Overrated and in a critical state? May Rwanda always remain thus

Just-one-of-Tim-Smiths-photos-of-RwandaYesterday morning, I found my email inbox clogged with stories from FP (Foreign Policy) magazine, detailing how, despite the fact that in President Paul Kagame we had the most effective political leader on the continent, Rwanda was still in a critical state and overrated to boot.

Africa Rising?

First the ‘good’ news. According to more than 60 experts (the vast majority American) that FP talked to for its ‘Africa Rising?’ survey, our president is the “most effective political leader”, ‘beating’ Senegal’s Macky Sall, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Ghana’s John Mahama. I don’t know what criteria the experts used to rank the various presidents (after all each of them have their own challenges) but the mere fact that they actually thought that that was a good idea was problematic in my humble opinion.  I mean, how arrogant can FP be? What were the criteria that they used? Why was President Mahama less ‘effective’ than President Sall?CE_Rwanda_two_children

Oh, and did you know that Rwanda was the ‘most overrated African story’? According to those 60 experts, we edged out South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda. I’ll be surprised if I ever see a better backhanded compliment ever again. So, is Rwanda a failing state that has ‘confused’ everyone or is it a stable one that has too much good PR? Either way, all I can surmise is that we are doing something well. And honestly, I’d rather be on the overrated list than the underrated one. Potential investors and tourists will hear about the ‘overrated’ African country before they ever hear of the underrated one.

Is Rwanda a failed state?

 I was extremely curious to find out how the 2013 Failed State Index was put together by FP and its1367359490DS partner, The Fund for Peace.

Guess what, the entire index is put together by a computer programme! The Fund for Peace, states that the Index is based on the,” Conflict Assessment Software Tool (CAST) analytical platform….Through sophisticated search parameters and algorithms, the CAST software separates the relevant data from the irrelevant…. Using various algorithms, this analysis is then converted into a score representing the significance of each of the various pressures for a given country”.

I know that I’m not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but any computer programme that ranks Rwanda and Mali at the same level has had a virus introduced into its hard drive. I mean, isn’t that the same Mali that our own Gen. Kazura is going to in order to pacify, alongside other UN troops? Isn’t that the same country that had a coup d’ etat just a few years ago? How can Rwanda be ranked similarly to a country that was split almost in two? Where there is still an insurgency?

dsc003211How could the computer programme get it so wrong?  How could Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt be ranked lower than Libya? Well, to understand why the programme seemed to lack all common sense, I had to understand the criteria that it used to come to it’s conclusions. The criteria was demographic pressures, refugees and IDP’s, group grievances, human flight and brain drain, uneven economic development, poverty and economic decline, state legitimacy, public services, human rights and rule of law, security apparatus, factionalised elites and external intervention.

If this criterion was used, how could Mali and Rwanda be in the same playing field, never mind the8572344652_47f3b791db_o same position? Perhaps the only criterion that Mali could ‘beat’ Rwanda in was demographic pressure. But if population pressure is what ensures critical statehood, then Rwanda will forever be on the wrong side of the FP/Fund for Peace argument.

But let us see why Rwanda is in a critical state. Is it because Rwanda’s GDP per capita rose from $593 in 2011 to $644 in 2012? Is it because one million people were pulled from the clutches of destitution as poverty dropped by 11.8% since 2006? Is it because the budget is 60% self-financed? Is it because infant mortality fell by 41% since 2006? If it is so, then I can only pray that we continue being unapologetically ‘critical’.


Bono won’t develop Africa and neither will you Mister Campaigner

Messiah complex? Bono in Tanzania

Messiah complex? Bono in Tanzania

You know the saying, ‘when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’? Well, once again, we ‘voiceless’ Africans are being used as pawns in other peoples fight.  Best selling author and Guardian newspaper contributor George Monbiot penned a piece in the publication that induced waves of disgust to wash over me.

The article, ‘Bono can’t help Africans by stealing their voice’, is scathing to the extreme. The author calls the pop star a land grabber, a muzzler of African voices and a front for Western business interests. All in all, if Mr.Monbiot is to be believed, Bono is cross between British colonialist Cecil Rhodes and Heart of Darkness’s Mr Kurtz. A very bad man.

He writes that Bono and his ONE campaign has ‘ seized the political space which might otherwise have been occupied by the Africans about whom they are talking’. Funny enough, the African leaders and businesspeople who ARE working with Bono are Uncle Tom-ish in their devotions to the western way of doing things.

He accuses six African governments of “ignoring the voices of their own people”, to strike deals with “companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations”. He goes on to undermine the two African members of Bono’s ONE campaign, Mo Ibrahim and Nigeria’s Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, insinuating that they can’t represent Africa’s poor because they aren’t poor themselves.

Before I begin, I must state that I have my own issues with the Bonos’ and Madonnas’ of this world. While I believe that their hearts are in the right place (at least most times anyway), their real impact on the ground in negligible to say the least.  This is true, not only for the pop stars, but almost any kind of NGO on the continent. While these NGO’s, campaigns and what not, are able to change a few lives I must admit, they are unable to lift entire countries out of poverty. Only the state is able to. so, I am certainly not on Bono’s side. However, I am certainly not on Monbiot’s either.

Monbiot accuses Bono of stealing Africa's voice and then proceeds to do the same

Monbiot accuses Bono of stealing Africa’s voice and then proceeds to do the same

He’s right to say that that Bono can’t help Africans by stealing our voices, but in his article, Monbiot is guilty of doing the same. While he attacks Bono for not having enough Africans on his NGO’s board of governors, even the two Africans on it are not African enough for his taste. Why? Because they are rich, powerful and successful? Who are the ‘real Africans’ that you want on the board? The illiterate, starving, jigger-infested type that you see on television? This reminds me of the time that I was accused of not being a ‘real’ Rwandan by a foreigner friend of mine during a debate about rural development. I was too “North American” (read civilized) in their opinion to understand what the average villager went through.

Well, as an ‘African voice’ I would like to respond to Mr. Monbiot. I would love it if companies like Monsanto, Dupont, Nestlé and Unilever came to Rwanda (with or without promises of aid). In fact, if RDB got even one of them to invest in Rwanda I would do a jig of celebration. I honestly wouldn’t mind Monsanto’s entry into our market. Our agricultural export sector would grow as a result and so would our tax receipts as a result.

Those companies have made the West rich, why should they be stopped from doing the same here? Are we doomed to have hectares and hectares of arable land that isn’t exploited because we must remain ‘pristine’? I’m sure that is what Monbiot and other western liberals wish. That way they can fly in, travel across our countries in air conditioned cars, take pictures of themselves holding snot-covered children and marvel at the ‘primitiveness’ of it all. All before flying back home to live their comfortable lives. To them I say, thanks and no thanks. We know what we want. Sorry if it’s not yours or Mr. Bono’s version of Africa, Mr. Monbiot.

Refugees: Are Rwandans cursed to always have one foot out the door?

When shall this ever end?

When shall this ever end? Rwandans fleeing into DR Congo in 1994

Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper reported  that last week that a group of disgruntled Rwandans had arrived at the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) office in the Kololo suburb seeking protection. The 16-strong group made up of fourteen men and two women were directed to the Old Kampala Police Station to start processing their asylum papers.

According to the Daily Monitor, they were forced to seek asylum when they started getting harassed by officials from the Rwanda Examination Board (REB). When The New Times visited them on Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office, where the reporter found them processing refugee application documents.  “I got 66 points out of 70, but the following day my results had been erased from REB web site,” the group’s leader, who refused to divulge his name, claimed. “There are students who skipped classes which is understandable but our case is different and should be investigated properly.”

The 16 students in Kampala are among the 574 private candidates whose senior six results were cancelled by REB because of alleged examination malpractices.

To say that the government did not see the funny side to this hilarity would be an understatement. The statements made by the students were “utter falsehoods”, said Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Frank Mugambage. 
“Their results were withheld due to exam malpractices and they never followed the established procedures while registering for exams”, he told The New Times.

Now I will not pretend to know whether or not the students actually cheated or not (that will be for the REB and other relevant authorities to figure out). What I have to question is why their first instinct was to flee the country instead of figuring out their problem. The penchant to flee the country and beg for asylum in another country is something that I’ve never seen in another people.

It was in Uganda, where I lived for a few years, that I learnt the term ‘Nkuba Kyeyo’ (a colloquial Ugandan term for economic migrants).

Nkuba Kyeyo: Picking strawberries in Spain. Menial but proud

Nkuba Kyeyo: Picking strawberries in Spain. Menial but proud

Nkuba kyeyo’s were people, usually young men, who did all they could to get visas (usually tourist or student visas) to foreign countries. When they finally arrived in the US, Canada, Japan or the UK they would then melt into the immigrant community and get menial jobs, becoming illegal aliens and risking deportation and abuse. However, if they stayed out of trouble they’d make enough money to go back home with enough money to buy land, build a house, start a business and marry a wife. They were men (and women) with a mission. They did not expect to be coddled by a nanny state; they wanted to work hard and reap the rewards of their toil. And after that, they’d go home. They were migrant workers, not refugees. While illegal, it was something that they could be proud of. Not so refugees.

Rwandans have had long history with the concept of ‘asylum’ and ‘refugee status’. From 1959 all the way to 1994, millions of Rwandans fled the country, escaping the clutches of death. Since then, millions have returned into the country (I am among that number). Rwandans are now working hard, trying to build a country that they deserve. It’s not a perfect nation-not by a long shot. However, it is not the hellhole it used to be. Which brings me to the issue of people leaving the country.

I’m honestly sick and tired of people leaving on their own volition, flying out of Kigali International Airport on Rwandair, and then turning around and saying that they “fled for their lives”. Disgruntled politicians, civil servants and now students have been doing this for years.  Enough is enough. If you want to leave, go. But don’t pretend that it is about ‘persecution’. It’s about the ‘pursuit of happiness’. You want to live a ‘better life’ full of washing machines, 24-hour malls and sleek highways. And that’s okay.

Personally, I remember how humiliating it was to be addressed as ‘refugee’ and I would never trade my citizenship for anything in the world. You would

Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. I used to live here and I won't ever go back

Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. I used to live here and I won’t ever go back

have to pry my citizenship from my cold, dead hands. Under no circumstances would I leave this country unless it was my choice. Would l fly out if I felt that I had better opportunities abroad? Absolutely. Would I seek refugee status? No. I would be too proud.

To the students I say, return and solve the issue. To the other Rwandans around the world, despite their political and ideological leanings, come home and be a part of a better Rwanda. Together we can build this into a country that we’ll be proud to leave our children. For too long being Rwandan was synonymous with being a refugee. Enough already.


Lets talk about teenage sex: It is time Rwanda allows condoms in high school

Very few people had heard Emmanuel Usabye until he fell into hot soup. Formerly the school director at Groupe Scolaire Nsinda, a high school in Rwamagana, the capital of Rwanda’s Eastern Province, he was suspended and then fired because of gross negligence. “What did he do”, you ask? Under his watch, 26 members of his student body were found pregnant.

Teenage pregnancy, accounts for the majority of school dropouts

Teenage pregnancy, accounts for the majority of school dropouts

Of course the entire community went up in arms.  One case of teenage pregnancy is still worthy of school scandal. Just imagine the furor when it was discovered that 26 girls, many below 18, Rwanda’s age of consent, were carrying a child in their bellies.  Everyone, from Francois Ndayambaje,the chairman of the parent’s committee to Odette Uwamariya, the Province’s governor, expressed their outrage. Blaming the school administration, the former told a daily newspaper that ““With such levels of teenage pregnancies, we are heading nowhere as a community. The administrators gave bad example to children”, while the latter said that she wanted to see that the “culprits are brought to book. It is disgusting to hear what happened to the girls”.

To understand this reaction one must understand that Rwanda is an extremely conservative and religious nation. Throw in the fact that evangelical Christianity, with its hush-hush and fire-and-brimstone attitude to sex outside marriage, is the most popular religious leaning in the country and you have the conditions that made Groupe Scolaire Nsinda affair possible.

As I previously wrote in my blog, sex education is severally lacking in the country. Parents don’t talk to their kids about it and neither do their teachers. Whatever they are learning is through their peers- a case of the blind leading the blind. Interestingly enough, on one side you have a society that treats sex like taboo while on the other, you have a State that is doing all it can to publicize safe sex, HIV prevention and family planning. The issue is that14613-condom the government campaigns are geared towards adults, not teenagers who, despite their parents’ protestations, are still bumping uglies.

One of the tools being used to combat unsafe sex is the condom-dispensing machine. Found in university hallways, bars and nightclubs these chucky machines hand out three condoms for the affordable price of three hundred Rwandan Francs (about €0.5). It goes without saying that teenagers use these machines to buy condoms. Everyone knows they do and its all nudge-nudge-wink-wink. However, let anyone talk about actually putting these machines in their schools and there is open revolt.

“I don’t believe in condoms being distributed in secondary schools… It’s a no go zone. The children are, in the first place, not mature enough to know how to use condoms”, Innocent Nshimiyemungu, a deputy head teacher at Lycée de Ruhengeri APICUR told a reporter.

Oh really? Joy huh?

Oh really? Joy huh?

Edward Asiimwe, with two teenage daughters went even further. “To say that condoms be introduced to these young children means we have lost our sense of direction and morals. We should emphasize postponement of sexual activity by encouraging these young people to embrace abstinence”.

The message of abstinence is being preached but still teenagers are having sex. No matter what teachers, religious leaders and their parents tell them, they will continue to do so because, like us adults, they find it fun. Now if only they were given the tools to satisfy their curiosity and sexual instincts safely, the 26 girls in Rwamagana would’ve still been in school. Now they will probably drop out of school to take care of their infants. It’s a sad, sad business.

There is no point of being a legitimate president these days – Lessons from Syria and Turkey

I’ve been watching the events folding in the Middle East with a lot of interest. Not only because I’m a quasi-student of global affairs but also because the precedents that these events are setting might come and bite us in the behind.

Sen.McCain visited the rebel-controlled zone in Syria. He's now agitating for overt US involvement in the civil war

Sen.McCain visited the rebel-controlled zone in Syria. He’s now agitating for overt US involvement in the civil war

The ongoing civil war in Syria has been on our screens for over a year now and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. In fact, just a few weeks ago, the maverick of the US Senate, former Republican presidential nominee John McCain, travelled to the rebel-controlled zone where he met with their leaders.

Senator McCain’s visit, while political theatre, makes one wonder what it means it terms of international policy and law. Say what you want about President Bashar al-Assad, the fact that he is the legitimate president of Syria isn’t in dispute. At least according to international law. However, we are now witnessing circumstances where he’s being treated like a pariah despite the fact that the other side isn’t exactly a collection of angels.

Recently the European Union, which had earlier placed an arms embargo on Syria, rescinded that ban. The new decision will allow the rebels access to expensive weaponry in their fight against the government troops.

President Assad

President Assad

How the EU came to such a decision is beyond me; does it expect that giving them arms will push them over the line? If they did, and do, then those guys in Brussels are more naïve than I thought.  Any student of history will tell you that it is never a good idea to hand over high-tech weapons to rebels whose aims you don’t really understand. Especially when those rebels have links to militant Islam. Remember who gave Al-Qaeda members its first ground-to-air missiles? It was the CIA who armed them during their guerilla war against the Soviet war machine in Afghanistan and we all know how that experiment with Bin Laden ended for all concerned. What makes those who want to arm the rebels’ think that this will go differently? Regime change is a very tricky business, especially in the Middle East. Better the devil you know.

Funny enough, one of the most anti-Assad leaders in the region, Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a similar challenge to his authority for a week now.

Under the pretext of going against his government’s decision to convert Istanbul’s Gezi Park into a shopping mall an amalgamation of liberals, university students, members of the middle class and football fans who hate the direction Erdogan’s AK Party, an Islamist party, is leading the country, have erected barricades around the area and sworn not to move.

They don’t only oppose his construction plans; they hate the fact that he’s introducing Islamic practices into the formerly fiercely secular country. The

The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the actions of Turkish police against protesters. Oh course.

The United States and the European Union as well as human rights groups have expressed concern about the actions of Turkish police against protesters. Oh course.

problem is, he’s only doing what the people want. Since 2003, his party has won the general election three times with increasing majorities. What the government is facing is NOT a manifestation of democracy but rather a sneaky coup d’état. His opposition, hitherto unable to beat him in a free and fair election, is now using underhand methods to nullify the wishes of the people who voted for him; all this under the guise of civic disobedience and freedom.

What bothers me the most is that this undemocratic move isn’t being scrutinised by the media and western politicians the way it should.

PM Erdogan

PM Erdogan

Instead of questioning the motives of the demonstrators, there is unmitigated excitement on the part of the media and weak statements from the western governments. It is as if they wish PM Erdogan’s government to fail. Is it because it is Islamist in nature? I wouldn’t be surprised. Just look at how long its taken Turkey to get into the EU. Smaller, less strategic nations have got in. But Turkey? No.

The situations that Assad and Erdogan find themselves in have made me ask myself, does it matter whether a government is legitimate anymore? Especially when it is  ‘unpopular’ to the powers that be? How can some of those so-called ‘powerful’ countries preach democracy to us when they change tack whenever it suits them? It seems to me that whenever interests come in the way of democracy and legitimacy, the latter always lose out.

What lessons can we take from this? The only way that our countries can survive and thrive is to act out of self-interest. We cannot please anyone except ourselves. We shouldn’t think that international rules and norms will help us because they will not. Those norms only apply to the strong. Not all of us. C’est la vie, as the French say.