Who cares whether children die from secondhand smoking? Nobody it seems

There are two restaurants that I frequent as many times as my wallet allows. Kimihurura based Papyrus and Kiyovu’s Republika. I find their menu’s inspired and their service laudable. However, in the last two weeks, my dinner experiences have been marred by the wafts of cigarette smoke that keep coming my way no matter how much I try to avoid them. When I asked a waitress in one of the establishments to ask the patron to stamp out his cigarette because it was not allowed she walked over to him and asked him to do so. Thankfully the chastened smoker graciously did. However, at the second restaurant, when I asked a similar courtesy, I was told that I would have to grin and bear it because smoking was ‘allowed’. “That is why we have ashtrays on every table,” I was told politely.

no_smoking_symbol(1) As a former smoker, I know just how pleasant it is to light up after a scrumptious meal. However, if I still smoked, I would have to do it in the parking lot whatever restaurant I was in because, if the law relating to the control of tobacco is to be believed, sipping a beer while puffing away is a definite no-no.

Article 11 of the law Nº 08/2013, which was signed by the President on 1, March this year and published in the Official Gazette on 8, April, specifically states that smoking in any enclosed or open space accessible to the public or at the workplace, including cinemas and theatres, restaurants, hotels, pubs, bars, public transport and indoor public transport terminals, is forbidden.

But lets be honest here, how many places actually ban it? How many places have a ‘No Smoking’ sign? And even if they do, do the people who work there stop people from lighting up? I have to answer in the negative. Why is this so? Because they don’t know the dangers of secondhand smoke? Or because they don’t know there is a law banning smoking in public areas? Or is it a combination of both issues?

What particularly concerned me wasn’t the fact that I was inhaling smoke (after all, as a former smoker my lungs already have a few issues to deal with) but rather the fact that children were present in all the restaurants I found smokers in.

If the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) is to be believed second-hand smoke is not to be trifled with. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. The death toll is extraordinarily high. It causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease and 3,400 lung cancer deaths from nonsmokers. The CDC believes that nonsmokers increase their risk of heart disease by 25-30% while increasing their risk of developing lung cancer by 20-30 %.

daddy Children who inhale secondhand smoke are particularly at risk.  The CDC has found that chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing. Not only that, wheezing and coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke and the smoke can trigger an asthma attack as well.

I’m sure that our lawmakers knew all this and that is why they passed the law. However, they forgot to do one thing. While they banned public smoking, they seem to have forgot to include a provision punishing those who defied the law. Article 26 of the anti-tobacco law states that anyone who smokes in a public place ‘Shall be liable to penalties provided for under the Penal Code’. Problem is, as I searched the Penal Code, I discovered that there WASN’T a penalty for public smoking. In other words, if someone was caught smoking gleefully, there wasn’t a THING that anyone could do to punish him or her.

At the end of the day, it is naïve to think that people will change their habits simply because they’ve been asked ‘nicely’. In New York, for example, you can get fined between $50-$250 for smoking in public places. Here, you can’t even get fined a single Franc. Unless there is a penalty that either the individual smoker or the establishment will incur, the anti-tobacco law will remain a defanged, declawed tiger. And as a result of that omission, we will remain at mercy of lung cancer, heart attacks and early death. Personally, I have no wish to pass away any earlier than I must.  Dear MPs, city authorities, mayors, restaurant owners, smokers, I call upon you to help us, nonsmokers, live longer, healthier lives.

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My thoughts on apologizing youth and taking sides in the DRC mess

Last week I promised to never react to any external report because, in my opinion, they were simply distractions. But this week’s Human Rights Watch report about M23’s human rights record (and Rwanda’s ‘hand’ in M23) is really pushing my buttons. It is full of mysterious witnesses, defectors, inaccurate and downright lies. I’m itching to tear the report apart paragraph by paragraph. However, why waste a whole blog ranting about people who don’t really matter?

Especially when I can be talking about a young activist whose idea has light a fire under many people’s bottoms?

Meet poet, activist and parliamentary candidate Edouard Bamporiki.

Meet poet activist and parliamentary candidate Edouard Bamporiki

Meet poet activist and parliamentary candidate Edouard Bamporiki

I find it rather interesting that the literal translation of his last name ‘Bamporiki’ is “what is their issue with me? But more about that later. The 30-year old law student is currently in the news because he not only personally apologized for his family’s actions during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi (he was nine years old during the Genocide), but also encouraged other Rwandans, who felt the kind of shame he did, to do the same. According to him, he’d been spreading that ‘ask for forgiveness’ gospel for ages. But only when the President agreed with his sentiments, during last month’s inaugural YouthConnekt Dialogue, did he get into ‘trouble’. “I have lately been receiving calls, people are saying all sorts of things on radios”, he told The New Times during an interview he had with a reporter. “I don’t have any fear whatsoever, as long as no one is going to assault me physically”.

I find the furor that his, and the President’s, opinions unleashed quite surprising.

Suddenly, forgotten politicians like former foreign minister Anastase Gasana (does anyone know that name of the party that he heads? If you can without the help of Google I tip my hat off to you) took to the airwaves to shrilly condemn the very idea of someone apologizing for a crime that they didn’t personally commit. Mister Rukokoma himself, Faustin Twagiramungu, took to YouTube to condemn the very idea as abhorrent.

They made it seem that Edouard and the President shouldn’t have voiced their opinion. Instead of appreciating that two men were, rightly or wrongly, trying to find ways to strengthen our nation, the old school politicians tried to twist their words to score cheap political points.  Sadly, none of them gave solutions to any of the problems that we face where reconciliation is concerned.

This is my humble opinion on the matter.  While my legal training will not allow me to be comfortable with the idea of someone taking responsibility for the crimes of another, if an innocent party feels that apologizing for a family member’s crime will help them heal and move forward, who am I to say that they can’t? And if they don’t want to, no one can force them to. Honestly, ANY idea that helps us heal is a good one. Even if it heals a single person’s shattered heart, I’m all for it.

Last week, I was accused by a reader in The New Times from Nyarugenge of not taking sides in the DRC imbroglio. A mysterious individual only known as ‘ERK’ challenged me. “Why do

While the FARDC is involved in human rights abuses, the M23 rebels are no angels themselves.

While the FARDC is involved in human rights abuses, the M23 rebels are no angels themselves.

fear to take sides? Are you scared of what others will think of you? I thought you encouraged us not to be affected by those who laud or demean us. Start now by taking sides”.

I’m sorry ERK; I simply cannot sides in this scrap. I take the side of justice, fairness and good sense. While the FARDC is involved in human rights abuses, the M23 rebels are no angels themselves. In my opinion, both sides are fighting for selfish reason. None of them can honestly say that they are fighting for reasons that are unselfish. And that is the issue. Until BOTH sides start caring about more than themselves and their small constituencies, they are both villains in my book

I say “enough” to Congolese bombs and external cues

Rwanda is once again being called 'home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels

As I had feared, Rwanda is once again being called ‘home’ by the hundreds of Congolese civilians who are fleeing the renewed fighting between the Congolese army, FARDC, and the M23 rebels. I will not put my head on the block and choose sides. However, I find it extremely unfortunate that the nascent peace talks that were taking place in Kampala, Uganda, and mediated by the Ugandan government, weren’t allowed to yield fruit. It seems that the aggressors, whoever they are, have chosen to fight it out. However, in my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.

Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing? I’m not too hopeful. And, I know that I’m about to spout an opinion that might be unpopular to some, if any more FARDC bombs fall on our territory and, god forbid, kill our nationals, I hope that our armed forces swiftly act.

I know that if we did we’d be lambasted by all and sundry, but what are we supposed to ask our

In my humble opinion, the issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve.  Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

The issues that made the M23 rebel in the first place will still exist. To think any different is naïve. Will the Rwandaphone population in North Kivu feel protected? Will the question of who is and who isn’t a Congolese citizen disappear in the gun smoke? What about the Mai-Mai? What the FDLR? Will they stop robbing, raping and killing?

army to do? To become Christian and turn the other cheek? If that is so, what’s the point of even having one if it can’t take offensive action? Under international law, we’d have every right t do so. But, I hope that Rwanda’s protests are heeded because, at the end of the day, the nations of the Great Lakes region should do all they can to reduce tensions, not increase them. I will continue to follow the events across the border with interest. I only hope that the FARDC aims its mortars better next time.

A few weeks ago, I wrote ‘Overrated and in a critical state? May Rwanda always remain thus’ in which I lampooned the FP 2013 Failed State Index. After dissecting the magazine’s research methodology, I came to the conclusion that it was based on faulty information. It wasn’t the first time I had found fault with foreign reports, either made by human rights groups or publications. I’ve waited with bated breath every year, preparing myself to counter their allegations with some homegrown ‘truths’. And on the other hand, I’ve waited for ‘positive’ reports from the World Bank, IMF and others, which I’ve then used to justify just how well we were doing.

Well, after giving it some thought, I came to the realization that by taking my cues from foreigners I was ceding my independence to them. Wittingly or not. I could not, in all honesty, say that I was ‘proud’ of my country when I cared about what others thought about of it. And not what I, and other Rwandans, thought.

For example, I was pleased that the Rwanda Governance Board took it upon itself to carry out a survey among Rwandans to find out how they perceived media freedoms in the country. According to the Rwanda Media Barometer, 89.5 percent believed that the environment was conducive to freedom of expression and media freedom.  This survey will be rubbished by those who’ve made it their life’s work to see fault in everything (I call them professional finger-pointing judges). However, the Barometer gives voice to those who actually live in the country. And those are the people who are important.

I’ve been following the third-term debate closely. One of the reasons some people give to oppose it is because it will ‘look bad’ internationally. I think that that way of thinking is wrong. We shouldn’t be worried about how people, who will never walk in our shoes, will feel. At the end of the day, they will have to deal with whomever Rwandans want them to deal with.

As the President said in the middle of the aid-cut saga, “we are a small country, but not a small people”. I feel that he was asking us to be more self-confident and self-sufficient. We should stop being affected by either those who laud or demean us. Lets take our cues from Rwandans.  I will start today by promising you, dear readers, that I will never again spend precious time (and valuable newsprint) on foreign reports. Let us ‘play’ our own ‘game’. And ignore those who want to ‘play’ theirs.

Embrace your living history before it is too late

As you read this week’s blog, I’m just back from Nyagatare after laying my grandmother to rest. She passed away on Saturday at Kanombe Military Hospital despite the valiant efforts of her doctors and the prayers of her family and friends. She lived to see her children become women and men of substance; see her grandchildren get married and got to play with her great-grand children. She had run her race diligently and now her aches and pains are no more.

COLLECTIE_TROPENMUSEUM_Een_man_spring_bij_het_hoogspringen_2.20_m_Rwanda_TMnr_60033970 However, as I write that she had run HER race, I have a few regrets. I regret the fact that I didn’t spend more time with her, not only imbibing her wisdom, but also finding out more about the country that I now call my home. As someone who was born and raised in exile and then educated in very ‘western’ manner, there is very little that links me, personally, to the Rwanda of our forefathers.

Sure I can read books written by experts (who, funny enough, are often NOT Rwandan) and I can look at pictures. But none of those research materials can hold a candle to real, living history. That was what my grandmother was. That is what ALL our octogenarian generation is.

histry01

Mwami Yuhi Musinga and members of the royal family

They are our last link to the Rwanda of Rwabugiri and Musinga Yuhi. They are the ones who can remind us of how we used to live before sectarianism became entrenched in our body politic. They can bring to life our ancient customs and help explain them to the young generation. Why do we ‘gusaba’, ‘gufatirembo’ and have ‘imyotso’? Before we all became Christians and Moslems, how did we worship? How was our society organized and what role did the kingship play? What did the society expect from you when you became a ‘man’ (or a woman)? What were the values that made Rwandans who they were?  I know that I’m supposed to know all these things (perhaps by osmosis) but I don’t.

The generation that gave birth to me was raised (and sometimes born) in the various East African refugee camps that they were forced to live post-1959. Their history is one of exile, poverty, suffering and strife. Only their parents (our grandparents) remembered Rwanda as it once was.

A few months ago, I vowed to visit the grandparents in the village and record their testimony for prosperity. Sadly, although I did visit, I didn’t record our conversation. I assumed that I would have another chance.  I didn’t. So, while my children will see photos and hear about their great-grandmother, they will not hear her voice, and see her face as she explained her life and the things she had seen to me.

I’m not writing this to incite sympathy. I’m writing this to remind us all just how precious and

Fierce Twa archers.

Fierce Twa archers.

priceless our elderly generation is. Especially as we become more intrinsically linked to the global community. Rwanda has made changed in a million ways since I came back in November 1994. Where once we had an insular country, we now live in one where it’s normal for my six-year-old cousin to have a Facebook account. And where once it was taboo for a ‘good’ child to even contemplate a tattoo, a piercing, dreadlocks and moving out of the parental home (especially girls), it has almost become a non-topic (except the latter). Honestly, in a generation or two, I don’t think there will be a difference between the average American and us. And while I have nothing but admiration for what the US and its citizens have done, I don’t want us to become them.

But that is what is bound to happen if we don’t have a concrete understanding of who we are, why we are the way we are, and why we should be proud of whom we are. The only way that we’ll know all of this is if we know where we come from. Rwanda is fortunate in that we still have the very embodiment of our colonial and pre-colonial history in our midst. Our ‘Bachechuru and Basaza’ .

While I’m sure that our various museums and the Ministry of Culture is recording the testimonies of the elderly (at least I hope they are), perhaps we should also do it on an individual basis.  We owe it to the next generation. And we owe it to ourselves. Let us not become like a ship without rudders. Only through the appreciation (and knowledge) of our past can we steer ourselves through the choppy waters of our present and future.

Be liberated, don’t care what people say about you

Dear all,

I wrote this blog post two years ago to commemorate the 17th Liberation Day. I think that it is still relevant today. Happy reading

These kids are the real beneficiaries of liberation

These kids are the real beneficiaries of liberation

 

On Monday we are celebrating our 17th Liberation Day, the day that the yoke of genocidal government was finally removed from the necks of all well-meaning Rwandans. The reason I write ‘well-meaning Rwandans’ is that, even to this day, there hordes of my fellow countrymen and women, who are plotting a return to a pre-1994 Rwanda, one which was characterized by sectarianism and discrimination.

The theme of this year’s annual celebration is ‘Shaping our destiny’. I think that that sentiment is extremely timely. In a world where very often we, the small guys, are buffeted from side to side like a canoe in a category 4 hurricane by events that we absolutely have no power over such as for example, the price of a barrel of petrol or the whims and politics of a donor country, its essential that we take as much control as we possibly can.

Before we talk of shaping our destiny, we must understand and articulate what we want our destiny to be. I’ve read the literature and I’ve watched the videos, so I kind of know where Rwanda’s leadership sees the country in the coming years. But it’s not enough for just the leadership to understand and implement the vision. It must be shared with the end users-the ‘baturage’ in the deepest, darkest villages. Because if this doesn’t happen, then forget about the visions of Rwanda being a middle-income country in less than a decade.

The late, great Bob Marley once sang, “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds”. ‘Redemption Song’, my

President Kagame in a past Liberation Day parade in Stade Amahoro

President Kagame in a past Liberation Day parade in Stade Amahoro

favorite reggae song, is one long cry for self-determination and human dignity. When Mr. Marley talks about mental slavery, I believe he’s talking about the habits and cultures that keep us entrenched in the miserable state we are in. There are so many things that I find absolutely wonderful about this culture of mine. But I feel that there are so many things in this same culture that will keep us away from our intended goal as a nation and people.

An example of this dangerous societal mindset is our love of having children.  We are taught that children are blessings, gifts from God, proof of a healthy marriage and, truth be told, a free workforce. That is all true. However, we must understand that these tenets of our culture were formed in pre-colonial Rwanda when a horribly high rate child mortality was a given and average life expectancy was in the early 30’s. What all that early death meant was that population pressure on the limited territory of Rwanda wasn’t really an issue. If you travel to the National Museum in Butare you will see photos taken in 1950 showing swathes of unpopulated and pristine hills all over the country. Visits those hills now, they’re probably close to bursting with human activity.

I read somewhere that unless rural and URBAN women stop bearing an average of six children we might have a population of 40 million people in a few decades. That is crazy. Our gross domestic product of 7% a year simply cannot feed all these mouths. But even with these statistics, I’m still bothered by every older person I meet, asking me why I haven’t gotten married and had children. Societal pressure should move from pressuring me, to pressuring those getting married too young.

 

Will customer service always remain about who you are and who you know?

13327234222-1-King-Faisal-There is nothing quite as panic inducing as a last minute bureaucratic hitch. Especially when it has something to do with foreign travel. Wanting to travel for a little while, I put together all the relevant documents and presented them to the embassy staffer. Or at least I thought I had. On Friday evening, I was informed that I had to include a medical form that proved that I had a clean bill of health. And I had to complete it by Sunday.

As anyone who has ever travelled will tell you, wanting to get the form completed in two days is easier said than done. According to one person I asked, it took about a week. And looking at the checklist, I could understand why. I was asked to provide a chest x-ray examination, an electrocardiograph test (to check my heart), a toxicology report (to show I wasn’t a drug addict) and a whole lot of very personal tests. All to prove that I wouldn’t infect people with my ‘African’ diseases if you know what I mean.

As I said earlier, I had only two days to get all those tests done. So, after Umuganda I went to the first hospital I could think of, privately-owned La Croix de Sud Hospital in Remera. I assumed that the private sector would be more willing to divest me of my hard-earned money.  I was sadly mistaken. The public relations manager informed me that unless I was sick, I couldn’t see a doctor. When I pressed her I was told that the doctors weren’t in because it was a weekend. “But who will take care of people who come in sick’, I asked. “We have some doctors on call”, she answered. “If the doctors are here, why don’t you help me access one? I have an urgent visa application that needs to get done ASAP”, I tried to reason. “I can’t because they are not doing consultations today”, she said, dismissing me.

Without even a referral, I was sent on my way. I called around and was advised to visit a clinic in Kicukiro run by one Doctor Gasasira. Getting there at three in the afternoon, I was told that there wasnt anyone who could help me. It has closed at 1pm.

So there I was, in the depths of Kicukiro, hot, thirst and frustrated. I was at the end of my tether

Dr.Alex M.Butera,Orthopedic-Surgeon. This guy is my hero

Dr.Alex M.Butera,Orthopedic-Surgeon. This guy is my hero

and I could see my visa vanish in front of my eyes.  I started scrolling through my phone contacts to see if I could call someone. That’s when I saw Dr. Alex Butera number. As a journalist I’d had conversations with the former King Faisal Hospital CEO, and I thought that he’d be a bit helpful. Well, as unhelpful as the PR person at La Croix de Sud was, the CEO was the direct opposite.

After hearing my predicament, not only did he promise to help me get in contact with doctors the next day, he promised to be there himself to assist me in any way he could.

With his assistance, I was able to get everything done by 2pm. All the doctors were extremely helpful and eager to please. Sadly, like a fly in the ointment, one department (which I won’t mention here) spoilt the good image that the previous five had made.

I believe that the only reason that this was possible was because it was being staffed by a middle-management personality. I found her talking loudly on the phone and despite seeing me she didn’t even have the courtesy to put the phone down. She finished her conversation and then took her sweet time to take my blood samples. When I asked about a particular test I was supposed to have, she informed me that I would have to get the results on Tuesday. Only after I invoked the name of the hospital’s bigwigs was I able to get my results that day.

The EWSA customer care desk. I wonder how much grief this poor guy is getting?

The EWSA customer care desk. I wonder how much grief this poor guy is getting?

I left the hospital with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was extremely thankful for the care the vast majority of the staff showed me. However, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that the only reason that I was care of was because the ‘senior’ staff took a personal interest in my issue. What would’ve happened if I’d come to the hospital like any other Mutuelle card wielding muturage? I am sad to say that I’m of the opinion that the one department where I didn’t invoke the former CEO’s name was the one that showed me the reality of the customer care I would have received. While at the very top I was able to discern a real interest in my wellbeing, to the ‘lower’ levels, I was made to feel like an irritant.

I don’t want to make this column seem like a self-indulgent tirade against the hospital because it isn’t. Organisations need to spread the gospel of quality customer care and relations to each and every nook and cranny of their management structures. Remember than even one drop on ink can discolor an entire litre of clear water.