You want another wife? Ok, then allow her another husband

ccccOn the outside looking in, all I can say is that it had been an interesting couple of days in good ol’ East Africa. We’ve had a media-manufactured Twitter scandal at home, bans on jogging in Bujumbura and stories of political rivalries stewing in Uganda. But in terms of sheer ‘interestingness’, nothing beats what is coming out in Kenya with the polygamy bill.

The bill that was passed on Thursday attempts to formalize customary law, which allows marriage with more than one spouse.  While the entire bill was courting controversy from the get go, the clause that ignited the most ire was one that stated that a man didn’t have to inform his wife that he was bring a second lady home.

The female MP’s were furious and stormed out of the chambers. Explaining their anger, MP Soipan Tuya said “We know that men are afraid of women’s tongues more than anything else. But at the end of the day, if you are the man of the house, and you choose to bring on another party – and they may be two or three – I think it behoves you to be man enough to agree that your wife and family should know”.

MP Samuel Chepkong’a, chairman of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, responded saying, “Under customary law, women or wives you have married do not need to be told when you’re coming home with a second or third wife. Any lady you bring home is your wife”.

Looking at the exchanges, I came to the realization that none of these MPs were arguing against polygamy per se, but rather whether the first wife has a right to know that her husband was planning to bring wife number two. They all seemed to agree with MP Junet Mohammed, who said,  “When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way, and a third wife… this is Africa”.

I feel that their debate was less about acknowledging our cultural heritage and more about ensuring male supremacy in the guise of ‘African-ness’. What the proponents of our African ‘culture’ (as if its one homogenous thing) want us to believe is that polygamous relationships are a type of social service that men give women in order to, first of all, protect and cater for their wellbeing. And secondly, to keep them away from the dreaded “S” word. Spinsterhood.

While I can acknowledge that such an arrangement was necessary in the past, especially because all the Is-Polygamy-a-Function-of-Education-Africa-Telegraph-UKmeans of production rested in the hands of men, I think it is an archaic arrangement today. Today, I doubt whether any young girl imagines becoming someone’s third wife, no matter how rich and powerful he is.

In my opinion, polygamy is simply a vestige of our agrarian, patriarchal pre-colonial past.

But, if we insist on continuing it today, I think we need to be fair about it. What irks me with the Bill is that is explicitly bans women from getting married to multiple men. That is wrong. I’m of the view that if you make laws, they must cut across all strata. Why shouldn’t women be allowed to marry as many men as they like? Is it unAfrican?

Well, actually no. The Igbo people allowed a woman to get married to multiple men (a practice known sociologically as polyandry) and so did the Lele people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  According to cultural anthropologists, this type of marriage structure was extremely predominating in communities that were matriarchal in nature i.e. those where wealth and power emanated from the mother. Rwanda was, and is, still extremely patriarchal.

Truth be told, I am very liberal when it comes to marriage. I believe that it is something that only couple (s) should define. ‘Normal’ marriage? Great. Gay marriage? I’m all for it. Polygamy? Sure. Polyandry? Why not?

As long it works for the people in it, marriage, as legal institution, should be open to whoever wants in. As long as they’re consenting adults, who are we to tell them what they can and cannot do to become happy? All I ask is that whatever rules are enacted they are fair to both sexes.


Pascal Simbikangwa jailed: is there any hope for normal Rwanda-France relations?

123884-nicolas-sarkozy-et-paul-kagame-a-kigali-le-25-fevrier-2010Four years ago, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, became the first French head of state since Francois Mitterand to visit Kigali. During a joint press conference with Rwandan President, Paul Kagame, he uttered these words, “what happened here (Rwanda) is unacceptable, but what happened here compels the international community, including France, to reflect on the mistakes that stopped it from preventing and halting this abominable crime”.

The crime that he was talking about was the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. A crime that ended up killing hundreds of thousands of innocent and defenseless men, women and children simply because of an accident of birth.  Talking about his country’s “gross misjudgment”, he explained France’s unhelpful attitude during the days, months and years before the killings started on April 7, was due to a sort of “blindness”.

I watched the press conference quite skeptically. It seemed to my untrained eye that the French establishment was doing the bare minimum to save face while the Kigali establishment was trying to simply move on from the utter breakdown in diplomatic relations. These relations had been severed by the Rwandan government in 2006 as a result of French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere’s arrest warrant for nine prominent members of Kigali’s political and military elite. The warrant accused the nine individuals of planning and executing the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s aircraft, an incident that was the spark that ignited the genocidal fires.

During that period, thousands of Kigali residents took to the streets to protest the arrest warrants because they were seen as politically motivated. I was one of those protestors. I remember that the downpour was coming down quite hard as we marched from various points in the city to the national stadium where we listened to impassioned speeches. I was personally fed up with what I felt was an insidious attempt by the French government to bring the Rwandan government, a government I supported, to its knees.

I had grown up hearing stories about French soldiers not only training and arming the very people who killed some of my own relatives, but also how France used its influence in international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF to frustrate the newly-installed rebel government in the early to late nineties, turning off the much needed financial taps.  Throw in the fact that many of the people who are believed to have played a major role in the Genocide lived and worked on French soil, and I would have been fair to say that I was not a fan of the French.

Agathe Kanziga Habyarimana, the wife of the former president and the reported head of the ‘Akazu’ (the little house) and power behind the throne, was given asylum in France. She’s been actually asked to leave France by the immigration authorities but she’s still living in Paris. There is a Rwandan arrest warrant out for her but no one is acting on it. Another well known fugitive living in France is Father Wenceslas Munyeshyaka. He was the head priest at Saint Famille Church in Kigali. He is accused of pointing out the Tutsi’s to the Interahamwe killers among the parishioners who sought refuge in the church and raping them. He’s been living untouched in France despite the French promise that they would try him.

Just a months ago a French upper court denied Rwanda’s extradition request for former Rwandan officer, Laurent Serubuga, who is wanted for genocide.

With all our past history, the recent conviction and sentencing of Pascal Simbikangwa to 25 years for genocide will hardly change the way Rwandans perceives France. His conviction means nothing to us honestly. France hasn’t yet faced its past in Rwanda by actually admitting its role. And it’s not going after those who perpetuated those crimes living in its borders. Until that happens, Simbikangwa’s trial and conviction is mere window dressing.


International law was ambushed in Iraq, killed in Kosovo and is now buried in Crimea

The Russian troops in Crimea are party to a 21st century land grab.

The Russian troops in Crimea are party to a 21st century land grab.

Six years ago, I excitedly sat down to a lecture that I thought would help me understand just the way the world worked. It was a class on international law. In the proceeding weeks, I learnt about diplomatic codes and immunities, the power of the UN Security Council and various global treaties. Which was great. But I came to learn that the world worked less on legal niceties but rather forceful fait accompli.

2008 was the year that Kosovo gained independence from Serbia and this is what I wrote at the time in an article titled ‘So Kosovo is Independent huh’?

“ I’m all for the rights of a people to determine their own futures, however, I’m against the methods that the Kosovars used in their quest for independence. I don’t feel comfortable in the fact that a former region in a sovereign nation can, without preamble and involvement of the other parties, declare themselves ‘free’. The Kosovar unilateral declaration of independence opens up a whole can of worms vis-à-vis the legal precedence that it sets. Now that this small European region has become independent with the support of the biggest global powers, which have recognised its move, what does it mean for all the other peoples clamoring for a nation? Because, if the people of Kosovo are allowed to do what they did, then fairness and even common sense dictates that all the mentioned people should be allowed to break away from their mother nations without the resistance of the international community or their national governments”.

The events in Crimea remind me of Kosovo. Like Kosovo, Crimea was an integral part of an

Crimea: for those who don't know where is what

Crimea: for those who don’t know where is what

independent state. Like Ukraine, Serbia was supposedly under the protective wing of the ‘big brother’ (in Serbia, Big Brother was Russia and in Ukraine, Big Brother has been the EU and the US). When Kosovo (read, Crimea) with the explicit support of their powerful allies sought to break free and did, the rest of the world could only rant and rave about the illegality of it all.  And that, my friends, is international law.

It can be bent to fit whatever scenario the powerful want. The Iraq invasion? It was first about weapons of mass destruction, and then about freeing people. Later on people stopped even trying to justify it. It was fait accompli. Kosovo? Despite Russia’s outr guess what? Even if it hasn’t been granted a seat at the UN General Assembly table, Serbia has given up its rights there. It just a matter of time. Fait accompli once again.


Harsh but fair

Harsh but fair

A few days ago, Russia recognized Crimea as an independent state. If that was the end of it, I’m sure that it would’ve been squeezed to death by the powers that be. The EU, the US and Ukraine would have rendered the will of its people null and void through sanctions, lack of international recognition and military pressure. Even with Russia supporting it wholeheartedly, the independent Republic of Crimea would have been stillborn. Which is probably why, in the next few days, the newly independent state will give up its sovereignty to join Russia. This is where realpolitik, fait accompli and international law come together.

Russia is a different cup of tea. Unlike many smaller states, it has the economic, military and diplomatic might to actually make life dicey for the EU and US. Let’s not kid ourselves; it has the nukes to send all of us back to the Stone Age. That is why the talks of sanctions are just that. Talk. No one in their right mind will escalate this to its logical conclusion i.e. enforcing Ukrainian control of Crimea. No one likes Kiev that much.

So, what do we take from all this? Might is right and to hell with international law.  A law that is unable to be enforced is simply a waste of the paper it is written on.

RWANDA’S GOT TALENT! And don’t you forget it!

I cannot even begin to relate just how often I hear people say, quite annoyingly I must add, that local universities produce “half-baked graduates”. You will hear this on television, in the media and in daily conversation. People complain that they can barely write a legible job application and when they DO get a job, the simplest tasks are beyond them. And to tell the truth, I’m sick and tired of that simplistic narrative.


The crowd at Ms. Geek Rwanda. Not quite as popular as Miss Rwanda huh?

The crowd at Ms. Geek Rwanda. Not quite as popular as Miss Rwanda huh?

When I tell someone that I, along with many of my friends and accomplished colleagues, studied in those ‘poor schools’, they often respond that we “are different”. “Why”, I ask, “ didn’t we went through the same KIST and NUR doors that you besmirch on a daily basis”?  “Are we incompetent”? “Are the people who graduated from fancy, foreign universities better at their jobs than we are”? “I doubt it”.

The Ms. Geek event that took place at Lemigo hotel on Saturday proved my point. Organized by Girls in ICT Rwanda, the event aimed to showcase just how tech savvy and innovative the girls in our universities were. Although Nancy Sibo, a student at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering, won the event with her ‘Mobile Cow’ app, she was just one of the 25 students who brought their ideas forward.

Talking with a friend of mine who attended the event, I learnt that each and every one of those girls, who presented their ideas with clarity and eloquence, went through a public speaking and presentation workshop. For a week.  In a mere week, with the help of interested and focused mentors, these girls were able to stand in front of an intimidating audience and do well. The magic word here people is ‘mentors’.

In my experience, university students are callow and often have their heads in the clouds.  It doesn’t matter whether they are from Wichita or Musanze. They are all the same. Which is okay. The difference is what people expect from them when they earn a degree. Elsewhere, they are treated with kid gloves and allowed to grow as not only workers but also as human beings. They are mentored and encouraged to do as many internships as possible. Here, they are given the keys to the kingdom and told ‘sink or swim’. And when they do sink, we say “look at them; they can’t do anything”.

In my opinion, a university’s job is to give its students a basic level of knowledge about their chosen career path. It should be the job market that completes their education. Employers need to stop being reactive and become more proactive.

A few months ago, I was chatting with a lawyer friend of mine about this issue. “Why, I asked him, “didn’t his law firm

Nancy Sibo, a student at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering-NUR, won the event with her ‘Mobile Cow’ app.

Nancy Sibo, a student at the Faculty of Agricultural Engineering-NUR, won the event with her ‘Mobile Cow’ app.

work closely with the NUR law faculty to present yearly internship slots to law school students who want to work during their long vacation”?  The way I envisaged it, the law firm would get gophers able to perform the most menial tasks, like delivering summons and what not, leaving the associates and partners to do the real legwork. The law firm would get to systematically train its prospective labour force cheaply, teaching them the ethos of the company and cherry picking the best of the bunch. For the students who didn’t get a job in that law firm, they’d be able to gain oh so important work experience.  Giving them an advantage in the competitive job market.

Back when I was in school, the only places we could get some experience was during the yearly Expo. And those jobs taught very little.  As an aspiring writer, I was fortunate to be able to work at The New Times newspaper during the holidays. The pay wasn’t great but it allowed me to grow as a writer, journalist and editor. And lo behold, as soon as I graduated I had a job waiting for me. The employer had shaped me and now was reaping the rewards.

I know that there are thousands of smart, willing and driven university students just waiting for a chance to shine.  Like those smart girls who everyone admired at the Miss Geek event, all they need is a little spent on them.  There is a lot of talent in our academic sea; what we need to do is groom that talent in a systematic manner.  No matter how talented they seem, they need all the support that they can get. And currently, they simply aren’t getting it.

Dear REB, we are still waiting on an answer on the bursary repayment question

Dear, Di­rector general of the Rwanda Educa­tion Board, Dr John Rutayisire, can you please tell us if we are loan defaulters? And if so, why exactly?

Dear, Di­rector general of the Rwanda Educa­tion Board, Dr John Rutayisire, can you please tell us if we are loan defaulters? And if so, why exactly?

Last week, I reacted to a story that ran in The New Times newspaper about REB’s (Rwanda Education Board) threat to forward the names of former university students who had not paid back what REB called their ‘student loans’.  I argued in my weekly blog/column (that’s runs in that paper) that the directive to call us loan defaulters was unfair, unwarranted and most possibly illegal as well. I asked REB whether making us loan defaulters, and running our credit rating was the only way to replenish the tertiary education coffers.

It seemed that the article touched a nerve because the usually conciliatory New Times readership came quite down hard on REB. Let me share some of the reader’s comments.

Peter from Kigali writes, “I wish to hear what minister of JUSTICE say on this. If we pay REB today tomorrow we will Pay MININFRA for road/EWSA for public light, MoD for security. My question: What my taxes do in education sector? I didn’t applied for scholarship in REB, I didn’t sign any contract with them only signing receipt for 5,450 RWf/monthly which i didn’t asked (it is like someone buy you a beer and then one day comeback say please pay me back the money i used to buy you a beer). RWANDA is country of laws please H.E save us this baseless practice of REB. I do prefer to pay education tax if it is needed but not paying this rubbish proposal”.

Robe in Kigali writes, “I remember the sleepless nights we passed together with our small radio in the dining room…had I known that I was studying that hard to indebt myself, hell no I would hv instead looked for other options. I paid the last installment in 2011 since then i hv’t got the clearance certificate”.

Bigabo in Rusizi writes, “REB Calling us loan defaulters is going overbooard. We dont deserve this kind of treatment, how do we look back and be grateful for the financial aid we innocently acquired from the govt because we merited to join tertiary institutions when they are starting to brand us thieves, REB should and can do better than that indeed,i couldn’t agree more with you Sunny”.

The last readers comment that I will share comes from Kaggwa Mustapher, a citizen living in Muhima, Nyarugenge. He

Will these primary school kids, who study for 'free', suddenly find that their free education wasnt free after all?

Will these primary school kids, who study for ‘free’, suddenly find that their free education wasnt free after all?

writes, “Non-retroactivity of the law should be respected, or else REB will find itself in courts of law simply because of not respecting the then signed contracts with the students. As a lawyer, chances are such that I might even go ahead and claim for damages after winning the case. Do they really understand what it means to be a loan-defaulter? It is more serious than it looks on the outside to be a loan-defaulter in any country. There are other ways of collecting the funds without threatening the beneficiaries, and even get more depending on how you sensitize them. Hey, let those who benefitted from the loans loan not regret instead. Go for study tours to other countries and see how this is done”.

Now, I don’t want to seem as if I’m harping on and on about this topic but REB has left me no choice.

I assumed that the folks over there would take notice of the public unease with the policy and address it in some way. I honestly didn’t expect them to change the policy immediately, but I thought that they would respect those questioning the policy enough to respond to their questions. I’ve waited a whole week but nothing. Not an interview, not a press release and not even a tweet. Nothing. I mean, not even a short statement saying ‘REB takes note of your concerns and will get back to you on the questions raised about the bursary’.

In my opinion, this is due to two things. Either the REB thinks that if it keeps mum, people will forget about the issue and move on. Or, they simply think that they are too high and mighty to respond to a simple writer like me. Well, I can assure them of this; I will talk about this issue one way or another every single week until we, the public who pay their salaries, get some sort of response.

For too long, I’ve noticed that when an issue is raised, instead of tackling it, officials ignore it until people move on to the next issue. Only when the ‘big guns’ such as the President or Prime Minister get involved is there some sort of public reckoning.  I think that is why the National Dialogue is so popular; people can question leaders and hold them to account. This way of doing things simply cannot continue. Officials have to understand that they don’t work for President; they work for us, the common folk. And they answer to us, the common folk. They better start answering our questions. That’s what accountability is all about.