Archive | June, 2011

Rwanda’s village of the future

28 Jun

It is now well known that Rwanda approaches most issues that affect the country with such seriousness, focus, commitment and innovation that leave little room for failure. Whether it is financial management, protection of the environment, security or football, the commitment is the same – it must work and benefit Rwandans.

Rwanda must rank high among the countries that place the environment at the top of their development agenda. Now, it has taken environmental protection to another level in which it is integrated in the entire development process.

Integration is a much loved word in Rwanda because of the results it brings. Various policies and programmes, whether in health, education, or economic development, are integrated with each other to achieve a more effective and cheaper whole. The opposite – stand-alone programmes receive little favour because they are more costly and less effective overall.

Back to the environment and integration. Yesterday, President Paul Kagame inaugurated a new village (umudugudu) that illustrates how this works and how human settlement and economic activity do not conflict with protection of the environment. In fact the mudugudu shows how they are mutually beneficial.

The steep hills of Northern Rwanda are perhaps as famous as the gorillas that live in the higher volcano range. They are notoriously difficult to cultivate, or settle on. The abundant rainfall in the area washes away the most fertile soil and sometimes, even houses, or huge chunks of the hills.

Now, a solution may have been found to this perpetual struggle between nature and man in which the latter is invariably the loser. The solution is so simple that it is incredible it took us so long to figure it out. It is basically about settlement and better and integrated use of resources. This is what the Umudugudu of Kabeza in Gicumbi District is all about.

The mudugudu is built on top of the hill, freeing the slopes for making terraces for cultivation. The terraces break the speed of run-off water, check the loss of soil and retain much of the water.  That which flows downhill is then collected in reservoirs to be used for irrigation.

In the mudugudu, Girinka, the one cow per family has become a communal rather than individual project. There is a common collection centre for waste from the cows which is used to generate biogas that is distributed to all the houses for cooking and lighting. The residue is then used as manure in the terraces.

Rain water from all the roofs is collected into a huge underground tank from where it is piped to different taps in the mudugudu.

This is the beauty of Kabeza in Gicumbi. There is minimal loss but utmost utilisation of resources, and optimal benefits to all. All because they are integrated.

This village, developed by UNDP, UNEP and REMA is the rural settlement of the future in Rwanda.

This is one environmental protection and development initiative that comes after others that have proved successful.

Every visitor to Rwanda now knows that you cannot bring in a polythene bag. They will have been told about that at airports and on the plane. And if some find it difficult to imagine a world without polythene, they soon change their mind upon arrival. They realise that this ban is real and it is one of Rwanda’s environmental successes.

Perhaps the more widely known conservation measure is the protection of the gorillas. The annual Kwita Izina ceremony (naming of baby gorillas) has become an important fixture on the international tourism and conservation calendar.

These giant creatures from which we may have separated along our evolutionary path have been living with us for ages. Clashes over the use of shared resources by the two neighbours were always inevitable.

Now, gorillas are famous, actually, international stars. Diana Fossey got them on the road to fame. The Rwanda Development Board has confirmed their stardom and added something else. They are also the country’s cash cow and must therefore be protected.

But what about the people living in the same neighbourhood? Must they languish in poverty, denied the use of the rich fertile land the hairy and possibly distant cousins occupy?

Apparently not. In a sign of good neighbourliness, the two have agreed to share benefits of their habitat. The gorillas will bring in the tourists and money. The people share the receipts from tourism. The price for recognition of their neighbours” star status is to protect their habitat. Everyone is happy – like all good neighbours.

The Kabeza settlement is in the same league as these two. Bur I am sure it will not attract as much attention as either. I am almost certain it will bring about howls of protest from that breed of “conservationists” who would want Africans to remain in their “natural” habitat rather like the gorillas for curious visitors to come and view unspoilt human beings. And they will accuse Rwanda of insensitive rural engineering.

Who cares? Rwandans enjoy better lives and we conserve our motherland. That’s what matters.

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Will the new Ingabire please stand up?

21 Jun

Ms Victoire Ingabire was in court yesterday, and for the second time in one month she asked the High Court to adjourn her case to September this year so that she can adequately prepare her defence. The High Court duly obliged as it had done in May when she had first requested for postponement of the hearing of her case.

Prosecution said that granting her request was consistent with the principle of a fair hearing to which  every accused is entitled.

This means, of course, that she will stay in prison a little longer, but it is her choice. And maybe she needs the time for a little more introspection.

So, yes, Victoire Ingabire is beneficiary to respect for the rule of law in Rwanda despite allegations to the contrary by her overseas supporters and rights groups.

But Ingabire has got other benefits from staying in detention than simply enjoying the right to a fair trial. She seems to have changed for the better as a result of her time in detention.

Every time I have seen her appear in court, she has appeared a different and better person – certainly in appearance and demeanour. She is not the fire-spitting woman who descended on the country nearly a year and a half ago threatening to undo what the country has achieved in the last seventeen years.

Nor does she speak in the rapid-fire, metallic way – with no pauses or even time to catch her breath – that made her sound like a turned on automaton, not a human being.

Gone also is the tough robotic image that many visits to the beauty parlour had done nothing to soften. It was perhaps always intended to be like that because that appears to have been her preferred image – a sort of Lady Macbeth.

Now, all that has changed. Months of reflection (perhaps?) can work such changes. Ingabire now seems to have had time to reassess her appearance. Out has gone the hard image with the rough and sharp edges. Now there is a smoother, prettier woman – well, nearly. And all this done without the aid of a beautician. No fancy hairdo to distort her features, but a simple shave that accentuates her natural shape.

In her rapid fire speech days, Victoire Ingabire did not smile or laugh at a joke or talk easily in a conversation like many people do most of the time. She must have found these simple, ordinary expressions of emotions to be signs of weakness that must be suppressed and replaced– again like Lady Macbeth appealing to the spirits,”  unsex me here….and fill me from the crown to toe top-full of direst cruelty….”

Now, she does these normal, human things easily and naturally. At her court appearance yesterday, Thijs Bouwknept, a Radio Netherlands reporter who was at the hearing, found it noteworthy to remark that Ingabire was “laughing and chatting and looking healthy”.

Where previously Ingabire was forbidding, she now appears like someone you can like, even fall in love with. Were this to be true, it would be the most remarkable transformation and good reason to stay in detention a little longer.

It might have finally dawned on her that she can make her point differently and more effectively. Which is what she should have done from the very beginning. Certainly this is what I would have advised if I had been on her team.

I would, for instance, have told her that the time sabre-rattling sent everyone cowering is long gone; that a bellicose stance is no substitute for charm and gentle persuasion. I would have advised that a macho woman is far from being attractive and will, in fact, repel admirers, even political ones. I would have encouraged her to relax her muscles so that she could speak more freely and naturally and not sound like she had metal tins for vocal cords. Finally, I would have asked her to smile and warm her way to people’s hearts, and to speak with less anger and hate , but replace all that with compassion and understanding.

That is what her advisors and associates should have done. She would then have been a more formidable politician. But, of course, they did not.  And who can blame them? They know no better. Ingabire’s old comrades and new-found friends, wherever they are, are stuck in a belligerent mode and seem unable or unwilling to get out of it.

In the meantime, the newly unadorned Victoire Ingabire appears to have shed some of her most unattractive qualities. Maybe it will last. Maybe it won’t. Or perhaps it is a facade. No matter. As they say, time will tell.

What is certain, however, is that the time she has asked for will not only be for studying the charges against her and preparing her defence, but also for her to unwind and stretch and understand herself better, and if she can finally find it in her, appreciate who Rwandans are.

If that happens, her time in detention would have been a small price to pay for reclaiming her humanity.

Rwandan conspirators exposed in US

14 Jun

The contrast could not have been starker. The significance of the two events could not have been greater and more different.

Inside the Hyatt Hotel in Chicago thousands of Rwandans and North American friends of Rwanda met in an atmosphere of both business and celebration. They hugged and laughed and told stories of what had happened since the last time they met. It was time to catch up on each other’s lives and with events in the motherland.

The eagerness to connect with the country was striking; the pride to be Rwandan so plain it was palpable. Equally evident was the desire to be linked with Rwanda by the country’s friends.

Rwandan cultural performances, both traditional and contemporary, provided the backdrop to the celebratory mood. It was the perfect setting for the good-natured, relaxed conversations as well as more animated and excited chatter.

And that was not surprising. Rwandans and their friends were happy to revel in their worth as people. They were pleased to display it in emotion and in deed.

For indeed the Hyatt Hotel gathering provided Rwandan entrepreneurs with the opportunity to showcase what is happening in Rwanda, the successes people have registered and what the future of the country looks like.

And the message to the thousands gathered inside the hotel, when it came, it was appropriately rousing and fit the occasion to perfection. President Paul Kagame touched on what they all felt – their dignity as Rwandans and their contribution to building their country.

They cannot wait for others to do it for them because, if they do, they will be trodden on and will have no reason to complain. They cannot be content to be given leftovers or handouts. The president’s message was as much for those inside the hotel as those outside.

That was inside. Outside, in the deserted streets, a handful of fugitives, not more than a dozen, and hired protesters made a lot of discordant noises. Absent was the self-respect and confidence so evident in the larger group inside. The rag-tag group was so defiant in this important trait that they turn to foreigners to fix what they allege is wrong in their countries.

Even their organizers did not seem to believe in what they were doing. Or perhaps they were ashamed about the stark difference between them and the group inside.

Theogene Rudasingwa who had promised to disrupt the North American diaspora meeting (aptly dubbed Rwanda Day) with the President of Rwanda even refused to talk to the media he had invited. The man who loves listening to himself and cannot pass the opportunity to indulge a blatantly puerile and narcistic fascination was afraid of his own voice. Something was seriously wrong.

He and many others did not want to show their faces – perhaps out of shame and guilt (although those are not qualities you would associate with Rudasingwa). They certainly lacked conviction. It was clear that the dozen noisemakers and their crest-fallen organizers were only performing a task they had to do because they had been either hired or needed to justify to their funders so that money could keep flowing.

Rudasingwa’s pal and co-conspirator, Paul Rusesabagina cut a pathetic figure as he paced up and down the street. The man has an exaggerated sense of his abilities and a high propensity to deceive to match. He wants Rwandan history to revolve around his fictitious image. Was his restlessness finally recognition of the futility of his quixotic adventure? Or was he seething with anger that he had in the end been uncovered?

If the two men have any shred of self-respect left, they will surely abandon their reckless and destructive enterprise and reclaim the love of their motherland. But I give them too much credit.

That was not the only difference between the two groups. The street group (very apt choice, the street!) hurled insults at President Kagame. They followed these with lies, not even original, but those peddled by their handlers. The insults and lies like they spewed out are usually a sign of bad upbringing. Maybe you can’t blame.

This is what has become the hallmark of the so-called dissidents – ill-mannered, have no programme except insults, out of touch with events in their own country. If they have any programme it is to destroy their country. They seem to have a quarrel with the president which they want to extend to all Rwandans. Small wonder they could not gather more than a dozen people and a handful of the usually curious media.

On the other hand, the group inside was brimming with confidence in what their government is doing for the country. It has a vision. It wants to build. It wants Rwandans to take this primary national responsibility. And to do so effectively, Rwandans must recognize their own worth and reclaim their dignity which is theirs by right and which no one has the right to take away from them.

And that is the essential difference between self-respecting Rwandans and the street variety. The former are proud to be who they are and forward-looking. The latter despise their own kind, are backward and destructive. It is easy for one to make the choice of where they want to be.

Rusesabagina – the deceitful ‘saviour’

9 Jun

The evil that men do comes back to haunt them. So it is with Paul Rusesabagina of the Hotel Rwanda fame (or is it notoriety?).

The evil that he committed at the Hotel Mille Collines in 1994 on which he has built his life to date and cleverly turned into heroism has given him appetite for more evil. But the stardom he has enjoyed since Hotel Rwanda was released is waning and the money that came with it will soon dry up as his flopped recent fundraiser in Chicago shows.

Nonetheless, he remains a dangerous and deceitful man who must be exposed. And that is what survivors of the genocide against the Tutsi who were at the Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda of the movie of the same name) during the genocide are ready to do. They can no longer stand his lies and posturing and want the whole world to know that the man is an impostor and conman.

Senator Wellars Gasamagera, speaking on behalf of fellow survivors at the Mille Collines, was very categorical in his denunciation of Rusesabagina.

“We have followed with dismay Paul Rusesabagina making people believe he is really the fiction movie hero. We have at several times denounced his megalomaniac and deceitful attitude to no avail. The world keeps being blatantly misled by this individual with his supposed role in saving 1200 plus individuals at great personal risk. We categorically deny having been saved by him. Instead, we wish to tell the world this character has abused for too long the trust of so many people of good faith, and the credulity of the uninformed.”

The many people who sought refuge at the Mille Collines and whom Rusesabagina alleges to have saved passed through many difficulties to get to the hotel.

“Paul Rusesabagina played no role whatsoever in facilitating us get access to the hotel,” Senator Gasamagera says.

A fellow survivor, Felicien Mutalikanwa, adds:  “He made people who were lucky enough to get a room at the hotel pay him hard cash for the privilege, or sign cheques or promissory notes. Anyone who could not was threatened with being thrown out to the eager interahamwe waiting at the gates of the hotel.”

According to Senator Gasamagera, Rusesabagina ran a very lucrative business selling to the hotel dwellers rice and sugar, and eventually other foodstuffs and local beers brought to him by interahamwe militias at very high prices while the refugees had nothing to feed crying kids. He used the proceeds from the sale to line his pockets.

“Yet today we hear with bewilderment that the so called caretaker provided people with food and all”, he says.

Rusesabagina was no saviour to anyone in the Mille Collines. This is how the survivors at the Mille Collines explain their survival.

“The people who were held hostage in Mille Collines were exchanged for FAR (Forces Armees Rwandaise) who had been surrounded in the RPF-held enclave around Amahoro Stadium”.

Senator Gasamagera and fellow survivors are again categorical in dismissing Rusesabagina’s role in saving anyone.

“We once again wish to repeat that Paul Rusesabagina could in no way have saved us. Today he is claiming to be a “modest and ordinary man” who saved people. The truth is he was, and still is, an egocentric character, driven by self-interest who enjoyed a pleasurable life in an environment of suffering where children and women were starving to death”.

Mr Mutalikanwa describes how the many people taking refuge at the Mille Collines sometimes managed to get food and cook it in the hotel’s kitchen. When Rusesabagina found this out and realized he was missing the opportunity to make money, he cut off electricity to the kitchen.

“Was this the action of a saviour?” he asks.

The ease with which Rusesabagina made money at the Mille Collines has led him to do the same in Europe and America. He uses the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation to raise large sums of money supposedly to help orphans. Yet no orphan in Rwanda has ever benefited from this money. What is now well established is that he uses the money to support terrorist groups fighting the Rwanda Government in order to bring back chaos in a country that is just emerging from the mayhem of genocide.

It now seems Americans and other unsuspecting generous people are getting wise to his ticks. That explains why his fundraiser in Chicago was a flop.

His other source of money – the lecture circuit at university campuses is also drying up as more informed people turn up at his lectures and challenge his misinformation attempts.

Rusesabagina is running out of options. His final recourse to remain in the limelight and hopefully continue to get money from the enemies of Rwanda is to politics.

 

This vainglorious and opportunistic man has been positioning himself again as a hero who will save Rwanda – this time as a politician. His accomplices in this new enterprise are of similar ilk. The brothers Rudasingwa and Gahima are equally egocentric, greedy and corrupt, and a little mad. The disgraced soldiers Kayumba and Karegeya are both traitors. The FDLR are terrorists, rapists, murderers and plunderers. This is the unlikely company of saviours.

This is the man who keeps hopping from one evil deed to another. The trail of evil has begun to haunt him, and there will be no let up.

Human Rights Watch and Co. have got this rights thing wrong

7 Jun

Is there a human right greater than the right to life? It would be a very brave person who would say, indeed there is. Such brave persons exist in the many human rights organisations that seem to promote other rights above this basic one. If they ever consider the right to life as a human right, they reserve it for a select few – politicians and journalists, both usually of the rabid variety. They do not extend that right to the majority of ordinary people who go about their daily business of earning a living without making a fuss about it.

Rwanda has been quietly working to make sure that more of its citizens enjoy this right, that they do not have to die from preventable diseases. Yet the country still comes under fire from rights organisations for allegedly violating the human rights of its citizens. There is a contradiction here.

Rwanda’s ministry of health recently reported impressive reduction in the incidence of killer diseases like malaria. Between 2005 and 2010, they reported a declining incidence of malaria of 70%. In the same period, prevalence of malaria declined to 2.1%.

These are impressive figures by any standards. More importantly, they indicate that more Rwandans get to enjoy the right of life, courtesy of their government.

You have not heard it all. Mortality of the most vulnerable group – children – has drastically reduced. According to the Demographic Health Survey, the percentage of children under five years dying from malaria decreased from 44.4% to 13% between 2005 and 2010. The target of the ministry of health is to bring down the fatality among children less than five years admitted with severe malaria to 0.1%.

You cannot quarrel with statistics; certainly when evidence on the ground bears them out. The quarrel would be even more futile if you consider that these figures are corroborated by respectable organisations like the World Health Organisations and health sector donor agencies like Global Fund.

How can a country with very few resources manage to do this? But equally important, why do the rights groups ignore this significant effort that ensures that more people have a right to life?

The rights groups are not in the habit of giving credit where it is due. Even when they do, it is with groans of grudge and heavy qualification that effectively negates the credit. Nor do they recognise success. All these are apparently existential taboos.

Rwanda’s partners in the health sector and Rwandans themselves attribute the success in decreasing fatality to strong political will and bold leadership of the country.

The fight against malaria is part of a broader strategy to eliminate such other diseases as TB and HIV’AIDS.  In the case of HIV infections, the ministry of health has added focus to the prevention of mother to child transmission as a means of ensuring that there will be an HIV-free generation. Indeed this paper reported that (TNT, 6TH June, 2011) the United Nations agency concerned with AIDS, UNAIDS, has named Rwanda among the few countries in the world to have registered success in reducing HIV infections and reached 80% access to treatment.

The strategy has succeeded because all these programmes are integrated into a health care system and not treated as stand-alone programmes. Both treatment and funding for the control of one disease have impact on the management of other health issues in the same health facility. It is an efficient way of using financial resources, facilities and personnel.

It has also worked because of accountability for the way donor funds for control of the major killer diseases have been used. It is for this reason that Global Fund signed another grant of US $22.9 million (13billion Rwf) with the government of Rwanda.

Rwanda has invested heavily in the health sector to increase citizens’ easy access to health facilities. More health centres have been built, equipped and staffed with trained personnel. Rural areas, usually forgotten in other places, have got new hospitals with state of the art facilities such as the one recently inaugurated in Butaro District in the north of the country.

Ambulances work. They are not used to ferry sacks of charcoal and foodstuffs for hospital administrators and their friends as I have seen happen in some countries in our region.

Then there are the free mobile telephone sets that have been given to grassroots health workers to alert other health workers to various emergencies so that they can be addressed quickly and save lives.

All these are meant for ordinary Rwandans who have little means on their own to afford the most basic health care services. They are the ones who are saved from certain death and therefore the ones whose right to life is guaranteed by government policies. Yet these are the same people whose rights Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and a host of other groups do not recognise as important. For these groups, all other people’s rights must be subordinated to those of the noisy political and professional classes, who, in any case, have the means to protect their rights.

Rwandans do their thing quietly, effectively, without fanfare. The right to life of the citizens is ensured. Contrast that with the way rights groups publicise their uninformed criticism of human rights observance in such countries as Rwanda. It is a major media event with all the world’s TV cameras trained on some sour-faced researcher unconvincingly citing the case of two individuals as proof of gross human rights violations. As she does so thousands of others are regaining their gift of life. That is the contradiction.