The Oxford protestors made me ashamed of being African

President Kagame (at front right) holds the ‘Distinction of Honor for African Growth Award’ at the audience rose in a standing ovation (Photo by Albert Rudatsimburwa via Twitter)

President Kagame (at front right) holds the ‘Distinction of Honor for African Growth Award’ at the audience rose in a standing ovation (Photo by Albert Rudatsimburwa via Twitter)

I love living and working in the warm Rwandan sun. And honestly, I don’t see anywhere in the world I would rather be than here at home. But every year, I suffer huge pangs of jealousy whenever there is a Rwanda Day celebration, either in the US or Europe. It seems so fun and so informative.  As I watch the celebratory scenes on YouTube and Rwanda Television on Sunday, I was reminded of the October 1st festivals I used to attend with my parents as a child. When I saw the dancing and singing at the Rwanda Day celebrations, I remember the same in Toronto back in the early nineties. I remember those celebrations as some of the most glorious times during our exile because those were the times the entire Rwandan community came together to celebrate our culture, our tradition and our common patrimony. That was when we proclaimed to the world that we were ‘Rwandan and proud’.

london-protest3-300x200Prior to Rwanda Day, I watched with interest as a bunch of misguided busybodies worked themselves into a tizzy, railing against the Rwandan leadership, and sometimes against Rwandans themselves. Using the might of social media, they tried to throw a spanner in the works of the Oxford University business school event celebrating President Kagame’s achievements in pulling Rwandans out of poverty. When the online campaign failed, instead of admitting defeat gracefully and moving on with their lives, they decided to go native.

On Twitter I saw a bunch of haters go on and on about their triumphant ‘protest’. It was only after I came across a YouTube video by ‘The Voice of Congo’ that I saw what their protest was really like. I had assumed that the protestors would stand on the side of the road, spew their nonsense and lift a few placards. I assumed wrong. Wild looking men and women wearing military fatigues calling themselves ‘freedom fighters’ (with names like James Bond Never Die) ran around, throwing themselves in front of the President’s car and pelting his motorcade with eggs. All the while screaming obscenities in Lingala, hoisting posters of Etienne Tshisekedi (the self-styled ‘People’s President’) and acting like buffoons.

While I was merely disgusted by the antics with the President’s motorcade, I felt the blood drain from my face when I saw the animals (I am loath to call them protestors. Martin Luther King Jr was a protestor, these people where animals) surround the business school, and threaten the students with death and sexual assault if they dared walk out of the building.

Watching the scenes, I was shocked by the vitriol. Not from the tiny group of Rwandan protestors mind you (they stood on the sidewalk and acted civilized. Misguided in my opinion but civilized nevertheless) but from the numerous Congolese. The video left wondering why in the world these people had so much hatred for a president of another country that they would risk being trampled on by police horses?

I came to the conclusion that they had been so confused and lied to, that they actually believed that their country’s political, economic and social problems was Rwanda’s fault.

Watching them call our president a “killer”, I wished I could ask them about Kofi Annan’s london-protest1recent report which details the manner in which international mineral companies and members of the state apparatus are conniving to strip Congo’s mineral wealth. I would ask about the Minova rapes, in which Congolese troops are accused of sexually assaulting scores of women. I would ask them about the legacy of Mobutu Sese Seko. I would challenge them about the fact that they were hiding in European capitals, living on welfare and menial employment, instead of going back to their country and actually doing their part to develop it.

I’ve noticed a tendency among some of us to blame outsiders for our woes. This must end if we are to actually move forward. Refusing to acknowledge the systemic issues that we have will only keep us in the dark longer than needs be. I am proud to live in a nation that is tackling its issues head on. Now if only the citizens of our dear neighbor could do the same…

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Third time lucky? Thoughts on Kagame in post-2017 Rwanda

Kagame's last ride? I certainly hope so

Kagame’s last ride? I certainly hope so

Personally, I feel confident President Kagame will step down in 2017. This, despite his having gone from saying that he would unreservedly move aside, to seemingly leaving himself some wiggle room for a constitutional amendment. In fact, lately he has been trying to diffuse questions about whether he will leave office when the Constitution, as it presently reads, mandates he must.

When pressed about it by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour in January, Kagame said, “Don’t worry about that. We have the Constitution in place. We have always tried to do our best to satisfy the needs of our people and expectations of our people.” When Amanpour asked if that meant that yes, he would step down, he replied, “No. It is a broad answer to say you don’t need to worry about anything.”

During a press conference last month, when asked about 2017, Kagame impatiently answered, “I don’t need a third term. Just look at me, I don’t need it. I don’t do this job I am doing as a job for being paid, or as something that benefits me.”

No big man 
The Rwandan Constitution states the president can only hold a two-term post, with each term lasting seven years. Kagame’s first term begun in 2003. He himself has said very often that failing to find a successor would be an indictment of his own rule.

Furthermore, the Rwandan President has prided himself on how different he is from traditional African big men, whose governance styles resemble French Bourbon monarch Louis XIV: L’état, c’est moi(‘The state, it is I’). Changing the Constitution would group Kagame in with Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko, Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. That’s a fate worse than death, in his estimation.

Then again, those less confident need only look to Rwanda’s neighbour to the north, Uganda. In 2006, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda and political mentor to Kagame, used the National Resistance Movement’s overwhelming party majority in parliament, to remove term limits. This, despite the fact that Museveni had, on countless occasions said that he’d respect term limits. The 69 year old has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Rwanda, post-2017
On 8 February, while chairing a National Executive Committee meeting of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party, Kagame tasked the 2,000 delegates to find a solution that would ensure change, stability and continuity post-2017. Some delegates, however, refused to countenance political change. As English paper The New Times reported, the delegates argued, “Why change a winning team? It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda’s needs at the time, they can vote to lift them.”

So, on one side is a largely rural citizenry who cannot fathom a future without Kagame. On the other, a certain unease emanates from the urban elite who wonder whether Rwanda’s political progress will stagnate if and when the Constitution is amended.

With but a few hiccups here and there, Kagame’s presidency has so far been wildly successful. This success would most probably continue if he ruled beyond 2017. The worry, though, is that Rwandans might lose an opportunity to witness the first smooth transition of power in its 51-year post-colonial history.

The issue right now concerns a future where the whims of the mob could supersede the powers of the Constitution. And one man has the power to steer Rwanda towards a future where constitutionalism – not one individual – is king. Mr. President, over to you.

Forget the third term brouhaha, we need a vice presidency

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’ve tried to avaoid the entire Kagame third-term conversation simply because I felt that it was much ado about nothing. I’ve discovered that that is is easier said than done. For the last couple of weeks I’ve not been able to oepen any of my Google Alerts without seeing a headline like ‘Rwanda’s Kagame brushes off speculation over third term, Kagame and Rwanda’s future, Inside Kagame’s plan to retire and, courtesy of Kenya’s Daily Nation, Kagame’s headache: to bow out or hang on.

While the ‘will he-wont he go’ debate has been bandied about (mainly by foreign media such as CNN) for a year or so, I feel that it really got legs after the February 8 RPF National Executive Committee meeting. As this newspaper reported, ‘ a section of the RPF cadres present at the party meeting requested President Kagame not to leave office. “Why change a winning team?” they argued, referring to the remarkable progress the country has registered under Kagame’s leadership. They added: “It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda’s needs at the time, they can vote to lift them.”

President Kagame, as RPF chairman, gave them ‘homework’. He tasked RPF members to think about how to maintain stability and the pace of development but also factor in change.  Enter articles such Professor Mannaseh Nshuti’s serial ‘Change, Stability and Continuity: A Political Homework.

Well, I’ve thought about change, stability and continuity and I am hereby submitting my homework for ‘marking’. The conversation right now is about Kagame staying or going after 2017. Some observers are going so far as to thumb through the Constitution to see how presidential term limits could be lifted. According to the supreme law of the land, lifting them will be tricky. Article 101 states that ‘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’. I’m not an expert in the English language but the phrase ‘under NO circumstances’ gives very little leeway. I’m not sure whether even a referendum can amend this statute. Forget ‘power to the people’.

An idea being bandied about is the South African model. Here, the political party nominates the its presidential candidate and, if and when the

President Kagame addressing members of the RPF’s National Executive Council.

President Kagame addressing members of the RPF’s National Executive Council.

candidate disappoints the party, the party can remove him. We saw this when Jacob Zuma and his ANC cohorts ousted Thabo Mbeki. Those supporting the idea believe that this kind of political system will allow the party to make sure that the president isn’t going off-message. But I must ask, sure this kind of system can ensure change, but how sure are we that it will ensure stability? Remember that the ANC replaced a giant of Africa and replaced him with a man who, in my humble opinion, isn’t fit to tie Mbeki’s shoelaces.

I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of attempting all sorts of political gymnastics, I suggest that we bring back the Vice Presidency. I mean, it was only thirteen years ago that the President was occupying that very office. It is my opinion that scrapping this position caused this tension. People are wondering who will replace the great man when 2017 comes around and, if we are honest, no one has a clue. That is extremely dangerous.

Americans have a saying that the US vice president is a ‘heartbeat away’ from the presidency. What they mean is that if the president is either killed or incapacitated he (or she) is able to occupy the Oval Office.

Think about this scenario. If the President (God forbid) falls ill and passes away, according to our Constitution, the head of the Senate fills his shoes for a three-month interim period. That’s okay right? No.

First of all, how democratic is it for Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, a man who garnered only 256,488 (or 5.15%) of the popular vote in 2010 presidential election, to seize executive power? Where is the legitimacy? He’s not even a member of the political party that overwhelmingly won the election.

Secondly, the interim president is a ‘lame duck’ in the true meaning of the word. He can’t appoint ministers, call for a referendum or declare war. How is all this ‘stability and continuity’?

If we had a vice president, we couldn’t have to worry about a mysterious person being ‘groomed’. We wouldn’t have fret about an uncertain future if anything happened to the incumbent. And we wouldn’t have a situation where a president’s legitimacy is being question by the people who didn’t vote for them or their party.

Where are the storytellers in the RPF?

imgresI honestly cannot believe that we will be celebrating RPF-Inkotanyi’s Silver Jubilee tomorrow. I mean, I feel like it was only yesterday that I joined other members of the Rwandan refugee community in Toronto on October 1,to eat African food, dance and throw in a few measly dollars for the war effort; an effort I really didn’t understand.  I only knew that my uncles were fighting a war and they needed some money for clothing and medicine. I remember telling my father that I wanted the few dollars I donated to be used to buy bullets and guns, instead of medicine.

Thousand of us, young and old, made our nation’s liberation possible. At the forefront of this liberation, and the nations subsequent development, are the people I called the ‘Refugee Generation’. These men and women were at the vanguard of the movement in 1987, and they are still leading the way even today. But what was it about their shared experiences that made them such a powerful generation? Was it the poverty? The deprivation? The shame?

I know that all the offspring of the Refugee Generation have heard tales of their parents having to walk miles to school barefoot and having to 405377_10150560275838248_689018247_8994539_1236240180_nwork in the farms of the natives to feed their families back in the camps. A relative of mine, whenever he meets me, jokes that the only reason he isn’t taller is because of the heavy loads he had to carry on head stunted his growth. However, while the ‘loads’ stunted their physical growth, it also have them a steely resolve to improve their lots in life. They excelled in school, joined the work force, and when things became tough in the wintery conditions of the mountains, their earlier experiences instilled in them the ability to persevere.

I can only imagine that our leaders experiences in the camps, mountains, in the jungles of Congo formed their character, and their outlook on life. It is my belief that only people who’d suffered as much as they suffered could make the hard choices they’d made. Choices that are being validated by Rwanda’s and Rwandans place in the world. Which brings me to the crux of the issue I’d like to discuss.

An RPA solidier about to fire a 82mm motar infront of Chez Lando in Remera in 1994

An RPA solidier about to fire a 82mm motar infront of Chez Lando in Remera in 1994

The RPF of the last 25 years was borne out of the harsh realities of refugee life. The RPF of the next 25 years will be composed of Rwandans who’ve, hopefully, not seen the harshness of the Nyakivale and Kyaka II refugee camps.

The question I’ve been pondering the last couple of days is, will Rwanda be able to continue to move forward at such a breakneck speed with a new generation at the helm? Have we (I add myself to this generation) ‘suffered’ enough? Do we have the fire in our bellies? And if we don’t, will our parents and mentors pass on their own passion, and their life lessons, to us?

Young Americans can, with either a library card or Google, get thousands of books, images, film and other documents recounting the Civil Rights movement. They watch movies like Born on the Fourth of July and Apocalypse Now to see just how the Vietnam War affected the soldiers that fought in it.

Gen Sam Kaka of Alpha Mobile, Col Twahirwa Dodo of Bravo Mobile, Col Gashumba of Charlie Mobile and Col Musitu of the 21st Mobile getting decorated for their role in the war of National Liberation

Do we have such resources here? Nope.  In fact, I’ve found out that attempting to prying any kind of detailed information from my ‘Afande’ uncles about what they saw in Rwanda and their other theatres of combat, was an exercise in futility. And that is very unfortunate.

What I suggest is something that is ‘un-Rwandan’ in some peoples eyes. I urge everyone who can share their experiences to do so. It isn’t about ‘showing off’ or attempting to ‘take credit where it’s not due’. It’s about giving the next generation of leaders the historical context and foundation needed to make the right decisions, even when you are gone.

In my opinion, the RPF story did not start in 1994. Nor did it begin in 1987. It began in 1959 in the camps.  That story must be told to the next generation of RPF. For if we cannot remember our past, we will not be able to navigate the waters of our future.

The fighting in Goma has stopped, now is the time to start talking

Hundreds of fighters from the M23 group entered Goma after days of clashes with UN-backed Congolese soldiers that forced tens of thousands of residents to flee. A senior UN source told Reuters that international peacekeepers had given up defending the city after the Congolese troops evacuated.
Picture: REUTERS/James Akena

So, Goma has fallen, not with a bang but a whimper. And who expected any different? Certainly not I. You’ve heard the old saying, ‘an empty tin makes the most noise’, haven’t you? Well, in this case, we aren’t talking about merely a tin, but rather an entire country’s leadership, both military and civilian. Top down, the entire system is rotten to the core.

If one was to take the war-like talk from Kinshasa seriously (which anyone in the know didn’t), M23 was going to meet its Waterloo, beaten back due to the combined firepower of the FARDC and Monusco.  But like the proverbial empty tin, all the noise was just that. Noise.

What happened to the ‘fearsome’ heavy artillery and Belgian-trained FARDC

Goma’s capture will be an embarrassment for President Joseph Kabila, who won re-election late last year in polls that provoked widespread riots in Kinshasa and which international observers said were marred by fraud Picture: LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images

commanders? The artillery was barely fired and the commanders simply vanished, leaving their troops to do the time honored Congolese army party trick, looting and terrorizing the very civilians they’re supposed to protect.  What happened to the hundreds of well-armed Monusco troops, availed with helicopter gunships? They stood aside because, “we (Monusco) have had no trouble with M23, to be honest,” an unnamed South African Monusco soldier told the Guardian correspondent in Goma. In other words, they really didn’t care who won, a lesson that the DRC needed to learn. The Uruguayan, Indian and South African troops are too well paid to die for a corrupt, inept state. They want to go back home to their wives and children, not die fighting in a civil conflict in a faraway hellhole.

What I think we need to do is examine why Kinshasa believed that it could hold Goma. Were the politicians so buffoonish that they couldn’t realize that their troops would flee at the first sound of serious gunfire? They had done that on countless occasions before, what was going to be different this time? Monsuco gunships and heavy weapons obviously.  But hadn’t they seen the evidence of its impotence? This UN mission was been unable defeat and disarm rag-tag genocidal forces (its stated mandate) and opted to trade with it instead, giving them arms in exchange for minerals.

Well, Kinshasa refused to see that they were playing a game of Russian roulette,

The body of a dead Congolese army soldier lies in the road between Goma and Kibati Picture: PHIL MOORE/AFP/Getty Images

banging the war drums, refusing to talk to M23 and attempting to play amateurish international politics, by blaming Rwanda and Uganda for M23. Well, it has seen the result of that; a hard slap in the face and the loss of one of DRC’s biggest cities to a force no larger than 3,000 lightly armed mutineers. So, what’s next?

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The IGCLR peace process was doing a great job until Kabila, fooled by his advisers (both local and international) thought that he could use force to resolve an issue that only diplomacy and talks could solve.  If M23’s Goma advance was meant to force Kabila to the negotiating table, it has worked like a charm. Yesterday, he flew to Kampala in a panic, to meet other ICGLR leaders, including our very own President Kagame. I am willing to bet that M23’s delegates will not be given the cold shoulder this time around. There is a lot to talk about, and the faster  direct talks between the two sides commence, the better for the entire region.

I only hope that the international community gives the ICGLR process a chance now. Its meddling has done nothing except make a bad situation worse. Rwandans don’t need to fear for their lives because Goma is under siege again. The mortars that landed in Rubavu District, killing two innocents, must become the last one’s fired across the border.

Frank Habineza’s Green’s won’t threaten Kagame’s RPF

 If you aren’t an avid Rwanda watcher then you’ve probably never heard of Mr. Frank Habineza, the grandiosely titled ‘Founding President’ of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, or the Greens as I’ve decided to call them.

Heard of the politician who was decapitated in Butare in the run up to the last presidential elections in 2010? Well, the deceased politician, Andre Rwisereka, was Habineza’s deputy. This is the gruesome picture of the man in the morgue. Look at it at your own risk.

Anyway, after unsuccessfully attempting to register his party, Frank left the country. While some Rwanda observers said that he fled political persecution in 2010, the politician himself said, in a press conference that he held today at Hotel Umubano, that he “had to go to Sweden to do other duties”.

He returned to Kigali last Thursday.

The press conference, which I attended, was meant to reintroduce the Greens to the Rwandan public and allow the Media to quiz him. But before we could do that, we were handed the Greens ‘Interim Political Platform’. A mishmash of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the US Constitution and Green Party themes, it is a contradictory and rather silly document.

The document states that, among other things, that the Greens will balance “the interests of a regulated market economy and community-based economics”. What in the world does that mean? Did the writers simply copy and paste some Swedish mumbo-jumbo? Perhaps the economists out there can interpret this for us lesser minds.

You know why people don’t politicians? Because they are populist liars. In one section of the Platform, the Greens believe that “Government MUST practice fiscal responsibility, limit taxation and control spending”….then two pages later say that the Party will propose “ a modernized social welfare system.  We will propose policies that can provide un-employment benefits”.

Now, I’m not a genius but even I can understand that you cannot lower taxes on one hand and then increase social spending at the same time. Especially when you are talking about a country where half of the people don’t even PAY taxes therefore overburdening the rest that do.  Throw in the fact that unemployment  was about eight percent last year   and one has an impossible situation. Mr. Habineza, the math simply doesn’t add up.

The rest of the press conference was kind of fun. He was bombarded by the press corps and he ducked and weaved. But will he be able to land a blow, never mind a knockout blow, of any kind to the RPF coalition? Not in a million years. He’s way out of his league and I mean no disrespect.