So, you want to be a social media celebrity huh??

cyber_bullying_by_shadowrenegade6785-d50dj8g

I am extremely thankful for many things. I’m thankful for my job, my family, my loved ones and my country. And last but certainly not least, I’m thankful for being a member of the last generation on Earth to reach adulthood without my teenage scraps, loves and mistakes being broadcast through any sort of social network, whether Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Snapchat.

I can remember the first time I heard about social media. It was in 2005 and the social network that was all in the rage was called ‘Hi5’. It was something quite akin to Facebook actually. You could share pictures, reach out and ‘friend request’ someone and comment on people’s pictures.

For many of us it was our first taste of what the World Wide Web could do in terms of creating a virtual persona to go hand in hand with your everyday ‘normal’ persona. And boy did we love it.

Then came Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, which totally obliterated Hi5. By the time we started getting Twitter profiles and tweeting away, there was almost no separation from the virtual and the real. And sadly, the ugliness of real life started filtering into this virtual world we’d created.

A few days ago I was notified of an Instagram profile that was the very definition of that ugliness. I will not reveal its name here, but what I can say is that it engaged in name-calling, libel and harassment. It gleefully called a few married men and women “whores”, leaked private conversations between couples and engaged in misogyny. It was foul; and the only reason that it could happen was because it’s curators and creators hid behind the cloak of anonymity that the Internet gave them.

Of course hundreds of people reported the profile to the Instagram moderators, saying that the profile was engaged in bullying. It was taken down in a jiffy, but guess what happened next? The people behind the profile tweaked its name, and then opened another account. And continued like nothing had happened.

When I was asked to opine about the Instragram profile, all I could say was that I wasn’t surprised.

For you see, I’m not a huge believer in the inherent goodness of human beings. To be honest, I believe that the only reason that we, humans, don’t act out even more than we do is because we fear public censure. We worry that if we show the ugliness in our hearts we’ll be shunned by the community around us. So, in order to remain within the group, we follow the group’s moral code.

social_media_freak

However, this code is tossed outside the window when anonymity is guaranteed. And thankfully for some, and sadly for the rest of us, social media (which is a community without a morale code) allows for that kind of faceless name-calling.

And the worst thing is, there is absolutely nothing you and I can do about it. That is, unless you control just how much of your life is available online.

Which, I know, is something that we’re slowly being told is ‘uncool’. Artist Andy Warhol was prophetic when he said in 1988, “in the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes”. He understood humanity’s love for attention and celebrity. Today, with a few choice tweets and a raunchy picture or two, everyone can become a social media celebrity.

The problem with celebrity is that while some people will love you with a passion, there will be others who dislike you with the very same fervor. It’s all different sides of the very same coin to be honest.

The only way to beat the trolls and those who would bully others behind anonymous accounts is to simply leave social media alright or to choose what to show to the world in a smarter way. I wish that it wasn’t so. I wish that we lived in a world where everyone was positive. Sadly we don’t.

So, you can either fully engage with the virtual world and become a celebrity of sorts (and take the insults and negativity) or you can say goodbye to social media and live without being insulted by the faceless masses. It’s one or the other. We cannot have our cake and eat it too.

Advertisements

Ask God for an economic miracle? No thanks

zambia-21

Zambia’s economy has been hit by the falling commodity prices a lot harder than many other countries, with their national currency, the Kwacha, falling 45 percent against the US dollar in just months.

The price of copper, Zambia’s main export, has fallen to levels unseen since 2008 (in the midst of the global financial crisis) and China, the main consumer of Zambian copper, is currently suffering a economic slowdown of sorts. Throw in the power shortages and soaring food prices and it would seem that the southern African nation is teetering on the brink of calamity.

So, what does President Edgar Lungu do? He calls for a national day of prayer to end the crisis, banning all domestic football matches and closing bars until 6pm in the process.

When I first heard the news, I laughed thinking that it was one of those crazy Internet hoaxes that will spread online like wildfire. Imagine my surprise when not only was the idea mooted by the president himself, it would actually take place. And so it did this very Sunday.

Addressing the more than 5,000 Zambians that gathered to pray, President Lungu said, “Our God has heard our cries; he has forgiven us our sins and we are sure he will heal our country. We face serious socio-economic challenges”.

Curiously while addressing his citizens, and almost like an afterthought it would seem, President Lungu added, “there are many out there who have brilliant ideas. Let them come forward”.

I honestly don’t even know where to start.

I understand that religion is a big thing in this continent of ours, and I can respect that. However, I have an issue when this religiosity becomes an excuse for inaction and personal initiative. What Zambia is going through economically isn’t a punishment from God, rather it is simply a facet of the international system; there are boon years and there are lean years.

phpCEAF.tmp-1

When China was gobbling up all the commodities that it could because it was growing in double-digit figures, Zambians were, figuratively, dancing in the streets because copper prices went up and up. The high prices didn’t come from heaven; they came from Beijing.

As with most commodities, copper prices go up and down, down and then down and up depending on the vagaries of the international commodity traders. It’s the curse of countries like ours that sell our minerals (or coffee and tea in Rwanda’s case) without really transforming them into finished products. Our fates are in the hands of others.

There are a couple of things that we can do to mitigate these external shocks. Firstly, we can save some of the money we make (or invest it wisely) during the good years and use it to tide us through the lean ones. Or, we can invest in transforming our economies, by making ourselves less reliant on export of unprocessed commodities and more reliant on other sectors such as tourism and services.

The one thing that we cannot do is rely on prayers to make things miraculously better. If they actually able to stave off economic downturns, don’t you think we’d already know?

President Lungu, in my opinion, is doing the thing that politicians love to do, which is to pass responsibility. President Harry Truman is famous for putting a sign on his desk that said ‘the buck stops here’. If only more politicians lived by those words we’d have less blame-gaming and more action.

This is not an attack on the Zambian people or their president. Rather what I’m asking is that we take more responsibility for our stations in life and understand that we do have the ability to change our situations for the better. When I look at my country today I don’t see a situation that was handed to us by a Higher Being; what I see are the fruits of hard work, persistence and innovation.

This is not an attack on the religious and prayerful (although certain practices such as ‘seeding’ seem to enrich church leaders and not their flock). I understand that belief in a Higher Being brings comfort to those buffeted by trials and tribulations. What I don’t want to see, whether here in Rwanda or in Zambia, is people waiting for manna from heaven when their fate in their very own hands.

Third term debate: Done and dusted?

CQxrSwlWoAA6IDO

Last Thursday I sat in the public galleys at the Supreme Court and watched history being made. Reading a ruling that I would call ‘landmark’, Chief Justice Sam Rugege disagreed with Green Party’s motion to halt the term-change process, stating that doing so would be contrary to democratic practice. “Denying the free will of people to choose how they are governed is not democratic. Rather, it is the opposite”, he said.

In fact, the Supreme Court went further to reiterate the fact that ANY article in the Constitution could be amended as long as it followed constitutional procedure.

I was among the people who had a hard time reconciling Article 101 that stated, ‘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’, Article 193 that stated, ‘However, if the constitutional amendment concerns the term of the President of the Republic…. the amendment must be passed by referendum, after adoption by each Chamber of Parliament and finally Article 2 that states ‘All power derives from the people’.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around the three articles because I felt they somewhat contradicted each other. I mean, why would the framers of the Supreme Document write one thing i.e. that power belongs to the people, then say that under no circumstances could a person stay as president for longer than two terms and THEN go back and show us what exactly we’d need to do to change term limits?

The Supreme Courts ruling that the “free will” of the people in choosing how they are governed is sacrosanct was a masterstroke. In just a few phrases, they were able to cut through the legal flotsam and jetsam and give us a ruling that was both simple and complex at the same time. I loved it.

I have to take this opportunity to thank the Green Party for challenging the moves to amend the Constitution in a court of law. I will not be among those who thought that they were wasting peoples’ time by seizing the court. In fact, it is my opinion that they showed a certain political maturity in the manner they compiled their dossiers and took their grievances to court. They didn’t simply write a few press releases and social media posts. They argued their point in the correct forum. That is to be applauded.

Green Party head Frank Habineza has vowed to take his lawsuit to the African Court of Justice

Green Party head Frank Habineza has vowed to take his lawsuit to the African Court of Justice

They showed that Rwanda was, and is, a nation of laws. They trusted the judiciary to hear their arguments and rule in a fair and unbiased manner. That trust is a slap in the face of those who will have the world believe that our justice system is an empty shell.

The Supreme Court ruling that all power belongs to the people it is a slap in the face of those who would try to use their bully pulpit to tell us how to govern our lives. Yes, I’m pointing at you US State Department.

After last week’s ruling, Rwandans can now move, confidently, to amend Article 101. In fact, the Constitutional Review team on Monday presented its recommendations to the lower chamber of Parliament. Among the recommendations that they suggested was that Article 101 should read ‘The President of the Republic shall be elected for a term of seven (7) years. He/she may be re-elected for more terms”.

Now, all I ask is that we get set a referendum as soon as possible so that we can get this term issue out of the way. We have too much work to do to let this continue long into the coming year.

After last week’s ruling, Rwandans can now move, confidently, to amend Article 101. In fact, the Constitutional Review team on Monday presented its recommendations to the lower chamber of Parliament. Among the recommendations that they suggested was that Article 101 should read ‘The President of the Republic shall be elected for a term of seven (7) years. He/she may be re-elected for more terms”.

While government officials dither, Rwandans remain the losers

Scenic Kinyinya is one of the fastest growing Kigali suburbs.

Scenic Kinyinya is one of the fastest growing Kigali suburbs.

The Rwandan Dream is one that all of us are fighting, tooth and nail, to achieve. The ‘Dream’, as I understand it, consists of owning a house outright, a farm in the village, putting your children in good schools, having a well-paid job (or owning a business) and having some money put away for retirement. Personally, I’ve hit some benchmarks while the others will come eventually I hope. The one I am working on presently is the home issue, or to be exact, the plot issue.

A few years back I collected a bit of money and bought a small plot in Kinyinya Sector in Gasabo District. The error I made, and one that I’m sure many young prospective landowners will similarly make, is not to know exactly what documentation I needed to make the piece of land mine.

I thought it was simply a matter of agreeing a price, signing a contract of sale, getting the contract notified by a local leader and then getting the land title from the national land office. I quickly learnt I was sadly mistaken.

Not only was it a far longer process than I could have imagined, to make matters worse the elderly lady I bought the land from misplaced the temporary proof of ownership which was small, white piece of paper.

To get a new one, I needed to go the Remera police station and get a ‘Déclaration de Perte’ (to prove that she’d reported its loss). I didn’t know I had to get her passport photo first though. So I did that. After driving around, elderly lady in tow, we went to the Gasabo District to hand in the documentation i.e. the sale of land contract, signed by witnesses and stamped by the head of the Umudugudu.

It was there that I found that we needed ANOTHER document, her marriage certificate (or her certificate of widowhood). Sadly for me, she didn’t have one and would need to go back to her village to get one; mind you her village was a two hours drive away so its not like I could help her get it. I would have to wait. And I’ve been waiting for the last two years.

Sure I went to school for a year but losing so much time, and man-hours, because of a single document is just wrong. Something is fundamentally wrong and needs to be fixed. There needs to be a more efficient way of doing things.

Thankfully, there is a platform that has the ability to make things better; it is called the Irembo platform. Irembo, a public service platform run aims to, according to the Ministry of Youth and ICT, “exclusively offer Government to Business (G2B) and Government to Citizen (G2C) services in the country, accessible via internet and mobile devices”.

Among ten services that Irembo is supposed to offer are: passport application, registration for theory driving test, trading license, building permit application, registration for practical driving license test, criminal record certificate application, visa permits, land subdivision service, birth certificate application service

The tenth service that Irembo platform is supposed to offer, and the one that I’m particularly interested in, is the one that will streamline the land transfer procedure.

Working in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Rwanda Natural Resources Authority (RNRA), RwandaOnline (a public-private partnership between the Government of Rwanda and a Singaporean investor that runs Irembo) developed a land transfer system that utilised both the Internet and SMS networks to make a land transfer something that takes days not months or years.

Sadly this platform is gathering dust because no one is taking ownership for the project. RwandaOnline developed the programme, RDB provided technical support but as of today, the issue is that between RDB and RNRA, they’ve failed to agree on who will run the day-to-day operations of the land transfer system (and therefore recruit and pay the salaries of the computer experts that will monitor the system 24/7).

I find this frustrating and extremely problematic. How is it possible for such an important programme that will help Rwandans develop be held back because of an argument about who will pay for the labour? I mean, what are we losing as we wait?

Personally, I’m losing time and money. I’m sure that many other Rwandans agree with me. It gets only worse.

At the national level, Rwanda risks losing money we cannot afford due to a clause in the contract that was signed between the Government and RwandaOnline mandating a punitive amount of $8,000 a day if the managing authority doesn’t take ownership of a platforms that have gone ‘live’ in Phase 1. The clause will punish RwandaOnline as well if delays come from their side.

While the government officials I spoke to pooh-poohed my worries, saying that there was nothing to worry about, it wouldn’t be the first time that Government has been punished for breach of contract.

Presently, only five have gone live (registration for theory driving test, registration for practical driving test, birth certificate application service, trading license application and criminal record certificate application) so I’m not saying that fixing the land transfer issue between RDB and RNRA will stop us hemorrhaging foreign exchange that we desperately need. The five others services need to utilised.

What the heads of the institutions, that the Irembo platform aims to streamline, ought to do is simply get things DONE! It’s not impossible; if it weren’t possible none of the Irembo services would have gone public but some have.

When President Kagame spoke about malnutrition while launching the recent Poverty Profile Report, he called it something “self-inflicted”. Well, the money and time we are losing because we are not using Irembo the way we were supposed to is something that I think is self-inflicted.

This simply must stop.