BK, how many passport photos do I need to give you?

Bank-of-KigaliIn my decade-long career, I’ve had the opportunity to work both in the private and public sector. The similarities between the two are few and far between. There is one unfortunate similarity that the two share; a disagreeable inability of different departments to cooperate.  In the public sector, I took this for granted because I understood that a culture of inter-departmental information sharing and cooperation would take a long time to become entrenched. However, I could not, and still cannot, understand why the private sector suffered a similar malaise.

About four weeks ago, I decided to apply for a credit card at BK (Bank of Kigali). I did this mainly because I’ve been unable to purchase anything online using the debit card that the bank issued me (which is another issue that I can’t understand…I assumed that as long as a card is a VISA card, you can use it online. But I was wrong).

The process seemed easy enough. I went upstairs to the debit and credit card department, filled in some forms and was told that I would get the card in two weeks. That was that. Or that was what the BK staff member told me. How wrong I was. After a MONTH later, I received a call from a BK employee telling me that my credit card request form was incomplete. I needed to hand to them a passport photo, a copy of my national identity card, my work contract and salary slips for the last three months.

I was livid and I let my feelings known. I had two issues. First of all, why wasn’t I told this when I first applied for the credit card? How difficult would it have been to tell me all this? Was it because the staff member didn’t know about the other requirements? Why did they have to wait for a whole month to contact me with the new information?

Secondly, (and this is the rationale of my column this week) why did BK’s credit card department ask for the additional documentation? I could understand all the additional paperwork if I was a new customer but I wasn’t. I’ve been banking with BK for the last three years; I have separate accounts and a loan I’m currently servicing. So, if the credit card department really wanted all my information, all they had to do was look inside their own system.  Seriously, how many passport photos did they really need of me? How many ID’s? How many work contracts? How hard could it have been to simply run my name through the system and see all my personal information?

I understand that this might come off as harsh. But I would have not been so disappointed if I hadn’t expected better service. BK is probably the biggest bank in the county; it is no small fry. In fact, just the other day, I found out that it was opening branches in Nairobi, Kenya. Honestly, I had come to expect international standards of customer care from them. To say that I was disappointed would be an understatement.

BK’s inter-departmental communication and cooperation failed miserably in this circumstance.  I can only hope that things will improve in the coming weeks, months and years. Rwandans have come to expect more and more from their financial services providers and, as competition increases, they will be less forgiving.

So, at the end of the day, I STILL cannot shop online. But perhaps I should search for the silver lining here. I guess the BK credit card department helped me save the hard earned money that I would have probably spent on online trinkets.

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Rwandans are talking; may this continue

AI’ve been a writer in The New Times, on and off, for more than a decade now and I’ve had the opportunity to observe the evolution of public discourse through these newspaper’s pages. Rwandans are known to keep their opinions to themselves (or at least they used to).

Perhaps that is why the Government is often accused by human rights groups of not providing ‘political space’ and ‘freedom of speech’. They don’t see democracy being practiced in the manner they are used to. No one is abusive, speeches are very PG (Parental Guidance) and there are no noisy demonstrations à la Kenya or Uganda. It’s all very boring actually. Or is it?

I don’t think that Rwandans are genetically predisposed to being quiet. I believe that they kept their opinions to themselves simply because they didn’t have the forum to air their thoughts and grievances.

A few years back, the only radio station that had a national following was Radio Rwanda. If someone in Rusizi wanted to air a complaint or opinion on the national radio, they’d have a better chance of threading a camel through the eye of a needle, to paraphrase Jesus of  Nazareth.

Now, we have countless radio stations catering for every section of Rwanda’s populace and guess what shows are the most popular? Call-in shows. And these people calling in aren’t just calling-in to greet the DJ and their friends. They are talking about societal issues and letting their feelings known.

Like I said at the beginning, The New Times has allowed me the opportunity to see just how much things have changed.  On Saturday, I wrote a column titled ‘Goodbye Pope Benedict XVI, I won’t miss you though’. What pleased me the most was that the readers took me to task while airing their dissenting opinions. This back and forth, which at times descended into name-calling, was extremely healthy in my humble opinion. The readers had something to say and, come rain or high water; they would get it off their chests.

There is one topic that is getting heads heated up; the third term talk. I do not have a position yet vis-à-vis this topic but Rwandans certainly do. Reactions to Prof. Manasseh Nshuti’s commentary, “Change, stability and continuity: a political homework (Part I), came from all over the globe. From the UK, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Zambia, to right here in Kigali, Rwandans expressed differing views. Njenga in Kimironko wrote “Kagame for life”, while King, in Remera, wrote “Let us stick on (sic) constitution. President has done a lot and is continuing till end of his tenure. With him around am sure the replacement will be good. Long live Kagame”.

This conversation is one that has barely begun. More and more people will talk about it and make their feelings known either through the mass media or through social media. At the end of the day, no one will say that the people didn’t speak. And isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Goodbye Pope Benedict XVI, I won’t miss you

Good riddance: The Pope is resigning

Good riddance: The Pope is resigning

Call me heartless. Call me out and order. Honestly, you can call me whatever you like. But I will say this all day long, “Goodbye to you Mr. Pope and I hope that you spend the rest of your days living with the kind of disappointment and guilty conscience that your inaction deserves”.

When I was younger, I was a good Catholic lad. The Catholic school I attended in primary engrained in us a love for the cloth and a respect and reverence for the entire hierarchy, from the lovely priest to the pope in Rome. In fact, the two highlights of primary seven were the class trip to the Uganda Martyrs shrine in Namugongo, Kampala and the visit by the former archbishop of Kamapala, Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala to our chapel for confirmation mass. St. Savio Junior School Kisubi put me along the path to a lifelong devotion to Mary and the other multitudes that had earned sainthoods. That was far back in 1994. That was before I saw the horrors that had been unleashed in the nation that I learnt to call mine.

I learnt that the magnificent Saint Famille was home to convicted war criminal Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka (the rapist and murderer is still escaping the long arm of the law in France where he is happily leading mass, obviously protected by Rome). I learnt about the over ten thousand of innocent men, women and children who sought refuge in the Nyamata Parish Church but instead found death. I found out that the chairperson of MRND’s central committee for fourteen years was Archbishop of Kigali, Vincent Nsengiyumva (that is, until the Vatican ‘intervened’).

I discovered people like Fathers Jean Francois Kayiranga, Edouard Nkurikiye, Emmanuel Rukundo and Laurent Ntimugura. I read about Sister Julienne Maria Kizito and her Mother Superior, Gertrude Mukangango.

Now, I know that there were many catholic do did not go over to the dark side. There are priests who saved lives. There are nuns who did the

Innocent men, women and children who sought refuge in the Nyamata Parish Church but instead found death

Innocent men, women and children who sought refuge in the Nyamata Parish Church but instead found death

same. And I commend them for living up to their calling. However, I could never forgive those in the positions of power who refused to apologise for their omissions during those one hundred days when more than a million people died. The families of those that were betrayed by the Church have NEVER received an apology for their underlings’ actions and omissions.

I thought that it was perhaps because the Church apologized to NOBODY. I learnt that that was not true. What I learnt was that apologies were for some and not others.

When Pope John Paul II passed away, I thought that the Church would perhaps turn a new page and acknowledge some of its historical wrongs. It had already apologized for the Spanish Inquisition in 2000 and I assumed that Rwandans would get that courtesy.  Then the Church apologized to all the children who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of the priests (and then gave them huge financial settlements). And still Rwandans wait.

I’ve come to the conclusion that they Church apologized for these crimes simply because they took place in the West. I know that that might seem a tad bit unreasonable but I must ask; if the sexual abuse scandals had occurred in Kibuye instead of Chicago or Goma instead of New Jersey, would an apology been so forthcoming? If I said that the apologies (and compensation) happened because the victims and their kin enjoyed the full force of white outrage, would you call me unfair?

The same Church that stood impotently aside and watched people die is the same Church that is STILL protecting murderers and rapists. Pope Benedict XVI has been in my humble opinion, a man more interested about consenting adults sexual affairs than healing the wounds of a people betrayed. I won’t miss him and I can only hope that the next one is better. I won’t hold my breath.

Nyange School: In the darkest hour, teenagers showed us the way

Phanuel Sindayiheda sits at the desk where he was that fateful day in 1997.

Phanuel Sindayiheda sits at the desk where he was that fateful day in 1997.

Ethnic politics have been the bane of the vast majority of African nations.  These sectarian divides led to civil wars in Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Ethiopia…the list is seems endless. Rwanda is probably the place where sectarianism reached its zenith with the fastest genocide in history; one people million died in only one hundred days. If one is to believe all the reports, tribalism, sectarianism and all the other ‘isms’ are a chain that Africa cannot break free from.

However, that pessimism should be challenged with stories that go against overwhelming narrative. Here in one Western Rwanda close to Zaire (as the Democratic Republic of Congo was known) . Nyange Secondary School. March 18, 1997. 8pm.

The boys and girls studying at this school have just left their dormitory rooms to go back to class for a couple hours of evening prep. And just like any other evening, they shuffled to their desks, some quietly conversing while their more studious colleagues concentrated on their reading material.  It seemed like just another day, but in only a few minutes an unspeakable horror would engulf the school, shattering lives and snuffing out hopes and dreams. Phanuel Sindayiheda, a 36-year father of two, was sitting in class that fateful day. “I was in Senior Six in 1997. It was around 8pm, the main gates were locked, we had finished dinner and some of us were back in our classrooms revising, then we started hearing gunshots, but thought it was nothing big, that it was just rebels fighting the Government soldiers”, he says.

Rwanda is known as being one of the safest countries in Africa today. It is admired around the continent for its stability, reconciliation, economic growth and social advancement. But in 1997, it was like a different place. Bloodthirsty bands of machete wielding and gun-toting former Interahamwe, the militia responsible for the deaths of more than one million Tutsi’s, still roamed the country, killing genocide survivors in their homes and attacking buses and cars on the highways in an attempt to make the country ungovernable. Those were scary times. I was barely sixteen but I can still remember just how jittery the situation was. While those living in Kigali could pretend that there wasn’t an insurgency in the country, those living elsewhere could not forget that fact. One of the most infamous tactics of the insurgents was stopping buses, ordering the passengers out and then asking the Hutus to stand on one side, and the Tutsis on the other. They would then mow the Tutsis down, letting the Hutus go. Stories like those got plenty of media coverage. So, on the 18th of March 1997, when the three men, toting grenades, machetes and automatics weapons rushed into one of the schools

Picture dated 12 June 1994 showing an Interahamwe Hutu militiaman holding a machete in Gitarama, central Rwanda.

Picture dated 12 June 1994 showing an Interahamwe Hutu militiaman holding a machete in Gitarama, central Rwanda.

classrooms, the students must have known what would follow.

The one who looked like the leader said, “I want you to help me, to facilitate me with my job. I want Hutus in this room on the right, and I know we have Tutsis here, so Tutsis go on the left. We all heard him clearly and knew what this meant. There was a deathly silence. So he repeated his command”, Sindayiheda remembers. “We do not have Hutus or Tutsis here, we are Rwandans,” Chantal Uwamahoro, a young girl said. The men went out and threw two grenades inside the small classroom.  After the smoke cleared, the men went back inside. Once again, they ordered, “Tutsis here and Hutus there”. The teenagers stood firm. “We have already told you, we are not Hutus or Tutsis, we are Rwandans”.

This time it was Sylvestre Bizimana, a boy who had survived the Genocide, who spoke for the rest. Outraged, the three pulled out their guns and started shooting indiscriminately, killing six teenagers; Sylvestre Bizimana, Chantal Mujawamahoro, Beatrice Mukambaraga, Seraphine Mukarutwaza, Helene Benimana, and Valens Ndemeye. Today, these teenagers are remembered every February 1st when Rwanda celebrates Heroes Day. They remind us that even in the darkest times, there is always a light that is stronger. On Heroes Day, Rwanda celebrates the life of true heavyweights like Fred Rwigema (the first chairman of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front), King Rudahingwa (the second last monarch) and Agathe Uwilingiyimana (the first female prime minister, who was assassinated at the onset of the Genocide) among others. These were all leaders and military men who fought and died for their country. However, the students in Nyange Secondary School were nothing like them. They were simply teenagers who dreamt of the things that teenagers dream about. But when they were put to the test they choose unity over division and sacrifice over selfishness. And if these teenagers could do it, I don’t see why the rest of us can’t.

Rwanda’s recent spate of teenage pregnancies is our fault

On Monday The New Times newspaper reported that a ‘pregnancy scandal’ had engulfed Groupe Scolaire Nsinda, a rural Rwamagana school,

GS Nsinda school is in the spotlight over teenage pregnancies, some linked to teachers. The New Times: Stephen Rwembeho

GS Nsinda school is in the spotlight over teenage pregnancies, some linked to teachers. The New Times: Stephen Rwembeho

leaving the school without a headmaster and in uproar. Twenty-six girls were found pregnant. Twenty-six! Back when I was in high school, the entire student community would become ‘excited’ about a single pregnancy rumor, so I can’t even begin to understand what is going through the minds of the rest of the students.

Heads have rolled and the blame game has started.

“I discovered high level negligence by the head teacher. His suspension was long overdue,” Francois Ndayambaje, the chairperson of the parents committee said. The Chairperson then went on to blame the teenagers parents, saying that they weren’t “strict enough”.

One teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the teenage pregnancy issue began in 2011. “No one cared and yet this school is just a stones throw away from the District Education Offices,” the teacher said.

The State Minister in-charge of Primary and Secondary Education, Dr Mathias Harebamungu, admitted that although he had received reports about the incidents, he blamed district leaders for not acting fast to address the issue. “It is unfortunate that local leaders took all this long to take action,” the Minister said.

“It is disgusting to hear what happened to the girls. I want to see to it that culprits are brought to book,” the Governor of the Eastern Province, Odette Uwamariya, said.

I can understand why parents, teachers, ministers and governors are up in arms. It’s shocking that students, ranging from 14-17 years of age, have been discovered in the ‘family way’. There are hard questions that the suspended headmaster (along with his entire staff) must answer. However, we mustn’t get caught up in this; we must also have a debate on our children’s sexual education. Or lack thereof.

Save the Children found that, annually, 13 million children are born to women under age 20 worldwide, more than 90% in developing countries. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of mortality among women between the ages of 15 and 19 in such areas

Save the Children found that, annually, 13 million children are born to women under age 20 worldwide, more than 90% in developing countries. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of mortality among women between the ages of 15 and 19 in such areas

One or two incidents of pregnancy at school, while tragic, aren’t cause for widespread consternation. However, when we are talking about double-digit figures, I am forced question the kind of education these children are getting. And when I talk about ‘education’, I’m not only talking about history, English and math. I’m talking about the ‘facts of life’. Who is teaching them “how to say no”? Who is explaining to them how, and let me whisper it, to have safe sex?

We can keep our heads in the sand like ostriches but the fact of the matter is, a sexual revolution of sorts is upon us. Whereas only a generation ago, sex was a huge deal for teenagers’ things have changed. The advent of mobile phones connected to the Internet, social media and globalization (or western value systems; whatever you wish to call it) has totally changed the game. Our children are exploring their sexuality a lot more than we ever did.

According to a 2001 UNICEF survey, in 10 out of 12 developed nations, more than two-thirds of teenagers have had sex. In some nations such as the US, the UK, Germany, Norway and Finland, the number is over eighty percent.  However, despite the fact that these teenagers are engaging in intercourse, teenage birthrates have been steadily falling. Why? Because, as the Guttmacher Institute, a NGO working to advance reproductive health found out, teens are either choosing to remain abstinent or effectively using contraception.

What all these countries, which have such rampant teenage sex but declining pregnancies share is an effective sex education curriculum at school AND at home.

I’m pretty sure that some of these pregnancies could have been avoided by simple advice from a parent like, “don’t have sex until YOU feel ready or

Early motherhood can affect the psychosocial development of the infant.The children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurity and low birth weight predisposing them to many other lifelong conditions

Early motherhood can affect the psychosocial development of the infant.The children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurity and low birth weight predisposing them to many other lifelong conditions

“just because you feel like you love him (or her) doesn’t mean that you HAVE to have sex to prove it”. And the rest would have been avoided by condom use and other methods of birth control.

I’m pretty sure that most of the ‘baby-daddies’ are the girls’ classmates. No one is going to imprison them; they aren’t “culprits”, as the Governor called them. They are just poorly informed young people. We have the responsibility to give our teenagers as much information as possible in order to keep them safe. Anything less is a dereliction of duty on our part.