Archive | April, 2011

Want a sure job? Go to a polytechnic

26 Apr

You might call it the forgotten sector of education in Rwanda.  And you would be right. But not for much longer. It is now likely to be the cornerstone of Rwanda’s bid to build a middle income economy.

The crucial role technical and vocational education and training (TVET) plays in economic development has now been recognised. TVET is now getting more attention than it has ever had.

It started with the setting up of the Workforce Development Agency (WDA), a body charged with the initiating and implementing a skills development strategy. This was followed by the setting up of training centres with support from such countries as South Korea which has had a successful skills development programme.

The latest stage in Rwanda’s rediscovery of the need to develop technical skills was the inauguration of the Kicukiro Technical Training Centre (KTTC) by President Paul Kagame on April 21, 2011. KTTC is one of three training centres housed at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional Centre in Kicukiro, one of several regional polytechnics in the country. The others are Kicukiro College of Technology and an Information Technology Centre.

The choice of this type of polytechnic education as the core of skills development in Rwanda is no accident.  It follows the realisation that there are inadequacies in the present educational set up. For instance, we have been educating engineers, both locally and abroad, but these are ineffective without supporting technicians at lower and middle levels. We have the generals but no foot soldiers to carry out the campaign.

And the campaign, the government has said, is to build Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as a development and poverty reduction strategy in the medium term. As the president said last Thursday, middle-level technicians trained in the polytechnics will be the ones to develop and service the SMEs.

Rwanda has other ambitious modernisation campaigns that require skilled people to carry them out. There is the improvement of agriculture through such measures as irrigation, professionalization, and crop intensification. This obviously will annoy people like Ms An Ansomms who (for reasons other than efficiency) seek to glorify traditional peasant agriculture and condemn attempts at improving productivity and the general well-being of rural folk. Better Ansomms’ ire than a country mired in poverty.

Then, of course, there is the distribution of electricity across the country, provision of clean water to all citizens and development of other infrastructure – all of which depend on technical skills.

The choice of partners in polytechnic education is also telling. The training equipment in the centre the president inaugurated last week was provided by the Republic of Korea. Indeed Korea is deeply involved in TVET in Rwanda. It is no secret that Rwanda has been looking to the Asian model for its own development.

Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and even China and India have followed a more or less similar development path that has seen their countries transformed in the relatively short period of a few decades.

It is not the intention of this article to examine the various strategies the Asian countries adopted that led to their phenomenal transformation. But one of them was education.

They all developed their education system and trained a technological and industrial cadre in three stages.

They invested heavily in technical and vocational education to produce a skilled workforce for their nascent industries. They did not train only operators and maintenance people but also technicians able to copy and fabricate various types of machinery.

At the same time, they built and developed their institutes of science and technology to world class status so that their graduates were able to design machinery needed in their factories to produce goods that could compete on the export market.

Thirdly, as they were doing these, they sent their brightest students to the best universities in Europe and America to acquire scientific and technological knowledge and skills that they used on their return to be innovative in various fields of technology.

Results of this approach to education and skills acquisition in Asia can be seen around the world. More significantly, they are evident in the GDP and per capita income of the different countries in the region.

It should come as no surprise therefore that Rwanda has chosen to learn from their experience and profit from their expertise in this area.

In the meantime, however, there is a serious obstacle – the attitude by many Rwandans to technical and vocational education. Many consider it inferior to traditional academic education. Employment agencies, government include, have contributed to this perception by their insistence on university degrees in their hiring practices.

Because of the premium placed on academic qualifications, some students in our universities value the certificate they will get more than the knowledge they will gain. Given the choice of getting a degree certificate without attending class, many would gladly opt for that.

There is one attraction going for TVET, though – jobs. At a time when university graduates in some disciplines are not sure whether they will get a job, TVET graduates are assured of one even before they leave school. They can even go one better – become their own employers and even hire others.

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Remaking Rwanda: only Rwandans can do it

19 Apr

Another book on Rwanda by non-Rwandans is now on sale in bookshops and on the internet. Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence, edited by Lars Waldorf and Scott Straus, was officially launched yesterday. The book is a collection of articles by a group of people who have made it their mission to shoot down anything that the government of Rwanda does.

The new book should be seen as the latest project of an association of what may be appropriately called “Genocide Deniers Inc.” and “Hate Rwanda Ltd”. The editors have brought together the works of a wide array of members of these two groups.

They include self-confessed enemies of the Rwanda Patriotic Front like Filip Reyntjens, habitual accusers as Kenneth Roth and perpetual gripers like Carina Tersakian.

There is a long list of people who have arrogated themselves the role of interpreting Rwandan history to Rwandans. This group includes Timothy Longman, Sarah Warshauer Freedman, Harvey Weinstein and Karen Murphy.

Others like Eugenia Zorbas, Jason Stearns and Federico Borello visit the failures of the international community in the region on Rwanda and hope that will absolve them of guilt.

Then there is a whole collection of people who thrive on the “Hate Rwanda” industry.

Their articles in this book are not different from what they have written about Rwanda in the past and can easily be dismissed as a rehash of past criticism that does not take into account current developments.

Nonetheless, Remaking Rwanda is significant. However, its significance does not lie in its accurate historical, political or economic analyses of today’s situation in Rwanda. It does no such. Most of the so-called analyses are dated or outright lies. Rather, it commands attention as a devious attempt by the editors and contributors to remake Rwanda to suit their preconceptions. Indeed the writing displays a bias and deliberate distortion that can only be evidence of the authors’ frustration that it is Rwandans and not they who are remaking the country and taking it in a different direction.

The intention of the editors comes out clearly in the title of the book. They avoid calling the killing in Rwanda in 1994 by its proper name – genocide – but prefer to refer to it as “mass violence”. This blanket and non-definite reference to a specific, definable event allows them to smuggle into this period other forms of violence with the aim of equating them to the genocide and thereby reducing its magnitude.

The same bias (actually, dishonesty) is evident in the nature of the research into the articles and their publication.

Most of the articles in the book were presented in London in March 2009 at an event organised to pay tribute to Alison Des Forges. It does not need much imagination to notice the close resemblance between the theme of the event, “Reconstructing Rwanda, fifteen years after the genocide: a tribute to Alison Des Forges” and the title of their new book.

This similarity is no coincidence. Des Forges had turned into one of the most outspoken detractors of Rwanda before she met her tragic end. The tribute to her was a sort of celebration of her attitude and ideas on Rwanda. Naturally the presentations were slanted towards her thinking. It is for the same reason that presentations at the March 2009 London event that did not fit into this pattern of thought were not included in the present book.

As pointed out earlier, some of the authors have a vested interest in distorting the situation in Rwanda.

For instance, Filip Reyntjens was one of the intellectual architects of the Habyarimana regime. He was responsible for creating a powerful one party state that excluded significant sections of the population and giving the president extensive powers. The present government is sworn against foreign intellectual manipulation and has undone his work. And so because Reyntjens cannot penetrate it and exercise the sort of influence he had previously, he has chosen to undermine it, and by some miracle now plays at being an enlightened champion of democracy and political inclusion.

Kenneth Roth is staking out his claim as heir to Alison Des Forges.

Historians, led by Timothy Longman, distort history out of pique. Their Rwandan colleagues in a project to design a history course for Rwandan schools rejected their incorrect interpretation of Rwandan history.

None of these can be disinterested writers on Rwanda.

Contributors to Remaking Rwanda are a self-serving and self-advertising lot. The literature that informed their research is narrow and restricted to the circle of writers that contributed to the book. What comes out is a mutually reinforcing book of similar recycled views.

It is clear from their present and past work that the contributors to Remaking Rwanda have a strong aversion to the RPF government. They accuse it of an ambitious, but untenable social engineering project. They criticise everything, from imihigo (performance contracts) to poverty eradication strategies; gacaca to land ownership and use; agricultural practice to human settlement policies; education and health insurance to self-sufficiency in many aspects of national life.

To be fair they admit that there has been progress since 1994, but quickly add that it is unsustainable and predict it will all unravel and the country once again explode into violence.

This may be dismissed as wishful thinking. But it also betrays the desire and even calculations of the contributors to the book. Remaking Rwanda certainly expresses the wishes of its writers. On the ground, however, Rwandans have moved to remake their country in a way that expresses their aspirations.

Broken chains and spirit that refuses to die

12 Apr

Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese writer and film maker, made a profound definition of a slave. He wrote that it is not the person who is forcibly put in chains and kept in a cage that is the real slave, but the one who willingly accepts the chains spiritually (in the wider sense of the word) and intellectually. By this definition, Sembene raised the debate on slavery to another plane. He moved it from the merely physical condition of deprivation of freedom to the level of control of the mind. He equated slavery with the wilful surrender of human dignity.

Several decades after these important words were written, and probably forgotten by most Africans, President Paul Kagame returned to the same message on 7th April during the 17th commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda.

He urged Rwandans, as he has done many times in the past, to put great store on their dignity as Rwandans and as human beings. More significantly, he reminded them that they alone can give it to themselves. It cannot be externally bestowed on them by some sort of benefactor.

How else can it be, you may ask. Well, until you listen to the president’s argument last week.

The genocide robbed Rwandans of their dignity in several ways.

First, their leaders and fellow citizens took it away when they hunted and brutally slaughtered them in their hundreds of thousands. The dignity of those who died and those who survived was forcibly removed from them. Their spirit, though, did not die. And because of this, those who are still alive can be freed from this loss and have a liberating influence on other Rwandans. And indeed they have.

The restoration of dignity where the spirit does not die is close to Sembene’s take on slavery. Some people were forcibly taken, chained and sold into slavery. They lost their freedom, but retained their dignity because they did not allow their spirit to die. And because of this they could regain their freedom.

Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, some Rwandans acquiesced in the erosion of the dignity of fellow citizens but also of their own. By brushing aside the sanctity of human life and committing untold atrocities, the perpetrators of genocide, whether as masterminds or mob executioners, not only took other people’s lives but also debased their own.  In so doing they lost that element of existence that distinguishes intellect from instinct, good from evil and defines our humanness. They willingly ceded their humanity to a base a base ideology of destruction.

In addition, the different kinds of perpetrators took instructions and relied on support from elsewhere, became tools and in the process surrendered whatever vestiges of self-respect and independent thinking they may have had. In a sense they participated in their own shackling and debasement.

In the Sembene definition, they are like the people who, although not put in chains, willingly give up their worth and accept to be slaves.

Now, it is easier to break physical chains and free individuals held captive against their will. It is more difficult to cut people loose from mental chains they have helped to put there. But difficult as it is it has to be done.

To do this requires another sort of liberation in which individuals are not only freed but also have their self-worth restored.

This has been the message to those Rwandans who permitted themselves to be chained – liberation from guilt, regaining the ability to think independently, breaking the bonds of dependency on external influence (spiritually and intellectually) and reclaiming their humanness.

The message of restoration of human dignity, however, goes beyond the genocide. True liberation can only have meaning if recovery of what had been lost extends to all areas of national life.

This is a necessary condition for lasting economic development. Resolution of all manner of problems that we face is predicated on this. You cannot talk about self-sufficiency in food production, proper nutrition, good health and education without linking them to a sense of individual and collective dignity.

As in the case of liberation from slavery, no one can say it will be easy. No one who keeps others in chains lets them free without their having to fight to break them. No one has ever liberated himself without a hard struggle. But equally, no former slave owner likes seeing a successful freed person, especially if they had never accepted that status in the first place. They will do everything to thwart their progress.

That is why real liberation is the result of a wilful effort to be free. This is the kind of effort Rwandans are constantly being asked to exert to free themselves, restore their dignity and march on to prosperity. And this is possible because most of them have refused to accept chains and as President Kagame put it, they have refused their spirit to die.

Why vultures have no chance: Rwanda is healthy

5 Apr

You live outside the developing world and want to make a name for yourself? There is a sure path to follow. Find work in the least developed of countries, preferably those coming out of conflict. Get involved in aid work. This way you will earn the gratitude of people broken by conflict. You will also gain partial knowledge about the people and the country. From that limited knowledge, sifted through your cultural and intellectual assumptions, you conclude that it is necessary to save these people from their governments and that the best way to do this is to graduate to human rights advocacy.

The next step is to get into academia, write papers and publish books on your experiences working among the wretched of the earth and generally become an expert. A necessary qualification of your expertise is that you must shoot down everything those unfortunate people do to get up and move forward.

This may appear too simple and even sound unfair, but it is a fairly accurate description of the career path of a good number of foreigners who have worked in Africa, now and in the past.

When a country is nearly destroyed and the people are down, many of these people descend on the place in droves and offer to help. They come as unknown individuals and leave as famous people.

They have been described, very imaginatively, as akin to vultures, skinny from long spells of starvation in the sky, which suddenly see a carcase and swoop down on it, tear it apart, gorge themselves on its flesh and then leave it as heavy, fattened creatures with difficulty in flying. And because of this satisfying experience, they keep on the lookout for other carcases.

Seventeen years ago, Rwandans were down and nearly out. As the country was being torn apart, no one showed up. When it was over, many people from across the world came to help (some genuinely, others to build careers). In what should be strange, but is quite understandable, most of them have turned into the harshest critics of Rwanda.

The majority of these good people turned detractors have followed a common career route. Nearly all of them started work in NGOs. They then moved to human rights organisations, usually hopping from one to the other effortlessly and for selfish reasons – better conditions, ego, or because of being sacked by the other organisation.

Many of them used their presence on the ground to research on what brought the country down in the first place and on innovative approaches government has designed to rebuild the country. So, they research into the genocide, gacaca, and reintegration and reconciliation processes. From this work they earn degrees, publish papers and find their way into the newly-formed, fashionable and generously-funded university faculties – invariably, centres of human rights studies and conflict management in the developing world. Apparently, there are no exciting human rights issues in other parts of the world.

This has been the path of such individuals as Lars Waldorf and Scott Straus, editors of a forthcoming book on Rwanda in which they have assembled articles of the most virulent detractors of the country.

It is the route followed by Timothy Longman and Susan Thomson, both of whom are contributors to the book. Ditto Carina Tertsakian. She has not yet broken into academia, but do not be surprised if you next hear she is professor of something.

Now, what happens when the carcase was attacked before it became, well, a carcase? What happens when it shows signs of recovery and eventually returns to good health as Rwanda has become in the last seventeen years?

That is when there is so much hatred for a country that refuses to die or remain on life support. When a country is out of intensive care, it needs fewer nurses attending to it. It tells the NGOs and others who hover around the sick state that some of their work is no longer needed and that most of what they had been doing can be handled by the state.

Now, this is the surest way to earn the ire of the NGOs. Most of them make their mark by setting themselves up against the “might” and “errors” of the state. Telling some of them that they are irrelevant gives them a double excuse of counter-weight and sworn enemy to the state.

The rights groups must also show that the human rights situation has not changed in order to retain their relevance.

Opportunist academics take a similar position for the same reasons – to keep alive their academic pursuits and lucrative careers and retain some form of relevance.

Is it surprising therefore that as Rwandans mark seventeen years after the genocide, during which time they have restored hope and their dignity, reconstructed individual and national lives to a point of envy, and earned international respect, these beneficiaries of the Rwandan experience should gang together to carry out their common project? Hardly, when their intention is to reject the very idea that Rwanda is very healthy and not the carcase that will attract all manner of vultures.