Why have we let Kigali Car-Free Zone become Kigali Dead Zone?

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The Central Business District: Before

I have a love-love relationship with the Kigali Car-Free zone. As I wrote almost three years ago, a car-free zone would ‘reduce pollution in the city centre, encourage public transport use and reduce the creeping incidences of adult obesity due to the free ‘gym tonic’ people would get by speed walking to work’.

When the zone finally came to life, I hoped that the pedestrian-only area would bring new life to the city. Writing two weeks after the zone was announced, I warned that “we shouldn’t allow that public space to become a dead-zone. Too often I’ve seen our public spaces become dead-zones. For example, almost no one enjoys all the greenery in front of the defense ministry. No one enjoys the park in front of foreign ministry. They are just beautiful facades that are good to look at but are utterly useless to the general public. Despite the fact that they are maintained with our taxes’.

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The Central Business District: After

Unfortunately, the Zone hasn’t lived up to expectations. I’m not saying that it is a complete desert, but we need to be honest and admit that, as an entire Kigali community, we have failed to take ownership of the space.

I know that it’s easy to fault the Kigali City authorities, but we also need to take some of the blame as well. Where is our innovation? Where is our business-savvy?

On the 9th of this month, the Zone was alive with the sounds of children playing, young people dancing and parents enjoying a Saturday afternoon, courtesy of the European Union.

The event, called the ‘European Street Fair’ included, as The New Timesreported, ‘a variety of activities, like art exhibitions, traditional dances and drumming by Ingoma Nshya Troupe, jam sessions, and music from upcoming and popular local artistes’.

Forgive me but this rubbed me the wrong way. Not because I have any issue with the European Union, or Europeans; rather it bothered me because, once again, our community was being served by others. Where is our local event companies? Why isn’t the Private Sector Federation doing something?

Rwanda aims to bring in $800 million in tourism dollars by 2024. This is doable but only if we utilize fully the resources that we have. The Car-Free Zone is one such resource. So, why aren’t we doing something about it? Kigali City Council, over to you.

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Rwanda-Arsenal: Les faits sont têtus

 

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Lisa Delpy Neirotti, a professor of sports management and tourism studies at George Washington University, unfortunately bit off more than she could chew when she attempted to pooh-pooh the Rwanda Development Board- Arsenal Football Club partnership that was announced last month.

She hasn’t been the only misguided so-called expert. Mais les faits sont têtus (But facts can be stubborn).

The ‘Visit Rwanda’ deal is the talk of the town. This ‘talk’ has manifested itself not only in the media, but also on the Google search engine.

In May 2017, Google searches for the keyword ‘visit rwanda’ in the United States, Rwanda’s main tourism market, numbered a measly 110 searches. In May 2018, 1,600 searches were recorded, an increase of 1,355%. Globally, during the same period, Google searches for the keyword ‘Visit Rwanda’ rose by 5,600%.

In two published papers, Pablo Pedraza, a research fellow at the University of Amsterdam, and Irem Önder, an associate professor at the Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management at MODUL University Vienna, strongly suggest a predictive link between online interest and tourism activity.

In layman’s language, this shows that the more people know about a destination, the more likely they will visit it. And that is plain common sense.

Rwanda’s tourism strategy makes sense. It is grounded in Vision 2050 and EDPRS II. It is well thought out, systematic, and has played a major role in helping the local community living around the national park. Calling the Rwanda- Arsenal deal anything other than a masterstroke in marketing is simply a case of sour grapes.

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Reform or die: Building a critical media in Rwanda

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Green Party head Frank Habineza speaking to local media 

Two weeks or so ago, I watched the In Focus talk show on Rwanda Television that focused on a seminal topic, ‘Building a Critical Media-Evaluating performance of media in reporting key issues facing society’.

The show’s host, veteran newsman Eugene Anangwe, and the three guests, all veterans of the local media environment, spent an hour attempting to dissect the failings, opportunities and challenges of the local media.

Watching the show, I attempted to follow their conversation through a few different ‘ears and eyes’, namely as a former journalist, a present day professional working in the field of communication, and finally as a normal consumer of local content.

What I saw and what I heard that Sunday night was nothing new; the four were simply rehashing old journalistic arguments that I’d heard since the late 90’s. They talked about issues of self-censorship, access to information, lack of training, lack of capital and tiny pool of local advertisers. I’m not saying that I did not enjoy it; far from it. They all sounded like the smart journalists they all were. The conversation was somewhat bookish, almost ivory-tower like. It sounded like a talk I would hear in journalism class.  Which as a former journalist, I thoroughly enjoyed.

What I didn’t see, unfortunately, was real self-examination. Which was a shame because they really had an opportunity to do a deep dive into the future of journalism and media in this country.

When we media people talk about critical journalism, what we are often talking about is reporting that has an anti-establishment slant to it. Critical media is supposed to question and hold power to account. And it’s supposed to do it in the name of the common people.  At least that’s the theory anyway.

This sense of mission, and overly inflated sense of importance (in my opinion) is why for the last couple of centuries, media has called itself, ‘the fourth estate’.

In pre-revolutionary Europe, there was thought to be three ‘estate’s that governed all life in the nation, namely the nobility (the first), the clergy (the second), and the commoners (the third). The media, gave itself the moniker the Fourth Estate due to the influence that it had on society. It could create celebrities and cause governments to fall in one fell swoop. It was truly powerful. What that was then, this is now.

Instead of talking of talking about how to build a critical media, in the classical sense, the four media veterans should have looked at the entire subject in a different way. They should have asked themselves this question first, was the media even critical in the first place? And when I say critical I mean the other definition of the word critical, ‘indispensable’.

They should have been asking themselves, is our profession truly indispensable? Are people’s lives truly enriched by our presence? If people do not consume our product, do they feel empty? Do they ravenously seek out our offerings?

If people did, then issues of funding and lack of access to information would not exist. Business people would rush to fund media houses and information would flow into newsrooms like a flood.

The media used to be the gatekeepers of information. Editors and media owners decided what information people were given. Those golden years are long gone.

The special place in society that media gave itself no longer exists because, among other things, the emergence of social media. Today, everyone can not only create content, they can disseminate it globally as well. The only way that any local media house will survive is by making itself indispensable to its audience. And the only way that that will happen is if they truly understand their audience. They need to provide what their audience wants and they need to be the only ones providing it. And that is hardest part; will our media become humble enough to prostrate itself to the will of the masses? That’s the billion-franc question.

Remove all taxes on sanitary pads and give girls a fighting chance

A social worker teaches schoolgirls how to use a sanitary pad. Courtesy

“It would be amazing; it would be great. The problem is how do you determine who can afford and who cannot afford”?

These words, spoken by Alain Munyaburanga, the Head teacher of Gashora Girls Academy of Science and Technology, were reported last week in a news story titled ‘Activists push for free sanitary pads for girls from poor families’ got me thinking.

The headmaster’s choice of a single word was what got to me, the word ‘amazing’.

For you see, the dictionary definition of amazing is something that ‘causes great surprise or wonder’. It boggles my mind that the very idea of giving young women the tools needed to attend school or even live better lives should ‘cause great surprise and wonder’.

Sanitary towels are not a luxury and the women in our country should not be forced to treat them that way. Women should not be forced to choose between either buying sanitary towels or buying something essential for their wellbeing such as food, clothing or school materials.

According to UN statistics, 10% of Sub-Saharan girls lose almost a week of school every month due to the fact that they do not have sanitary towels. I do not know what the statistics are here in Rwanda, but what I do know is that even if 1% of our girls are unable to attend school due to their monthly menses, that is an untenable situation, especially because Rwanda’s major resource is its human capital.

We need to do better and we can do better.

In 2013, the East African Legislative Assembly showed a way forward. The Assembly urged its member states to remove all taxes and duties on sanitary equipment, whether towels or tampons. Unfortunately, no member state has done so as we speak. And that, my friends is both ‘amazing’ and, sadly, not unexpected.

I’m going to throw this theory out there, and please don’t take me outside city limits and stone me to death, figuratively speaking of course. The only reason that sanitary pads aren’t tax-free, or even better yet given out for free, is because menses do not affect men.

I believe that if we men went through that biological process every month without fail, we’d quickly figure out how to ensure that all of us had the means to comfortably stay at work and at school. And we’d figure out how to make it free or at least extremely cheap. But because it only happens to our sisters, we do not seem to care enough. And that is wrong.

Just look at condoms. The entire world figured out how to make them free in order to combat HIV, a disease that affects everybody, rich or poor, black or white, MALE or female. Would we have done this if HIV affected only women? I don’t know. I’d hope so, because I like to think the best of humanity, but I’m not sure to be honest. Men don’t really have a great track record when it comes to treating our women like, well, people like us.

Rwanda has led on so many things where gender relations are concerned. Through legislation, we’ve ensured that women have property rights and we’ve ensured that they have a constitutionally guaranteed place in our political system. Now, the next step is to partner with our women to ensure that they are able to fully enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that have been availed legislatively.

So yes, girls are now encouraged to go to school. That great. Now we need to work extremely hard to guarantee that we remove every hurdle that is placed in front of women in order for them to contribute fully to society. As a country we have been doing that and good progress has been made. We need to move even further and faster on this journey total women’s emancipation and and I believe that removing every single tax on sanitary equipment is another step in the right direction.

 

 

 

Chutzpah: The audacity of the new Rwanda

Mayor of Bugesera district Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire resigned

Mayor of Bugesera district Emmanuel Nsanzumuhire resigned

Happy June! Happy 2018! It’s been almost two years since I’ve put my thoughts on paper and to be honest, I’ve missed doing so. Over the last two years Rwanda has witnessed major reforms, developments, sporting victories and tragedies. We’ve seen droughts and we’ve seen floods. But amidst all this, one thing hasn’t changed; our leadership’s ironclad will to overcome the intrinsic challenges and structural weaknesses that threaten to keep us poor, uneducated, unskilled, unambitious and ill. The ‘problem’ with such leadership is, if you can’t keep up, you are pulled out of the game. It’s almost like America’s favorite pastime, baseball; three strikes and you are out.

That is the context through which I see the ‘tsunami’ that has been washing away civil servants all over the country. A while ago, I remember thinking that President Kagame’s new seven-year mandate would separate the wheat from the chaff, politically speaking.

The things that were almost ‘acceptable’ two years ago would become untenable. The definition of exemplary leadership conduct would change. The Imihigo performance targets would be revised and the speed of implementation would treble.

I haven’t been mistaken. Unfortunately, many leaders did not seem to get the memo. They thought that it would be business as usual. They are quickly finding out that is not the case.

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We aren’t doing business as usual. We aren’t trying to develop this country slowly but surely. We are trying to radically change the way we do things in order to skip as many steps as possible. That is why we investing in our country branding through initiatives such as ‘Visit Rwanda’. That is why we are opening up our borders and allowing visa on arrival. That is why we are investing in our airline. That is why we are finding new allies around the world while attempting to repair old ties with estranged partners.

This transformation is not and will not be easy. They’ll be long nights at the office, metaphorically and literally speaking. We’ll have to use our resources better; we’ll have to create four times more value for each Franc we invest in a project. And we’ll all need to care. No longer can we accept the mediocrity that has assailed us, whether in the private or public sector. We deserve better and we need to do better.

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RDB Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi

Last Tuesday, BBC journalist John Humphreys interviewed the RDB Chief Executive Officer, Clare Akamanzi, about the Visit Rwanda- Arsenal FC partnership. He called the deal ‘positively eccentric’ and ‘incredibly bizarre’. In my opinion, by labelling the deal in such terms, he was simply stating what he thought of our country’s leadership. He thought they (and by extension we, as a people) were eccentric and bizarre.

Funnily enough, I agree with him on the labels.  There is a Yiddish word that I think embodies all the bizarreness and eccentricity that is flowing through the veins of today’s Rwanda, chutzpah (audacity).

b2dea66a-7c3b-4bf1-9308-f7473344ee85Rwanda has the audacity to play in the big leagues (even if they happen to be in the English Premier League). We have the audacity to not only dream big but to go even further and bring the dream to life. No matter the cost. Now that makes a lot of people, both within and outside the country, uncomfortable.

That sense of discomfort is good, especially for us living in Rwanda. Why stay comfortable while children still lack proper nutrition? When people still drink lake water? When too many of our youth are unskilled and unemployed? We cannot afford to be comfortable and rest on our laurels because, to be honest, we don’t have enough laurels to rest on