Why did we have to see the Westgate Mall bodies?

An injured victim of Al-Shaabab terrorism

An injured victim of Al-Shaabab terrorism

On Saturday I was horrified to spend hours upon hours watching the unfolding events in Nairobi, Kenya. The sight of people fleeing the Westgate mall, some wounded and all terrified made me so angry that I could barely breath. I mean, how could evil men (led, according to reports, by a British-born woman), have the guts to kill and maim innocent men, women and children? Who gave them the right to prematurely end their lives? I wish to send my prayers and heartfelt condolences to those who lost relatives and friends in the carnage. To the perpetrators I say, there is a dark, dark place in hell awaiting you. Same goes to those evil forces that are throwing grenades right here at home.

By the time you read this column, the Kenyan authorities would have probably finished the mopping-up exercise and its my hope that the death toll doesn’t rise beyond the 62 people killed. I am not able, nor do I want, to analyze these people’s motives, unlike say,  Giles Foden, author of ‘The Last King of Scotland. He actually had the temerity to argue in a column in The Guardian newspaper, Kenya brought this upon themselves. He had the guts to write, even as gunshots could still be heard in the building, that “ You can gesture at the transnational problem of Islamist terrorism all you like, but it’s just hot air unless you invest in proper security on the ground in your own country, with the right safeguards to civil liberties. For now Kenya must mourn its dead. But unless the corruption stops, and real investment is made in the social fabric, Kenya will once again be faced with systemic shocks it is hardly able to deal with”.

Disgusting.

How in the world could he try to blame Kenyans for this atrocity? This kind of attack has happened in almost every continent and, if we are to be truthful, more often than not in the countries that have little ‘corruption’, tonnes of civil liberties and a ‘strong’ social fabric (whatever that means). Islamist terrorism has ravaged New York, Madrid, London and Boston with nary a word from Foden. Perhaps its because he knows that if he dared try to blame the actions of cowards and murderers on the innocent victims, he’d be run out of town. Which brings me to the crux of my issues with not just Foden’s article, but the manner in which the tragic story has been reported by international media.

From the macabre fascination with the white ringleader to the death of the Canadian diplomat, I

When you Google 'Syrian gas attack', this photo is one of the least disturbing ones

When you Google ‘Syrian gas attack’, this photo is one of the least disturbing ones

have got a sense that the Kenyan victims are being pushed aside amid all the white ‘horror’. This lack of sensitivity became crystal clear, at least in my eyes, by the manner in which photographs the bodies of the victims were splashed across our newspapers and televisions. It was revolting. Not only because these poor people deserved the dignity in death that the terrorists refused to give them while they were still alive, but because I know, with cast-iron certainty, that no editor in the West would have allowed to show the bodies of their victims. I watched the Boston Marathon bombings live as did many other people. Did anyone see even one single body there? Why? What about 9-11? We know that more than 2000 people died that day; did we see a single body? What about in London? What about in Moscow during the theatre siege? 130 hostages died that day but did we see them on our screens, in the throes of death? No.

But in Syria no one has the good taste and media ‘ethics‘ to NOT show babies killed by conventional and chemical weapons. This hypocrisy is sickening and makes my blood boil because there is absolutely no journalistic reason to show the dead. It only shows a lack of respect to the victims of conflict and terrorism in developing nations. It is during times like these that I feel ashamed to be a member of the global media fraternity.

Rwanda votes: A novel exercise in democracy

_48659282_jex_774126_de31-1From Monday 16, September to Wednesday 18,September  5,953,531 eligible voters will have the opportunity to decide the composition of the House of Deputies, the Parliament’s lower chamber. The political parties contesting the 53 seats that will be directly chosen by universal suffrage on Monday include the Liberal Party (PL), the Social Democratic Party (PSD), Parti du Progrès et la Concorde (PPC), Centrist Democratic Party (PDC), PS-Imberakuri and the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) coalition (which include the tiny Ideal Democratic Party and Socialist Party- PSR). Elections for the 24 women’s seats, 2 youth seats and 1 disabled seats will take place on September 18.

All very normal….

What sets these elections apart is the manner in which the members of parliament are voted. Inthumb most democracies, members of parliament are voted by the constituents. Each constituency is guaranteed a seat in parliament and the area politicians are expected to convince the voters in that area to cast their ballots for them.  In Rwanda it is done very differently.

First of all, there are no individual constituencies. Members of parliament are chosen at the provincial level. Secondly, Rwandans don’t vote for specific candidates; rather they vote for specific parties. How this works is that each party has a long list of candidates that it presents to the public; the candidates at the top of each list are the party’s best and brightest and those lower down the list less so. After the votes are cast, each party sends to parliament a number of those on the list in direct proportion to the percentages garnered during the election. So, if the RPF ruling party wins 50% of the national vote, it will get to choose the top 25 or so candidates on its list of potential members of parliament.

This system aims to ensure that MP’s take their cues from a national audience and not a local one. You will often hear them say that this system makes them  represent all Rwandans and not just Rwandans from a specific area or constituency.  That is what is supposed to happen in theory. However, this system is still debated by many, including this writer.

One of the major qualms I have with this system is its lack of accountability. In other countries, if you don’t like the manner in which an MP is representing you, you can vote him or her out of office. They have the responsibility to represent the constituency’s interests first and foremost. In Rwanda’s system however, one finds that MP’s represents the party’s interests first and the people last. A few months ago, MP’s passed an amendment in the labour law that reduced fully paid maternity leave from three months to six weeks. Would this law have passed if MP’s had to face the wrath of an enraged electorate?  Perhaps. But there would have been a lot more public debate about it. And this debate would have been led by wary MP’s, unwilling to go against public opinion.

While public opinion and populism in the African continent sometimes leads to discriminatory laws, such as those criminalizing homosexuality (happily Rwanda’s MP’s chose not to criminalize it, despite the country’s conservative nature), there is still a place for it in our political process. Rwanda faces the challenge attempting to find this balance.

From Beijing, with love

Greetings! A few months ago I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship from the Chinese government to study in one of the nation’s premier universities and having only arrived on Monday all I can say is that I’m flummoxed by everything. When you’ve lived in East Africa for as long as I have, you forget that there is a huge world out there where no one speaks your language, looks like you, or has even heard of your country.

The blogger in front of Joy City Mall, Chaoyang District

The blogger in front of Joy City Mall, Chaoyang District

I felt smug about the strides that Rwanda had made, especially when I compared the state of our airport compared to Addis Ababa International. Visiting the bathrooms there, I was shocked to see men wash their feet in the sinks; to say that I was relieved to leave the airport would be an understatement. However, Beijing airport put me firmly in my place. The massive piece of infrastructure was a sight to behold. It took me a long walk, a train ride for about five minutes and a bus trip to leave the behemoth. My eyes only widened as we drove into the city proper. My senses were assailed; the air was heavy, the neon lights made my squint and the muggy air made the sweat stick on my brow. And the people! My goodness. I knew that China was the most populous country in the world, but knowing something, and then seeing it is another thing. Heard the story about how Chinese are short? Honestly, I didn’t find them as ‘vertically-challenged’ as I thought I would.

I expected many things but I didn’t think I would be so surprised by just how modern everything

A snapshot of bustling downtown Beijing

A snapshot of bustling downtown Beijing

was. And just how wealthy many of the people were. It seemed that every second car was an expensive German brand (people here especially seem to be in love with Audis). And how business savvy they are. As soon as you step outside the university’s gates, you are plunged into the topsy-turvy world of Chinese commerce. You want fresh fruits? You’ll find them. Want a bicycle? A laptop? A car? Anything at all? I’m sure you can buy them everything you could possibly want a kilometer from the university.

More than merely education, I appreciate this opportunity because it has allowed me to step back and look at things a new. First of all, it has taken me out of my comfort zone. Experiences like these make one realize just how small and inconsequential they are in the larger scope of things. When you are in a community like ours where people know not just you, but also your father, grandfather and every single member of your family, you forget what it’s like to reestablish yourself as an individual of substance. No one knows just how interesting, friendly or intelligent you are. They don’t know your country and what why you are proud when you tell them you are from Rwanda. “That is in Africa right?”, one fellow international student asked.

When you are in the hurly-burley of Kigali daily life, one forgets to look around and appreciate everything. I miss the hills, the sunny sky ( I haven’t seen the sun in the sky for most of the day), the regular rhythms and my community. I miss going to work in the morning and relaxing in my sofa in the evening. But as I say that, don’t for a second think that I would change a single thing. Rwandans have prospered all over the world, without losing who they are as a people, because of the strength of our culture and inherent ‘agaciro‘. I can’t think of a reason why my experience will be different.