Join me and petition the Mayor of Kigali and the IGP of the National Police about the noise pollution policy

Dear all,

As I promised in my last blog post, if I could get 100 retweets of this blog and 100 shares on Facebook I would start a petition on behalf of other concerned Rwandans who don’t like how the noise pollution policy is being used. Well, I HAVE. So, here goes, please log on to this website and sign your name on this petition


Enough is enough: the crackdown on noise is getting ridiculous and must be challenged

I’ve tried to be nice. I really have. I tried to put myself in their shoes and I’ve played Devil’s Advocate but to no avail. I have to say this; whoever instituted these new noise regulations needs help. They really do.

Last Wednesday night I went to the Spoken Word Rwanda a monthly event that gives a platform for the more artistic amongst us to explore their talents that was talking place at Jazz Lounge in Kimihurura (just behind Papyrus), I’m not a huge fan, I guess I’m not that artsy, but a friend persuaded me that it would be fun. And honestly, I didn’t fancy it that much but that’s just my opinion. But I digress.

Does this seems loud to you? (All photos courtesy of Teta Mpyisi-hope you dont mind that I've used them :)

Does this seems loud to you? (All photos courtesy of Teta Mpyisi: Hope you dont mind that I’ve used them 🙂

At around 9:30, right in the middle of a recital, a bunch of policemen, carrying the latest machine guns (you know, the ones that the Presidential Guard sport) arrived outside the venue and told the owners of the lounge to pack it up, the event was too noisy. Mind you, this wasn’t a hip-hop concert or a loud gathering; I mean, how could it be? It was a poetry slam for chrissake!

Trying to reason with their commander, I joined the lounge’s patron and asked “why exactly are you trying to shut it down”? “Because it is noisy”, he answered. “According to whom”, I challenged him. “According to the person who called us and made a complaint”, he said. “Who is the complainant and where does he/she live”? What law exactly are they following to shut this event down”, I asked.

I guess I was asking too many questions because they refused to answer any more questions.

Now, I’m pretty sure that they would have indeed shut the whole thing down if there weren’t two men in the crowd who were able to reason with them. I will not divulge their names, but I will say that they were both former military officers. I guess its true what they say, ‘BIG IS BIG’. But I find it disgusting that they had to throw their weight around (and make phone calls) for sanity to prevail.

I mean, what could possibly posses the cops to shut down a POETRY session because it was too loud? Was it the clapping after each performance? Was it the gentle guitar playing? I actually kind of felt bad for the cops who came, all they were doing was following orders. Orders from on high. And so those ‘higher ups’ are going to be the target of my vitriol.

Firstly, whoever called the cops (and I bet it is some ‘Nyakubahwa’ with an overly inflated sense of their own power- not anyone can call the cops and they send the elite ones, along with an afande in tow) is a sad, sad human being. But whoever called the cops is only doing it because they can. Someone decided to institute this harebrained nonsense. Guess who THAT IS?

The Lord Mayor. Fidele Ndayisaba .A man whose common sense I dispute. A man who tried to close Papyrus for shits and giggles. A man who will fine drivers for honking their car horns. A man who will do anything and everything in his power to tackle the scourge of noise pollution. Never mind that he isn’t tackling the scourge of Kigali’s lack of a sewage system. Or proper public transport. Or lack of affordable housing. Or rising petty crime. Or lack of proper neighborhood streets and streetlights. Nope, it is the NOISE that is Kigali’s problem.

I tried. I’ve really tried to be as understanding as possible to those among us who can’t sleep because of loud music but I feel like there is a collective piss-taking on the part of some people who have no sense of fun. Or common sense.

What’s the way forward? First of all, we need to get a new mayor. Sometimes that’s the only solution. Remember last year’s ban on Halloween? That was the brainchild of former culture minister, Protais Mitali. With Josesph Habineza we won’t have to go through that again, fingers crossed.

And barring that, the police have to start using their common sense more.10676171_10154729682505324_7464265598774861147_n Just because some person complains doesn’t mean that they have a case. Yesterday was a case in point. We all know that they will not buy instruments to measure sound levels (they don’t even have breathalyzers anymore) so I won’t even go down that route.

You know what, I think this is all our fault. The reason this is all nonsense is possible is because outraged people don’t organize. All they do is agonize. Bitching and moaning on Facebook and Twitter won’t change a thing. So, here is contribution.

If this blog post is shared more than 200 times on Twitter and 100 times of Facebook, I will start a petition under the name ‘Rwandan Youth for Change’ to voice our concerns about the noise pollution law and how its being used unlawfully and nonsensically. I will be looking for your signatures. Lets do this!!!      

Only a culturally liberal Rwanda can survive the coming decades

Last week I read about a case in Germany that turned my stomach. On Wednesday, the German Ethics Council, a government-backed committee, recommended that the government abolish laws criminalizing incest between siblings, arguing that such bans impinge upon citizens’ rights to sexual self-determination. This after a man named Patrick Stuebing had four children with his sister, Susan Karolewski.

 Patrick Stuebing had four children with his sister, Susan Karolewski.

Patrick Stuebing had four children with his sister, Susan Karolewski.

The two did not grow up together and met when Stuebing was 24 and Karolewski was 16, and had been romantic partners for several years. Stuebing was convicted of incest in 2008 and attempted to appeal his case to the European Court of Human Rights, to no avail. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party isn’t having it; a CDU spokesperson is quoted saying “abolishing criminal punishment against incestuous actions within a family would go completely against protecting the undisturbed development of children”.

My first instinct was to dismiss the entire affair as a strange example of Western über liberalism; kind of like the Ontario law that allows women to walk around bare- chested if they so wish, without fear of arrest for public indecency. But the longer I thought about what the Council’s decision, the more I realized that very little of my disgust or discomfort was based on any actual reasoning; or rather my instinctual ‘yuck’ wasn’t based on biological or ethical reasons. I just found it weird, disgusting and vomit inducing. The strength of my gut reaction took me aback, it made me realize that I wasn’t as culturally liberal as I had thought.

I’m proud of my laissez-faire attitude to most things. I believe that laws

Rwandan Culture Before...

Rwandan Youth Culture Before…

shouldn’t govern what adults do to make themselves happy, especially when it comes to acts carried out in the privacy of their own homes. As long as there is mutual consent. But that begs the question, how far can individual freedoms go before they run counter to societal norms and rules? And further, who defines what societal norms and rules are?

While some might call this simply an academic discussion without bearing to ‘real life’, I would beg to disagree.

Here in Rwanda I feel like we are going through monumental changes in the fabric of our society. For example, lets look at how gender roles are changing. What defined a ‘munyarwandakazi’ (Rwandan woman) only three decades ago would be sneered at today.

Rwandan Youth Culture Now

Rwandan Youth Culture Now

Women were supposed to be demure, virginal and soft spoken. They were certainly not supposed to leaders, either in their homes or in the workplace. And the law of the day mirrored that reality; married women were not allowed to start businesses without their husband’s explicit permission. That was the culture of the day and I’m sure that if someone told the lawmakers of the day that Rwanda would sweep their attitudes and laws into the dustbin of history, they’d have laughed them out of the room.

What constitutes Rwandan culture and norms is constantly changing in my opinion and two factors, the country’s younger generation and Rwanda’s embrace of the global community, are leading that. Perhaps its one and the same thing. What I wonder is whether those who institute our laws and govern our cultural life (I call them the ‘moral police’, you can identify them by their overuse of the word ‘umucyo’-culture) know just how fluid culture is today. What is ‘yucky’ today isn’t necessarily what will be ‘yucky’ today.

Perhaps that’s what we should take from the German case. And I’m not talking about the legality or otherwise of incest. We must constantly question our cultural beliefs and norms. We must always ask ourselves the question, ‘why do we believe what we believe? Are those beliefs relevant in today’s world? Should we not challenge our own prejudices more?

Fatou Bensouda and the Uncle Tom syndrome

The returning hero: Kenyatta arriving to Nairobi from The Hague

The returning hero: Kenyatta arriving to Nairobi from The Hague

On October 8, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta appeared before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, becoming the first sitting president to appear before the tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

At first I thought that being forced to appear in the docks (and make no mistake, he was forced) would leave him looking less presidential and more like a common criminal but I was mistaken. By the time he returned to Kenya he was even more popular in Kenya and in the rest of Africa, in my opinion, than the day he left.

His motorcade was mobbed by thousand of jubilant Kenyans, singing his name and waving placards. He resembled a conquering hero, returned from war. He was hailed in his country and hailed across the region.

Kenyatta is an astute politician and in trying him, the ICC has brought this to the fore. He has able to make his indictment not about the killings and mayhem that occurred in the aftermath of the 2007 presidential election but rather about neocolonialism and double standards in international justice. And in doing so, he was able to garner support against the ICC.

The ICC, as an institution, has garnered a bad rap in many parts of Africa, and especially in the intelligentsia, simply because of its record. Since its inception, it has tried or indicted only Africans despite the fact that human rights violations weren’t an African monopoly. African leaders have thus been able to say to their citizens ‘this court ignores the stronger nations and bullies us, the weaker one’. Whether this is true or not, these leaders have won the war for hearts and minds.

However, the ICC doesn’t have to take this lying down. First of all, it has to

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

engage better with African opinion leaders, especially the young ones. I, for one, have barely heard a coherent argument for the ICC and certainly not on any platforms that I actually use, such as social media. Until the ICC can speak to Africans in a manner that they understand and in platforms they utilize, it will always be perceived as the big, bad wolf finishing the work that colonialists begun.

And truth be told, it wont hurt the ICC’s rep if Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda indicted someone with pale skin. Yes, its nice to see an African at the ICC’s helm, but until she sinks her teeth in someone who isn’t from this continent she will always be treated like an Uncle Tom, doing her masters will.

Give us party zones and then you will get a good night’s sleep

come-again-barAs neither a nightclub person nor a churchgoer I’m probably one of the few people who have no ‘dog’ in the noise pollution ‘fight’. I honestly don’t care whether all the nightclubs in Rwanda are closed, along with all the places of worship; however, I will not hide my head in the sand and pretend that the events of the last couple of weeks haven’t got me thinking about the causes of all this brouhaha.

About a month ago, I went to the Kisementi area in the evening to meet up with friends of mine and to say that I was surprised at the noise levels would be an understatement. Where once (two or three years back perhaps) there was a neighborhood with one bar I found a neighborhood completely transformed. It seemed as if every house behind the Ecobank Remera-branch had been converted into a bar-hoppers paradise.

Out of each bar blared loud music as in-house DJs attempted to outdo each other in the volume stakes. Throw in the rowdy crowds and cars and all I can say was that the sound was positively Tower of Babel-ish. I was in and out of the area in five hours and all I could think about as I feel asleep in quiet Gishushu was how thankful I was I didn’t live anywhere near that area.

The police have not been making a lot of friends since deciding to enforce the noise pollution laws. In fact, one pastor went so far as to be quoted in a local online newspaper that the police was “provoking God” by arresting pastors and carting off their sound equipment (I won’t ask who the police are provoking by arresting bar owner).

I will not go into the argument of whether the arrests were lawful, especially in light of the Police’s inability to prove, in any scientific manner, whether the noise levels were above those allowed according to the law. Neither will I go into the argument about whether the closure of nightspots is or isn’t a great idea, especially when Kigali is trying to advertise itself as a 24-hour city. Not because they aren’t important, but rather because I believe that they are simply the symptoms of our malaise and not the disease itself.

My diagnosis? The fact that our city seems to be built without proper zoning laws in place. How else can it be possible for a nightclub to be found smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood?

I know that we have a Kigali Master Plan already but it has only major flaw. It doesn’t seem retroactive in nature. It doesn’t seem to have solutions for today’s solutions. In my view, people who want to open nightspots should know where to put up their establishments. Currently, they can honestly put them almost anywhere; the only thing stopping them would be the worry that their neighbors might complain and get them shut down.

Rather than act in a piecemeal kind of way and acting only when someone complained, wouldn’t it be better if there were designated areas where people could party in peace? Amsterdam has its Red Light District, Beijing has its Sanlitun area and New Orleans has Bourbon Street. Why can’t Kigali have its own major party districts?

Such an area would be a great addition to our cityscape. It would be secure because it would be easily patrolled by police, it would be a tourist attraction bringing in millions and the sleepyheads, such as myself, could live in peace. And if someone chose to live in that area, they’d do so knowing full well they were saying ‘urabeho’ to a good nights sleep.

About the noisy churches, well there isn’t much to be done (its not like there can be a designated ‘church district’. I simply think that there must be mutual respect between churches and their neighbors. What did Jesus say? I think it was “love thy neighbor as much as you love yourself”.

It’s a huge rip off: Universities are cheating both students and teachers

University of Kigali campus

University of Kigali campus

There is a universally held opinion among Rwandan employers that university graduates are half-baked and totally unprepared to compete in the job market. And as someone who has interviewed a few young aspiring journalists I can say that the sentiment holds a bit of truth. For the longest time I believed that the main issue was the outdated curriculum that put more emphasis on rote learning rather than practical skills, but a recent encounter changed my mind.

After receiving my post-graduate degree I thought of ways I could use the skills I learnt in Beijing to better my country and profession. So, I decided to do what I’ve always wanted to try: teaching. I reached out to several universities that had an undergraduate programme in communication, mass media or journalism and sent them my resume. I got a call back from a certain well-known Kenyan university and meeting was arranged with the dean of the faculty of journalism and communication.


Mass communication students at Mount Kenya University, Kicukiro campus

The sad state of the campus and its facilities should have warned me to expect the worst. I can honestly say that I had never seen such a disappointing facility; my high school classrooms looked better than them, never mind my university lecture rooms. “What kind of conditions were these”, I asked myself. The facilities weren’t the only things that made me reconsider my teaching dreams. After agreeing in principle to teach two courses, business writing and reporting and citizen journalism, the dean and I got into the topic of payment. “We will pay you five thousand francs an hour to teach; if the class is larger than twelve students, you will get seven thousand an hour”, I was told. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. What the dean was proposing was a weekly take home of Rwf 30,000 for six hours of teaching!

Now I don’t know about you, but receiving less than two hundred dollars a month for twenty-four hours on teaching (not including all the hours of prep work needed to teach a class) was nothing less than an insult to not only me, but to any potential lecturer worth their salt.

I understand that Rwanda is poor and our private universities work within that reality. But giving lecturers a pittance is simply not a good idea. Sure it makes sense for private universities (the less they pay, the more profits their owners make) to do so, if we are to be simplistic about it. However, I simply refuse to believe that education is a business like any other. It simply cannot be all about the money; there has to be a social responsibility aspect to it. Universities have the responsibility to ensure that their students receive the best education they can get. But I must ask, with such little compensation, what kind of teachers, and therefore education, are they getting?

Ever heard of the saying, ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’? I don’t want to insult the teachers that are accept such miserly amounts, but I have to ask, are universities getting the best teachers? I doubt that.

What made me decline the opportunity to teach at the’ institute of lower learning’ was a conversation I had with a student. He informed me that he paid tuition fees of Rwf900, 000 per year. That was disgusting; if they university could ask for such amounts from students, it stood to reason that they would provide them with an education that was relative to their tuition fees. The students, I felt, were being cheated and so were their parents, who are paying the fees with the erroneous belief that their children will receive a good education.

I would have considered teaching some classes for free if the university was a public university; however, I would not allow myself to be a part of some kind factory that spewed graduates hurly-burly into our job market, lining the pockets of its owner and doing more harm than good.

As someone who has interviewed graduates from journalism schools for jobs I can say, with all honesty, that they are worse than half-baked. They can barely write, conduct an interview or understand story angles. Despite the fact that they have graduated with ‘honors’. It is easy to blame graduates, but they are only as good as they are allowed to be. And sadly, some of the universities in this country aren’t allowing them to reach their potential.

This blog post was earlier published by The New Times newspaper