Icyunamo: Stop fleeing to more ‘warmer climes’. Stay

Like migratory birds, Rwanda receives an influx of tourists during December and January. Many of them here simply because its too cold in their home countries. Temperatures of negative ten degrees Celsius, meter high snow and biting wind are very few people’s idea of a good time.  If you have money you take time off to sunbathe in Africa, the Caribbean, South America or any place south of the Equator. And why not? Its miserable over there.  And like a flock of geese, these tourists come at around the same time every year and leave at about the same time as well.

On the 7th of April, which is in almost exactly two weeks, Rwanda and Rwandans will begin the annual week of mourning, ‘Icyunamo’, when we remember those that perished during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Instead of readying their hearts and minds to begin standing shoulder to shoulder with the survivors, many people I know are actually planning their annual leaves around that period. As one young lady told me, explaining why she was going to go to Kampala, “this week is boring”. “Not fun”.

To say that I was both angry and disheartened would be an understatement. I felt that the young lady was guilty of not only bad taste, but the lack of basic human emotions of empathy. To me, it seemed that she believed that mourning was for ‘certain’ people. And when I mean certain people, I mean genocide survivors.

Honestly, what bothered me the most was the fact that the lady in question would have been targeted if she were here in 1994.  I am not saying that one section of the Rwandan population is ‘supposed’ to mourn more than the other (after all, it was a NATIONAL tragedy and not merely a sectarian one). What I’m saying is that mourning is a NATIONAL activity; nay, a national DUTY. To leave it to the millions of genocide survivors is tragic.


Don't be a tourist in your own country

Don’t be a tourist in your own country

Rwanda is a country that is extremely ambitious, well run and beautiful beyond words. It is a place of clean neighborhoods, well-paved sidewalks, nine-year basic education and affordable healthcare. There are many positives. However, I cannot forget some of the terrible things that have befallen this country. More than a million people were killed simply because of who they were. How horrible is that? Through no fault of their own, they were hunted down like animals, raped, beaten, bludgeoned and murdered in the most gruesome ways possible. That is our country and that is the legacy that we have to live with. And that is what we’ve done.

Rwandans enacted laws that ban language that could be defined as liable to cause sectarian division; Rwandans have gone down hard on genocide ideology (and to hell with the know-it-all Amnesty Internationals’ of the world), instituted Gacaca courts to try the hundreds of thousands who partook in the mayhem, supported the survivors through FARG and put in place the CNLG (the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide).  And once a year for a mere seven days nightclubs would close, television stations would stop showing soap operas, fun and games would be put aside and we would stand shoulder to shoulder with those mourning while taking the time to reflect on our past and our future.

Sadly, I feel that some of us, especially those who don’t have first-hand experience, have started to look at the mourning period as a ‘waste of time’. Or even ‘boring’. I understand that we must continuously look forward. I understand that in our helter-skelter daily lives, one can forget just how extraordinary this country is. But it IS extraordinary; we cannot change that. Rather, we should embrace who we are and what this country is about. We are not Burundians. We are not Ugandans. We are not British or Americans. Acting like you don’t have a personal stake in the country; as if you are a passerby in a strange land, is foolhardy. Stay and play your part.

Bosco Ntaganda: A monkey off our back

From Goma to The Hague...via US Embassy, Kigali

From Goma to The Hague…via US Embassy, Kigali

Let me be as honest as I can possibly be. Monday’s thunderbolt that the ‘Terminator’ himself, General Bosco Ntaganda, had handed himself over to the Americans means a whole lot of NOTHING. Why do I say this? Simply because taking him out of the DRC morass won’t change an iota, where the systemic failures of the DRC state is concerned. But I am getting ahead of myself.

For too long it seems that every single tragedy occurring in the DRC was Rwanda’s fault. Rapes? Rwanda. Civil war? Rwanda. Bad roads? Rwanda. Mobutu? King Leopold? The rubber trade? Slavery? Mosquitoes? Cholera? All Rwanda’s fault. When some disgruntled Congolese soliders, who were ill treated and unpaid for months decided to take to the Masisi hills and challenge the Joseph Kabila government, Rwanda was the villain. This despite the fact, which was revealed later by Minister James Kabarebe, that Rwanda was playing the role of mediator.

As a result of this move by Congolese citizens (a fact that many, many people who should know better refused to acknowledge), Rwanda was vilified and aid was cut. Despite our protestations, the truth was ignored as an alternative ‘Gospel’ was put forward by ‘experts’.

In this Gospel there were certain ‘concrete’ facts.  First of all, Rwanda was the hidden power behind the M23, the evil puppet masters. Secondly, the M23 was full of rapists, child soldiers and miners (instead of the FDLR).  Thirdly, despite Col. Makenga’s leadership role in the M23, the ‘real’ leader was Bosco Ntaganda. Fourthly, because Bosco Ntaganda fought in the RPA during Rwanda’s Liberation War, he was Rwanda’s lackey (and if one is to believe Max Fisher, a foreign affairs blogger at the Washington Post, a Rwandan citizen). Well, the General’s actions preceding his visit to the US Embassy, Kigali put paid to many of these assumptions.

As the fighting last week has proved, Ntaganda and Makenga are not the best of friends, never mind M23 allies. In fact if Bosco had had his way, he’d have scuppered the Kampala talks and taken his chances in the field of battle against the Congolese army and whatever the international community threw at him. Alas, that would not be the case. Makenga gave him and his faction a hiding, leaving him no option but to flee.

If he was supported by Rwandan troops (as reports continued to insinuate during the battle against Makenga) would he have been defeated so

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

He doesnt joke. Colonel Makenga, center, commander of the M23 rebel movement, stands on a hill overlooking the border town of Bunagana, Congo, Sunday, July 8, 2012.

thoroughly? The RDF is renown for punching a lot above its weight. In fact, it has gained quite a mystical aura in the minds of those who see the boogeyman in every dark corner. If the RDF is truly as good as they say it is, it goes without saying that Makenga would have been trounced by all the ‘Rwandan’ firepower. But that wasn’t the case. So, either Rwanda, ‘The All-Powerful’, actually didn’t support Ntaganda in the first place hence his defeat…or the RDF isn’t as mystical as some want to believe (and that wouldn’t fit into the popular narrative where instead of mutinous Congolese units beating the DRC troops, it was actually Rwandan troops doing the fighting).

So, after his defeat, does Ntaganda, a Rwandan ‘lackey’, seek safety in the arms of his ‘godfathers’? No. He sneaks into the country. Drives past the Ministry of Defence, the President’s Office and Intelligence Services building and hands himself over to the Americans.

Honestly, the only reason that I care that Ntaganda handed himself in is because it’s left a lot of eggs on peoples face. Those who have made it their career to link everything wrong with the Congo were, for a few moments, left speechless with confusion.  Rwanda’s reputation, which they had dragged through the mud, is being restored. No longer do we have to be lumped along an alleged war criminal. We have our own problems to solve.

But what about the poor Congolese? I cannot see how Ntaganda’s departure will improve their lives.  I hope events prove me wrong. But I doubt it.

Third time lucky? Thoughts on Kagame in post-2017 Rwanda

Kagame's last ride? I certainly hope so

Kagame’s last ride? I certainly hope so

Personally, I feel confident President Kagame will step down in 2017. This, despite his having gone from saying that he would unreservedly move aside, to seemingly leaving himself some wiggle room for a constitutional amendment. In fact, lately he has been trying to diffuse questions about whether he will leave office when the Constitution, as it presently reads, mandates he must.

When pressed about it by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour in January, Kagame said, “Don’t worry about that. We have the Constitution in place. We have always tried to do our best to satisfy the needs of our people and expectations of our people.” When Amanpour asked if that meant that yes, he would step down, he replied, “No. It is a broad answer to say you don’t need to worry about anything.”

During a press conference last month, when asked about 2017, Kagame impatiently answered, “I don’t need a third term. Just look at me, I don’t need it. I don’t do this job I am doing as a job for being paid, or as something that benefits me.”

No big man 
The Rwandan Constitution states the president can only hold a two-term post, with each term lasting seven years. Kagame’s first term begun in 2003. He himself has said very often that failing to find a successor would be an indictment of his own rule.

Furthermore, the Rwandan President has prided himself on how different he is from traditional African big men, whose governance styles resemble French Bourbon monarch Louis XIV: L’état, c’est moi(‘The state, it is I’). Changing the Constitution would group Kagame in with Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko, Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. That’s a fate worse than death, in his estimation.

Then again, those less confident need only look to Rwanda’s neighbour to the north, Uganda. In 2006, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda and political mentor to Kagame, used the National Resistance Movement’s overwhelming party majority in parliament, to remove term limits. This, despite the fact that Museveni had, on countless occasions said that he’d respect term limits. The 69 year old has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Rwanda, post-2017
On 8 February, while chairing a National Executive Committee meeting of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party, Kagame tasked the 2,000 delegates to find a solution that would ensure change, stability and continuity post-2017. Some delegates, however, refused to countenance political change. As English paper The New Times reported, the delegates argued, “Why change a winning team? It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda’s needs at the time, they can vote to lift them.”

So, on one side is a largely rural citizenry who cannot fathom a future without Kagame. On the other, a certain unease emanates from the urban elite who wonder whether Rwanda’s political progress will stagnate if and when the Constitution is amended.

With but a few hiccups here and there, Kagame’s presidency has so far been wildly successful. This success would most probably continue if he ruled beyond 2017. The worry, though, is that Rwandans might lose an opportunity to witness the first smooth transition of power in its 51-year post-colonial history.

The issue right now concerns a future where the whims of the mob could supersede the powers of the Constitution. And one man has the power to steer Rwanda towards a future where constitutionalism – not one individual – is king. Mr. President, over to you.

Don’t sacrifice our heritage on the altar of modernity

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique and a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell, 1970

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio is gone forever.

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio is gone forever.

On Monday I travelled to Huye town (I still find it strange to call it that, instead of Butare) to visit my old alma mater and finally collect the degree that I’d slaved for almost half a decade. As the bus approached the town I felt quite giddy with anticipation. Mind you, I hadn’t been there for almost three years. Alighting off the bus, I headed straight to the oldest hotel in Rwanda, Hotel Faucon to wash my hands, drink some water and take stock. The hotel, which was infamous for being off-limits for black people (other than King Rudahigwa), has always had a certain rustic charm to it and I was extremely happy to recognize some of the staff after all these years.

After the refreshments I started the gentle walk to the NUR campus, walking past probably the finest example of colonial architecture and old world charm in the Southern Province, Hotel Ibis. But wait. Something was very wrong. The entire hotel’s historical front and patio had been razed to the ground and in its stead rose a three-storey building instead. This was scandalous!

The second oldest hotel in the country (it was built in 1942) has had a storied past. It was first used a cinema hall before it was converted into a hotel. In 1949, it housed the cast of the Oscar award winning King’s Solomon’s Mines, a movie that starred Andrew Marton, Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. The movie was shot in vicinity of Nyanza.

Seeing the beautiful historic building being turned into just another storied building hurt me to my core. When I asked what had happened, a Huye-resident told me that he’d heard that the hotel’s owner had been pressured by the city authorities to ‘modernise’ the place. In place of monument will stand a banal piece of architecture that means nothing and stands for nothing.

A few weeks back, I read a story that would have been cause for scandal almost anywhere in the world. On February 22nd, this paper reporte

King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V's residence was sold in an auction

King Kigeli Ndahindurwa V’s residence was sold in an auction

d that Kigali Central Prison would be converted into a heritage hotel. All which is fine and good. However, in the same report, the Culture Minister, Protais Mitali, admitted that house owned by the last King of Rwanda, Kigeli V Ndahindurwa, in Nyanza was sold to an investor to convert to a parking lot. A parking lot!

I can only imagine the furor in the United Kingdom if a castle belonging to Queen Victoria was sold to build a mall. There would be demonstrations on the street.

I am not going to lay all the blame on the Ministry simply because it would be too easy to. One has to wonder, couldn’t the Nyanza authorities figure out that converting a King’s home into a parking lot wasn’t a good idea? And couldn’t the Huye people keep their grubby hands off a cultural site? One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that our cultural and historical heritage isn’t just for us to enjoy. Our children and grandchildren are also owed this.

In our rush for modernity and Vision 2020, we must be careful and ensure that a balance is reached. I suggest that the Ministry of Culture, working in conjunction with all the district authorities in the country, locate and preserve all the cultural and heitage sites in the country. They should become no-go areas for bulldozers. Let us not throw away the baby along with the bathwater. If we do, don’t be shocked if the coming generations put us to task.


Forget the third term brouhaha, we need a vice presidency

It would seem that the average Rwandan wants a Kagame presidency post-2017.

It would seem that the average Rwandan wants a Kagame presidency post-2017.

I’ve tried to avaoid the entire Kagame third-term conversation simply because I felt that it was much ado about nothing. I’ve discovered that that is is easier said than done. For the last couple of weeks I’ve not been able to oepen any of my Google Alerts without seeing a headline like ‘Rwanda’s Kagame brushes off speculation over third term, Kagame and Rwanda’s future, Inside Kagame’s plan to retire and, courtesy of Kenya’s Daily Nation, Kagame’s headache: to bow out or hang on.

While the ‘will he-wont he go’ debate has been bandied about (mainly by foreign media such as CNN) for a year or so, I feel that it really got legs after the February 8 RPF National Executive Committee meeting. As this newspaper reported, ‘ a section of the RPF cadres present at the party meeting requested President Kagame not to leave office. “Why change a winning team?” they argued, referring to the remarkable progress the country has registered under Kagame’s leadership. They added: “It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda’s needs at the time, they can vote to lift them.”

President Kagame, as RPF chairman, gave them ‘homework’. He tasked RPF members to think about how to maintain stability and the pace of development but also factor in change.  Enter articles such Professor Mannaseh Nshuti’s serial ‘Change, Stability and Continuity: A Political Homework.

Well, I’ve thought about change, stability and continuity and I am hereby submitting my homework for ‘marking’. The conversation right now is about Kagame staying or going after 2017. Some observers are going so far as to thumb through the Constitution to see how presidential term limits could be lifted. According to the supreme law of the land, lifting them will be tricky. Article 101 states that ‘The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once.  Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms’. I’m not an expert in the English language but the phrase ‘under NO circumstances’ gives very little leeway. I’m not sure whether even a referendum can amend this statute. Forget ‘power to the people’.

An idea being bandied about is the South African model. Here, the political party nominates the its presidential candidate and, if and when the

President Kagame addressing members of the RPF’s National Executive Council.

President Kagame addressing members of the RPF’s National Executive Council.

candidate disappoints the party, the party can remove him. We saw this when Jacob Zuma and his ANC cohorts ousted Thabo Mbeki. Those supporting the idea believe that this kind of political system will allow the party to make sure that the president isn’t going off-message. But I must ask, sure this kind of system can ensure change, but how sure are we that it will ensure stability? Remember that the ANC replaced a giant of Africa and replaced him with a man who, in my humble opinion, isn’t fit to tie Mbeki’s shoelaces.

I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of attempting all sorts of political gymnastics, I suggest that we bring back the Vice Presidency. I mean, it was only thirteen years ago that the President was occupying that very office. It is my opinion that scrapping this position caused this tension. People are wondering who will replace the great man when 2017 comes around and, if we are honest, no one has a clue. That is extremely dangerous.

Americans have a saying that the US vice president is a ‘heartbeat away’ from the presidency. What they mean is that if the president is either killed or incapacitated he (or she) is able to occupy the Oval Office.

Think about this scenario. If the President (God forbid) falls ill and passes away, according to our Constitution, the head of the Senate fills his shoes for a three-month interim period. That’s okay right? No.

First of all, how democratic is it for Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, a man who garnered only 256,488 (or 5.15%) of the popular vote in 2010 presidential election, to seize executive power? Where is the legitimacy? He’s not even a member of the political party that overwhelmingly won the election.

Secondly, the interim president is a ‘lame duck’ in the true meaning of the word. He can’t appoint ministers, call for a referendum or declare war. How is all this ‘stability and continuity’?

If we had a vice president, we couldn’t have to worry about a mysterious person being ‘groomed’. We wouldn’t have fret about an uncertain future if anything happened to the incumbent. And we wouldn’t have a situation where a president’s legitimacy is being question by the people who didn’t vote for them or their party.