Banks have left us between a rock and a hard place

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Banks are going to be the death of us

Normally I would be the last person to get into a debate about money and banking with the governor of the central bank, and former finance minister, John Rwangombwa. I mean, he has the keys to the national treasury and I have the keys to….. nothing really.

However, the one thing that I do have a bit of experience in is asking for a bank loan. So, when in an interview that was published on Monday, Rwangombwa commented on the issue of the high commercial bank interest rates, I held my breath and waited for some good news.

Sadly, none was forthcoming.

Instead of bringing the hammer down and showing the greedy bankers who was boss, he put the onus on us, the bank clients, to change the situation. Think I’m lying? This is what he said.

“The borrowers at times lack enough information to engage the banking institutions when they go out to borrow. When someone enters the bank and gets a loan, at times they think they are lucky to get that loan, instead they should have information to be able to engage the bankers on the rates at which they access the loans. It will further be easier because the Credit Rating Bureau is doing credit rating of different borrowers that will arm borrowers to engage banks”.

Now, I will not presume to know other people’s affairs; however, I know mine. I know my banking history. I’ve been a Bank of Kigali (BK) client for almost a decade. I’ve requested and received a few of loans (and paid them all back). I have been issued BK Visa credit card and I’ve never defaulted or missed a payment. My credit rating is extremely good.

So, in the world that the Governor lives in a person like me should be able to get a mortgage, business or personal loan at below the normal 18%. However, the truth of the matter is, that simply isn’t true.

What I CAN get is a faster loan approval process but forget about a cheaper loan. That simply isn’t happening. And Rwangombwa asking us to demand a lower rate is simply unfair because the cards are stacked against us.

It is simply a matter of supply and demand. There are more people (demand) asking for money than the banks are able to finance (supply). Therefore, bankers can do anything they want really, within some sort of reason, and we are powerless to stop them. Pretending otherwise is an exercise in futility.

Mr. Rwangombwa, please stop peddling false hope.

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Mr. Rwangombwa, Why you lying? Why you always lying?

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Ghana is jumping on the Pan-African wagon. Finally

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Accra, Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first head of state and Pan-Africanist, is probably smiling down following his nation’s decision to remove visa restrictions on Rwandans entering the country. This following Rwanda’s decision a while ago to allow all African passport holders to get visas on arrival.

I believe that travel not only allows us to receive new experiences, it also gives us the chance to celebrate our shared humanity. As Africa develops, this sense of shared humanity will allow us to tap into each others strengths and capabilities thereby allowing us to see each other not as the ‘other’ to be feared and treated suspiciously but rather as friends and allies.

We, as Africans, cannot get where we want to go alone, no matter the amount of natural resources under our soils. We are much stronger as a collective. And easing visa restrictions is a small step in the right direction of closer African economic, social and political ties.

I wonder who is next? Angola? Mozambique? Nigeria?…………………………………………………………………………………..

 Things are getting much worse in Syria and I don’t think they’ll get better

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Turkish television showed images of what it reports is the Russian jet being shot 

Yesterday the Associated Press reported that a Russian warplane was shot down by Turkish artillery while on a bombing mission in Syria. According to the Kremlin, the aircraft did not violate Turkish airspace. Something that I’m sure the Turks will vehemently disagree with.

Honestly though, it doesn’t matter who is at fault here. The issue is that there are too many powerful players, with different agendas, making moves in a region that is already as dry as a tinderbox. Students of history will tell you that geo-political conflict is usually just a few steps away and as an amateur historian I feel that what is happening in Syria and northern Iraq is a disaster waiting to happen. Especially with the French and Russians on the warpath.

I can only hope that cool heads reign. But I don’t really see that happening.

My advice to our young graduates, sell chapattis

Why shouldn't our young graduates earn a living making rolex, a popular Ugandan street food?

Why shouldn’t our young graduates earn a living making rolex, a popular Ugandan street food?

“Sell chapattis”. That is advice that no varsity graduate wants to hear soon after being awarded, say, a first class degree in political science. But perhaps they should.

Not because they don’t deserve swanky jobs in air-conditioned offices but rather because if they wait for such jobs they will join the thousands of young people whose days are spent reading the job announcements in local dailies, Invaho Nshya and The New Times, and submitting their CV’s to as many front desks as possible.

Rwanda’s national unemployment rate of 3.4% is statistically low. However, I can bet my right arm that it rises exponentially when only recent university graduates are concerned.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if it went up to between 20-40% for those who graduated between 2010 and 2014.

The talk now is guhanga imirimo (self-employment/ job creation). That is well and good. But, in my opinion, unless there is a dramatic shift in people’s perceptions of what ‘work’ and ‘employment’ is, the jobless figures will not decrease.

Last month, I had a chat with a 27-year-old Rwandan lady about education in the country. And as is wont to happen when having a three-hour long conversation about education, we soon started talking about life after university and the existing job market.

After graduating from a liberal arts college in the United States, the lady returned home and started looking around for a job. The problem was, nothing in the existing job market piqued her interest that much and she refused to take a job she wasn’t passionate about.

I found that ridiculous and I told her so.

I couldn’t understand why someone would prefer to make no money instead of a little money. Was it because they too fancy to get their hands dirty? Was it because their parents simply coddled them and told them to wait for the ‘right’ opportunity?

The entire conversation left me bemused.

After taking a week or so thinking about the issue I’ve come to the conclusion that we, Rwandans, have a weird mentality when it comes to work, especially so-called menial labour. I find this attitude hilarious because menial labour is the basis of our economy. The way we downgrade it you’d think that we were a superpower.

Interestingly enough, such snootiness isn’t found in countries that really are superpowers.

Working as bartenders and restaurant staff is a rite of passage for most university graduates in the West (especially in the US and Canada). Mowing lawns and washing cars is a summer job for most high school children and delivering newspapers, as I did, is a job that many primary pupils do before or after school. Working with your hands is celebrated there.

Sweat isn’t something to be avoided at all costs; rather it is something that proves that you have honestly earned your bread.

I’m not saying that things here are as bad as they once were; in fact young people currently in university are at the forefront of the change. These days’ part-time students man the nicer cafés and restaurants in Kigali and other major towns in the country.

These students, who need to pay rent, food and other costs, are doing whatever they must. In fact, I know of one security guard at the College of Education- University of Rwanda (former KIE) who, after working all night, joins his colleagues in class in the morning. In a year, he’ll graduate with a degree from the Faculty of Humanities, Language and Education.

Small businesses, like this stand, keeps an economy ticking over. They shouldn't be underlooked

Small businesses, like this stand, keeps an economy ticking over. They shouldn’t be overlooked

Now, if only those who had graduated had such bloody-mindedness. If only they approached the job market with one thought in mind, “I must pay my bills, no matter what”.

I wish that instead of depositing their CV’s and then sitting at home all day, they bought some flour, cooking oil and started making chapattis to sell. Or better yet, joined the teaching profession in rural areas.

I’m not suggesting that selling boiled eggs is the solution to our employment issue, what I’m saying is that our attitude to certain jobs has to change. If you have to mop floors, mop them.

If you have to create apps, create them. If you have to return to the village and work on the farm, use your education to increase productivity. For at the end of the day, no matter where the banknotes come from, they are all legal tender.

Poverty rose in Rwanda by 6%? You racists, tell that to the birds

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It’s been a while since I railed against some foreign news organisation or another; and this has been on purpose. My thinking is, my reacting to something they broadcast will give them even more ‘airtime’. I’m from the ‘a dog may bark but the train keeps moving’ school of thought when it comes to these media organisations. However, every so often, I’m forced to take my head out of the sand and react to some nonsense they have published.

In today’s case, it is French broadcaster, France 24, that has caused my ire. On Monday, it published an article written by Nicolas Germain, titled ‘Rwanda accused of manipulating poverty statistics’.

This is the gist of the article; according to a nameless source who France 24 quoted, UK-based consultancy firm Oxford Policy Management (it is not affiliated with Oxford University), disputed the methodology that was used to come up with the latest Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV4) that was released recently by our very won National Institute of Statistics (NISR).

This after the firm did the research and handed over the data for the NISR for publication.

According to this nameless source, “there was a disagreement between OPM (Oxford Policy Management) and Rwanda over the methodology used”.

Bear with me now. So far, all we know is that some unknown person, whether in the OPM, the NISR or in the reporter’s mind (it wouldn’t be the first time for a journalist to invent a source), said that the two organisations disagreed on methodology used to source the data for the EICV4.

Thus far, all that is in dispute is what the EICV4 numbers mean and how they were arrived at. So far so good. That is a dispute for statisticians and mathematicians.

Where Nicolas Germain and France 24 go off the rails is when they attempt to use the dispute over EICV4 numbers to tar Rwanda’s development strides. That, my friends, is where they lose the plot.

In order to do so, they enlist the aid of renowned Rwanda hater and professor of African law and politics, Belgian Filip Reyntjens. Think I’m being unfair to him by calling him a hater, and therefore a man totally lacking in impartiality? Just do a little research and him and you’ll discover the role he played in pre-1994 Rwanda.

Anyway, if we are to believe France 24 and Reyntjens, the source contacted the academic with OPM’s initial methodology and together they reevaluated the EICV4. Unsurprisingly, the two found that instead of poverty falling, it had gone up by a whole SIX PERCENT in 2013-2014!

Now, I admit that I’m no expert in the numbers game, but I have to call ‘bullshit’. Is Reyntjens and his ‘source’ trying to tell me that despite the increased child enrolment in school, increased agricultural productivity, the increased social programmes to help the very poor and the better use of the few resources we have, we’ve gone backwards? How is the possible economically?

I’m not the only one who disputes Reyntjens’ wonky math. When asked to comment on the academics ‘findings’, a spokesperson for the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) said, “we believe the revision of the methodology used to estimate poverty levels for the EICV4 poverty survey was justified”.

The DFID assessment is something that Reyntjens, unsurprisingly, disputes as well (despite that they are actually working on the ground, and he hasn’t stepped on our soil for years). But as anyone whose has either dealt with the man or his academic work will tell you, when it comes to Rwanda, Reyntjens doesn’t think straight or allow his prejudice to be put on the back-burner, not even for a little while.

If the editors at France 24 had been fair, they would not have given the article the time of day. But as I’ve come to expect from them, all standards of fairness and impartiality were thrown out the window when it came to a poor African country. I hate to say it, but the story and how it was reported was tinged with racist overtones.

I’m not jumping to conclusions. What was this story REALLY about?

A white organisation, the OPM, does a survey in an African country. It compiles its data and hands over the results to its black African commissioning partner, the NISR. The African organisation takes a look at the document it receives and thinks to itself, “hold on a minute. This doesn’t seem right”.

It gets its experts and reevaluates the data and comes up with a result. A result not only trusted by the citizenry (because they actually live the results) but by major development partners.

In reaction to such brazen uppity-ness, a white media organisation working hand in hand with a white academic moves to tarnish the work on the black African organisation. And after this organization, the entire government.

It is disgusting and it is obvious. But I’ve gotten used to it so its unsurprising.