piece of writing is supposed to do. When we write, we aim to start a conversation and when this doesn’t happen, we’ve failed in our duty. However, I’ve noticed that the standards of discourse, when this conversation commences, is extremely rudimentary.

Often, what one notices is a deluge of personal attacks on the author and nary a word actually challenging the points raised by the author in the text. Instead of revealing the inconsistencies of the author’s argument, the young writer was instead called “ugly”, told to get off her “high horse” and it was insinuated that she was unpatriotic.

You know what they call people who do that intentionally? Trolls. Defined as ‘someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community’, their primary intent is to provoke readers into an emotional response and disrupt normal on-topic discussions. While I might begrudgingly admire some people’s mischievousness, I actually believe that the vast majority of the name-calling, mudslinging and inability to debate and reason logically are a direct result of the weakness of our educational system.

Think it’s just an issue that writers face? Let’s take a look back just a few years ago during the last presidential campaign. In 2010, FDU-Inkingi head honcho, Victoire Ingabire, flew into the country to campaign and instead of actually attempting to give people a political alternative, she flew off the handle. She acted recklessly, went about name calling and got herself in trouble. But of course, that was how she thought ‘playing politics’ was all about.  To her school of thought, politics is more about bombastic rhetoric and riling people up, and less with giving them a ‘viable’ alternative.

Officials from the Rwanda Education Board are travelling to Washington DC on Friday to attend a literacy conference. While they might share certain best practices with other attending delegations, I think that they should also study certain best practices from other nations. When I was in elementary school in Uganda, we had a weekly debate in class. While the topics were rather rudimentary (for example ‘why salt was better than sugar’), these weekly sessions helped us learn how to formulate an argument reasonably and how to put our points across in a sober manner. These lessons have proved invaluable as I’ve gotten older. It’s my humble belief that if some of the debating skills I learnt in elementary school were compulsory parts of the Rwandan educational experience, we’d produce more sober-minded citizens, able to distinguish nuggets of truth from the inevitable rhetorical flotsam.