How many more women have to die before we talk about sex?

Teenage pregnancy, accounts for the majority of school dropouts

Teenage pregnancy, accounts for the majority of school dropouts

Last Saturday, 22-year old Stella Matutina’s lifeless body was found dumped in a 30-metre rubbish pit in Gatsibo District. Investigations by the National Police show that her medical officer lover disposed of her body after a botched illegal abortion.

According to the Executive Secretary of Rwimbogo Sector, John Mushumba, the tragedy occurred when the illegal abortion procedure, which took place at her boyfriend’s house, went belly up. Sensing that matters were critical, the boyfriend and the medical workers who attempted the procedure, tried to transfer her to the local clinic but she then expired on the way there. According to the police, that was when they chose to dump her lifeless body in the pit and flee the area. The Police has now launched a manhunt for the individuals involved in her senseless and, frankly, unnecessary death.

On more than one occasion I’ve railed against the situation in Rwanda, where women are forced to undergo back-alley abortions, performed without proper medical equipment and personnel, because we’ve outlawed abortion in all but a few very specific circumstances. I’ve argued that forcing a woman to choose between a life-threatening shady operation and giving birth to an unwanted child was unfair and, truth be told, cruel. To both the mother and the child in question. If I didn’t discuss this case with a female friend of mine my column this week would have been another pro-choice piece. However, something she told me struck a nerve. When I asked her opinion on abortion she said, “an abortion should be something that no one wants for a woman”.

Her statement got me thinking; perhaps I was going about this all wrong. Instead of debating the pros and cons on legalizing abortion, what we needed to discuss is why they were getting pregnant in the first place. A recent study by the National University of Rwanda’s School of Public Health and the Guttmacher Institute found out that a whopping 47% of pregnancies are unintended. Even though the spate of unintended pregnancies is sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Kigali Proposal’ (the story being that a woman forces a man to marry her by getting pregnant), this is no laughing matter. Continue reading

Advertisements

Little Bella’s killer should be in a mad house not a jail cell

The trial in Nyamirambo Regional Stadium

The trial in Nyamirambo Regional Stadium

When I heard that he was going to be tried in Nyamirambo Regional Stadium, I was somewhat taken aback. Personally, I wasn’t too happy by the judiciary’s decision to hear the case there instead of a ‘normal’ courtroom. While I’m pretty sure that the judges didn’t break the law in hearing the case in a place better suited for sports events and concerts, I still felt uncomfortable when I saw pictures of the murderer being ‘welcomed’ into the stadium with a chorus of boos and expletives.

I understand that there was huge public interest in following the trial proceedings. But I think there was a better way of doing things. The trial could have still taken place in a courtroom with Radio Rwanda, Rwanda TV and other radio and television stations broadcasting the proceedings live. Look at how the Oscar Pistorius trial is being handled. The entire world can follow the trial live.

A court is not just a building where judges sit down and try cases. In French, some are called ‘palais de justice’ (palace of justice). There is a certain gravitas to a courtroom; a certain majesty that is lost when its proceedings are moved to another place, like a stadium. And truth be told, it just doesn’t look serious when a judge in flowing robes has to walk by a track to get to his chair. Continue reading

Guest Blog: Owning our Past, Present and Future: In response to Stephanie Nyombaire’s, “It’s not about you”

My note- As I’m wont to do every so often, I am publishing on this blog a piece of commentary that I find thought-inducing. I enjoyed it and I hope you do so as well. The author asked that I protect their identity. As usual, I must reiterate that these are not necessarily my views. Rather, I think that the author’s viewpoint should be considered as we move forward. Enjoy!

 

 

rwanda-e1396504262883-680x365

I have been a fan of Ms. Stephanie Nyombaire’s work as an activist since I watched her presentation at TEDx Swarthmore in 2012. The effort of young Rwandans like her in reshaping the conversation on Rwanda is truly commendable. In this article, I write a response to her recent piece titled “it is not about you” published in Rwanda Post Online on April 6, 2014. (see below) The goal of my response is simply to reveal logical fallacies and contradictions in the hope, that we can have a more meaningful conversation on the Genocide against the Tutsi and the state of Rwanda twenty years after Genocide. Continue reading

A work in progress: reconciliation and press freedom in Rwanda

Personal Note: This blog post was written for Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Blog Beat section. It was published on Wednesday 16 April as part of their Genocide Commemoration articles.  

Pre-1994 Kigali meets post-1994 Kigali. The blood soaked Saint Famille Church surrounded by the new Rwanda

Pre-1994 Kigali meets post-1994 Kigali. The blood soaked Saint Famille Church surrounded by the new Rwanda

 

As we remember and commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the commencement of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, various commentators and journalists have taken the opportunity to write about the progress (or lack thereof) that Rwanda has made in the years since 1994. What I’ve noticed is that while none of them can take issue with the economic, infrastructural and social development that we’ve seen, most, if not all of them, have bones to pick with aspects of Rwanda’s civil and political development.

Two examples of the slow civil and political development that they mention is press freedom/ free speech and reconciliation/political space. On the very day Rwandans remembered their dead, Steve Terril wrote an article that argued that the press was muzzled and unable to discuss the more controversial aspects of Rwanda’s history such as suspected RPF rebel human rights violations and war crimes. I will not argue with that assessment.  However, I do think that a more nuanced approach is needed to understand not only why it is media is controlled but also the government’s end game.

I think that those wanting Rwanda, and more particular Rwandan media, to ‘move on’ two decades after the Genocide are being disingenuous. It is my opinion that it’s impossible to understand the wounds and terrors that were inflicted on Rwandans, especially Tutsis. No matter just how safe and secure they feel under the present government, there are always triggers that give them flashbacks. Continue reading

Why is Rwanda losing the war against corruption?

Easier said than done

Easier said than done

Last week, the Ombudsman released her yearly list of individuals who’ve fallen foul of anti-corruption laws. Unlike last year however, because I’m not currently in the country, I can’t peruse through the list of names.

The last time this list came out, I wrote an article complaining about how not only the names of the errant individuals were published but their parent’s names as well. I asked, “What had these poor people done, other than give birth to a person who decided to engage in immorality”? I thought that adding their names was unnecessary. I certainly hope that they haven’t done so this year.

Last time around I was amazed by not only how many people were names, but rather the nature of their crimes. The vast majority of offenders were what I call ‘petty offenders’. These poor people (yes, poor) were given long jail sentences for either asking for, and giving sums that I’d call pocket change. And, as many people complained, the lack of the ‘big fish’ on the list was disheartening.

I understand that corruption in whatever form should be fought; however, the small sums that are being handed over don’t impact that many lives. What impacts lives are shady deals, like the scandal over the sickly exotic cattle, that destitute many baturage. To my knowledge (which I admit isn’t that great) the people involved haven’t been arrested, reprimanded or given any punishment. In fact, a year or so, I remember reading a story in this paper about how some leaders hadn’t submitted their wealth declaration forms on time. Did they get any punishment? Not to my knowledge. Of course, maybe they were. However, any such censure was done behind closed doors. The errant officials were not named and shamed. Continue reading

Why don’t y’all give Rwandans a break? Its only 20 years after the Genocide

13705436913_17731c2363_zOn Monday I felt like huge sense of loss. Not only because it was a time to remember and reflect on those we had so cruelly lost, like my maternal grandmother who was killed in Butare, but also because I was far, far away from my community. Over here in Beijing, no one understood why I was sad, why I didn’t go to class (instead spending the day oscillating between Radio Rwanda and Rwanda Television depending on the Internet speeds) and why I simply couldn’t remove the veil of sorrow that enveloped me. And even if I had told someone why I was so down in the dumps, they still wouldn’t have been able to understand the depths of my despair.  I was in mourning and for the first time in more than a decade, I was not home. I was not surrounded by a community that felt my pain. I was not able to hug someone who felt more pain than I. I felt lost.

But as I watched/listened to the commemoration ceremonies, I felt my heart lighten and the darkrwanda-e1396504262883-680x365 depression that surrounded me lift. The cries that rang out throughout the ceremony made my heart sick but the strong testimonies reinforced it. The President’s speech was a salve. It was a strong, heartfelt piece of oratory that spoke a language that my soul understood. I went from despair, to hope, from anger to resolve. The part that spoke to me the most was when he said “We ask that you engage Rwanda and Africa with an open mind, accepting that our efforts are carried out in good faith for the benefit of all of us”. No truer words have been spoken.

As a columnist for more than half a decade, I’ve spent countless hours reading books, reports and articles (and responding to them) that have been unfair, unwarranted and simply too harsh. As the president said, Rwanda could have ended up either being a permanent UN protectorate, a nation split or suffering from round upon round of tit for tat civil war. However it didn’t. The problem is, those pointing fingers have taken what we’ve all sacrificed for and built for granted. They nitpick, they complain, they want things to be better, faster. And that is okay. We all know that we don’t live in a veritable Garden of Eden. We know that we have a lot of progress to make. However, we progress at a rate that we choose due to our special circumstances.

Yes. ‘Special circumstances’. I am loathe to pull out the genocide ‘card’ BUT that is the prism in which we operate. I had a conversation a month or so back with an American friend of mine. We were talking about critical thinking, politics, the youth and education in Rwanda. While she tried her best to understand the situation, it was evident to me that she couldn’t simply grasp the situation. And honestly, I respected that because she understood that while she wanted things to become better, she understood that it would be a process that Rwandans were comfortable with. Because only they could understand where they came from.

sitemgr_photo_322486Lets look at the things that critics complain about. A ‘censored’ press, no ‘opposition’, ‘authoritarian’ leadership, ‘forced’ reconciliation and a ‘militaristic’ foreign policy. But there is little discussion why Rwanda had been forced to censor the press, why opposition politics works the way it does, why strong leadership is needed and why our foreign policy is so militant.

These critics refuse to think that these various policies and governance decisions are in good faith. They refuse to believe that we are fighting for the very life of the Rwandan nation. They refuse to believe that while they seem draconian, they are simply part of the rebuilding process. A rebuilding process that will take generations; we cannot snap our fingers and fix everything. But we are trying so hard. Give us a break.

After little Bella’s death, should we rethink the death penalty?

The gruesome death of 12-year old Bella Isimbi Uwase by the hand of her alleged killer Slyveri Mahoro cut me to the core.

Bella's family and friends at her funeral wake

Bella’s family and friends at her funeral wake

First of all, was the fact that such an innocent child, with her future in front of her, was snatched away from her doting family in such a cruel, cruel way. The manner of her death, by knife wound to the neck, was horrible and excruciatingly slow.

Secondly, her absolute victimhood touched my heart. Often when there is a murder, at least one try’s to make sense of it; yes there is a victim but at least you have a ‘proper’ motive. You rationalize the act by saying that the perpetrator was acting in a skewed but logical way. But in this case there is no logic. She never did anything to him and, if the stories we’ve heard are true, they were actually quite close. Or as close as child and house-help can be. So, why would he turn his murderous intentions towards her? It simply did not make sense then and after a week if pondering it, it still doesn’t.

The countless Rwandans, who voiced their outrage in newspaper comments section and social media, shared my feelings of horror, disgust, sadness and anger. The vast majority of Rwandans wanted nothing but either the hangman’s noose or firing squad for him if found guilty. I honestly, can understand why they would wish that because at some level, I want blood.

When the death penalty was scrapped in 2007, I supported it for various reasons. First of all, because once the death penalty was enforced, one couldn’t go back from it. While I haven’t heard of any ‘accidental’ deaths in Rwanda, we only have to look at the issue surrounding the death penalty in the United States to see just how controversial it is. I’ve heard of cases where someone is killed, and then years later, evidence appears that they, in fact, did not do the crime they were found guilty of.

And interestingly enough guess who the vast majority of people who were sentenced to death were (and

The alleged murderer was arrested in the Eastern Province just days after Bella's murder

The alleged murderer was arrested in the Eastern Province just days after Bella’s murder

still are)? Racial minorities and the poor. If you are poor, black AND suspected of committing a crime that falls under the death penalty, you are plum out of luck. The chances are, you will get the electric chair. If you are rich, educated and white, the chances are you won’t. One can argue that it is because racism, classism or simply a matter of who can afford the best lawyers but at the end of the day the result is the same. Poor and black? You probably will die. White and rich? You will face some serious jail time…but that’s all.

Leaving alone the issue of erroneous judgments, I had a problem with death sentences on a philosophical level. I mean, what is the difference between the criminal and a justice system that kills the criminal? All of them have ended a life. A life that isn’t theirs to take.

But I wont pretend that Bella’s murder hasn’t made me question my beliefs. I’ve asked myself, “if there is overwhelming eyewitness and forensic evidence to prove that someone committed murder, wouldn’t the death penalty be okay? “How about when the crime was so shocking and gruesome that the perpetrator seems inhuman”? “Can’t we justify the death penalty the same way we justify putting down a rabid dog”?

I honestly haven’t come to a conclusion; however, it is my belief that we must debate it. Yes, in 2007 there was a consensus to remove death penalty as former Minister of Justice Karugarama said, but in the wake of Bella’s murder, perhaps the consensus is no more. Should we keep the law as is? Or perhaps should we amend it and specify that the death penalty can be carried out in certain horrific cases? Over to you.