Want to go to jail? Then share a sexy selfie

Mona Lisa duck face: Selfies have become an ubiquitous part of modern day life.

Mona Lisa duck face: Selfies have become an ubiquitous part of modern day life.

I hate selfies. I just need to throw it out there. They are the reserve of the weak-minded and the egoistic. They are the apex of human narcissism and celebrate the very worst of us. I personally think that they are the harbinger of humanity’s decline.

I’m obviously on the losing side here.

The mecca of the selfie, Instagram, a photo and video-sharing platform, could be worth $35 billion dollars according to some estimates and it’s easy to see why. It had more than 150 million active monthly users by September 2013, and I’m pretty sure it had a couple hundred million more now.

Instagram, and its worship of the self, is a mere drop in the ocean when it comes to the use of the camera-phone. You now have young people using Snapchat, Tumblr and the now-traditional Facebook and Twitter to share precious moments. And, as we’ve seen again and again, new technology is being used in ways that no one envisaged. Enter sexting (sending sexually explicit text messages, images and videos by mobile phone) and revenge porn (sexually explicit media that is publicly shared online without the consent of the pictured individual).

It has almost become normal for people under forty to send sexually explicit to their romantic interests, whether their spouse, fiancé or boyfriend /girlfriend. It used to be seen as a harmless way to ‘arouse’ interest (forgive the pun). That is, until it lost its ‘harmless’ tag.

Images that were supposed to remain private soon started leaking into the public domain. The issue has taken an international character.

On 31, August 2014, explicit photos of major celebrities were splashed across the Internet after their iCloud accounts were hacked. The private selfies, which had been meant for their romantic partners, spread like wildfire.

What I found interesting was the way the US media, law enforcement and the larger society reacted. Instead of shaming the celebrities for sharing their pictures, everyone turned on the people responsible for the hack. I found that extremely admirable.

Especially when I compare it to the way Ugandan songstress Desire Luzinda has been treated since her ex-boyfriend maliciously shared explicit photos he took of her last year.

Desire Luzinda and her ex-boyfriend Franklin Emuobor in happier times. He leaked explicit photos of her after they split up.

Desire Luzinda and her ex-boyfriend Franklin Emuobor in happier times. He leaked explicit photos of her after they split up.

The poor lady became the butt of jokes and memes. She had to grovelingly apologize to her fans on Facebook and to rub salt in her wound the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo, called for her arrest. He was quoted by the Daily Monitor newspaper saying “‘I have directed the police to arrest her, but first they should investigate her. She should be locked up and isolated”.

Personally, I found the situation problematic. How could the victim of the loss of privacy become the target of a criminal investigation? But that was the law. Police had no choice but to investigate the matter. Her predicament made me wonder, what would happen if a similar situation happened right here at home?

We deal with the issue of explicit images in Article 188 of the Penal Code. It reads, ‘Any person, who exhibits, sells or distributes songs, or any other writing, symbols, images, emblems or any other objects of sexual nature shall be liable to a term of imprisonment of one (1) month but less than six (6) months and a fine of a hundred thousand (100,000) to two million (2,000,000) Rwandan francs or one of these penalties’.

So, when you take a sexy selfie and send it to your romantic partner on Whatsapp, you are actually falling foul of this very law. You are ‘distributing’ objects of a sexual nature. Are you excitedly forwarding sexually explicit pictures and videos to your friends? If so, you are a criminal.

Thankfully, no one has yet faced a jail term because of taking and sending an ill-advised picture. However, just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it wont eventually. According to our penal law, the person taking the picture and sending it to their partner is actually trafficking pornography. Even if the partner decides to share it with all and sundry without consent i.e. revenge porn, the victim will also be caught up in the police dragnet. They too have engaged in illegality.

I don’t think that the drafters of our penal code had envisaged the explicit selfie when they drafted the law. They couldn’t have foreseen revenge porn. I think that it is time that they revise Article 188 to ensure that victims don’t get caught in the legal crossfire. We must avoid a Desire Luzinda-like situation at all costs.

This blog was earlier published by The New Times

Rwanda ni’Nziza, but who can afford to enjoy it?

Back in the late 1990’s, back when Rwanda Broadcasting Agency was Television Rwandaise, there was a song that was played right after the television opened each day at around 5pm.

It was a catchy music video that they played with the lyrics going something like, and please forgive my Kinyarwanda, ‘Genda Rwanda uri’nziza…” (Rwanda you are beautiful).

The vastly overpriced Paradis Malahide hotel is an foreign favourite. Their POS doesn't accept Rwandan Francs

The vastly overpriced Paradis Malahide hotel is an foreign favourite. Their POS doesn’t accept Rwandan Francs

Lovely images accompanied this music video, showing the lovely hills, lakes, flora and fauna in the country. Single-handedly, this video made me fall in love with my country, a love I have up to today. Whenever I have a little extra cash in my pocket I jump on a bus and travel to my two favorite spots in the country, Huye and Rubavu.

With a few friends in tow, I drove to Rubavu this weekend and spent a night at a modest lakeside hotel. And when I say modest, I don’t mean that I paid around Rwf25,000 for a room, rather I mean that I paid a little less than Rwf 60,000. And what did I get for that amount?

A pretty mediocre room and a extremely blasé breakfast. However, on the bright side, I woke up to a wonderful view of a shimmering Lake Kivu. But that was it. I didn’t feel like I had got anything close to my money’s worth.

I woke to this view. Is it worth close to Rwf 60,000? I doubt it

I woke to this view. Is it worth close to Rwf 60,000? I doubt it

Looking around, I believe that I wasn’t the only one who felt that it was a rip off.

I quickly realized that there were only two Rwandans in the entire place who didn’t actually work there, a friend and I. The rest of the guests were foreigners. And that made me sad. Did locals not want to spend a night hearing the soothing sounds of the waves? Did they not want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city? Did they not appreciate the things their country had to offer? Of course they did. So, where were they?

I believe that the vast majority of the local populace simply can’t afford to enjoy their own country. And mind you, when I’m talking about the ‘locals’, I don’t mean rural farmers, moto-taxi riders and small traders (although they too have every right to enjoy it).

I’m talking about low to middle level civil servants and other members of the formal sector i.e. the people who should be making up the Rwandan middle class. And how could they if a single, mediocre room cost about a fifth of a civil servants salary?

To make me even feel more unwanted and uncared about as a local, when time for payment arrived, and we pulled out our VISA cards, we were informed that they would only accept debit and credit card payment in American dollars not Rwandan Francs.

While this was convenient for the foreigners, whose bank accounts are in dollars, what that meant for us locals, paying in Rwandan francs, was that we’d actually have to pay MORE than was advertised because the hotel chose its own dollar-franc exchange rate. Luckily we had cash. I’ve not always been that lucky.

Inzu Lodge, Gisenyi. Their tents are obviously NOT for locals. After all, who pays good money to sleep in a tent?

Inzu Lodge, Gisenyi. Their tents are obviously NOT for locals. After all, who pays good money to sleep in a tent?

Last year, I paid about an extra Rwf10,000 simply because I used a credit card at a hotel that only had a US dollar POS (Point of Sale) machine. The worst part was, I didn’t even know that I would be charged so much for my credit card usage; I only found out I had been ‘robbed’ when I got my credit card bill a month later.

Mind you, I’m not saying that the hotels acted illegally, what I’m saying is that they acted like I, and the local Rwandan market, wasn’t that important to them. And truth be told, they are probably right. However, that doesn’t make it right.

RDB’s (Rwanda Development Board) tourism department is breaking a sweat, trying to increase local tourism. National park permits for locals are a lot cheaper than those handed out to foreigners. That is a good step. However, if something isn’t done about the lack of affordable accommodation, the push for local tourism will be DOA-Dead on Arrival.

So what is the way forward? The lake side towns of Cyangugu, Kibuye,Rubavu and the rest of the Lake Kivu shoreline has been mooted as tourism ‘central’. Well, I suggest that along with 5-Star accommodation, there must be a plan for affordable hotels as well.

Let the Serena’s have the choice lakeside spots, but then make sure that there are affordable, family-friendly hotels and guesthouses as well. And for the love of God, insist that POS machines accept our legal tender.

Lake Kivu in the morning: What a view

Lake Kivu in the morning: What a view

This blog was published in The New Times        

UN versus the FDLR rebels is nothing to get excited about

Right now, the drums of war in Great Lakes region of Africa are beating more and more incessantly but in my humble opinion, that is all that will happen. We won’t see any real battles; in fact, the best we can hope for are mild skirmishes.

Who wants to fight this FDLR guerilla?....

Who wants to fight this FDLR guerilla?….

This despite the fact that the UN Security Council has authorized military action against Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)-based FDLR (Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda) rebels due to their threat to civilians in the Eastern DRC.

To Great Lakes region watchers the acronym ‘FDLR’ is well know, but to the uninitiated, let me explain exactly who these ‘democratic forces are’.

Their leadership is composed of former Rwandan government officials and military officers who actively participated in the 1994 Genocide. After their military defeat at the hands of now President Paul Kagame’s RPF (Rwanda Patriotic Front) rebels, they fled west and settled down in Eastern DRC where they begun launching guerilla strikes into Rwandan territory.

Whereas the guerilla attacks into Rwanda petered out by the early 2000’s, their acts of violence and looting have continued in the Congo; they’ve raped hundreds and killed even more. What is even more irksome is that they use Congolese minerals to buy arms, they very arms that they then turn on Congolese civilians.

The Rwandan government, at times in concert with the DRC and sometimes alone, has taken the fight to the FDLR. However, despite these military forays the FDLR has not been crushed. Perhaps this is because its modus operandi is to disappear into the dense rainforest whenever confronted by a force stronger than a few villagers wielding bows and arrows. Either way, FDLR is alive and well in Eastern DRC. Enter the international community.

After the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (a UN Security Council-mandated contingent composed of crack South African, Malawian and Tanzanian troops) defeated the M23 rebels led by ICC indicted Bosco ‘Terminator’ Ntaganda, they promised to turn their high-powered attack helicopters on the FDLR. That was in 2013.

Two years down the line, and after more FDLR attacks, the international community is rattling its sabres again.


Not these MONUSCO peacekeepers

After the FDLR ignored the request to voluntarily disarm by January 2 2015, a decisions made by the regional groupings ICGLR (International Conference on the Great Lakes Region) and SADC (South African Development Community), they’ve been threatened with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2147, which allows for a military offensive against them. In fact, even the wishy-washy European Union has joined the bandwagon. In a press statement released on the 19th January, the EU states, “the moment has come to start military action”.

Fighting words indeed.

However, I doubt whether anything will come of all this. Here are the facts.

Firstly, before the UN forces defeat the FDLR they have to find them first. Unlike the M23, they don’t engage in conventional warfare; they don’t dig up positions and fight to the death. Rather they melt into the civilian population at the first sign of trouble and use those very civilians as human shields.

Secondly, the FDLR isn’t a coherent force. Instead of a massed body of troops, what they are in reality is a bunch of militiamen, in groups not bigger than 200, spread over a huge surface area. So, if UN forces do attack, which group of FDLR will they attack?

I don’t even analyze whether the UN forces actually WANT to attack the FDLR. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time they threatened action and did nothing. In fact, when asked about the proposed UN military action in a press conference, President Kagame sounded quiet skeptical, saying that any such action would come as a surprise.

So, will there be military action? Not in my opinion. However, what I am pleased about is the fact that the international community is finally waking up to the murderous acts perpetrated by this group. Perhaps as a result of all this ‘noise’, the FDLR will think twice before perpetrating any more abuses. After all, what they really, really desire is to be taken seriously enough by the international community that the Rwandan government is forced to negotiate a political settlement with them.

Human Rights Watch 2015: Why so much dishonestly Mr.Roth?

Like a bad case of the flu that simply refuses to know when its beat, the unaccountable, untrustworthy and unsavoury organisation that calls itself Human Rights Watch or HRW has, once again, authored its yearly diatribe against the government.

Rwanda: According to the folks at Human Rights Watch

Rwanda: According to the folks at Human Rights Watch

And like its reports of yesteryear, this year’s ‘report’ is full of innuendo, lies and old news. Honestly, the document is so small (if compared to previous ones) that I must ask in all seriousness, is this all they had?

HRW, led by Ken Roth, subdivide the report into eight sections: Political Opposition, Attacks on Opponents Abroad, Civil Society Organisations, Media, Unlawful Detention and Enforced Disappearances, Security-Related Trials, Justice for Genocide and, lastly, Key International Actors.

I want to share with you all some of the things the human rights ‘experts’ deem to be worthy of a factual country report.

On the subject of ‘Political Opposition’, they write, “The ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) dominates all aspects of political and public life. Opposition parties cannot operate in a meaningful way”.

Now, I don’t know if the authors of this report are being silly, malicious or just plain stupid! What do they mean about RPF dominating ALL aspects of political and public life? What is ALL aspects of public and political life anyway? Does the RPF hold all government positions? No.

Rwanda: According to the rest of the non-HRW world

Rwanda: According to the rest of the non-Human Rights World world

Our constitution mandates a power-sharing arrangement. So, when the folks in New York write that opposition parties cannot operate in a meaningful way, I guess they didn’t ask Prime Minister Anastase Murekezi of the Social Democratic Party, House Speaker Donatille Mukabalisa from the Liberal Party their opinion on the state of the political opposition.

My guess is that when HRW talks about ‘meaningful’ opposition they aren’t talking about effective governance and people pulling together in the same direction; rather what they call ‘meaningful’ opposition is like what happened in Kinshasa a week or so ago, with people dying and property destroyed because they opposed a proposed law. Well, here in Rwanda, we have chosen to play our cards differently.

It is obvious what kind of opposition HRW wants in Rwanda. It writes about the sentence handed down by the Supreme Court to FDU-Inkingi’s Victoire Ingabire, complaining that the Court had “increased from eight to fifteen years” after found guilty of conspiring “to undermine the government and genocide denial in 2012”.

Why didn’t HRW add that most of the evidence that the used to nail her come from her personal computer in Holland? Or that the Dutch government saw it fit to share the ‘smoking gun’ with the government? Or that there was a paper trail showing that she actually sent money to people who aimed to overthrow the legal government? Perhaps because they didn’t want to muddy the waters and actually call her what she actually was, and is. A dangerous insurgent.

Lets move on to the ‘Attacks on Opponents Abroad’ section. The report states “On January 1, Patrick Karegeya, former head of Rwanda’s external intelligence services and a prominent government opponent exiled in South Africa, was found murdered in a hotel room in Johannesburg. South African authorities launched an investigation, which was ongoing at time of writing”. All which is true in all honesty.

Yes, he was living in South Africa and yes, he was engaged in a deadly struggle with the former government he served. So far so good. Where the report goes from facts to hearsay is when it attempts to link his killing with the Government of Rwanda. Sorry guys, there was no proof then and there has been so proof since then linking the two directly. Same with Mr. Kayumba Nyamwasa.

I will not be so blind as to say that Rwanda doesn’t have certain challenges when it come to human rights. I mean, who has a perfect human rights record anyway? Not the UK. Not the US. Not China. Not France. Not Canada. Not any of the Nordic nations. In not being truthful, HRW is simply being a hindrance to Rwanda’s human rights journey and not a good partner.