Want to realize Vision 2020? Then start eating at your desk!

Kigali City as envisaged in the Vision 2020 development plan

Kigali City as envisaged in the Vision 2020 development plan

About a month ago, I found myself in a conference room at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning building listening to a presentation on the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2).  I discovered that Rwanda’s leadership refused to rest on its laurels. I learnt that despite the fact that one million Rwandans had said “urabeho” to poverty, enjoying growth rates of above 8%, there was even more goals needed to accomplish.

According to Mr. Godfrey Kabera, the Ministry’s Director of Policy Evaluation and Research, key targets of the EDPRS 2 is an average growth rate of 11.5% per year, poverty reduction to below 30% and the creation of 200,00 new jobs a year among others. All this in between 2013- 2018. While a growth rate of 11.5% per year is extremely high, it isn’t impossible. Just think about it, how hard was it get to 8% growth a year? Now, we need to ask ourselves, how can we squeeze an extra four percent?

The only way that this will become possible is if we individualize our country’s development goals. We need to make them our own. And, if we are honest with ourselves, we know where we can improve our individual output. For example, if you enter the vast majority of public and private institutions at around two in the afternoon, you will be met with closed doors and empty offices. Why? Because the staff members have disappeared to enjoy a two-hour lunch break.

I had an interesting conversation with a senior manager in a government department. I asked him what he thought about the average workers

The famous Afrika Bite lunch buffet

The famous Afrika Bite lunch buffet

lunchtime routine of either driving home or walking to a nearby restaurant to enjoy a leisurely meal. “How much output was his institution losing, I asked. “Probably millions”, he answered. We then discussed whether it would be possible to change the lunch culture to make it normal for workers to either eat a packed lunch at their desks or in the communal cafeteria.  We agreed that it would need a sea change in the way we tackled work. Leisurely three-course lunches with a siesta thrown in would have to be replaced with sandwiches at the workstation. Other workers around the world do it, why can’t we?  You can say that it would increase output by minuscule proportions, but every little thing counts. Remember, we are talking about a ‘mere’ addition 4%.

They say that ‘time is money’. Well, if this is so, we are losing billions because of people’s tardiness.  About two months ago, I needed to get

Eat at work people!

Eat at work people!

something notarized and so I travelled to the notary offices at The High Court premises. First of all, I was shocked to learn that the notary only worked after two in the afternoon. It was plastered proudly on her door (perhaps that is policy). However, what really got my goat was the fact that when her office hours begun, she was nowhere to be found. This, despite the fact that there were about fifty people patiently waiting for her.

Sure you can say that she finally appeared and did her job but I wonder, how many man hours did she make those 50-plus people waste? One, three, four? If each person lost about five hundred francs sitting there doing nothing productive then collectively they, and the country, lost 25,000 worth of output (which I believe is a very low estimation). And that is in a single office.

I’m not so arrogant that I think that better time management will take us to the Promised Land, but unless we radically improve it, we will struggle a lot more than we really need to.


The Boston bombings are revealing a lot of hypocrisy

Boston Marathon Bombing

Boston Marathon Bombing. Less than 5 dead

I was watching the news on Monday night when a breathless journalist, telling us that there were two explosions close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon, interrupted regular programming. At the time of writing this, I heard that there were three innocents dead and more than 150 injured.

It’s a tragic event for sure.  But I noted two things that I felt I should talk about.

First of all, I noted just how sober minded the journalists, who reported the event, were. Before it was confirmed, none of them, no matter their media affiliation, termed the explosions a ‘bombing’. They avoided the word ‘terrorism’ and they were very mindful of the tone of their language. They refused to speculate on the causes of the two blasts until they got official confirmation. Only after Vice President Biden released a statement saying the blasts were caused by bombs, did CNN call it a ‘bombing’.

The media understood that pronouncements could either exacerbate the situation, sowing hysteria, or lessen the tension in Boston and the rest of the country. They choose the former and good for them. Now only if these very same western journalists had been so ethical in, for instance, Kenya during the run up to the presidential election, I wouldn’t have an issue. But they weren’t. Instead of sober analysis and responsible reporting, they made an already jittery populace even more nervous. It got so bad that Kenyans took to Twitter to denounce CNN’s reporting.  In fact, it was left to Kenyan journalists to remain professional. Funny enough, these responsible journalists were judged by their western peers for being politically influenced.

It would seem that there are different rules being applied here. But I’m not surprised and neither should anyone else; after all, don’t we all know that ‘west is Best…and to hell with all the rest?

The second thing I noticed was just how vocal local social media enthusiasts were following the bombings. It seemed as if every Rwandan on social media sent ‘prayers’ to the victims. And why not? We are a global community and what happens to Bostonians affects us all. However, I must ask this question. When a grenade attack occurred near Kimironko market on March 26, killing one person and injured about eight, I did not get the same sense of global community. Honestly, forget ‘global’, there was barely a peep from Kigalians.

A woman near the site of the car bomb, in Mogadishu.

A woman near the site of the car bomb, in Mogadishu. More than 50 dead

This made me wonder. Have we been so brainwashed and blasé that we only react when the tragedy occurs in certain places? Places that don’t ‘deserve’ tragedy? Just this weekend 50 civilians were killed in an attack on a courthouse in Mogadishu by Al-Shabaab. Lets be honest here, how many of you posted links on their Facebook and Twitter denouncing the attack and standing with the people of Somalia?

This situation reminds me of George Orwell’s classic, Animal Farm. In a famous passage of the book, Napoleon  the head honcho, writes on the barnyard door, ‘all animals (read humans) are created equal but some animals are more equal than others’.

In other news, Rwanda refused to allow the UN Security Council to insert language in a statement praising the International Criminal Court (ICC). That shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone considering the fact that it refused to sign the Rome Statue establishing it. However, the Associated Press’s James Spielmann writes that: ‘Rwanda is angry that the ICC has indicted Bosco Ntaganda and Laurent Nkunda, M23 rebels in eastern Congo, who are reported to be backed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

He then continues, ‘ Analysts have speculated that Kagame may not want to see Ntaganda testify at The Hague court because of his knowledge of military deals and illicit mineral extractions between Congo and Rwanda’.

Forget that Nkunda isn’t even indicted by the ICC. Did the reporter do even a bit of research? If he had he would’ve known that Rwanda cooperated with the US and the ICC to fly Ntaganda to The Hague. Secondly, Ntaganda was indicted for what he allegedly did in Ituri under the command of Thomas Lubanga. The same Lubanga who was found guilty by the ICC. Was Rwanda even mentioned in the first trial? No. What makes anyone think that it will be involved in this second trial? This is just lazy journalism.

Post- Ntaganda, DRC is still in the same old mess as before

Last week, The Guardian’s correspondent Pete Jones, interviewed a Congolese soldier who recounted the hell that he and his colleagues unleashed onto the womenfolk of Minova, a small centre 30 miles north of scenic Goma, the biggest city in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

Congolese troops are guilty of hideous war crimes.

“Twenty-five of us gathered together and said we should rape 10 women each, and we did it,” he said. “I’ve raped 53 women. And children of five or six years old.

“I didn’t rape because I am angry, but because it gave us a lot of pleasure,” the 22-year-old told the British journalist. “When we arrived here we met a lot of women. We could do whatever we wanted.”

According to UN figures, 126 women were raped during the Congolese army’s retreat from Goma after being crushed by an M23 offensive.

The simplistic narrative that one hears from the Congo is that the bad guys are the rebel and the good guys the government troops. However, the truth is that both sides are the bad guys. The angels are few and far between.

Only after pressure from MONUSCO, the UN mission in Congo, did the government deem it fit to attempt to prosecute the errant soldiers and their commanders. UN special envoy to Congo, Roger Meece, warned the Congolese authorities in a March 25 letter they had seven days to take action on the rapes or MOSUSCO would suspend support.

Mind you, not one solider has actually been prosecuted despite the fact that the crime took place in broad daylight and the suspects easily identified. Mind you, there is some progress. 12 officers have been suspended while a probe begins. But to be truthful I doubt that the women will get any justice. Only time will tell.

Why am I mentioning this? Because I feel that many people think that with the arrest of the ‘Terminator’, General Bosco Ntaganda, peace will

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda (R) looks on beside a security guard during his first appearance before judges at the International Criminal Court in the Hague March 26, 2013.

descend on the lush rolling hills of North Kivu Province and people will hand hands singing ‘Kumbaya’. Sure, taking him out of the equation is certainly a positive move, but the Congo is still not a place for the faint hearted. Days after his March 18 surrender to the US embassy in Kigali, the Mai-Mai, a rag tag militia, had the temerity to attack a UN compound in Lumumbashi, the capital of mineral-rich Katanga Province in Southern Congo. Actually, the attack, in which 35 people died, occurred a day after ICC authorities took Ntaganda into custody and flew him out of Kigali International Airport.

So, how are things in Goma and its environs? Well, peace talks are still taking place in Kampala between the Joseph Kabila’s government and the M23. But as usual, foreign meddling will most likely cause the renewal of the armed conflict. Ever since the UN Security Council authorized a new ‘Intervention Brigade’ with the unprecedented mandate to take offensive action against rebel groups in the East, the Congolese delegation has turned quite belligerent.

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

126 women were raped by the very troops who were supposed to protect them

In a March 1 press conference, Congolese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Raymond Tshibanda, called on the M23 to disband.  “The M23 may become agitated as they want. We were willing to reach a political agreement with them… The only future for the M23 is to cease to exist as a politico-military movement. If this is not the case, the brigade will look to end their life”, he said.

Of course the M23 isn’t taking those threats lightly.  It recently wrote an open letter to the South African parliament asking it to reconsider its deployment of 1,000 troops under the auspices of the Intervention Brigade. The M23 political leader Bertrand Bisimwa tweeted “if SA Special Forces attack us it will catastrophic and apocalyptic”.

So, as Ntaganda faces the ICC judges for the next few years, the people of Eastern Congo will probably face more hardship, not less.


Is the African Renaissance catching a second wind?

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

A portrait of Kenya’s new president, Uhuru Kenyatta, right, next to one of the previous president, Mwai Kibaki.

For hours yesterday, I joined thousands of East Africans (and the millions of Kenyans) to watch the Uhuru Kenyatta presidential inauguration. While I didn’t turn off the television feeling like I was floating on air (case in point; after Mr. Obama’s 2008 victory speech) I felt a certain amount of optimism pierce my cynical heart.

When President Kenyatta talked about working remembering that “that no one country or group of countries should have control or monopoly on international institutions or the interpretation of international treaties. While each state has a right to its own view, it must respect the fact that it holds just one view amongst many in the community of nations”, my thoughts went back almost a decade and in his voice I heard the voices of the last generation of African giants. Men like Abdoulaye Wade, Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, our very own Paul Kagame, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the late, great Meles Zenawi. Sadly, their dreams of a ‘new’ Africa has taken a lot longer than they had envisaged in 2001 when they became the godfathers of NEPAD (the New Partnership for Africa’s Development).

During Bill Clinton’s first trip to the continent in 1998, he talked about a “new generation of African leaders” devoted to democratic practices and economic empowerment. Sadly however, quite a few of these leaders ended up resembling the very dinosaurs they replaced. I am talking about Laurent Desire Kabila, Isaias Afwerki and, sadly for me, Yoweri Museveni.

But like the proverbial phoenix that rises from the ashes, I feel that Africa’s time in the sun is upon us. Just look around. Somalia is getting its act together. South Sudan is now a free nation and NOT at war with the North. Even Zimbabwe is finally getting its act together again and there is bread on store shelves again.

I know that there are still many issues that need urgent resolution like Mali, DR Congo and the Central African Republic, but looking at the entire continent through my ‘Rwanda-tinted glasses’, I feel somewhat optimistic. We are witnessing a new confidence emanating from a vibrant, highly educated and driven youth; governments are letting private businesses thrive, stability is no longer an exception but rather a rule and an emerging multi-polar world is giving us all some breathing space. Viva China!

With Kenyans giving the dastardly International Criminal Court a slap in the face (and leaving the busybody Johnnie Carson, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, of the infamous “choices have consequences” remark spluttering in impotent rage) by voting for their candidate of choice and doing it without resorting to machetes, they showed that Africa wasn’t doomed to perpetual doom and gloom. In fact, the increasing intra-African trade, joint peacekeeping and peace enforcement and close diplomatic cooperation is showing that there is a way forward.

I will not pretend that we are out of the woods yet. I’ve see fully-grown men (and a woman or too) get off lavish presidential jets in Washington DC, Paris, London and Beijing, and beg for money to feed their poor and pay the wages of their civil servants (the worst culprits being our French West African brothers). This is not tenable as Rwanda learnt the hard way.

This new wind is not one we can take for granted however. Yes, there is a global increase in demand for our raw materials. Yes, we are currently in the cusp of a demographic ‘sweet spot’. Yes, we have allies that don’t make it their business to butt their noses in our internal affairs. However, this doesn’t mean that we can take our development for granted. Are we seeing the shoots of an African renaissance? Yes. Can they be easily destroyed? Once again, I say yes. It is our responsibility to nature these shoots and let them grow into strong, tall trees.

Let 18 year olds make love as well as war

No matter what you do, or I do, teenagers will be teenagers. They will have sex. Shock! Horror!

No matter what you do, or I do, teenagers will be teenagers. They will have sex. Shock! Horror!

I’m all for civil society engagement and all but I have to admit that I’m taken aback by the way some civil society groups pick and choose their battles. For example, when the Parliament passed the new labour code that, among other things, reduced the paid maternity leave from three months to only six weeks, I didn’t see any women’s group protest and make a ruckus. I didn’t see anyone pen scathing articles and blogs, despite the fact that they could.

There seemed to be a bit of a collective grumble, and then life went on.

Never mind the fact that I don’t know how in the world a new mother will be expected to leave her breastfeeding child at home and go to work; perhaps the house-help will feed the baby? Honestly, there are more questions than answers on this one.

Compare the relative silence that the maternity leave issue received to the abortion debate that occurred last year. Everyone had an opinion. Everyone had a voice. The airwaves were saturated with differing views from the pro-life and pro-choice lobby. In fact, a religious delegation went to meet the President to beseech him to veto the proposed law. I wonder whether any group (male OR female) did likewise when maternity leave was slashed. I doubt it.

Last week, this newspaper reported that the Parliament was deliberating the amendment of the Family Law. What caught the eye was a proposal from the Ministry of Justice to lower the legal marriage age from 21 to 18. Like the abortion question, public interest was piqued.

One individual who was interviewed said, “It is clear that the general view is that 21 years should be maintained considering the standpoint of

Does this woman NOT deserve to get married because she isnt 21 yet? What about her baby?

Does this woman NOT deserve to get married because she isnt 21 yet? What about her baby?

having children continue with higher education so that they can later be able to compete effectively.”

Another said, “This might also lead to more people in that tender age bracket seeking to get married. This has quite a number of adverse effects, especially on the girl child. Our lawmakers should rethink their proposal and instead find ways of providing counseling services to such young people so they can get married at a reasonable age when they are prepared and ready for a lifetime commitment. Plus, this would also thwart family planning efforts as the earlier one gets married, most likely the more children they are bound to have. Especially if they are illiterate”.

I can understand why the two interviewed individuals felt that way. 18 year olds have barely lived. However, that doesn’t stop them from working full-time jobs and providing for their families. It doesn’t stop them from starting businesses and paying taxes. Their ‘young age’ doesn’t stop them from serving their country in the Rwanda Defence Forces and, if worst comes to worst, laying down their lives in battle. They vote for those wishing to hold the highest offices in the land and if they engage in any shenanigans, they suffer the same punishment as any other older person.

So, how can you, on one hand say that they are delicate little creatures, yet on the other hand, send them to kill those who would harm you? The fact is, we cannot keep treating them as children because, as our own law states, they are not. They are adults and they should be treated so. Marriage is a big step, yes. And it should be entered into with caution. However, 21 year-olds are no more deserving of matrimonial bliss than 18 year-olds. In fact, one could argue that even 21 year olds are too young. The majority are still in school, have no jobs, very little life experience and emotional maturity. At least that was what I was like when I was that age.

I have a nagging suspicion that the real issue is sex. We don’t want to think about our little ‘babies’ doing ‘it’. Fact one: they are. Fact two: there is nothing anyone can do about it. Fact three: many of these young people are a lot worldlier than we were when we were in our 20’s. To paraphrase the late John Lennon of The Beatles, let the 18 year olds make love…as well as war. If they so choose.