Wives and kids cannot be allowed to do business with the State

Stuntin' like her daddy. José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola's president, left, and daughter Isabel dos Santos in the second row

Stuntin’ like her daddy. José Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s president, left, and daughter Isabel dos Santos in the second row

Last week, Friday to be exact, I read that Members of Parliament had started debating amendments to the Leadership Code. According to the article, ‘Lawmakers debate leadership code’, “Spouses and children of leaders will be allowed to do business with government if amendments proposed by government in the draft organic law modifying the organic law of 2008 on the leadership code of conduct are passed”.

I thought that the amendment would cause some sort of outcry but I was disappointed. There was nary a peep from Rwanda’s blogosphere or Twittersphere. Was it possibly because Rwandans were happy with the change, or was it because they didn’t really care? I assumed the latter.

So when that time of the week arrived (when I start penning this column) I was about to write something about either the Malian civil war or the ongoing DRC-M23 talks in Kampala. However, the feeling that I’d ignored something quite essential kept creeping up on me. So, here we are; talking about leaders family members doing business. And not only business, but business with the State.

One of the most talked about stories on Forbes magazine is an article written about Isabel dos Santos, the eldest daughter of Angolan President, Eduardo dos Santos. According to the esteemed financial publication, the 40 year old is Africa’s first female dollar billionaire.

Don’t get me wrong. I have NO issue with women excelling in the marketplace and if she’s earned that money legally, then she is to be commended. However, that is a big IF. According to media reports, it all begun when she won the tender to collect rubbish in Luanda, Angola’s capital city of a couple million people. A tender that raises a lot of suspicions.

I will not pretend to know the intricacies of the deal and I won’t make any assumptions because that is not my place. However, the mere fact that her achievements cause eyebrows to raise is unfortunate. Wouldn’t it have been great if we could celebrate her success wholeheartedly?

Which brings me back to Rwanda. The fact that Members of Parliament are debating a law that would grant their close family members the ability to do business with the State is a huge conflict of interest.

Two Kigali District Mayors, when asked about the proposed change in the law, said “If you marry a woman who has a shop in Quartier Mateus shall she close it when you become a leader”. When you have cows in Umutara, won’t you sell milk? The point is that other people can do business, just as long as the leaders themselves don’t”.

Which brings me to my point. When the lawmakers promulgated the initial law, why did they insert that article in 2008? Was it because they

Rwandan legislators during a working session last week.

Rwandan legislators during a working session last week.

understood that allowing close family members to do business with the entities that their parents and spouses led would be a recipe for influence peddling and corruption?

The rationale for this change of tack is, according to the proposed laws explanatory note, because ‘prohibition retards investment and infringes

on their rights in case they were practicing or intending to practice commercial activities prior to the appointments’.  What leaves me confused is whether the initial law banned ALL commercial activities. When I did some research I discovered that the initial law banned only commercial dealings with the State.  So, to answer the Kigali Mayor, a spouse or child wouldn’t need to close their supermarket because their family member became a mayor, governor or, indeed, parliamentarian.

So, if this is accurate, why move forward with this? I’m not cynical enough to think that these MPs are taking care of their own to the detriment of the anti-corruption war. But there are cynics who will. Let article 14 and 15 stay put. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

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What is the point of voluntary national service? Make it compulsory!

Diaspora students during Ingando at Rwanda Millitary Academy, Gako (photo S.  NkurunzizaWhen in read yesterday’s issue of The New Times that Govt launches national service today I danced a little jig. The idea of national service was something that I’d always felt was something that missing.

The idea of asking ‘not what your country can do for you but rather what you can do for your country’ to paraphrase John F Kennedy, is one that I’ve attempted to hold dear. I’ve certainly fallen short-make no mistake. I live a selfish life; I pay my dues to society by paying my taxes and, if and when the mood strikes me, I give a few coins to those less fortunate than me.  As you’ve probably noticed, I have no issue giving away a few coins. However, you will find me a bit more Scrooge-like if you ask me to spare my time.

This is something that I struggle with. Certain problems cannot simply be fixed by throwing money at them. They need a hands-on approach. You know the saying, ‘if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. But if you teach him how to fish, you will feed him for life’? My problem is that I simply don’t have the time to teach the man ‘to fish’. Not because I don’t want to, but simply because I don’t have the time anymore. I have bills that need to be paid and deadlines that must be met. It’s so hectic that when the weekend arrives all I want to do is crawl into my bed and not resurface until Monday.

So forget about the 2013 version of Yours Truly going to the rural Rwanda to teach English, safe sex and planting trees. But if you’d given the pre-university version that opportunity, he’d have given the idea some thought. However, I still wouldn’t have done it. The thought of leaving the comforts of home to tackle village life would’ve been too drastic a move for me. The only way I would’ve left Kigali would have been if I was forced to.

One of the most rewarding two months of my life was spent in the Ingando grounds on the outskirts of Ruhengeri town.  I will not pretend that IRTEmagicC_Ingando-itorero_02.jpg didn’t find parts of it difficult because I did. I hated the food and I quickly learnt that boiled maize and beans weren’t my cup of tea. And I couldn’t for the life of me understand why all the drill instructions were in Kiswahili, a language I still can’t understand to save my life.

On the plus side (and their were plenty of pluses), I learnt lots of skills, I tested my, admittedly small, physical limits, made friends from all parts of the country and learnt a lot about this small country we call our own.  Would I have learnt all I did if I wasn’t forced to go there in order to enjoy government sponsored university education; certainly not.

 

Boniface Rucagu, the Chairperson the Itorero National Taskforce.

Boniface Rucagu, the Chairperson the Itorero National Taskforce.

Which brings me to the national service that was announced by Boniface Rucagu, the Chairperson the Itorero National Taskforce. His version of national service centers on the 40,730 members of the Itorero Ry’igihugu. These young men and women will voluntarily partake in activities that benefit the entire community.  Which is great. However, I would have gone about the national service differently.

First of all, I would have incorporated it within the Ingando system. Instead of having a bunch of differing programs, why not simply make each and every high school graduate be a part of the national service program? You notice I said ‘make’? That is because I don’t believe that national service should be voluntary. Paying taxes isn’t voluntary. Neither is umuganda? Why should national service be?

If the thousands of young people graduating high school sitting at home for almost a year awaiting examinations results and university

Graduates of Itorero marching in the National Stadium- Legislators passed the bill establishing the National Itorero Commission last December

Graduates of Itorero marching in the National Stadium- Legislators passed the bill establishing the National Itorero Commission last December

placement were put to work, instead of engaging in all sorts of mischief, we’d have a win-win situation. They have the energy, the passion and frankly, the time.  They’d learn more about the country, learn what real patriotism is through hard labor, open their eye to the realities on the ground, learn new skills and become better attuned to the needs of their community. And the community would benefit from their energy and drive.

Forget the AU, where are the Malians in Mali?

Nothing to be proud of. Mali's army has taken back a key town from Islamist rebels aided by French air power.

Nothing to be proud of. Mali’s army has taken back a key town from Islamist rebels aided by French air power.

Joseph Rwagatare wrote a great opinion piece in The New Times yesterday titled ‘ Where is the AU in Mali’.  In it, he scoffed at the African Union, wondering why France was the one helping the Malian army push back the Islamist rebels who’d overrun half the West African country.

He argues that it has become “a cherished principle of the African Union to call upon fellow Africans to come to the aid of countries in various kinds of trouble”. According to him, it has worked in places like South Sudan and Somalia. And he’s right. However, I depart from his central thesis, which is that African countries have a responsibility to intervene in the affairs of ‘weak states’.

When one looks at the most successful countries in the world, its obvious that their citizens figured out how to live together. Compare Rwanda to say, the Central African Republic. Each had serious political problems to deal with (and in our case a genocide as well). But while Rwandans muddled along, figuring out how to live together (and introducing the term ‘Gacaca’ to the legal lexicon) and slowly but surely, building a country that is its citizens can be proud of, the Central African Republic has constantly called upon its allies to maintain the status quo.

While this has given the people of Bangui a semblance of ‘calm’, it is more like a ‘calm before a storm’. If we are to count just how many times rebels have reached the capital city’s outskirts in the last decade, one can only imagine how stormy it has been.

 

Soldiers from the Congolese contingent of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC) stand in formation as they arrive at an airport in Bangui, December 31, 2012.

Soldiers from the Congolese contingent of the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC) stand in formation as they arrive at an airport in Bangui, December 31, 2012.

Now, imagine this scenario. What would happen if, instead of getting external assistance from the French military, the Central African government had to face up to its own weaknesses? The army would get thrashed and the rebels would either negotiate with the defeated government or take up the reins of power. Either way, the status quo would change (In the most recent case of civil unrest, President Bozize negotiated with the rebels after realizing that ‘his’ Gallic cavalry was not going to come to his rescue (and after evacuating his family to Kigali-if Twitter reports are to be believed).

I’m a firm believer of the ‘hands off’ approach to conflict resolution in Africa. Not because I’m a cruel person, who doesn’t care about the lives of my fellow Africans, but because I honestly believe that unless each and every country is allowed to find its own development path whether economically, politically or socially, tit will not be able to become a stable, viable nation.

The nations that impose these status quos (such as France, the UK, the US and other single power in the world) are the same that have suffered revolutions, palace coups, civil wars and every kind of social unrest you can name. What these issues did has to improve their governance and systems of political participation.  Out of conflict came solutions. But it seems that the same won’t be allowed here in Africa.

Let us imagine a worst-case scenario. Imagine if the rebels reached Bamako and imposed Sharia Law. Either the citizenry would have become okay with it or a fifth column would have arisen to take on the unpopular government. Either way, Malians would have had their future in their hands.

This wouldn’t have become so if the African Union had intervened by halting the rebellion and propping the present government. Let’s be honest

A toothless talking shop. The New AU Headquarters built by China, commissioned in January 2012

A toothless talking shop. The New AU Headquarters built by China, commissioned in January 2012

here, even if the African Union had intervened militarily, it still would’ve imposed foreign diktat. Thereby stifling Malian political development.

Sometimes you need to go backwards to move forwards. But if we always intervene, how will lessons be learnt?

And while we are at it, perhaps its time we stopped giving so much credence to the artificial borders that have held us prisoner so long. Perhaps its time that we allowed certain communities to find their own way forward.  I mean, so what if Mali is presently divided in two? Perhaps it should have been from the very beginning.

While I understand that the ‘laissez-faire’ approach will probably not become AU policy anytime soon, I’m afraid that we’ll end up forever treating symptoms instead of diseases unless we embrace it.

How much is a human life worth? $500?

Dr. Radjabu Mbukani was found murdered last Thursday

Dr. Radjabu Mbukani was found murdered last Thursday

First of all, I want to reiterate the fact that only a judge can hand down a ‘guilty’ verdict; not the police, not a newspaper and certainly not a humdrum columnist like myself. I will not, and cannot, in good conscience comment on whether or not Dr. Radjabu Mbukani was murdered by the mother of his children, that is for the court to decide.

The gynecology lecturer, who taught at the National University of Rwanda’s medical school, was found murdered last Thursday in Kanyinya in Kigali, having been bludgeoned to death.

The police officers investigating the case believe that his estranged partner, for monetary reasons, sought out two young men to do the deed. Yesterday, one of the young men, Jean Paul Cyuma, a 32 year old cobbler by profession, pensively confessed to the crime, telling The New Times reporter who interviewed him that he murdered the doctor for 300,000 francs because he, and his colleague, were “tempted by the money and nothing else”.

While I’m sure the entire sordid tale is probably much more complex than the above paragraph makes it out to be, as we shall surely learn when the case is heard in court, what I’m really shocked about is just how ‘cheap’ this hit was. I mean, if a medical expert can be killed for less than five hundred dollars, how safe are the rest of us? I can only imagine that a journalist like me can be sent to the other side for a few thousand francs. Secondly, just how desperate does a man have to be to commit this crime for such a pitiful sum? I mean, let’s be honest here, you can’t even buy a healthy cow for that amount.

The Police spokesperson, Supt. Theos Badege

The Police spokesperson, Supt. Theos Badege

Among the myriad of reasons that experts use to explain the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi is poverty.  This ‘poverty theory’ is one promoted by attorney and anthropologist Paul Magnarella, chair of the Peace Studies Program at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina. He argues, “While social and political imbalances contributed to the 1994 Rwanda genocide, extreme poverty was the predominant factor that led to the killings”.

Well, I’ll be honest here and say that I’m sick and tired of poverty being an excuse for murder (in the good doctor’s case) and Genocide. There are plenty of people who live in poverty, including here in Rwanda, but you don’t see them becoming paid assassins do you? Or genocidaires?

If the suspect is found guilty for the doctor’s murder and jailed, all I’ll feel is sadness. This is because, no matter the punishment handed down, one of the best doctors in the country will not treat any more women or teach another class. And his two children will grow up without a father.

While I’m on this topic, I want to pen my discomfort with the manner which police sometimes handle suspects. I still remember watching

handcuffed suspects being paraded in front of television camera, confessing to all sorts of crimes. I find it uncomfortable seeing men and women paraded thus because I feel that it undermines a central tenet of law, the ‘presumption of innocence’.

Everyone is presumed innocent until they are found guilty by a competent court. I understand that the Police is trying to do the public a service by

The Doctor's alleged murderers, his ex-girlfriend Muhire, Hagenimana Vital, Cyuma Jean Paul and the ex's older sister Tuyisenge Clarisse being paraded by Police before the cameras

The Doctor’s alleged murderers, his ex-girlfriend Muhire, Hagenimana Vital, Cyuma Jean Paul and the ex’s older sister Tuyisenge Clarisse being paraded by Police before the cameras

granting media access to ‘juicy stories’, but let’s be honest here, how many people have been successfully prosecuted and found guilty? Even if the prosecution is successful ninety-nine out of a hundred times, that means that one innocent person is unfairly paraded before the cameras. And let’s be honest here, how many times do we read in a newspaper or watch on television that some small fry was found innocent? Never.

So, while it seems that it’s easy to besmirch someone’s name, restoring it is another thing altogether. I mean, how many people would hire someone whose been paraded by police on Rwanda Television? I certainly wouldn’t. How many would consider a romantic relationship with them? How many would engage in business with them? Not too many. I think that these ‘parades’ need to be reassessed.

Lets make 2013 the year of a million voices!

Happy New Year all! Lets have an awesome 2013

Happy New Year all! Lets have an awesome 2013

I’m pretty sure that the vast majority of us are still in holiday mood. I certainly need a few more days of rest and relaxation, especially because I wrote this piece of New Years Day. Throw in the fact that I barely slept on New Years Eve (because Mamba Club in Kimihurura, threw an all-night and all-morning party, which interrupted my sleep) and the last thing I wanted to do is go back to work. But alas I must and before I get to the ‘meat’ of my first column of 2013, allow me the opportunity to say to each and everyone of you, “have a great new year, you and your loved ones”.

Last year I swore to myself that I would do everything in my power to take control of my financial future and stop dillydallying. As a young Rwandan, I came to the realization that for too long, I’d lived paycheck to paycheck, enjoying the moment, partying it up and failing to become conscious of the fact that this was irresponsible. So, bearing this in mind, I went to talk to my banker where I learnt that there were financial products that could help me, and other young people, make our dreams come true.

With the support of the financial institution I’ve decided to ‘diversify my portfolio’. But, as I’ve just learnt, one almost always needs authorization and a cachet (stamp) from local leaders. What I’ve learnt is that some of these leaders are corrupt as hell. One head of a Umudugudu had the guts to demand thirty thousand francs to stamp and sign two contracts that needed signing. When I asked why he needed the money, he said that it was ‘inzoga z’abayobozi’ (beer for the leaders).

I hesitated to hand over the money (especially because he’d already signed the documents anyway) and asked the residents of the area whether handing over this ‘beer money’ was normal procedure and I found out that it was. When I asked whether it was legal, they looked at me in confusion. “This is the way we’ve done things for years”, I was told, “and if you want to go about your business without getting issues, or if you want to get good service, you better just pay”.

I don’t know whether the demand was lawful, and I hope that someone in the Local Government Ministry takes a few minutes out of their day and helps me out. Am I facing the specter of corruption, or am I just ignorant?

Someone out there might ask, “Why are you putting your personal issues in the national newspaper”. To them I say, “Because I’m fortunate enough to have such a platform to air my grievances and queries”. And while the vast majority of Rwandans aren’t able to write a column, they DO have ways to get their views out there.

With the advent of social media, everyone has a chance to get their points of view across. Two incidents, both involving the Kigali City Council and Kigali nightspots, got the Rwandan Twittersphere abuzz last year. The first was the news that Papyrus nightclub would close; the second was that K-Club would be forced to do the same. Twitter exploded, with the hashtag #SavePapyrus, used to direct our ire. It is my belief that the groundswell of horror, especially among Rwanda’s youth, forced the powers that be to change their minds and allow the popular place to remain open.

That was the first time I saw ordinary peoples, using social media, making their voices heard. And it was a beautiful thing.

A few weeks ago, while having a conversation with an older relative, I was asked what we needed to do to “respond to all the negative news”. It is my belief that the only way to respond to this negativity is to make sure that our voices are heard as well. The people saying all sorts of things use the very same medium that we can as well. So, instead of wringing our hands in helplessness, perhaps what we need is for more people to use Twitter, Facebook and open blogs. We are almost 11 million strong, we do have voices and we mustn’t let them be drowned. Not in 2013.