Archive | August, 2011

RDF gives peacekeeping new meaning

30 Aug

The New Times reported last week (26/8/2011) that the United Nations/African Union peace keeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) was providing medical care to citizens of the war-ravaged region of Sudan. It was reported that the force, led by its Rwandan commander, was giving them eye and dental care, and attending to their ENT and abdominal problems, skin diseases and hyper tension.

It was refreshing reading. Here was a peace keeping force, not just keeping the peace (which often means standing between warring factions and watching helplessly as they carry on the butcher of innocent people), but also becoming a community development operation.

It was different from what we have been accustomed to – depressing reports of peace keepers breaking what little peace exists where they are deployed and instead turning into the same lawless belligerents they are supposed to keep apart.

In the past few years, this change of roles has been happening with greater regularity in our region, leading many to lose faith in the value of peacekeeping operations. Some cynics have, in fact, called them expensive looting and pleasure excursions. Conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) under UN peacekeeping operation (MONUSCO) have been said to be not very different from King Leopold’s Congo.

That may be harsh, but it generally sums up the negative manner in which UN Peace missions are regarded.

The conduct of UNAMID in Darfur, especially that of its Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) contingent is changing that perception and may redeem the image of UN Peace Keeping. And if it does, that would make for marvellous irony. UN peace keeping failed Rwanda and now Rwanda may offer salvation to UN peace keeping and restore belief in its effectiveness!

Last week’s report of UNAMID’s involvement in health care in Darfur follows another one about three months ago that spoke of the RDF building a school in the region.

A battalion of RDF helped build a school in Turba Village valued at US$16,000. Officers and men of the battalion contributed US$5,000, while technicians provided windows and doors and other furniture.

In typical Rwandan concept of community development, this was not about simply making a donation to Darfurians. They had to be involved in the project so as to gain ownership of it. The local population provided 10% of the labour.

At the time this story was reported, there were plans to expand the school and also drill a borehole to give the inhabitants that most precious commodity in the arid conditions of Darfur – water.

In participating in community development, the RDF has given new meaning to peacekeeping. It is not enough to separate warring factions and offer protection to vulnerable people alone. The difficult circumstances the people often face are not just about war; they are also existential and developmental. In addition to security, they include those things that contribute to the quality of life that people lead – such as education, health care, and access to basic things like water.

And so, if there is a lull in hostilities – which peacekeepers are supposed to facilitate – then the forces can be deployed to help improve the lives of the people and build their self-esteem, shattered by years of deprivation and conflict.

These reports suggest that the RDF has been doing that. But as they say, you can only give what you have. The RDF has taken to Sudan the Rwandan experience of self-help and of the army being involved in development in peace time.

In this sense the RDF is not only contributing to classical peacekeeping but also laying the foundations for meaningful and lasting peace.

In another sense, as noted earlier, the RDF is playing a saviour role. It is taking the lead to turn around the dismal record of peacekeeping in Africa from independence to date.

Nowhere has this record been as depressing as in DRC during its upheavals and many changes of name. The very first peace keepers just after independence never kept the peace; they took sides in the conflict and are perhaps partly responsible for today’s mess in that country.

The more recent ones have tended to lead obscenely luxurious lives which they have sometimes used to lure under-age girls and even older women into sex and other acts of debauchery. When flaunting luxury is not enough attraction, they have not hesitated to use force to rape the same women.

It seems self-preservation is a higher motive among some peace keepers than keeping the peace. So they will play safe, avoid getting hurt and maintain their all-expenses-paid lifestyle, which means letting the conflict continue.

We read reports from DRC about peace keepers turning a blind eye and plugging their ears as atrocities are committed under their noses. We have heard of them selling arms to rebels in exchange for precious stones. A similar incident happened only a week ago when a UN peacekeeping driver in DRC was caught ferrying a huge load of minerals for sale outside the country.

There is a greater dividend to peacekeeping than self-indulgence. The RDF continues to show that you can reap more from complementing peacekeeping with community development. In time this approach should be adopted as the model for peacekeeping.

Eid Mbarak to all my esteemed readers.

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What about exporting our airport cops?

23 Aug

Our policemen continue to do things that baffle other East Africans. They routinely refuse free gifts. Whoever heard of a cop supposedly on starvation pay rejecting a donation of $40,000 – enough money to pay his salary for fifty years? He could take the present from an anonymous giver and retire.

But no, our cops refuse free manna. It is really the height of ingratitude.

Imagine what would happened to us (if you are a believer) if the Israelites had done the same all those years ago – if, as they walked for years in the burning sands of the Sinai, parched dry with thirst and nearly dropping dead from hunger and fatigue, they had picked up the manna dropped from above and tossed it back to whoever had dropped it, imagining it had accidentally slipped from his hands. It would have been the height of folly and they were wise not to commit it. You will recall that the manna was a response to a riot by God’s people.

But here are our policemen committing serial folly. First it was a certain constable Frank Bizimungu who sought out a generous benefactor and literally told him he was stupid to drop manna in the form of $40,000. And for behaving like the biblical swine that paid scant regard to precious stones, he was rewarded with a few stripes on his shoulder, murmurs of praise and loud gasps of disbelief.

Barely two weeks later, another cop, Willy Bizimana, not to be outdone in ingratitude, did the same unforgivable thing. Over $19,000 was dropped in his path. And like the fools these cops are, he had the money returned to its owner.

It is not clear whether Willy will be rewarded for his idiocy. May be he will get one and a half stripes seeing as he rejected half of what Bizimungu returned.

What the two cops did is completely un-East African. Which is why Tanzanian businessman, Rajab Furaj Juma, owner of the $19,000, was prompted to say both in admiration and incredulity: “It doesn’t happen like this where I come from…”

True East Africans do not spurn generous offers – whether the generosity is intended or is a result of some lapse in attention of the “giver”. They would pray fervently for more forgetfulness. The real fast ones would not even wait for that, but would dip their hands into pockets and bags on the slightest suspicion that the owner is distracted.

But perhaps I exaggerate. Not all East Africans are on the lookout for dropped manna to grab and run off with. Nor are their hands itching to cut into the next bag. The Rwandan cops are proof of that. Perhaps the proof that proves the rule? And why do they behave differently?

Of course Rwandans are, well, Rwandan. They do things their own way regardless of what others think or how they behave. They insist on a different level of moral and ethical standards.

Again, this unaccustomed level of conduct so touched the Tanzanian businessman that he was gushing with praise for the Rwandan police. Said he: “The Rwandan police are admirable, trustworthy, honest and friendly to the people.” Say that again, please.

All that Rajab said is, of course, true. The Rwandan police, while no saints, are on the whole trustworthy. True they get the occasional bashing, sometimes for doing the right thing, other times from ignorance. But often they get it right. In any case they are subject to the same, if not higher, moral standards as the rest of us.

And they know a little Biblical injunction, too. They are subjected daily to a test in the wilderness – literally and metaphorically. Many have learnt to rebuke: get thee behind me Satan. Man shall not live on dollar bills alone. They are other things that give one satisfaction and meaning to life – things like integrity, self-esteem, common decency and the knowledge that what one is doing is the right thing. These have no price tag in any currency.

You might say this is the Rwandan way – the meaning of agaciro, individual and collective self-worth. And while many will jealously guard and even flaunt their many assets, Rwandans, not famous for being exhibitionist, remain true to form and quietly take pride in the sense of selflessness that the two cops showed. It does not matter that doing so sets them apart from other East Africans. They think it is even a basis for greater achievements.

Obviously not everyone thinks so. Believers in manna dropping at airports or somehow getting into public coffers will vehemently disagree and might even question the sanity of cops who build their reputations on rejecting such manna.

I suspect, though, that some police forces in the region wish they had a few cops like Bizimungu and Bizimana to redeem their badly battered image. And come to think of it, it might be a useful export – a few saintly cops. As you know, saints are not known for being worldly-wise. Often, in fact, they spurn worldly comforts for purity of soul. A useful export, that. Over to you RNP and RDB.

Rwandan women fertility drops

16 Aug

Rwanda’s population is about 11 million and growing. That has many people worried. There is some good news, though. It now appears brakes are being put on this apparently run-away growth – at least that’s what one gathers from the Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey 2010 report.

The report shows that there is a decline in most things that favour fast population growth. For starters, it shows that there has been a steep decline in the fertility of Rwandan women. According to the findings of the survey, the fertility rate of women (the number of children a woman can have during her reproductive life) has progressively declined over the last five years. In 2005 the rate was 6.1 children per woman. It fell to 5.5 in 2008. In 2010, the rate fell further to 4.6.

Of course, there are variations between rural and urban women, but even within these, there is a consistent downward trend. For instance, the fertility rate among urban women is 3.4, while that of rural women is 4.8.

If this trend continues – and there is no reason why it should not – we can project a drop in the fertility rate to less than 2 children per woman by 2015. A disclaimer here. This is not the projection of the National Bureau of Statistics that carried out the RDHS.  It is only your columnist pretending to be statistically well-informed.

It is clear that the reduction in fertility has to do with increased awareness. Women are able to make choices about the number of children they can have and when to have them. For instance, e88% of married women say that they either want to delay the birth of their next child or want to have no more children at all.

According to the survey, these choices are partly informed by the increasing number of living children a woman has. There is thus a link between the number of living children and the desire to stop child bearing.

The conclusion from this is that more children are now able to survive because of a number of related factors – better health care, improved nutrition and more educated mothers.

Another reason for the fall in fertility rate is contraception. The survey reports that 50% of women in union (married or living together) use some method of contraception, and most of them (45%) use modern methods.

As the fertility rate has been falling, the use of contraception has been rising. .For example , in 2005 only 10% of women in a union used modern methods of contraception. The number rose to 27% in 2008 and now stands at 45%.

It was also observed that the use of contraception increases with education. And so one can project that with basic education extending to nine years and soon to twelve, and more girls receiving education and able to stay in school longer, the use of contraception is bound to rise faster.

These figures and trends that indicate a slowdown in the rate of population growth prove the government’s approach to such issues has been right. There has been a reluctance to legislate on the number of children that a family can have despite pressure to do so. Instead, the choice has been to persuade and raise awareness about the necessity to have, say, no more than three children. This approach plus education and improved wellbeing seem to be producing the desired results.

The RDHS preliminary report notes other improvement in the lives of Rwandans – all of which indicate that we are pursuing the right policies and practices all round.

The chances of children living beyond their fifth birthday and growing to adulthood have been enhanced, and as noted, this partly explains the falling fertility rate. This has been a result of many initiatives such as vaccination, the report notes. It says 98% or more children received BCG vaccination, while 95 % were vaccinated against measles.

Again the level of education of mothers plays a crucial role in the coverage of vaccination. The survey found out that vaccination coverage increased from 87% among children of mothers with no education to 90% among children of mothers with primary education, and to 97% among mothers with secondary or higher education.

Children’s chances of living have also been improved by better nutrition. The report notes that there has been improvement in nutritional quality as shown by some key indicators. For instance, the percentage of stunted children (short for their age) fell from 51% in 2005 to 44% in 2010, that of wasted children (too light for their height) from 5% to 3% in the same period. Those underweight (too light for age) reduced from 18% to 11% between 2005 and 2010.

Without perhaps intending to do so, the RDHS makes a strong case for education and urbanisation. The two are recurrent factors in the various improvements noted in the survey. The case for education is that informed choices are based on better knowledge and information. The argument for urbanisation seems to be that urban centres (and by extension, better settlements like imudugudu) increase access to better facilities and information.

Rwanda has been posting strong economic growth figures. The RDHS now shows that there are strong social growth figures to match.

Why some countries are smart and others laggards

9 Aug

Talking (or writing) about famine can elicit unexpected reactions, including jokes. There was this one reported in the Tanzanian Mail on Sunday of 7/8/2011 by a correspondent on the current famine in East Africa.

It went something like this: When the Rwandan leaders want to start an important project, they send an official to attend a seminar it Tanzania and as sure as night follows day, he will come across a bored Tanzanian researcher who has a complete blueprint somewhere with the complete designs for the project in question. The generous Tanzanian blows the dust off the binder containing the study, gives it to the Rwandan free of charge and forgets about it. A couple of years later, everybody in the region joins in the praise of Rwanda for the brilliant, innovative project taking shape in the small country.

I do not know whether this joke is told in praise of Rwanda’s smartness or in condemnation of Tanzania going to sleep on valuable information. I do not even know whether this is meant to show how brilliant Tanzanian researchers are, but how inept their government is. Whatever the intention is, it brings out very important issues about development.

It shows that you need information to base your plans on and that you have the ability to use it. You must recognise current and future challenges – whether they are about food security, climate change, information technology, or governance and make appropriate plans, and more importantly implement them.

This is where Rwanda gets smart. Where the information comes from is immaterial. If studies that deal with a specific issue exist elsewhere, why, they can be used. After all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

I am sure they can only do this if they have thought hard about an issue and need answers. The next logical step is to design a plan that will provide a solution, and there should be no limitations about where that should come from. If it comes from within, well and good; if from outside, no harm. Indeed, contrary to the views of cynics or apologists for laggards, many of the solutions to Rwanda’s development issues are home-grown; resulting from inquiry that often delves into the country’s history.

But, of course, if scholars and technocrats from Tanzania or elsewhere have developed plans that they do not know what to do with, it is only sensible that the product of so much intellectual effort should not be put to waste. A useful neighbour will help out. And if after a while the “bored” researcher and politicians realise the value of their work, why, they have a working example to point to and emulate.

That is what good neighbourliness is all about.

Looked at differently and without intellectual pettiness, no country in this world has ever developed solely on ideas generated by its citizens. They have borrowed, bought, copied or stolen ideas and blueprints. The more powerful have used various methods to lure the smartest people to their countries. The less strong, but far-sighted, send their brightest to learn from developments in other countries.

Only a fool does not learn from others. Only the dim-witted think they have all the answers. It does not take long for them to realise that others actually have similar or better answers.

The joke also reveals a disconnect between politicians and technocrats in the search for practical solutions to Africa’s development. Where political performance is measured by the severity of tongue-lashing real or imaginary opponents, there is little incentive to tax the brain with complicated plans and strategies. Why bother with blueprints when you know your upward mobility depends more on intrigue, sycophancy and pulling down others?  In any case your political superiors will not notice because they are also busy finding a foothold on the ladder.

Let the technocrats produce papers and blueprints; that’s what they are paid for.

The result is predictable: bored, dispirited and disgusted researchers sad to see their valuable work gather dust. Would you blame anyone curious enough to pick it up, blow off the dust and use it? At least here is recognition for the effort of the researcher.

In some of our bigger countries, there is a false assumption that their size is insurance against the problems some of the smaller countries face. There are huge expanses of unused land and untapped resources and so on. But quite often, this turns out to be a fallacy. Size and adequacy are not directly proportional.

This sense of false security (actually, insecurity) leads to the fallacious thought that other people covet your huge resources, especially land. In turn, this leads to the jingoism we have been seeing lately. For instance Tanzanian Home Affairs Minister, Shamsi Nahodha blamed insecurity in the Ngara region on Rwandan immigrants. At about the same time, Member of Parliament, Charles Mwijage claimed that President Paul Kagame was sending Rwandan pastoralists into Tanzania.

Both officials have misplaced their concerns. Instead of trying to whip up nationalistic emotions (everyone knows the effects of xenophobia), they should have put their time to better use by designing plans for utilising the resources in North-western Tanzania. That way, no development blueprint would be lying around for anyone to pick for free.

Generational change of guard may be dividend of Museveni’s visit

3 Aug

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda ended a four-day state visit to Rwanda on Monday. By all accounts it was a successful visit.

The Ugandan president’s visit had aroused much speculation in the media, not least because of the reported sour relations between the two countries in recent times.

Those relations were at the heart of the talks the two presidents held, both said at a joint press conference on Monday. Both refused to say whether ties between their countries had been strained and been mended in the four days they had been together, preferring instead to say that the visit was meant to cement long historical links between them. But they did not say they had been excellent, either.

President Museveni came closest to admitting that all had not been well between them. He said that although there had been cooperation in the past, along the way there had been misunderstandings, but which had now been resolved (transcended was his word).

But if the atmosphere at public events the two presidents attended is any indication of the outcome of the visit, it must have exceeded expectations. Their public pronouncements were filled with unusual warmth – certainly not felt in recent times. Both spared no effort in lavishing praise on the other for singular accomplishments. They recognised each other’s contribution in liberating the other’s country. President Kagame publicly acknowledged Museveni’s role two years ago when he decorated him with Rwanda’s top honours..This was Museveni’s first public admission of the role of Rwandans in the NRM struggle to liberate Uganda.

Does the public warmth signify a definitive thaw in what the media has characterised as frosty relations? And was it matched by candour in private? The mood, as President Paul Kagame advised a journalist, would seem to indicate that was the case as both presidents appeared satisfied with the visit.

There are other signs which seem to support this reading of the mood. First, the Ugandan President’s visit was not your usual sort of state visit marked by pomp and ceremony, official meetings and carefully worded diplomatic statements that give nothing away. Of course these were there – the usual meetings between officials of both delegations and the inevitable communiqué at the end. But there was much more.

It was more informal, like a visit between neighbours or friends, admittedly who had not seen each other for quite a while.

The two heads of state had long periods of private talks – stretching for nearly two days – where they were mostly alone. This was the perfect setting for candid reassessment of relations – without their aides advising caution or restraint, or the fear of leaks and unencumbered by official decorum.

It is therefore reasonable to assume that they put everything on the table – well, nearly everything.

Secondly, half the time President Museveni spent in Rwanda was at his host’s country home in Muhazi with their spouses and other members of their respective families. The relaxed family setting – no timetable, no deadlines – lent flexibility and a personal, softer and intimate touch to diplomacy and may have been responsible for the warmth both men displayed in public, and the outcome of the talks.

Thirdly, it is believed that President Museveni’s visit was made after the prompting of private individuals. It is understood that younger official and non-state negotiators convinced the two men that it was about time they met and sorted out some sticky issues.

If this is true, it is a significant shift in the way diplomacy, and possibly politics, will be conducted in the region in the near future. It would mean that a group of relatively young people carrying no historical baggage of ill-will are sufficiently concerned about the direction our relations are taking and are ready to step forward and redirect them.

This generation, brought up in a different environment from the older generation, well-educated,  widely travelled and techno-savvy are more forward-looking and have a broader outlook and are more likely to seek solutions where their elders place obstacles. They are more cosmopolitan and less parochial and therefore more likely to accommodate differences of opinion. They have no hurt egos to massage, no scores to settle or points to prove, but careers to build. More importantly, because of all this, they are more integrationist than their elders.

If there is any significance from the Museveni visit, it is this: the emergence of a new generation, impatient with the way an inward looking, insular, scheming and divisive older generation manages state affairs and inter-state relations.

We should not be surprised if this intransigent old guard, weighed down by past animosities or perceptions of their self-importance are shunted aside and a younger, more open-minded generation begins to exercise more influence.

It may be an unintentional outcome but an invaluable dividend of the just ended state visit.