Ebola has revealed the dark side of Africa’s infrastructure frenzy

Ebola-Outbreak-Hits-West-African-NationIn August Rwandans held their breath as local media reported that a German student with Ebola-like symptoms, who’d flown into the country via Liberia, was being held in the isolation unit at the national referral hospital. I joined the rest of the country in breathing a sigh of relief when the health ministry announced that he was suffering from acute malaria and not the hemorrhagic fever, which has killed 1,552 people as of August 26.

I find this year’s global outbreak of Ebola quite interesting simply because this it is so unexpected. For you see, this is a disease endemic to parts of Africa that were once off the beaten path.

The first case of the disease was diagnosed in 1976 close to the Ebola River, which is found in an extremely isolated and sparely populated part of the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). That outbreak killed 280 villagers. The second major outbreak in the DRC occurred in 1995, killing 315. Only in 2000 did Ebola leave it’s heavily forested home and cross over to DRC’s neighbor, Uganda.

So, the question that we must ask ourselves is, what has changed? Why is this disease, which had only killed Congolese forest dwellers previously, suddenly spreading like wildfire across the African continent and even further afield?

If I was to blame one thing, I’d blame Africa’s economic development over the past few decades. For whereas once the isolated nature of the various Ebola hotspots ensured that there were only localized infections and deaths, today we have roads and airstrips leading to and from these very regions.

These transport networks allow not only trade and migration, but also the spreading of diseases to populations that have never encountered them. Think about it, it is only today that a single infection in a Guinean village can morph into an epidemic that is besieging most of West Africa.

Today sub-Saharan African nations are in an infrastructure building frenzy. image%255B4%255DAccording to World Bank figures last year, transport networks account for 20 percent of its lending portfolio on the continent. What is especially noteworthy is that the projects are taking a regional and transcontinental aspect.

Here in East Africa, the nations of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya are engaged in a project to connect a standard gauge from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Rwanda’s capital Kigali. That new railway will then eventually extend to South Sudan and Ethiopia. It would not be shocking to me if, in the next three decades, a railway line connected Dakar in the west to Mombasa in the east.

Ebola virus on a stick?: Bush meat vendors in the Ivory Coast

Ebola virus on a stick? Bush meat vendors in the Ivory Coast

So while we celebrate the increased economic opportunities that all the new networks will avail us, let us not forget that it comes with a price. I will not be surprised if this epidemic is only the first of very many. It is my fear that very few African states will have the medical infrastructure necessary to ward off the next wave of possible epidemics.

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Diaspora, its time to just come home

Members of the Rwandan Diaspora meeting the president at this year's Rwanda Day event in Atlanta.

Members of the Rwandan Diaspora meeting the president at this year’s Rwanda Day event in Atlanta.

Two days ago, I walked into a Nyarutarama-based café and patisserie and saw a familiar face that I thought I’d probably never see again, save for on Facebook and Instagram. After a quick greeting I asked about her work and why she was back. In an excited voice, the young lady she told me that she had quit her well-paying job in a blue chip multinational to move to Rwanda permanently and start a business. Now if she was Rwandan or even Rwandan-descent I would have marveled at her giant cojones; I mean, it is a rare human being who leaves security and wealth to become an entrepreneur in an emerging market. What left me bamboozled was that she was, in fact, a blond, blue-eyed American.

Now don’t for even one second think that this column is about denouncing the influx of immigrants “coming to take our jobs”, as some western politicians rail whenever they are within earshot of a microphone, far from it. I am extremely pleased to see them because it tells me that the economy is moving in the right direction. Because of their drive and business-savvy, more locals get employment, taxes increase and services improve. It’s a win-win situation for all of us. Scratch that, it is ALMOST a win-win. The only losers, or rather non-participants, I see are the thousands of young Rwandans all over the world.

I find it mind-boggling that many in my generation choose to live and work in other countries. I mean, what is there not to like about living and working in Rwanda? Where else are their skills needed more? Not the US, that’s for sure. Or Canada. Or the UK. Or France. Only here in Rwanda are their skills actually essential; else where they are simply part of the cog. But in Rwanda they are the machine itself. Where else in the world could someone say that they became a consultant in the foreign affairs ministry, a part of the president’s communication team and editor and columnist in the national paper before they were even 33 years of age? Only back home.

Only an economy building itself up from the roots can give young people the space to flourish and even lead. Only in a country without an aging political class, hell-bent on perpetuating its privilege, can a young man or woman think that they will get anywhere close to real power and influence. Rwanda happily is all that.

But the trick is, you can’t take it for granted. Don’t think that just because you studied ‘abroad’ or worked in some organization in Ottawa this country owes you something. Very often when I chat with some individuals still living abroad they talk about how little government pays as compared to the McJobs they are currently in. Or worse, they are waiting to be wooed and begged to come home by a high ranking official. That, my friends, is simply a pipedream.

There is so much money to be made in this country that I find it shocking that there is even a Diaspora still. Think I’m lying? Okay, let me show you just how easy it is to make money in this country. Say someone works for a ‘measly’ $40,000 a year. If they went to a bank, they could easily obtain a personal loan of $10,000. With that money ( approximately Rwf 7million) they could then buy some property along one of Rwanda’s many lakes. Using that land as collateral and with a good business plan, they could obtain a local loan and then use that money to build a small resort cottage that they could rent out to families or groups that wanted to spend some time enjoying nature for a day or so.

I understand that it is tempting to get caught up in the hamster wheel that is life over there, but there is no reason why one should allow such a fate. There are too many opportunities right here at home to allow yourself to live a mediocre life over there. So, here is my advice to you; start writing those business plans, looking for money and planning your move back home. Start it today.

NGOs and families should not be feeding hospital patients

The author with friends at the Solid Africa party on Friday

The author with friends at the Solid Africa party on Friday

Last Friday I attended a house party in Kacyiru. While attending a shindig isn’t exactly news for anyone who knows me, what was noteworthy is the reason why I and about fifty or so people, where partying in the first place. For you see, the party was thrown by Solid Africa.

Now if you haven’t heard of Solid Africa, here is a rundown; it is a local NGO founded by young Rwandans who want to give back to their community. One of their biggest projects is their patient feeding programme at CHUK (University Teaching Hospital of Kigali). That very programme is why were partying. The Friday party was actually a fundraising event meant to raise money for the Solid Africa.

Sipping a beer (it was for a good cause) I took one Solid Africa membe and queried her about the feeding programme. What she told meboth angered and concerned me. Solid Africa went around CHUK, joining other NGOs’, feeding hungry patients unable to buy food for themselves or without family and friends bringing them food.

The Solid Africa feeding programme at CHUK

The Solid Africa feeding programme at CHUK

In fact, it has come to my attention that every Monday, Solid Africa gives 300 vulnerable patients a healthy lunch. While this is a great initiative by well meaning young people, who should be supported, I have issues with the situation that makes them so vital for CHUK patients.

Now it might seem strange for many out there for me to see something wrong with this feeding programme, especially because bringing food to ill friends and family (kugemura) is an entrenched aspect of our culture. However, we should examine the issue further.

First of all, why should their families, never mind NGOs, even feed patients in our hospitals? Around the world hospitals feed their patients, so I’m not advocating for something unreasonable or even revolutionary.

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Imagine this scenario: a patient is wheeled out of the operating theatre after stomach surgery. The doctor prescribes a specialized meal plan to the patient’s caregivers and then goes his/her way. A week or so later, the patient, who had been healing, suddenly complains of sharp pains in their stomach. Is the pain perhaps caused by the food that they are eating? Is the patient not getting the food that the doctor ordered? Or has the food been prepared in an unhygienic way, causing some sort of infection? I imagine that hospitals around the world (and our own King Faisal Hospital) provide meals to patients to ensure that they can control what goes into patient’s mouths. So, the question is, why isn’t CHUK able to do that?

The Solid Africa member informed me that it was because CHUK, and the other hospitals around the country simply didn’t have the budget needed to buy enough medicine, never mind feeding patients. To that excuse say I say “nonsense”.

Why can’t hospitals provide the meals to in-patients and then pass on the final bill to the patients and their insurance providers? If insurance providers need to increase premiums by a few hundred francs, so be it. And if the insurance providers say “no”, then I say, let our government pay for it. After all, we give prisoners three square meals. If we can feed rapists, killers and thieves, we should be able to feed our sick.

I simply don’t think we should ask NGOs’ and private citizens to provide services that government institutions should provide.10533114_669116186503584_2403201774701288357_n

Plus, what assurance do hospitals have that the NGOs are providing good, clean food? Imagine if the food has some salmonella or E-coli and as a result of infection a patient dies? Does the NGO not bear direct responsibility for death? What protection does a well meaning NGO have against a lawsuit? None.

Nyamwasa shooting: After 4 years, SA ruling leaves more questions than answers

Bemused.

That is the only word I could come up with while following the judgment in the Kayumba Nyamwasa attempted murder trial in South Africa on Friday. Thinking that the case would either give us a ‘smoking gun’ proving the Rwandan government’s involvement in the crime or absolve it, I waited keenly to hear Magistrate Stanley Mkhair’s ruling.

The six men who were accused of attempting to murder Kayumba Nyamwasa entering court on Friday

The six men who were accused of attempting to murder Kayumba Nyamwasa entering court on Friday

First a quick recap of Friday’s events and those preceding them. Four years ago, some people attempted to take the life of former army officer Kayumba Nyamwasa in crime-riddled Johannesburg. He was shot, I believe, in the stomach and even before the police had released a statement concerning the crime, Kigali was fingered as the prime (and only) suspect.

Six men were arrested for the crime; his driver Richard Bachisa (who actually grabbed the gun, saving his boss’s life), Rwandan-Belgian businessman Pascal Kanyandekwe (who was fingered as the financier and mastermind by both the police and prosecution service), Tanzanian Hemedi Dendego Sefu (who was identified by Nyamwasa as the shooter) and the three accomplices Rwandan Amani Uriwane, and Tanzanians Hassann Mohammedi Nduli and Sady Abdou. Kanyandekwe also faced the charge of attempted bribery after being accused of offering police a bribe of one million rand to release him from custody.

After four years of hearings, speculations and finger-pointing the magistrate found the driver innocent, saying that his actions of grabbing the shooter’s gun had saved the former officer’s life. That was followed by a ruling finding Kanyandekwe innocent of all charges against him. And that’s when the confusion begun.

By stating “all items found in Kanyandekwe’s possession proves he knew about conspiracy to murder but doesn’t create sufficient bases to convict him”, Mkhair left a cloud hanging over Pascal’s head. If there was insufficient evidence to convict, then why the need to act like there was? If the South African prosecution service couldn’t prove his guilt, he was therefore innocent. The magistrate wasn’t correct in making a ruling that left such a grey area.

Convicting Hemedi Dendego Sefu as the shooter and the other three as his accomplices, the magistrate

Mistaken: Kayumba Nyamwasa in court with friends and family in court. He believes that the judgement is a 'landmark' one proving that the Rwandan government attacks its opponents.

Mistaken: Kayumba Nyamwasa in court with friends and family in court. He believes that the judgement is a ‘landmark’ one proving that the Rwandan government attacks its opponents.

departed the world of law and reason and entered the world of innuendo and hearsay. “The attempted murder was politically motivated, emanating from a certain group of people from Rwanda”, Stanley Mkhair voiced.

How he knew it was politically motivated he didn’t say. And how he knew it was from a group in Rwanda, again he didn’t say. Was it guesswork? Did he just wake up and say the first thing that came to his head? Did he have super-secret information that he couldn’t reveal? We will never know because he won’t ever have to justify his words. I mean, there are many groups in Rwanda. There is a ‘group’ of tall people. There is a ‘group’ of baldheaded people and a ‘group’ of Primus beer lovers. There are millions of groups in Rwanda. Which one is the ‘certain’ one?

All that was proved was that Hemedi Dendego Sefu received money to kill Nyamwasa. However, whom he got the money from remains a mystery; especially because Kanyandekwe was the person they’d pinned as the financial kingpin of the plot. I’m left wondering, who handed him the money? Wasn’t there some sort of paper trial? Did the police and prosecution service even try to find it?

Of course the ruling was hailed as a ‘landmark’ case. Well, those calling it one are either naive or lying to themselves and others. The case proves nothing other than the fact that Nyamwasa was shot. That is the only fact that is without dispute. The rest of the noise emanating from the case is simply that, noise.

Fraud: Our sports teams are an embarrassment and unworthy of Rwanda

I will go straight for the jugular. Our national sports associations are an embarrassment and in my opinion their entire leadership should resign immediately and face criminal charges.

Grace before the fall: Dady Birori scored a hattrick against Libya for the national team.

Grace before the fall: Dady Birori scored a hattrick against Libya for the national team.

If you’ve haven’t heard of the Dady Birori/Ferwafa scandal then I can only guess you’ve been living under a rock. But if you will, let me give you the abridged version. A few weeks ago the national team, the Amavubi Stars, qualified for the final group qualifiers of the African Cup of Nations after beating Congo Brazzaville in a thrilling contest. The only issue was that one of the players who played for us was not only NOT Rwandan but he had different names and dates of birth of his passports. In his Rwandan documents, he was Dady Birori and in his Congolese passport he was Etekiama Agiti Tady. His date of birth on his Rwandan document was December 12, 1986 while on his Congolese one his date of birth was given as December 13 1990.

The Congo Brazzaville football association complained to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that Rwanda had used an uneligible player and happily for me at least, CAF agreed with them and disqualified the national team from participating in the next round. And less happily, banned Birori indefinitely.

Sadly, the football association tried to wiggle out of this by trying to justify its amafuti (wrongdoing) by appealing the CAF sanction but CAF thankfully stood by its decision, rejecting Rwanda’s appeal on Saturday.

Now I know that I will be called unpatriotic and a hater of Rwandan football but I say to you, nothing could be further from the truth. What I demand is simple; to have a national team that represents me; a Rwandan. Not one that is made up of mercenaries (or ‘Cubans’, as we used to call them in high school).

Remember the greatest moment in our national team’s history, our qualification to the African Nations Cup final in Tunisia? I’m pretty sure that less than half of that team could actually sing the national anthem. In fact, instead of calling it the Amavubi Stars, we should have called it the ICGLR All-Stars. We had Ugandans, Congolese, Angolans, Burundians and only a smattering of locals.

 I asked a New Times sports reporter to give me a list of former and current Amavubi players with their ‘Rwandan’ names and their real names and the list is shocking. Here are some their Rwandan (read fake) name in brackets:

Sena Abedi Jerome (Sina Jerome), Mbuyu Twitte (Gasana Eric), Kasongo Kabiona (Kalisa Mao), Jean

The famous 2004 Amavubi squad that qualified for the African Cup of Nations Finals: Pick out the real Rwandans if you can

The famous 2004 Amavubi squad that qualified for the African Cup of Nations Finals: Pick out the real Rwandans if you can

Pierre Mukandira (Kabanda Laurent), Bokota Labama (Kamana Bokota), Kambale Salita Gentil (Papi Kamanzi) Nkanu Mudiyavanga (Mugabo Robert) Ruhinda Faruk (Sejuuko Saifi Farouk) Peter Otema (Kagabo Peter), Julius Bakabulindi (Kaburindi Julius) Kawuma Charles (Gakumba Charles), Kasereka Fabrice (Mutuyimana Mussa), Tabu Ete Mafisango (Mutesa Patrick Mafisango) Janvier Bisonga (Ntaganda Elias), Kasusura Jean ( Ismael Mussa), Bawuma Berisi (Nahimana Jonas) Lokota Jean (Karangwa John), Mutaki Jean Baptiste Kasereka (Kalisa Kasse), Kaseleka Aluwa (Gasueruka Aluwa), Ujeneza Robert Kolo (Gasana Philip Pitchou), Mike Yossam (Karangwa Michel) and Alphat Serugendo (Claude Kalisa).

What absolutely floored me was the some players used one name playing for their local club and then used another playing for the national team. An example is one former APR FC player Mbuyu Twite who was given the ‘Rwandan’ name Eric Gasana whenever he worse the national jersey. Scandalous!

Don’t think that our football association is guilty of this citizenship silliness. Our nationalvolleyball  and basketball teams are guilty as well.

There are a couple of things we need to discuss. Why did we need to change their names? Was that really necessary? If we did, did our sports federations act within our citizenship law? Did they act within their international federation’s citizenship statues? I’m pretty sure that they did not. And even if they somehow did follow the law, they have gone both against the spirit of sportsmanship and that of ‘Agaciro’.

When we talk about ‘agaciro’, I believe we talk about ‘doing things the right way’, excellence, patience and hard work. All in all, when I hear the word ‘agaciro’, I hear the words ‘ethical behavior’. Now let us look at what has been done and, is still being done, in our names.

Our sports federations have refused to do the hard work needed to build a proper and sustainable sports infrastructure that can feed the national teams with talent. They’ve refused to build enough sports pitches, train coaches and work with schools. Rather, they’ve chosen to cheat and now the chickens have come home to roost.

We need to go back to the drawing board and start doing things the right way. Let our national teams represent not merely ‘Rwanda’, but rather the kind of Rwanda that we can be proud of.. Enough is enough! I say, we cannot allow this cabal of fraudsters to sully us further. They must be forced to resign and punished severely. If this isn’t done, then I will have to say “adieu” to the federations’ teams because they don’t represent me anymore. I love my Amavubi. I just cannot love what they have become.