Africa has to choose: Either leave the ICC or die by its sword

The proponents of international justice are up in arms over the AU’s (African Union) Sunday decision to support a resolution tabled by Uganda to drop the ICC (International Criminal Court) crimes against

Uhuru Kenyatta: Too big for the ICC to swallow?

Uhuru Kenyatta: Too big for the ICC to swallow?

humanity charges against Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. Other than Botswanan opposition, the 53 African heads of state present in Addis Ababa unanimously supported the petition. They urged the ICC to let the local courts deal with the issues emanating from the bouts of post-election violence in Kenya that killed over 1000 people in 2007-2008.

As AU Chairman and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters at the closing of the two-day summit, “African leaders have come to a consensus that the process that has been conducted in Africa has a flaw…The intention was to avoid any kind of impunity… but now the process has degenerated to some kind of race hunting”.

The ICC’s Field Outreach Coordinator, Maria Kamara, while on a Kenyan radio show described theicc-600x400 resolution as “political”.   “The AU resolution is a political resolution and the ICC is purely a judicial decision that is governed by the Rome Statute. So the two institutions are completely different. Political decisions will not influence the ICC judicial processes. The trials will proceed as the judges have already indicated. They have not decided otherwise. The judges are the only authority that will determine whether the case will proceed or not”.

As expected human rights groups threw their two cents in.  In a press release Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director Netsanet Belay called on the AU to reject the resolution saying that Kenya’s leadership was attempting to “shield its leaders from being held to account for the human rights violations that took place in Kenya in 2007-2008”.

I am not going to argue either for or against the ICC as an instrument of international justice. What we need to examine is the manner in which African leadership surrendered their nation’s sovereignty to sign the Rome Statutes that established the ICC in the first place. The argument that the ICC is launching a racist campaign against Africans makes for great headlines; however it should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Sure Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Gaddafi, Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, Abdullah Al-Senussi, William Samoei Ruto, Joshua Arap Sang, Francis Kirimi Muthaura, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta,Laurent Gbagbo,Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo,Ahmad Muhammad Harun, Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman Omar Hassan 05-12-2011-ICC-GbagboAhmad Al Bashir, Bahar Idriss Abu Garda, Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain, Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus, Abdel Raheem Muhammad Hussein, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo,Bosco Ntaganda, Germain Katanga,Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, Callixte Mbarushimana, Sylvestre Mudacumura, Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Germain Katanga, Bosco Ntaganda, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen are all Africans. But no one forced these African nations to sign the very legal document that they are now crying foul about. What did they think would happen?

The ICC can only investigate and prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression in situations where states are “unable” or “unwilling” to do so themselves. So, I must ask, why weren’t these member states refuse to try the various cases? Africa doesn’t have a monopoly of horrific acts. Not by a long shot. The US treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and the drone attacks killing civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan are some crimes that could potentially fall within the ICC’s mandate but they wont. First of all because the United States refused to become a signatory of the Rome Statute (as did Rwanda). And secondly because, even if it was, it would have gone through the motions of a trial of some sorts.

icc sovereigntyRemember the outrage caused by the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib? Well, only two lowly soldiers were eventually imprisoned for three and ten years respectively. The rest were either demoted or discharged from the army. Was that truly justice? I doubt that the Iraqi men who were electrocuted, beaten and treated like dogs would think so. But there were ‘trials’ so ‘justice was served’.

African nations weren’t forced to sign the Rome Statute. Instead of signing it willy-nilly they should have foreseen the potential damage that the ICC would unleash. That would have nipped the ICC-issue in the bud. Secondly, why did African leaders allow their domestic cases to go to The Hague? Even today I’m still flummoxed Kenya’s relinquishment of the post-election violence investigation and prosecution.

Honestly, there is no two ways about it. The only reason that the ICC is still a player in African affairs is because we let it. We are the ones who signed in and ratified it. Now is the time we sign out. We cannot have our cake and eat it. We need to get out now. If we don’t we cant complain about the manner it operates.

The Oxford protestors made me ashamed of being African

President Kagame (at front right) holds the ‘Distinction of Honor for African Growth Award’ at the audience rose in a standing ovation (Photo by Albert Rudatsimburwa via Twitter)

President Kagame (at front right) holds the ‘Distinction of Honor for African Growth Award’ at the audience rose in a standing ovation (Photo by Albert Rudatsimburwa via Twitter)

I love living and working in the warm Rwandan sun. And honestly, I don’t see anywhere in the world I would rather be than here at home. But every year, I suffer huge pangs of jealousy whenever there is a Rwanda Day celebration, either in the US or Europe. It seems so fun and so informative.  As I watch the celebratory scenes on YouTube and Rwanda Television on Sunday, I was reminded of the October 1st festivals I used to attend with my parents as a child. When I saw the dancing and singing at the Rwanda Day celebrations, I remember the same in Toronto back in the early nineties. I remember those celebrations as some of the most glorious times during our exile because those were the times the entire Rwandan community came together to celebrate our culture, our tradition and our common patrimony. That was when we proclaimed to the world that we were ‘Rwandan and proud’.

london-protest3-300x200Prior to Rwanda Day, I watched with interest as a bunch of misguided busybodies worked themselves into a tizzy, railing against the Rwandan leadership, and sometimes against Rwandans themselves. Using the might of social media, they tried to throw a spanner in the works of the Oxford University business school event celebrating President Kagame’s achievements in pulling Rwandans out of poverty. When the online campaign failed, instead of admitting defeat gracefully and moving on with their lives, they decided to go native.

On Twitter I saw a bunch of haters go on and on about their triumphant ‘protest’. It was only after I came across a YouTube video by ‘The Voice of Congo’ that I saw what their protest was really like. I had assumed that the protestors would stand on the side of the road, spew their nonsense and lift a few placards. I assumed wrong. Wild looking men and women wearing military fatigues calling themselves ‘freedom fighters’ (with names like James Bond Never Die) ran around, throwing themselves in front of the President’s car and pelting his motorcade with eggs. All the while screaming obscenities in Lingala, hoisting posters of Etienne Tshisekedi (the self-styled ‘People’s President’) and acting like buffoons.

While I was merely disgusted by the antics with the President’s motorcade, I felt the blood drain from my face when I saw the animals (I am loath to call them protestors. Martin Luther King Jr was a protestor, these people where animals) surround the business school, and threaten the students with death and sexual assault if they dared walk out of the building.

Watching the scenes, I was shocked by the vitriol. Not from the tiny group of Rwandan protestors mind you (they stood on the sidewalk and acted civilized. Misguided in my opinion but civilized nevertheless) but from the numerous Congolese. The video left wondering why in the world these people had so much hatred for a president of another country that they would risk being trampled on by police horses?

I came to the conclusion that they had been so confused and lied to, that they actually believed that their country’s political, economic and social problems was Rwanda’s fault.

Watching them call our president a “killer”, I wished I could ask them about Kofi Annan’s london-protest1recent report which details the manner in which international mineral companies and members of the state apparatus are conniving to strip Congo’s mineral wealth. I would ask about the Minova rapes, in which Congolese troops are accused of sexually assaulting scores of women. I would ask them about the legacy of Mobutu Sese Seko. I would challenge them about the fact that they were hiding in European capitals, living on welfare and menial employment, instead of going back to their country and actually doing their part to develop it.

I’ve noticed a tendency among some of us to blame outsiders for our woes. This must end if we are to actually move forward. Refusing to acknowledge the systemic issues that we have will only keep us in the dark longer than needs be. I am proud to live in a nation that is tackling its issues head on. Now if only the citizens of our dear neighbor could do the same…

Success and succession: What lessons can we take from Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign and retirement?

Sir Alex Ferguson's reign at Manchester United has been extremely sucessful

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign at Manchester United has been extremely sucessful

As a lifelong Manchester United fan I was left in a state of befuddlement when I learnt that Sir Alex Ferguson was retiring at the end of this week as manager of the English football champions. But as I recovered from the news, I realized that the great manager had left at the right time and in the right way.

When Ferguson became manager in 1986, he found a team that was living on past glory (and the odd Cup triumph) and a squad that was full of drunkards. In fact, the captain and talisman of the team, Bryan Robson (aka Captain Marvel) was the worst offender. Instead of trying to buy his way out of trouble like some modern managers, he slowly but surely changed the club from within by revitalizing the scouting system and encouraging youth. Of course this ‘slow but sure’ approach took a lot of time (he did not win his first major trophy until 1990) but the board stayed the course and kept faith with him.

The team that finally won the Premiership for him included United legends like Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Andrei Kanchelskis. This team then won him a few more. But instead of sitting on the team’s laurels he dismantled it, replacing it with a team of youngsters like Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt. Journalists thought that Ferguson had lost the plot, but history proves that he made the right call replacing the veterans.

So, after thirteen Premiership trophies, two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups, ten Charity Shields, one UEFA Cup Winners Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and a FIFA Club World Cup, he decided to call it a day. And not did he only call it quits, he also ensured that the next manager would be someone he recommended.

Supporting the wrong team? President Kagame is a huge Arsenal FC fan. But his management style is more Fergie than Wenger

Supporting the wrong team? President Kagame is a huge Arsenal FC fan. But his management style is more Fergie than Wenger

Why am I writing all this (other than to rub rival fans noses in it) is because I see certain likeness between the boss of United and the CEO of Rwanda Inc, President Kagame. Both entered their respective arena with huge challenges (although I would have to say that the Kagame had far greater issues dealing with the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi than Sir Alex ever had), both systematically weeded out the subversive elements in the ‘dressing room’ (Kayumba et al), both believed and invested in youth (Just visit any government department. The number of Under-30’s will astound you), both have led their respective ‘sides’ to unremitting triumph despite whatever obstacles they met (whereas Ferguson dealt with the challenges of the Mourinho’s, Mancini’s and Benitez’s, Kagame has dealt with the Kabila’s, Roth’s and ICC’s of this world) and both men’s management style has been studied by Harvard Business School students.

Because of their exemplary leadership and accomplishments, the idea of succession has given both men’s ‘fans’ heart palpitations. In fact one of my fellow columnists, Prof Manasseh Nshuti, has written twelve installments of his popular ‘Change with stability and continuity: A political homework’, a series that tackles the issue of what Rwandans should do post-2017 when President Kagame’s constitutional mandate comes to a close.  However, as Manchester United fans found out, one man couldn’t stay at the top indefinitely, no matter their wishes. But what made the bitter pill more palatable was the fact that, first of all, he’d left at the very top. Secondly, he’d left a structure that would ensure competitiveness for years to come. And thirdly, he’d handpicked a worthy successor in his opinion to ensure that the Manchester United brand of football would continue to live on.

Right now, talk of Kagame’s retirement is a bit premature. However, this doesn’t mean that anything should be taken for granted. A future post- Kagame must be faced head on (no matter when that is). Youth-based development should be continuously natured and our brand of political and economical ‘football’ must become second nature.  Change with stability and continuity is Sir Alex’s parting gift to Manchester United. How we ensure that is not just our leadership’s homework, but ours as well.

Journalism in Rwanda remains a balancing act

news_060709_salus_2The imprisonment of editor Agnes Uwimana and reporter Saidat Mukakibibi leaves me in an uncomfortable position.

The Kigali High Court found Uwimana guilty of threatening state security by publishing material aimed at inciting public disorder and creating ethnic divisions – for that she was given a 17-year jail term. Mukakibibi, like Uwimana, was an employee of the Kinyarwanda-language newspaper Umurabyo (‘Lightening’). She was similarly charged but got seven years behind bars. Thankfully, the Supreme Court reduced their sentences to four and three years, respectively, on appeal.

As a practising journalist, I found the amount of jail time disproportionate to their actual ‘crimes’. As I wrote last year in reaction to the High Court’s verdict and sentence, men and women found guilty of participating in the 1994 genocide have been jailed for less time. So have armed robbers, hoodlums, rapists and corrupt officials who have stolen millions of francs from the national treasury.

I believed that such sentences could only be justified if, through their writing, the women (one of whom suffers from HIV) threatened the security of the entire Rwandan community. Obviously, they didn’t.

But it isn’t black and white. As a journalist, I was outraged that my colleagues in the field could be imprisoned. However, as a law-abiding citizen, I am uncomfortable with the notion of anyone being above the law – no matter who they were or what they did.

To understand the harshness of the laws – especially those pertaining to sectarianism and ethnic politics – one must look back two decades ago.

In the run-up to the genocide, in which more than a million people lost their lives, the media ratcheted up tensions. In 1990, Kangura (‘Wake up’), a particularly notorious paper, published the Hutu Ten Commandments. Among other things, they called Hutu men who marry Tutsi women “traitors”. Most chillingly, commandment eight called on the Hutu “to stop having mercy on the Tutsi”.

Then, in 1993, Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was established. The radio station quickly became popular with young people for its music. Yet those pop songs were aired in between diatribes against the peace talks that were taking place between the government and the Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels, who form the spine of the Rwandan government today. Referring to Tutsis as “cockroaches” and “tall trees that needed to be cut down”, RTLM journalists called for a “final war to exterminate the Tutsi”.

And this terrible history is the foundation for the media laws put in place after 1994. These laws were enacted by men and women who had stared into1362774023A-female the abyss. And they didn’t like what they had seen.

Today, we, the Rwandan media, are at a crossroads. The government for the first time has enacted laws that guarantee freedom of information and self-regulation on the media’s part. Now it is time to figure out just how much leeway we have – especially when discussing issues that bring up the ghosts of 1994. We have to figure out a balance between our freedoms as journalists and our responsibility to our audience, one that is still extremely jittery and sensitive.

Divorce clause: The law cannot fix what is irreconcilably broken

Man-woman-child-paper-torn-apartBack when I was still a law school student I thought it hilariously unfortunate that an unhappy couple had to stay married for five years before they could get divorced. Why did I think it was hilarious? Because it boggled my mind that lawmakers could even attempt to get intervene in a failed marriage. In my estimation it was a recipe for disaster.

Imagine this scenario; a couple marries too young and then grows apart. Or they get married because the girl is pregnant, an event colloquially known as the ‘Kigali Proposal’.  Later on, they find that raising a child together isn’t a good enough reason to stay in a marriage that isn’t working. So, instead of wasting any more time they want to amicably go their separate ways. But they find that they have to stay ‘married’ for another five years.

Unfortunately, our laws intervene in even such mutual, and private, matters. I believe that this refusal to let a marriage ‘die gracefully’ is borne out of two things; our culture as Rwandans and the advent of Christianity (more especially Catholicism).  Culturally and religiously speaking, the very idea of divorce was abhorrent to Rwandans.

Historically, a man who sent his wife back to her parents (known as ‘Gusenda’ in Kinyarwanda) because he was unable to ‘Kwihangana’ (to persevere) lost face. He was seen as a failure. So, in a society where losing face was sometimes worse than death, divorce was not a step taken lightly.

When Rwanda become colonised and evangelised, divorce became even more taboo. In Matthew Chapter 19 Verse 9, Jesus says, and I quote, I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” So, when married couples vowed to stay married “til death do us part” the entire community fully expected them to fulfill those vows come hell or high water.

I sincerely understand the points of view of those who support the idea of a waiting period. I can’t think of any married couples that enter into the divorcemarriage contract thinking theirs is the marriage that wont stand the test of time. However, the fact is, some simply don’t.  And while I can understand the larger family getting involved and attempting to repair the relationship, why in the world is the State getting involved? Is it not simply overreaching and putting its nose in matters that don’t affect it?

Yes it regulates the marriage age. Yes it regulates the marriage process (the wedding banns and what not). But that doesn’t mean that it has the right to refuse divorce, especially when it is by mutual consent. To continue doing so is an imposition on personal freedoms.

Parliamentarians are butting their noses into business that doesnt concern them

Parliamentarians are butting their noses into business that doesnt concern them

The State should not have the right to tell me when I can or cannot divorce. It’s simply preposterous. I am honestly shocked that our Members of Parliament are simply thinking about reducing the ‘waiting period’ from five to two. I urge them to stop living in a fantasy world where if they don’t allow a couple to divorce, they will magically fall in love again and live happily ever after. That way of thinking should be left to Hollywood romantic-comedy scriptwriters than hardnosed legislators.

I know that the ‘marriage-at-all cost brigade’ will bash me for my views. But I stand by them. I believe that we need laws that protect personal freedoms and treat us like adults. Currently, our legislators are not giving us the respect that we deserve. We are being infantilised by a State that is guilty is over-reaching.  I urge our MPs to take us forward. Help create a nation that is more liberal, not less.


Cut our young leaders some slack people, don’t expect miracles

Arthur, Former Chairman of Media High Council and new Orinfor head, with Minister of State in charge of Cabinet Affairs Protais Musoni (Photo: Timothy Kisambira)

Arthur, Former Chairman of Media High Council and new Orinfor head, with Minister of State in charge of Cabinet Affairs Protais Musoni (Photo: Timothy Kisambira)

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Arthur Asiimwe, fellow columnist, former colleague, close personal friend (and in-law to boot) was given the task to reinvigorate Orinfor, the national broadcast service, as its new managing director.  I wish him the very best of luck because he will need it. Cleaning up the mess in Orinfor will be more difficult than cleaning the mythical Augean Stables.

His task isn’t only removing all the deadwood in Radio Rwanda, Rwanda Television and the Printer, he must also improve programming. All this without being able to carry out a cull in the institution simply because firing staff is notoriously difficult. He will need the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Haile Gebrasalassie, the patience of a saint and the Wisdom of Solomon. All this at the tender age of 32.

Rwanda is a really interesting nation. I’ve lived in a few countries in the world, but I cannot think of one that has so many young people holding the levers of power. It doesn’t matter the institution, you will find 20 and 30-somethings running things. We have Advisors to Ministers who are just 28. Imagine, 28 years of age. That’s incredible.


A case of too much too soon? President Kagame attended the Agaciro Fund event organised by Umurinzi Young Professionals- Kigali, 5 October 2012

A case of too much too soon? President Kagame attended the Agaciro Fund event organised by Umurinzi Young Professionals- Kigali, 5 October 2012

And while these youngsters have Ivy League educations, they usually have less than five years working experience in any position. As anyone will tell you, there is a huge disparity between the actual workplace and the university classroom.

I’ve worked in the media industry for the last decade on and off. What I’ve noticed is that, because of the low skills base, people who should be cub reporters (or mere staff writers and journalists) are put in positions of authority in the newsrooms merely because they are proficient in either French or English and have more than rudimentary skills in communication. So, instead of learning the tools of the trade they become leaders. The situation is like the idiom, ‘in the land of the blind the one-eyed person is king’. Lets not forget however, that despite their ‘royalty’, they are still one-eyed.

One of the biggest problems that I’ve had in the career I’ve chosen is the lack of ‘Inararibonye’ (mentors); men and women who I want to emulate and can learn a lot from. Not just about work but about life as well.  All this makes me wonder, where are these experienced hands? Where are the professionals who have worked in institutions for decades, garnering years of institutional knowledge, willing to pass on all their knowledge? I don’t know. Perhaps they have all retired.


An artistic impression of the proposed Orinfor HQ's.

An artistic impression of the proposed Orinfor HQ’s.

While I don’t want to live in a country where the vast majority of the leadership is almost senile, it is my belief that many prospective ‘Young Turks’ end up not living up to expectation simply because they end up biting off more than they can chew. Not because they were unqualified or unintelligent but because they weren’t ready. Instead of making them head honchos, perhaps it would’ve been wiser to groom them slowly and let them grow into their positions. Trust me, it sometimes gets overwhelming for us young folk.

I have a theory that perhaps explains all this. The Liberation War was fought and won by men and women in their 30’s.  So the logic is, if these ‘youngsters’ could do it, why can’t the next generation? Those who subscribe to this theory must understand that, first of all, these young people were actually battle-hardened and therefore, experienced. Secondly, they had many mentors who shared with them their life lessons. The lessons that they learnt from Inararibonye are still being applied today as they govern the country.

I’m not saying that we cannot do the job. I’m not saying that we are frightened of carrying the mantle. All I’m saying is that you cannot expect miracles from us. Understand that we shall make mistakes; not because we are incompetent but simply because we are learning on the job.