Archive | May, 2011

Prosperity is a right; poverty is not

31 May

One year is a long enough period to change the economic and social landscape of a place that it becomes almost unrecognisable. A great many things can happen in that time.

In May 2010, we wrote in this column (‘When a problem is a good thing’, The New Times, 18th May, 2010) about a problem of surplus production in Eastern Province that had farmers worried. They had answered the government’s call for increased production too well. The cry then was, ‘milk, milk everywhere but not a franc to be got’.

That was a year ago. Today what you hear is not a woeful lament about useless plenty, but a joyful song about bounty and benefits. And the evidence of the extent of the twin sources of the new song is visible.

President Paul Kagame said as much when he met the citizens of Nyagatare District on Friday, 27th May, 2011. He told them that they looked healthy and well turned out – no doubt the result of increased wealth. They in turn told him that was not all. They pointed to better housing which they said could be seen from the new, gleaming, iron sheet roofs of the many houses that dotted the countryside.

So what is the source of the better social well-being of the people? Simple. Better prices for what they produce.

Last year a litre of milk was selling at 80 francs – often for much less. Even at that low price, there was no guarantee that all the milk they produced would be bought. There was a disconnect between production and the market which would inevitably have led to disincentives for farmers to produce more.

Today, a litre of milk goes for 200 francs and there is assurance that all the milk produced will be bought. Prices are predicted to rise in the dry period (July-September) when production decreases. At today’s rates, average incomes for small-scale farmers from milk production stand at about 200,000 francs per month. The least amount of money the smallest farmer who produces ten litres a day can expect is 60,000 francs, up from 24,000 a year ago. In the last 45 days farmers had 176 million francs from selling milk, according to one of them. Small amounts you might say, but still significant in the circumstances.

These changes in individual farmers’ earnings are reflected in the district’s revenues. While a year ago the district raised 30 million francs in a period of 45 days, the amount for the corresponding period this year has increased more than ten-fold to 305 million francs. Citizens’ savings in SACCOs that were nearly non-existent a few years ago now stand at 358 million francs and are projected to triple by 2013.

Similar progress is taking place in agricultural production. Most marshlands in the country are being turned into rice fields whose production will reduce rice imports, feed the people, save the country foreign exchange and earn farmers big incomes. For other crops, there will be increased use of irrigation to boost production.  As President Kagame told citizens of Nyagatare District, profitable farming cannot be based on chance – on whether there is rain or not. It must be possible to produce with or without rain.

The changes in the livelihood of rural citizens have a greater impact beyond just better prices and higher living standards. Yes, they are creating a relatively well-off class able to satisfy their basic needs. But soon that will not be enough. They will begin demanding more than the basic things. They will aim at controlling the means to safeguard their new-found wealth. Which means they will inevitably want greater and more active participation in governance and economic management processes, and in the maintenance of stability.

That should be good news for all those groups who are in the habit of delivering sermons on democracy, political space and human rights. Here is an emerging class that should make their work easier. I am not sure that this will be welcome news to them, though. It will probably make them angrier and trigger more sermons. Were new found economic power to give Rwandans a stronger voice in the way their country is organised as it surely will, the various preachers would be rendered irrelevant. They will fight tooth and nail to keep their place because their interest is not greater democracy for Rwandans but more visibility and assured place in the sun for themselves.

Historically, groups have organised politically around common economic interests and brought about change that protects those interests. Political organisation and change have always grown from within. They have never been a result of external instructions. Where that has happened as in our own history, the results have been disastrous because the premises of political organisation were false. Yet we are still getting directives about how to organise our society, what areas to put emphasis on, and so on.

Creation of wealth is apparently not a priority for the unordained preachers. For Rwandans it is. And they have shown it is more than wealth. It gives them dignity and a voice in the affairs of their country.

That wealth is being created and Rwandans do not live in abject poverty as some fugitive Rwandans wish is clear.  The people of Nyagatare and other districts have sent a strong rebuke to those who thrive on the poverty of others. As President Kagame so aptly put it, poverty is not a right; prosperity is.

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invented stories won’t kill Rwandan spirit

23 May

We are the most, perhaps the only, inventive species on our planet. Most inventions are really works of genius. Sometimes they have been stumbled upon. Other times they have been products of lengthy and dedicated inquiry. But by whatever route arrived at, inventions have resulted in better quality of life for the human race.

Where would we in the newspaper business and the public that reads them be without the ground breaking work of Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press? Today we speak of another more recent invention that has revolutionized our lives – the computer.

For most of our rural folk, the bicycle might well be the most revolutionary invention.

However, there are other inventions that are truly the work of diabolical minds. Their evil genius lies, not in the amount of common good they can have, but in the extent of destruction they can cause.

Take for example the very recent invention that Rwanda wants to eliminate two obscure, unimportant people living in London. A plot was invented, a story made and given to newspapers to spread, and now the world is awash with the invention. And because it has appeared in the mainstream media, many unsuspecting people are likely to believe it.

The more discerning ones, however, will notice that it is an invented story. It is also easy to tell who is behind it and their intentions.  But their invention is so ludicrous that it cannot stand and will certainly be of no use to anyone, even to the inventors.

Here is why. Supposing, for argument’s sake, that there are some people the Rwanda government deems dangerous to the security of the country, is killing them the best way to deal with them? Are there no diplomatic ways of handling the issue?

All the so-called opposition groups have been saying the UK Government is too cosy with Rwanda. It would surely follow that the Rwandan government would use its friendly ties with the British government to sort out the problem. Would they be so stupid as to do anything that would jeopardize that cosy relationship? And look at the price for endangering a valued relationship – two unknown people, never heard of before this story was invented and spread. It is just unbelievable that a government whose efficiency is acknowledged by friend and foe alike would want to eliminate nonentities and lose a valuable friend.

For quite a while now the gang of four who now go by a more respectable name – the Rwanda National Congress – and their allies in the FDU and a motley collection of other opportunists, conmen, swindlers and traitors, have been praying that the UK and other development partners withdraw their support to Rwanda. So far they have not had any success.

That prayer would be answered if it was made to appear that Rwanda has such a disregard for all diplomatic norms that it would  assassinate people on British soil, one of them a British citizen. Now you can see the reason for the invention.

It cannot be a coincidence that this made up story began to appear as all these groups were meeting in London to work out a common strategy to destabilise Rwanda. This invention must be one of their methods.

Nor is it new. It is part of a pattern that made its appearance last year. An obscure politician was found dead, probably killed by ordinary criminals, and the murder was transformed into a political killing and placed at the government’s door. Again it is an incredible conclusion because the person who was murdered was unknown in political circles – even within the so-called opposition. Even today, with all the media coverage that the story was given, few Rwandans know anything about Andrew Rwisereka.

The same narrative was evident in the shooting of Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa, with similar incredible happenings. The assassin apparently hired to kill the man had a faulty gun that could not fire more than one bullet. He then stood there stupefied until his intended victim got out of the car and wrestled him down. This is the stuff of movies where we are often invited to suspend disbelief. There were inventions in that story, too.

To date no direct link has been established between the shooting of Kayumba and the government of Rwanda. It will be the same with the London story. You can stretch imagination up to a point. Beyond that you lose credibility. That is sure to happen in this case.

The exiled groups have adopted this sort of narrative in which they paint the Rwandan Government in ugly colours because they cannot find fault with its policies. They have no argument against the clearly successful government programmes. Their only recourse is mudslinging, insults and fabrication. Surely signs of desperation, not the plans of a credible opposition.

Let me leave you with a more pleasant, and real, story that will clear the bitter taste of the invented story. The Junior Wasps (Under 17 football team) are playing a series of build up matches in Europe before they go to Mexico to take part in the Under 17 World Cup.

Listening to them sing Kinyarwanda songs at Tottenham where they played that club’s U18 team and got a 0-0 draw was heart warming and struck cords on my patriotic heart. I had to hold back tears. Over the weekend, the Junior Wasps beat an FC Cologne team 3-1 in \Germany.

What was the source of tearful joy? Seventeen years ago we were down and nearly out. Who would have imagined that there would be children born that year competing at the highest level of football? Yet here they were proudly Rwandan in Europe as they made preparations to represent us all at the World Cup.

For many of us our Under 17 football team represent the indestructible spirit of Rwandans.  There are the evidence of the road we have travelled. The dogged determination, the confidence, the patriotism are all pointers to where young people will take the country once the baton has been passed on to them – to greater success. I am not exaggerating.

We await the event itself. We will cheer them, albeit from afar and whatever the outcome, we can all celebrate this fact and symbol of Rwanda’s rebirth.

No amount of invented stories will change this fact.

A tale of two weddings

10 May

Last week I had intended to write about the wedding of Prince William and Kate (now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). I had wanted to say how the world sorely needed the goodwill the royal wedding brought.

People around the world were unusually generous in their comments about the young couple. Even the normally acerbic press were in uncharacteristic charitable mood and did not grudge the royal couple their moment of joy. This, of course, can only be momentary. They will soon have their noses close to the ground, smelling out the slightest whiff of scandal and then bound after the couple like a pack of hounds that have got on a strong trail of their prey.

I had also wanted to say how the royal wedding had provided welcome relief from the multiple tragedies across the world that blight the enjoyment of our existence – and even threaten it. And for a while we got that relief.

The daily bombing and shooting in Libya by whichever side in the conflict was temporarily forgotten. Colonel Gaddafi may well have watched the wedding on television, seeing as he has declared himself a royal (king of kings). He loves spectacle so much that it is difficult to think he would have let the William and Kate one pass.

Even in the land where royalty is a quaint curiosity and where the fury of Mother Nature was causing so much havoc in some of the states, Will and Kate’s wedding pushed the scenes of wrecked houses, uprooted trees and broken power cables off TV screens and front pages of newspapers for a while.

In our own neighbourhood, there was a truce in the tragi-comedy of the Walk to Work confrontation.

Those well-fed and well-heeled men and women in dark suits and flowing robes should have been let to walk and sweat to wherever they wanted to go. May be it was their own form of penance for the sin of so much opulence. Only they should not have dragged along with them the poorly-dressed and badly-fed souls who have no work to walk to. In any case they always walk in search of work.

The poor fellows surely do not share in the sins of the politicians, most of whom stayed well clear of fierce-looking riot police. And for letting themselves be drawn into a politicians’ war, these ordinary folk got more than their share of brutal beatings reminiscent of periods gone by.

The respite from all this showed that it is after all possible for humanity to feel collectively good about an event however unconnected to it they may be, and forget their minor and major quarrels for a while. It did not take a retired statesman or international civil servant, never mind that their tenure might have been tainted, to negotiate the general feel good and cessation of all manner of quarrels. Why doesn’t this happen more often?

This is what I had wanted to say last week, but the respite was very short. A certain Osama bin Laden spoilt everything as he had always done.  The fellow who had made it his mission to kill people who did not share his view of the world got himself killed and turned all the media attention to himself. More than a week after his death, he still dominates the media.

And so our feel good period was cut short and I didn’t get to say these things. We returned to the familiar world of terrorists of every stripe, natural and man-made disasters and fights among the political class, but in which more ordinary people get hurt.

When I proposed that our own terrorists be given no quarter and be made to account for denying us the pleasure of enjoying such simple delights as births and weddings, I was nearly hounded out of town. The watchdogs of our “conscience”, more remarkable for their deficiency in that area, descended on me in a pack, growling menacingly at my audacity to suggest the obvious – that criminals be punished for their sins.

Now you know why it is difficult to get rid of the bin Ladens, Kabugas and Kayumbas of this world. They have lobbyists and cheerleaders paid for with donations from ordinary, sensible and decent people.  And this is the irony: human rights activists coming to the defence of people who have utter contempt for other people’s rights.

There was another wedding I was going to write about – less glamorous than the royal nuptials, but perhaps more heart-warming. A Kenyan couple, both more than a hundred years old, each said “I do” at about the time William and Kate were doing the same. The centenarians had been happily married for a long time and their progeny were enough to fill the royal wedding hall.

Then they thought it was a good idea to cap their long and happy life with a memorable exchange of vows, the truth of which their life was a testament, before a man of God. That may have been a way of saying “thank you” to the Almighty for giving them such a long life, or perhaps pointing to us the possibilities of contented existence if we are permitted to live our lives to the full.

As I watched the old couple helped out of their luxury car for the day, I couldn’t help thinking that this is what terrorists prevent – living a full and contented. And for this they should be punished. If the rights brigade love them so much, they can share the punishment. No one will lose sleep over that choice.

Osama bin Laden’s lesson for local terrorists

3 May

You can run. You can hide. But you won’t escape. Osama Bin Laden learnt the lesson of this simple truth last night. The world’s most famous terrorist was killed in his hideout in Pakistan last night after a decade on the run. Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, became the face, brain and soul of international terrorism after the September 11, 2001 attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York in which about three thousand people were killed.
Following that attack, the United States government mounted a hunt for bin Laden. He took to his heels, hid in the hills and caves of Afghanistan and behaved like all outlaws do. That run has now ended in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Huge crowds came out in Washington and New York in the middle of the night to celebrate the death of a notorious terrorist. They came to express their delight that the author of one of the darkest chapters in American, and indeed, world history was no more. And in that sense their euphoria is understandable. Equally understandable is the significance of his death.
However, as President Barrack Obama cautioned, people must not relax their vigilance because of the sense of accomplishment now felt in the United States. The death of bin Laden may have been a heavy blow to international terrorism, but it is not a knock-out punch.
There are many other smaller terrorist groups scattered across the world that are independent from Al Qaeda which will continue to pose a threat. And we can expect some sort of response from Al Qaeda, if only to prove that it is still a potent force even without its head.
Still, Osama bin Laden’s death is very important and has lessons for other terrorists and criminals on the run or in hiding around the globe that their end will also come. Sure, they can run. And yes, they can hide. But eventually they will be found and made to account.
In Rwanda we have our own criminals and terrorists sheltering in foreign countries. What has happened to Osama bin Laden should serve as notice to them that they cannot hide forever. Justice, in whatever form, will catch up with them.
Felicien Kabuga is one such criminal known to be hiding in the region. He went on the run after his role in the genocide in Rwanda – as planner and financier. He has a price on his head following his role in the murder of tourists in the Volcanoes Park. Like Bin Laden, he has evaded capture because he has protectors in powerful places, whose protection he buys and renews constantly with his wealth.
Lest he forget, Osama bin Laden was also protected by powerful elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, some with whom he shared the same ideology and others who wanted to use him in a power game with the Americans. He had immense wealth. But all that did not stop his being eventually located and killed.
Then there is the FDLR terrorist group that continues to cause havoc in the D R Congo. They have virtually taken over part of that huge country. They, too, have for the last seventeen years lived a lawless existence and thought they were out of reach of justice.
The FDLR have been led to this belief by a genocide ideology, their apologists in powerful places in foreign countries and international organisations. That support, as they must be finding out now, has its limits.
Their leaders like Ignace Murwanashyaka and Callixte Mbarushimana, who thought they enjoyed immunity from arrest and prosecution, face trial in European courts. Military commanders and ordinary fighters of the FDLR continue to lay down their arms and return home.
Soon it will be only the diehard genocidaire left to roam the forests of Congo.
Other politicians, like Victoire Ingabire and Deo Mushayidi, who have tried to use terrorism to get to power now know the perils of that route and, unless they are idiots, are unlikely to advise anyone to go the same way.
But there will always be idiots for whom history has no lessons. The group that is now known as the Gang of Four, all of whom have committed crimes ranging from abuse of office to treason are trying to reinvent themselves as political saviours of Rwandans. Messrs Kayumba Nyamwasa, Patrick Karegeya, Gerald Gahima and Theogene Rudasingwa want to wipe away their sins and present themselves to Rwandans as impeccably clean, although what they really need most is confession and forgiveness.
The indication that they have learnt nothing is that they have chosen the terrorist route to political power. They think they have powerful godfathers who will protect them and lead them to their desired goal. Some of the godfathers, however, do not appear to be so powerful. They are beginning to show signs of vulnerability and may soon have to be more preoccupied with watching their own backs and fending off opponents than sticking out their necks for opportunists and imposters.
The criminal quartet and other unsavoury characters to whom they are allied in a terrorist enterprise will soon find out that the jungles of foreign countries and villas in upmarket areas of foreign capitals are not very safe. They can run and hide, but will run out of options and then their actions will catch up with them. If Osama bin Laden could speak now, he would tell them that.