The Victoire Ingabire verdict: No matter what the evidence, the haters will hate


Will our courts ever be seen to be free and fair (and impartial) in the eyes of bleeding heart ‘human rights campaigners and do-gooders’? I doubt that. It doesn’t matter whether the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda deems them so. It doesn’t matter whether the European Court of Justice deems them so. It doesn’t matter whether the Canadian Supreme Court deems them so. It doesn’t matter whether Rwandans, themselves, deem them so. No matter what happens, or what the evidence is, the narrative remains the same. ‘The courts are subjugated by the Government’.

Well, the Victoire Ingabire trial and judgment has put paid to that. If the courts were in the pockets of Village Urugwiro (as plenty of so-called experts think) they would have thrown Mrs. Ingabire into the prison and thrown away the key. After all, the public prosecutor asked the High Court to sentence her to life in prison.   Instead however, the Court sentenced her to eight years in jail on the charges of threatening state security and denying the Genocide.

If that isn’t evidence of impartiality I don’t know what is; especially when one realizes that the eight-year sentence is actually a six-year one because of time already served.  She’s been in prison since the 14th, October 2010. Throw in another, lesser-known fact, that a convict can apply for parole after serving a one-fourth of the sentence, and we have a situation where Ingabire can ask, for, and get, parole as early as tomorrow.  In fact, her co-accused Colonel Tharcisse Nditurende, Lieutenant Colonel Noel Habiyaremye, Lieutenant Jean Marie Vianney Karuta and Major Vital Uwumuremyi, will be free men tomorrow, despite their differing sentences ranging from two years and seven months to four years and six months.

According to the BBC, Ingabire’s supporters were “stunned by the verdict”. This is probably because they believed their own feverish rhetoric. In a press statement they released yesterday, they write, and I quote, that “sources confirm that a special cell in Mpanga central prison has been already prepared for her before this symbolical ruling by the High Court”. I’ve taken a bit of an interest in the ‘opposition’, and this is what I’ve gleamed. It seems to me that they live in a world where everything in Rwanda is bad and going to the dogs. They naturally assume the worst and they can’t begin to even fathom a situation where they are wrong in that assumption.

When they hear about a reshuffle in the military and intelligence services, they talk about a ‘coup plot’. When they learn about a programme to eradicate Nyakatsi (grass thatched huts), what they hear is a plot to condemn peasants to homelessness. When they hear about a VOLUNTARY vasectomy programme, they immediately assume that it is a Machiavellian plot to lower the birthrate. When Gacaca is instituted to try the hundreds of thousands of cases relating to the 1994 Genocide, these people assume that it was a plot to exact victor’s justice. In other words, nothing is good. Everything is bad. And if they had their way, society could collapse for all they cared. It would all be worth it just to see the back of this government. So, in my opinion, these people cannot be helped.

However, for the genuinely curious and open minded, I believe that this court case will help them distinguish the real from the fake. The facts on the ground prove that the government doesn’t always get its own way, and that, ladies and gentlemen, is proof that the courts aren’t merely institutions that rubber-stamp all and sundry.



Legalising prostitution: MP’s need to stop changing their positions

There is no business like whore business!

“Indaya”. That’s probably the worst thing that you can call a Rwandan woman of any age. “Prostitute”. To label someone thus is to rub their reputation in the mud, all the while questioning their moral fibre. In short, when one becomes ‘indaya’ you lose your place at the table of proud, Rwandan womanhood.

I realized just how deeply affected these women (I’ve not heard of or seen any male prostitutes) were by our society’s upturned noses a few months ago. Around four in the morning, I heard a taxi moto rider drop a passenger close to my home. As is wont, the price that passenger wanted to pay was nowhere near what the rider thought was fair. The haggling turned bad tempered in a few minutes with the obviously female passenger refusing to pay a hundred francs extra, no matter the amount of pleading and sweet-talking the rider engaged in.  Exasperated, the rider asked her in Kinyarwanda, “agaciro kawe karihe” (where is your dignity)?

Obviously thinking that the ‘A’ word would appeal to her sense of fair play. He obviously didn’t expect what came next, and truth be told, neither did I. Slamming her gate behind her, she parted with a shocking revelation, at least to me. “Nagira agaciro kandi ndi indaya (can I have dignity when I’m a prostitute)”?

Now, we don’t often ask ourselves just how our social blackballing affects people, but at that moment, I almost understood the woman’s pain. She felt so low that, in effect, she did not feel a shred of dignity.  And honestly, ANYTHING that undermines someone’s dignity to that extent is a blot on our collective conscience. Thus, this week’s column.

On Friday, members of the Rwanda Parliamentarians’ Network on Population and Development (RPRPD) released a report calling for the protection of sex workers from assault and any kind of mischief. What got my goat was the fact that the law punishing prostitution was passed by these very parliamentarians. How can they be protected when they are deemed ‘criminal’?

The recently passed Criminal Code still criminalizes the act of prostitution, punishing both the prostitutes and the johns with jail sentences ranging from three months to six years (depending on whether they’re repeat offender) and/or subjected to surveillance measures.

While articles 204-214 are not as draconian as some around the world (in fact, I find its treatment of prostitutes quite lenient when compared to the former penal law), at the end of the day, the men and women engaging in it as still labeled ‘common criminals’. Actually, thieves and wife-beaters are looked upon more gently by the general public than prostitutes, despite the fact that their line of work hurts no one other than themselves.  If they finish their jail time, thieves don’t suffer the kind of social exclusion that released prostitutes face.

Plus, despite the softy-softy approach that lawmakers took, the police STILL hounds them (despite the fact that they obviously have, or should have, better things to do), forcing them underground (something that probably made work of the sex worker serial killer a lot easier) and rendering their employment untaxable.  They still face stigma, discrimination against their children and non-payment for services rendered.

What hurts me the most is not the missed tax opportunities or the full police cells but rather the indignity that they are made to feel. It is hard enough to do that job (which in reality is all it is) without being branded ‘criminals’ by lawmakers. We have ‘real’ criminals in this country.

These 15,792 women (and men) who are involved in the sex trade (according to RPRPD statistics) deserve their ‘agaciro’ back. Let them be allowed to do the work they do in peace.  Striking consensual prostitution off the statute books is not only smart, but humane as well. MP’s need to be brave here. They cannot criminalise something and then hope that the punitive measures in the law aren’t applied by the justice system. Because they will. And they have.

Rwanda and the UN Security Council: The ghosts of 1994 continue being laid to rest

June 8, 1994, ex-Rwanda UN envoy, Mr. Jean-Damascene Bizimana addresses the UN Security Council.

Its been confirmed. Rwanda has been elected to the UN Security Council by 148 votes out of a possible 193. This is a huge triumph for this country, especially when one looks back at all of the efforts of various state and non-state actors to ensue that the African Union’s sole candidate was bested (Ken Roth and Steve Hege anybody?).

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the voting yesterday was the unhelpful behavior from some of our SADC partners. Why in the world would South Africa, our continent’s giant, decide to throw its hand in the ring with pariahs such as DRC and Zimbabwe? Are Congo’s minerals really worth that much trouble? Well, I hope that they enjoy a bit of ‘egg in the face’.

The last time Rwanda was on the Security Council was in 1994, a period that coincided with the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. In an infamous scene, while one million people died in the hills and valleys of this nation, the representative of the genocidal government, Jean Damascene Bizimana, sat at the Security Council table, telling the world that there was no genocide in the country.

With the election, this stain on the Security Council’s reputation can finally be put to bed.

No one is safe: 15 year old boy admits to raping 65 year old granddad

The sight of a running teenage boy will be giving old men in Nottingham heart palpitations and nightmares

Nottinghamshire isn’t only the home of Robin Hood and his merry men. Its also the home of the randiest 15 year old I’ve ever heard of. Yes, I understand that hormones are at play here, but a line must be drawn. We cannot allow a situation where our grandfathers are afraid to turn their backs to teenager because he might jump their bones.

Reminds me of Antoine Dobson’s call to “hide yo kids, hide yo wife”. We might need to hide our grandparents. Or we might end up getting a YouTube hit one day.

The Francophonie summit has left Joseph Kabila with a bloody nose

Kinshasa got a well deserved, from what I hear anyway, makeover

In many parts of Africa, when one’s visitor is about to leave, the host is obliged to ask them to stay a bit longer (even if you really do want them to leave and its getting rather late). This is because you don’t want the guest to think that you didn’t enjoy having them around. I’m pretty sure that this holds true in the Congo as well.

But I can bet my bottom dollar that when the 75 heads of state and country representatives of the Francophonie (or the Organization Internationale de la Francophonie as its officially known) left Kishasha, Kabila didn’t even go through the motions. He was ecstatic to see them jump on their Air France jets and leave his capital behind.

This is because some of the leaders, instead of treating him with the respect befitting the president of the host country, expressed to him exactly what they felt about his administration.

French President Francois Hollande described the political and human rights situation in DR Congo as “totally unacceptable in terms of human rights, democracy and the recognition of the opposition”. The French president, further thumbing his nose to his hosts, held a meeting with Etienne Tshisekedi, the opposition leader who many believe won the last elections, which were marred by charges of fraud.

What surprised me the most was that he didn’t say that the situation was unacceptable because of Rwanda, M23 or the ICGLR.  He put the blame and responsibility firmly on Kabila’s doorstep.

The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, went even further.

After meeting members of the opposition, he said that they welcomed Canada’s views about the “complete unacceptability of failures in the electoral process and the abuse of human rights that are taking place in this country.”

The Congolese government wasn’t the only ones in his sights. He took a swipe at MONUSCO, something he did just two years ago. Back then, Harper refused to augment Canada’s presence and support for the United Nations mission in Congo, saying he didn’t think it would be “terribly effective.” At a brief news conference on Sunday, he said that this “was borne out by events.”

Of course the Congolese were taken aback.  DR Congo, in the words of Kabila, “is proud of the democracy exercised in this country. The DRC is not at all worried about the level of democracy, freedom and the human rights situation”. Obviously he’s not left his presidential palace in a while.

What I believe that we’re seeing is an international realignment vis-à-vis the issues besieging the Great Lakes Region.

For the longest time possible, whenever leaders and journalists talked about Congo, they made it seem like the Rwanda’s so-called involvement in Eastern Congo was the cause of each and every malaise that Congolese citizens suffered. This was, and still is, the furthest thing from the truth.

Rwanda isn’t the reason there was electoral fraud. It isn’t the reason that the administration is unable to deliver the most rudimentary services to the Congolese population. It isn’t the reason that there aren’t any roads of note crisscrossing the country.

The great and good of the Francophone world

Even the most biased Rwanda-hater has to admit that Kigali has taken the security of its citizens seriously. It has taken their aspirations seriously. It has done its best to involve as many people in the political process as possible. And in the process transformed itself from a regional basket case to an international player of note.

Kinshasa has turned playing the ‘victim’ into an art form. And it has worked for them. Thankfully, the international community is starting to wake up and realize that the issue of governance is at the heart of the Congolese issue. Honestly though, who would’ve thought that this monumental change would occur during this summit? Not me.


Papyrus closure saga: Mayor Fidele is a liar

Sweating bullets because of the public outrage that his administration’s decision to close Papyrus caused, the obviously taken aback Mayor of Kigali, Fidele Ndayisaba, conned The New Times reporter (and the reading public) by saying that the establishment didn’t face “immanent closure”.

He is quoted saying “KCC only advised the proprietor to comply with approved plans of the building in a letter dated October 8, 2012.We did not authorize the construction of a discotheque in that area. If he (the owner) wants to run a night club there, he should go through the right channels and apply for a license; we will then assess the application accordingly and provide an appropriate answer”.

To this i say BULLSHIT.

First of all, he’s pretending that KCC didn’t allow Serge to build the bar/nightclub. As I revealed yesterday in my blog ( Hakizimana Thomas, a KCC Director, actually gave Serge a permission to occupy AFTER the entire place was inspected.

Tsk tsk. Its a shame that Ivan Mugisha didnt put the Mayor to task about this.

Secondly, Serge isn’t able to pay his loan unless the bar is open. So, HE IS FACING CLOSURE.

Papyrus closure: a story of incompetence and influence peddling

I woke up on Friday morning to a horrible headline in The New Times. I found out that Papyrus, a popular nightspot, faced closure.

According to the media report, “In a letter dated October 8, 2012 addressed to Serge Nsanawe Ndekwe, the owner of the popular hang-out, Papyrus Restaurant and copied to the Minister of Local Government and the Mayor Gasabo District, City Mayor, Fidele Ndayisaba pointed out limited parking, noise generated by the clientele and loud music as the key issues that need urgent attention.”

Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of the establishment. So when I heard the news, I resolved not to let this slight, and it IS a slight to younger Rwandans, go without riposte. So, I called Serge and sought an interview, a request that he was only too eager to agree to. What I discovered from the hour-long interview was a web of influence peddling, by certain high-ranking military officials, bullying, incompetence on the part of RDB, PSF and the Hotelier Association, and desperation on the part of Serge.

First of all, I must reiterate the Papyrus WILL NOT be closed. Rather, what has been closed with IMMEDIATE effect is its downstairs nightclub. Below, is the letter that City Council sent to Serge:

KCC letter to Papyrus, closing down the nightclub

The letter, however, leaves us with more questions than answers. KCC asks him to do something about the parking, but the fact of the matter is, the outdoor parking can hold only about 30 cars. Customers have no choice but to park on the roadside, which in itself isn’t a big deal. KCC is acting like Papyrus is the only establishment where people park on the roadside. It’s not. We have K-Club, Sundowner, Downtown, Manor Hotel, Le Must and almost every single establishment. I believe that KCC is picking and choosing places to shut down. If they are going to close nightspots because of their lack of adequate parking, then they must so across the board.

Plus, perhaps the Mayor can answer this, “is there a law dictating where people are allowed and NOT allowed to park”? Because I thought that people had a right to park where they wished, as long as the parking spot wasn’t in a ‘No Parking Area’.

Lets talk about the nightclub, which according to Serge, provides about 40% of his total revenue. It is completely soundproof and equipped with firefighting and security equipment. Plus, no one is complaining about the music from the nightclub, so why shut it down?

The initiative to close Papyrus has been in the pipeline for quite a while now. In fact, only two weeks after its August 22nd opening, Serge received a phone call from the Mayor, warning him about his establishment’s imminent closure. The Mayor told him that certain neighbors were complaining about the noise and the fact that their privacy was invaded by the three-story building.

So, who was the ‘neighbor’ who got Town Hall involved? None other than Gen. Fred Ibingira.

Lets be honest here, if the neighbor was an unknown ‘Tom Mupende’ (a name I’ve just invented) would he had the juice to call the Mayor of Kigali City to complain that his nights sleep was being interrupted? Methinks not.  He would have had to talk to the Executive Secretary of the Akagari and then slowly go up the levels. Obviously, the war hero was using his position (and probable friendship with Mayor Ndayisaba) to get his way, and bulldoze the dreams of an unknown young Rwandan.  The worst part of the entire thing is that the General doesn’t even LIVE THERE. He is trying to rent out the property and (perhaps even sell it). So, he probably wants to increase the rental value of the property.

I’m sure that KCC is telling everyone that the only thing that was closed was the nightclub, but remember, they are closing down something that they themselves approved (see below)

KCC letter granting Serge permission to occupy the building

According to the original plan that Serge submitted to KCC, and which they approved on 3, November 2011, the nightclub area was supposed to be a sauna and gym. This obviously changed, but the new modifications were approved by KCC experts. Something that the Mayor is evidently ignoring. So, if the plans were unapproved, then why was Serge given authorization to occupy the building? Something fishy is going on.

Honestly, the thing that bothers me so much is, how can KCC be so crude as to bankrupt a young Rwandan trying to get ahead? The

Serge Nsanawe Ndekwe

man sunk 450 million francs of his own money into the project. Not forgetting the 410 million franc loan that he received from the Rwandan Development Bank.

He is servicing a 7.5 million franc loan while employing 52 Rwandans (who are earning salaries from between 40,000 to 500,000 francs per month). As of today, 15 people who worked in the nightclub have lost their livelihoods. Just at the snap of the Mayor’s fingers. By closing the nightclub, Serge has lost 40% of his total earnings.

But it’s not only Serge who is losing money. How much money is being denied to the government coffers because of this stupidity?

The entire thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. How can we call ourselves investor-friendly when people can lose money just like THAT? Heads must roll.