“Don’t bring your gay agenda to our continent Obama” (Welcome to the world of African hypocrisy)

Protesters chant slogans against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as they march along the streets of Kenya's capital, Nairobi on  July 6, 2015

Protesters chant slogans against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as they march along the streets of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi on July 6, 2015

*If you think this is a homophobic post, you’ll be sadly mistaken. If that’s what you were looking for I suggest you stop reading now…still interested? Then read on…..

As President Barack Obama steps out of Air Force One and looks beyond the gaggle of government officials and international and local media at Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi on Friday, his eyes will behold the sight of 5,000 naked men and women making their presence felt.

Not because it is a type of greeting befitting a returning son of the soil, but rather because these people bitterly oppose the recent US Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage and worry that Barack Obama will use his bully pulpit to advocate the same in Africa; the home of tradition and sexual morality.

In the words of Vincent Kidaha, the leader of the Republican Liberty Party, “our very objective is that Obama can see from a distance the difference between a man and woman”.

Let us stop and think about this for a minute. This fringe group thinks that this gentleman, married for close to two decades and proud father of two girls, needs a lessen in human anatomy. Hilarious.

Mr. Kidaha isn’t the only one up in arms.

Addressing a group of demonstrators wearing t-shirts with slogans such as ‘Protect the family match’ and ‘Stand with the family’, lawmaker Irungu Kangata was quoted by the Reuters news agency saying, “we are telling Mr Obama when he comes to Kenya this month and he tries to bring the abortion agenda, the gay agenda, we shall tell him to shut up and go home”.

However, we need to stop laughing for a minute and examine the hypocrisy that is manifesting here. Many African opponents of gay rights and same-sex marriage complain that they are against their culture and is damaging to the family unit. Which is fine I guess.

But I then must ask, how African is it to parade in public in your Adam’s/Eve’s suit? In broad daylight? With children around? I mean, weren’t women being harassed on the street simply because they were wearing knee length skirts instead of boubous (kitenge dresses)?

And how African is it to tell a visitor to “shut up”? I was taught to treat important guests like the Second Coming. I was to cater to their every need and no matter my personal feelings, they were to be treated with the upmost respect. Never mind telling them to “shut up and go home”.

As we continue to embrace more civil rights on our continent, our understanding of what is ‘African’ will have to continue to evolve. Remember when women were seen as nothing more than cooks in the kitchen and bearers of children? Well now they are captains of industry and leaders of nations. Remember when children were to be seen and not heard? Today, we have international conferences that are chaired by pre-teens. Remember when physical violence was meted against women and children with barely an eyebrow raised? Try that now and see what happens.

All those things that we left (or are trying to leave) in the past were ‘African culture’? Perhaps we should be so quick to shout all sorts of slogans and strut around with our genitals exposed just to make a point. We might find ourselves on the wrong side of history.

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On the topic of history, it is my sincere wish that the political process in our sister nation of Burundi becomes less volatile. The region doesn’t need a new hotspot, especially now that Eastern Congo has somewhat quieted down.

Whether or not yesterday’s elections were credible, the various political players need to sit down and realize that the status quo is simply untenable. No one is a winner when tens of thousands languish in refugee camps and the economy takes a nosedive. Lets have less finger pointing and more honest and meaningful conversation. The adults in the room need to stand up and be counted

Post-2017: Rwanda’s cannot waste time on political theatre

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I followed yesterday’s discussions in both chambers of Parliament on two forums; the national radio and on Twitter. To those living under a rock, the discussions were about amending article 101, the constitutional clause that would force Rwanda to relinquish the leadership of President Kagame in 2017 after the mandatory two, seven-year terms.

What dawned on me as I read the tweets and heard the radio was just how differently some of my fellow journalists and amateur political ‘analysts’ viewed the constitutional change process as compared to the MP’s, senators and the hundreds of regular citizens that flocked to witness the historic occasion.

While MP after MP voted to amend Article 101, extolled the president’s leadership and strategic vision (while those in the public gallery whopped, hollered and sang in delicious excitement), on social media some fellow Rwandans lamented, calling the parliament “a sham”, saying that we would become “a global laughing stock” and worrying that we were instituting a “de-facto monarchy”.

Some went so far as to wish that a few MPs would oppose the motion just so that it would seem like the vote was not unanimous!

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I have a lot of problems with many of my media colleagues and these issues stem from their paternalistic attitudes to their own people.  They assume to know what is best for the people, despite the fact that the people are speaking for themselves. That attitude is one that I’ve railed against when it came from foreigners and it is one that I will rail against when it comes from a small group of people with an overinflated sense of their own importance.

We cannot talk about democracy and the rule of law, and then say that what the people want isn’t democratic. We cannot talk of the rule of law, and then ask an elected MP to vote not only against what his constituents want but also against their very conscience. We cannot talk about self-determination, but then also cater our political process and future to the whims of certain members of the international community.

This begs the question, why this strange disconnect between certain members of the Twitter generation and the larger Rwandan populace?

This was a topic that I was discussing with researcher friend of mine from Uganda this weekend. After a back and forth, we came to a few conclusions.

Firstly, we (and I mean people in my generation) took everything for granted. We took it for granted that our systems worked.

I will give you an example. The researcher is currently doing a study on the health sector. Showing me photographs that he took in Kamonyi District Health Center, he pointed out the well-stocked pharmacy, the well-equipped labs and the triple-sourced energy supply (solar, electric lines, and generator). He showed me the waiting area with a television and the clean hospital toilets. He showed me the volunteer community health workers and their chicken rearing projects.

Did I swoon in amazement? Not really. I was not unimpressed but I didn’t think it was a big deal. He then informed me that he had not seen a better-run health system anywhere in Africa, including South Africa where he lived previously.

That got me thinking. What else had I missed? What other revolutionary projects that had changed lives had I taken for granted? There must have been dozens. However, just because I had taken them for granted did not mean that everyone else had. Hence the three million (plus) petitions to Parliament. Hence the unanimous vote yesterday.

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Secondly, our education system leads to the disconnect. Think about it, we spend the vast majority of our academic lives learning about the superiority of Western systems of governance and not enough time learning about ourselves as a people. So, we end up talking for hours about constitutionalism and not enough time talking about Girinka.

It is like we are, to paraphrase Frantz Fanon, white skins living behind black masks. Thing is, when those who are truly ‘black’ (or in this case, normal baturage) assert themselves, we slap them down and ridicule them because they go against our ‘white’ values. This separation was the aim of the colonial state, and sadly we still haven’t shaken ourselves free from it.

Rwanda is now trying to shake itself free from its colonial and pre-1994 past. It is becoming a viable state in more than just words. This arduous process is one that is still in a delicate phase; millions of citizens understand this. So please forgive them their lack of political savoir-faire. They don’t know how to play the game; all they know how to do is be refreshingly Rwandan. They are dancing, singing and hollering in joy because they know that the decision that they are making is one that they are more than happy with. How can you fault that?

The fight for dignity is not a mere skirmish but a continuous war

RPA troops make on the move in 1994

RPA troops make on the move in 1994

The arrest and illegal detention of Gen. Karezi Karake brought my blood to the boil. The arrogance and unfairness of it all felt like just another instance where those with power and money bullied those without. However, instead of crying ourselves to sleep, Rwandans, like many times before, rose to the challenge.

As of yesterday, members of the private sector have raised 7 July, over Rwf 800 million in order to pay General KK’s Rwf 1.2 billion bail in an aptly named initiative ‘Ishema Ryacu, Our Nation, Our Pride’. What I found amazing was the speed in which this amount was raised through donations; Rwandans found close to a million US dollars in less than two weeks to donate to this fund.

This would not be the first example of our selflessness when it comes to national issues. The ‘One Dollar Campaign’ that started a few year ago in response to the housing needs of 192 genocide orphans came into fruition with the completion of the Rwf 1.9 billion complex in Kinyinya on the 28th, October 2014.

The Agaciro Fund was borne out of the withdrawal of foreign aid following the M23 rebellion in the DR Congo. To date, the sovereign wealth fund is worth over Rwf 26 billion and counting. All because people decided to put some of their earnings to a common cause.

On Saturday we celebrated the 21st anniversary of fall of Kigali and the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. As the President said in his address to the people of Gicumbi District, the victory was made possible through the sacrifice of people living within and outside Rwanda. They fed, clothed and protected the Rwanda Patriotic Front rebels.

Old men in the refugee camps in Uganda gave them valuable heads of cattle; members of the Rwandan diaspora around the world donated millions of dollars and last but certainly not least, the Rwandan community gave the rebels the most precious thing, their children. Neither French arms nor financial support could defeat this movement.

Nothing has changed in my opinion. We were on a war footing then and we are on a war footing now. The enemies are not as easily discernable as yesteryear, but like a snake in the grass, still as deadly. And like before, the only way to defeat this enemy is through collective effort and sacrifice.

We should use Greece’s current crisis as motivation.

The country mortgaged itself to the hilt in the mistaken belief that the good times would remain forever. Sadly, Greeks are learning that nothing does. Eventually everyone has to pay back your debts and nothing will save you from your creditors. Especially if they are banks.

Imagine if, for example, the Greek government had told the people the real state of their finances and asked for, in addition to a tax increase and less spending, an ‘Agaciro Fund’ solution to their woes? Perhaps they wouldn’t be in the mess their in today. Or perhaps they would. Either way, at least they would have done something. Rather than wait for a miracle from heaven.

66% of Rwanda’s 2015-2016 National Budget will be financed domestically. That is a move in the right direction. I predict that in a decade or so, we’ll be able to finance the running of our own nation. However, I must ask. Do we have a decade to waste? Can we reach into our pockets and move faster? I believe so. All we need is to pool the little resources we have together.

We shouldn’t only rise up and scream “independence”, when a crisis arises. We should continuously be on crisis footing because, if we are to be honest, our very existence as a viable state is at continuous risk. And the biggest weapon we have in this fight is our collective vision and iron will.

The New Times published this blog post

Now that the lions are back, can we stop destroying our heritage?

Family picture of three lions. Taken in Masai Mara national park, southwest Kenya.

Family picture of three lions. Taken in Masai Mara national park, southwest Kenya.

Intara Zigarutse mu Rwanda!

Close to two decades after I witnessed the poisoning of an entire pride by herdsmen, and a years since the lions roar reverberating through Akagera Park’s rolling hills, seven lions, five females and two young males, will take their place at the top of the food chain once again.

It’s been a long journey to get to this point. Forget the lions, a while ago the entire park was close to extinction. There were some among us who wanted to turn the park into a cattle-grazing zone. Thankfully, that nefarious idea was put to bed.

The park has undergone quite a transformation since its dark days. It’s been fenced, its murrum roads have been widened and the thorn brushes on the sides pruned. Poaching has reduced and the communities living around the park have embraced it. The animal population has stabilized; so much so that the park management has started worrying that the large number of herbivores will soon start stressing the park’s ecological balance. The establishment of the Ruzizi Tented Lodge has finally given high-end visitors accommodation option within the park’s borders (the dilapidated Akagera Game Lodge has seen much better days).

The return of the lions is simply the icing on the cake after all the progress made throughout the last few year. It’s been a long slog. There have been moments where the return of the lions seemed like a pipedream. Now that they are here, we should all celebrate their return.

I guess it is like that Joni Mitchell song, ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. A line in the song goes, ‘don’t it always seem to go… that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’. We didn’t treasure what we had (lions) until they were gone. Then we scrambled around, cap in hand, begging different African countries to spare a cat or two. There is a reason they say ‘prevention is better than cure’. Cure is expensive, time consuming and unguaranteed.

While we celebrate the lions’ return, we must ask ourselves, what other natural resources are we quietly losing? Resources that we will regret losing forever? There are a couple of ancient acacia trees around Kigali that I find beyond majestic and that I worry about. One such tree is right in front of the Simba supermarket branch opposite the Parliamentary buildings, Kimihurura. I fret that one day, I will wake up to find it cut down and replaced by a ‘modern’ palm tree.

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio is gone forever.

What a huge loss! The famous Hotel Ibis patio and its Jacaranda trees are gone forever.

Think that I’m worrying about nothing? Then riddle me this, whatever happened to the lovely Jacaranda trees in Kiyovu? Remember them? They used to produce the most delightful purple flowers. They were chopped down, with barely any public discussion. And replaced by, guess what, PALM TREES. I won’t even mention the avocado trees. It is my belief that in a few years (or even decades) from now, we shall look back, scratch our heads and ask ourselves why we rushed to tear down the vestiges of our past and replace them willy-nilly with the things we call ‘modern’.

This isn’t only an issue when it comes to our natural resources.

When I first went to Butare (Huye) as a young university student in 2002, it still had a very pre-independence feel to it. I found it quite quaint to be honest. This was the one major town in the country that felt like a living, breathing history book. Sitting on the patios of the two biggest hotels, Hotel Faucon and Hotel Ibis, one could visualize Mwami Mutara III Rudahigwa and his entourage majestically walking in and smashing the racist colour bar (the hotels were previously ‘White Only’ establishments). Today, only Faucon survives in its original splendor. Ibis has become just another hotel. Oh, and the lovely jacaranda trees in front of it? Gone as well.

What lessons should we have learnt from our lion’s demise and return? My prayer is that we have learnt that its much easier to take something for granted and then destroy it than bringing it back from the brink of extinction. Let us conserve what we still have. Our grandchildren will thank us.

The New Times published this post