Is there an islamisation of Europe? Yes…if you are looking for a scapegoat, that is

_80213558_025288701-1

I’ve been watching the anti-Islam marches in Germany with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment. However, the one emotion I haven’t experienced is surprise.  The sight of thousands of Germans marching in Dresden against the perceived rise of militant Islam in Europe is nothing we in Africa should be worried about; rather, what should make us worried is what it symbolizes.

I find it quite interesting that the rise of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamification of the West) occurred around the same time that European nations are facing shocks to their standards of living.

Weakening Europe

In the southern European nations of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the austerity measures demanded by the EU are leaving people destitute and desperate. In Italy, the dolce vita of yesteryear is the stuff of cinema and modern history classes; whereas it used to be known as the home of the iconic Sophia Loren and Gianni Agnelli, its now known as home to Silvio Berlusocni (with his notorious bunga-bunga parties) and faltering governments.  Belgium once went a whole 18 months without a government in 2010, as various regional parties squabbled and the UK is doing all it can to get out of the European Union, without actually doing so. In other words, there are real systemic issues within Europe that need to be fixed.

However, these problems are not being fixed by the European political class, so guess what? Instead of taking aim at the real causes of their nation’s malaise, what we are seeing is a redirection of popular anger and frustration.  Where before the scapegoats used to be either the Jews, the gypsies, the immigrants, the Irish or the Poles, now the scapegoat is Islam.

Yes, the religion of Islam hasn’t had the best PR in Europe, especially after the Charlie Hebdo attacks recently in Paris, but it honestly doesn’t matter if there wasn’t an attack, or series of attacks. Europe has always been historically xenophobic, and despite its ‘civilised’ and ‘open’ outward appearance, nothing much has changed.

How European are migrants allowed to feel?

Yes, there are huge non-Caucasian European communities today, but the question we must ask is, how truly integrated are they? How truly quote-unquote ‘European’ are they? How European do they feel? And most importantly, how European are they allowed to feel? Because it would seem to me right now, especially with not only the actions of Pegida but also the rise of the right wing, that Europe is turning on those who are different i.e. those who are not white and profess a religion that isn’t Christianity.

This anti-Islam movement (which I truly believe is an anti-immigrant movement in all honesty) bears some resemblance with events that occurred in the famous South Africa suburb of Soweto. While Soweto will always remain in popular myth as the home of the anti-apartheid struggle, today it symbolizes to me something less heartening. Murderous xenophobia.

pegida

In February , a small argument between an 18-year old South African youth high on a local drug called ‘Nyaope’ and a Somali shop owner was escalated by a frustrated and poor community.  One local South African newsmagazine quoted one member of the community saying, ““I hate them [foreign shop owners] because they are killing local businesses, they don’t pay taxes and they don’t hire locals”.

Whether that was factual or simply based on prejudice, the fact of the matter is that as a result of that kind of thinking led to a looting spree of foreign owned shops and businesses by mobs of local South Africans. Unfortunately, instead of protecting property, the local police actually encouraged and took part in the looting and violence.

Similar motivations in Dresden and Soweto

web_photo_looting1_Soweto_2

I see many similarities between the Soweto violence and Pegida’s rise. First of all, they are all based on mistaken beliefs that could not withstand even basic scrutiny i.e. that there is an Islamisation of the West (à la Pegida) and the foreigners are pushing out local business (à la Soweto).  Secondly, I find it interesting that both issues found a home in economically marginalized areas of their respective countries, Dresden and Soweto. And if you look at what both groups really want, you’ll see one main similarity; they both want less immigration. And they want less immigration simply because there is less wealth to share around.

Despite the hugely successful anti-Pegida counter demonstrations, I see a more and more right-wing tilt to the European political and social landscape because of an under-performing European Union. Yes, Pegida went a bit too far right for many people’s taste, its basic tenets of radically decreased immigration will become the mainstream opinion.

That is, until the European economic machine splutters back to life and there is a need for more human capital. Capital that only immigrants can avail.

JournAfrica! published this blog post

Post 2017 debate: After term removal what next?

It would seem that the average Rwandan wants a Kagame presidency post-2017.

It would seem that the average Rwandan wants a Kagame presidency post-2017.

I have read about the ongoing debate on the issue of the Rwandan presidential term with a lot of interest but this would be the first time I put my thoughts about in on paper. This is simply because I didn’t want to write in haste and be misinterpreted as a result…so here goes.

I’ve vacillated between the pro- and anti-term extension schools of thought, because both ‘teams’ make some good points.

On one hand those who wish to maintain the current constitutional arrangement, which mandates a two-term seven year presidential lifespan, argue that amending Article 101 of the Constitution (which reads ‘The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms’) is a slap to the face of the idea of constitutionalism and what it stands for i.e. that a document is more powerful and sacred than an individual and EVEN public opinion.

On the other hand, a view that has been espoused by men a lot more accomplished than me, namely Professor Manasseh Nshuti, Colonel Joseph Karemera, Dr. Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi, is that a ‘mere’ piece of paper cannot overpower the will of the people, especially when they have been fortunate enough to have the kind of leadership that the Rwanda was sorely lacking for the first three or so decades of self-rule. They argue that changing the captain with the ship still in stormy waters is a risk that the country can ill afford, especially with the kind of past it has had and the kind of progress that it is making currently.

My legal training pushes me towards the former view but my life as a Rwandan, who has lived in the country since 1994 and watched it grow, pushes me towards the latter.

I’m in a bit of a state here. So instead of choosing a side, I would like to ask both sides a few questions whose answers will help me make up my mind.

To the anti-change brigade, I must ask, why do you believe that the issue of term limits is a no-go area? The document has been amended more than once and you didn’t scream bloody murder. Secondly, if the constitution was agreed to and voted for by the Rwandan people, why aren’t they allowed to change their minds? Is it because you believe that they don’t know what is best for them?

To the pro-change team I ask, why do you believe Article 101 was initially added? What was the rationale for it? What has changed since 2003?

Term limit clauses (whether for mayors, governors, city council members and presidents) have historically been added to laws in order to remove the risk of a leader becoming so entrenched that they could ride roughshod over the will of those who initially put them in office. I believe that that is why we, Rwandans, agreed to Article 101. What I must ask the pro-change lobby is, if we remove the term limit clause, what guarantee will we have that a situation that Article 101 attempts to nip in the bud, will not occur? What guarantees can they give us that in 20, 30, 40 years from now, we won’t have a leader that is more powerful than the will of the people?

We can assume that that will never happen, but has shown that despotic leaders, who know how to pit competing groups against each other, can rule for eons despite their unpopularity. Nicolae Ceausescu and Mobutu Sese Seko are just two figures I can name.

The fact that we are enjoying the fruits of an extraordinary leadership is obvious. The fact that we deserve to enjoy this leadership is obvious as well (especially with the kind of luck we had post-independence). So making the debate about a single individual is a non-starter for me, because the answer is so black and white. Of course keeping President Kagame on the helm of the ship is good idea.

What conversation I want us to start having is, if and when the people decide to amend Article 101, how do we do ensure that under no circumstance will a single person become more powerful than an entire society? Would we, for example, amend Article 101, remove term limits and add new clauses that take some powers away from the executive branch of government and therefore neuter it?

There are a lot more questions than answers right now. I will leave it to the proponents of the two schools of thought to help clarify all this.

The New Times earlier published this blog

Higher taxes to stop smoking? Thats a laugh

Blowing smoke through your nostrils? How cool is that?

Blowing smoke through your nostrils? How cool is that?

The first time I smoked a cigarette was way back in 1995 when I was a student in Senior One. Not because I liked it, but all the big boys were doing it and it would help me fit in with the cool kids.

Since then I’ve been engaged in a battle to stop smoking. I go for months without a puff and then, in a moment of weakness, indulge in the rather disgusting habit.

Yes, I know it’s disgusting; yes I know it can cause cancer and all sorts of diseases. But I still derive some sort of satisfaction from puffing on a ‘cancer stick’.

So, when last Tuesday I read a story in The New Times titled ‘Increase taxes on tobacco, experts urge government’ I was overjoyed that there was a proposal to reduce smoking.

Overjoyed that some 14-year-old would not have to go through the same fight I’ve had to wage to kick my habit.

Sadly, on further reading, I found out that the so-called solution was nothing but a move to increase tax revenue from tobacco products and not to reduce smoking in the most vulnerable groups i.e. young people. At least in my humble opinion.

If tobacco-expert Francis Thompson, director of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an NGO partnering with the World Health Organisation (WHO), is to be believed “higher taxes lead to high purchase prices for tobacco products, discouraging consumption, which in the process reduces health risks, yet maximising tax revenue for a country.”

However, I think that he’s simply copying and pasting a solution from somewhere in the world and thinking that it will work here.

In my experience, the price of a pack of cigarettes has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not a young person will start smoking. They smoke to fit in, be cool and rebel against social convention.

No one starts smoking because they want to pass time. In fact, I could barely afford the habit in all honesty since my dad refused to give me enough pocket money. But I still did. How was this possible?

First of all, instead of buying a packet of Sportsman cigarettes at 1,000 Uganda shillings, which I couldn’t afford, I could buy a stick for a student ‘friendly’ 50 shillings.

And when I couldn’t afford the measly fifty shillings, someone always could. We’d share a single cigarette between up to ten people. Puff and pass, puff and pass.

Let’s examine what the WHO thinks will reduce smoking incidences. It recommends that member countries (such as Rwanda) increase excise tax charged on cigarettes to at least 70 per cent of the retail price of a packet.

So, for example, if the new pricing system came into being, a packet of the local brand ‘Intore’, which is presently sold at a retail price of Rwf600, would cost Rwf1020.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Very few primary and secondary school students can afford it, right?

They won’t start smoking, right? Wrong. Before we celebrate the demise of the cigarette, remember that our retailers sell single sticks. A single stick would cost a measly Rwf 51 up from Rwf30.

Rwf51 is still sadly affordable to anyone who wants to experiment.

I’m not saying that increasing taxes will not reduce some incidences of smoking. What I’m saying is that it is not a silver bullet.

Here is my suggestion. Instead of merely increasing the price of a packet of cigarettes, make it illegal to sell single sticks. And then punish severely those that refuse to heed the law.

Trust me, if I had to choose between a packet of cigarettes and two meals at the canteen, I would have chosen the meals, every single time.

And while we are on the topic of smoking, can someone please enforce our public smoking laws? In many of our hotels and restaurants, the anti-smoking rules are not enforced, choosing a laissez-faire attitude to the regulations.

The New Times earlier published this blog