Does the UN’s Maina Kiai want to turn Kigali into Kiev? Or a NGO free-for-all? No thanks

A protestor pepper spraying police in KievAs I watched the troubling scenes the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the demonstrators actually understood what tragedies they were heaping unto their nation they thought they were fighting for. For while they destroyed buildings and set policemen alight with molotov cocktails, their country was in a recession that they weren’t doing anything to improve. In fact, they were actively making things worse. The only people making money in the imbroglio were gas mask and sleeping bag manufacturers. And of course, media people who were ‘just doing their job’, vulture-like. Some people call what those people are doing democratic practice. I call it plain stupidity. There is a reason they say, ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Which brings me to Maina Kiai’s January 27 report on Rwanda.

The Kenyan-born United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, has thrown very specific accusations against not only our government but the very laws that govern our nation. And for a person who was in the country for exactly a week, these barbs were remarkable.

First of all, he complained that prior authorisation was needed in order to engage in peaceful assembly. Despite noting that this authorisation was for assembly on public roads and public spaces in the “interest of public safety, tranquility and health” (as per the law), he still urged that “ the right to freedom of peaceful assembly should not be subject to authorization by the authorities”.

Let us examine this assertion.

What he is saying is that the rights of those who want to demonstrate supersede those of everyone else. In other words, if somebody or some organization wants to march unto parliament during the evening rush hour, they should be allowed to and to hell with anyone who is trying to drive home after a long day at work! The convenience of the rest of society doesn’t mean much. Nor the safety of our head of state it would seem.

One of the instances that he quoted was the arrest of some religious fanatics who tried to enter a restricted zone around the president’s residence in Kiyovu. In Mr. Kiai’s opinion, they should not have been arrested for trespass. It doesn’t matter whether they had entered a restricted zone. Perhaps, in his opinion, they should have been allowed to walk right into the presidential bedchambers to express their right to assemble wherever they liked.

The kind of absolutist thinking that the Special Rapporteur ascribes to doesn’t take into account the needs and rights of EVERY individual in a society. People wanting to have their voices ‘heard’ can do what they want, how they want and when they want. I’m happy to live in a country where my needs are also a priority.

And I’m happy to live in a country with a national vision that is all-encompassing. While Mr. Kiai complains about, and I quote, “ that the development partnerships between the Government and local and international NGOs are of a compulsory nature. This is evidenced by the necessity of collaboration letters, action plans that must align with the development objectives of the district, down to the level of activities, and in some cases demands for performance contracts to be concluded between local authorities and all NGOs. In fact, the perception of some in Government and in the civil society sector appears to be that NGOs are implementers of Government policy. Honestly, I would not have it any other way. I like the fact that they are implementers of government policy. No one in their right mind would have an issue with either Vision 2020 or EDPRS 2. And if they did, I would be suspicious about their intentions.

Rwanda’s miraculous socio-economic progress did not occur by mistake or by chance. It has only been possible because everyone read from a similar script. The NGO’s that Minaloc registered had to be able to prove that they were actually going to improve people’s lives and not just meander about, swallowing aid monies without consequence.

I understand that he had a job to do. But perhaps if he spent more than just a week in the country, or talked to more Rwandans, he would have known that we are perfectly happy with the status quo. And if the status quo ever changes, it will be because we ALL want the change. Not just some vocal minority.

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