Archive | December, 2011

Rwandans impatient to move on, have no time for liars

19 Dec

When Rwandans feel angry about the lies told about their country, their anger is justifiable. They find it incredible and insulting that people, some of whom have never set foot in Rwanda, can say that they have been gagged when they can obviously give full voice to what they feel, see and want.

For them this is something you cannot alter or wish away no matter how often or loudly you repeat the wish. It matters little whether those wishing Rwanda ill are uninformed, are bent on distorting reality or are toeing the official line (apparently in some places it is bad policy to say that things in Africa are looking up).  The fact of Rwanda today won’t change.

Even once respected academics, but who are inexplicably rooted in the 1970s and 1980s view of Rwanda, have allowed themselves to be bypassed by the new Rwanda that they and opinions they hold are becoming irrelevant.

All these groups may soon realise that covering your eyes and thinking that what you can’t see doesn’t exist is only self-delusion.

That’s why Rwandans are now saying, ‘enough is enough’ to all the discordant voices about their country. Evidence for you that they know what they want and that they are certainly not gagged.

That used not to be so. In the past, the state decided for you. You sang praises to and genuflected before foreigners – especially if they were white – who were all invariably benefactors. Woe to you if you dared contradict the evangelists (read academics) of the reign, or worse, if you condemned them for their sins. Or if you were so irreverent as to contemplate any of these, you did so at the peril of eternal damnation, literally.

People were muzzled by forced reverence and went about with bowed heads and bent knees ready to fall to the ground any time in genuflection before demi-gods.

No more. They now walk with straight backs, look their leaders and foreign guests in the eye and say what they feel.

Certainly that was the way Tim Gallimore, a United States citizen and researcher in Rwanda, who attended the National Dialogue Conference last week, saw it. As he said, he saw open dialogue and free expression. He saw a president sit, listen to and discuss with citizens for two days.  Compare this for full dialogue with the 30 second sound bite on TV that is the only interaction Americans get with their presidents.

There has been massive change even in the context of the National Dialogue Conference. Discussion and consultation have become the norm. It was not always like that.

When the National Dialogue Conference first started, it was often a forum for confrontation between leaders and citizens. The Latter accused their leaders of serious shortcomings – non-delivery of services, corruption, absenteeism and other abuses of office. Leaders at all levels went to the national dialogue with trepidation, afraid of having to explain their failures before the whole nation. There were stories of some ministers feigning illness on the eve of the dialogue.

Ordinary people enjoyed the exposure and obvious discomfort of the ‘big’ people as a sort of a re-enactment of the David and Goliath contest.

That was perhaps a necessary phase. Citizens, previously muzzled, delighted in exercising their new-found rights. Leaders, too, were having to account publicly for the first time and the idea of being answerable was not particularly appealing, although necessary.

Nine years later, Rwandans have moved to a new phase on their democratic journey as the 9th National Dialogue Conference showed last week.

Citizens no longer simply ask tough questions, or revel in publicly embarrassing their leaders. They are now keener to give counsel, not apportion blame; propose solutions to serious questions of development, not lament poverty and their inability to do anything about it. Both leaders and the led have the confidence and humility to work together on common issues, not to fight over petty privileges.

That’s how a head of umudugudu (village) in a rural place like Rutunga in Gasabo District can stand up and talk about building bridges linking them with Gicumbi District for increased trade between the two. In the past her concern would have been about visiting relatives only. It is for the same reason that she could talk about improved transport within her sector, increased access to clean water, electricity and schools. There was no mention of leaders stealing public funds or obstructing delivery of services to the people.

The example of the head of umudugudu in Rutunga shows one thing – local leaders feel empowered enough to see themselves as agents of development in their areas. They no longer have to wait for some government official from a far-off ministry to tell them what to or how to do it. More likely, they will tell that official what is needed and how it is done.

There are no more complaints. Perhaps the only remaining one is impatience. People want to get on with it, move faster to develop their neighbourhoods, enrich their districts and contribute to the overall prosperity of the country. That sort of impatience is a good thing. So is impatience with all those who want to put Rwanda down.

Merry Christmas to all my esteemed readers. Enjoy the festive season


Tanzania at fifty is pale image of its former self

13 Dec

Tanzania celebrated fifty years anniversary of independence last Friday. A week earlier, the East African Community Summit had met in Bujumbura, Burundi to discuss, among other things, the East African federation.

The catch phrase among federation enthusiasts in the last decade has been “fast-tracking” the process. At the Bujumbura Summit, Tanzania put the brakes on that movement as it has done since the idea was resurrected. What‘s the hurry for, Tanzanian leaders asked

For a long time Tanzania has, to varying degrees, been associated with the idea of federation of East Africa. But with regard to9 the very idea of political union, the Tanzania of today is completely different from the Tanganyika of fifty years ago or the United Republic of Tanzania that followed.

Tanganyika fifty years ago was perhaps the most pro federalist of the East African countries. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere famously offered to delay Tanganyika’s independence if that could facilitate the formation of an East African federation. That was, of course, part of his thinking on greater African unity – that it could be attained by first building regional blocs that could later come together into an African Union of sorts. It was also part of his wider Pan-African view in which he saw the liberation of the whole continent as a necessary precondition for an eventual union.

It was for this reason that Tanzania became home to many liberation movements. It is difficult to see that happening today in an increasingly inward-looking Tanzania.

Half a century later, the leadership in Tanzania is the least enthusiastic about federation. Where Mwalimu Nyerere sought to remove obstacles to federation, today’s leaders place numerous barriers in its path.

And it is not Tanzania alone that has changed its attitude to the idea of a political union of East African countries.

At the time of independence Uganda was the most reluctant about federation. Various diverse interests, not always mutually accommodating, converged in their opposition to a political union of the region. President Milton Obote was concerned about fading into oblivion if he was to play in the same political space as the more respected and philosophical Nyerere and the better-known Jomo Kenyatta. The Kabaka of Buganda feared submersion and loss of prominence in a wider union.

Of course, they did not put their objections in these crass selfish terms. They couched them in the need to protect the national interest.

Kenya, then as now, was aware of the benefits of federation to its more advanced industry and also the resentment this caused among the other countries. Quite understandably it did not, and still does not, push too hard for federation.

That task has been taken up by Uganda, arguably the most enthusiastic country in East Africa about creating an East African Federation as soon as possible. Some argue that it is not Uganda, but President Yoweri Museveni who is actually very keen on fast federation so that he can lead it.

Whatever the reason for wanting to fast track the federation, Uganda has shifted from an opponent to the most ardent supporter while Tanzania has moved from warm enthusiasm to foot-dragging.

So, what is behind this reversal where proponent turns opponent and vice versa?

Arguments for closer union remain the same and largely accepted as valid – a large market for regional industries and to attract foreign investment, a stronger voice in international affairs and a bigger role in global geopolitics.

Reasons against are less convincing. And as in all such cases what are said in public are dressed in nationalist garb. The real reasons remain private and are crudely connected to power.

Today Tanzania has similar fears to what Uganda had nearly fifty years ago – being swamped by hordes of foreigners and losing its identity and influence.

In public they argue that the original dynamics on which the premise of an East African Federation was built have changed with the introduction of new members Rwanda and Burundi. They fear that land grabbers from Kenya and land-starved Rwandans and Burundians will descend on their idle land and carve it among themselves.

The spectre of Kenyan manufactures flooding Tanzanian markets, Ugandan and Rwandan cattle keepers roaming the empty plains colours national thinking and elicits irrational response3s.

However, similar fears have not been raised about land-seeking farmers from Southern Africa, or industries from that region. The fears are therefore probably more than what is stated in public.

But in any case there are in fact advantages to be gained from these so-called invasions. Imagine the meat, leather and related industries that can be built on the “foreign” cattle. Or the increased production on hitherto unused land. Or the jobs and more incomes from all the increased economic activity – all taking place in Tanzania.

And with the possible admission into the East African Community of other countries with even bigger unutilised tracts of land, the feared invasion of its territory by neighbours should not arise.

The real impediment to federation seems to hinge around concerns for its own union with Zanzibar. The Union has always been strained. In the last decade or so it has been severely tested. A federation of East Africa might Mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar joining as separate members. The likely dissolution of the United Republic of Tanzania is something Tanzanian leaders cannot countenance.

That is the real stumbling block; not Rwandans or others grabbing land.

Everyone is talking, but is anyone listening?

6 Dec

They come from all over the world to take part in a periodic make-believe ritual of bargaining. The result is never in doubt. The guys holding the purse, a share of whose contents most of those present want, will give what they want and how they want to.

They will do this no matter the loud howls of the many supplicants, the self-righteous indignation of moral crusaders, the earnest pleas of genuine humanitarians, or the level-headed appeals to reason.

Perhaps that’s the problem. There are too many voices, too many causes and no one is really listening.

This is the other side of negotiations for aid the public never gets to know, or are not interested in. What they get to know is how much money has been secured and for what purpose.

The people involved in the ritual are a diverse lot, mostly of ardent believers in a cause and will passionately and eloquently argue for it to be at the head of the queue.

First, there are government ministers from rich and poor countries, pretending to be equal. They even dress the pretence in the expression – development partners – when the reality is that some are donors and others recipients of aid. Political correctness or euphemism cannot hide the fact or alter the relationship. All it does is probably make everyone involved feel good. The beggars feel respectable and the alms givers, less guilty for giving crumbs.

There are academics who have earned their degrees and built reputations either as advocates or detractors of aid as an effective development tool. Not the sort to miss an opportunity to publicise themselves and their work, they come equipped with their latest publications and a list of the conferences they have attended in the past. They might, in the process, earn a lucrative consultancy. Aid is big business. You see.

Then there is the ever growing number of civil society organisations that seem to have been formed purely as alternatives to governments in the poorer countries. They come with their own supplications and begging bowls. Apparently they are a creation of donors to add another voice to the existing confusion.

No international conference on development in poor countries would be complete without the attendance of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs). The NGOs have been growing in number, power and influence, and also position themselves as substitutes to government. They, too, come with demands to fund their specific agenda. And like Civil Society Organisations, NGOs are the making of the powerful to create a sort of Tower of Babel in governance and the aid business.

The last few decades have seen the growth of a “tribe without borders” – a tribe of jet-set professional conferees whose seems to be hopping from one conference to the next. They are a strange tribe, though, with no common language or ideals, or a shared vision.

The tribal conversation is almost exclusively like this.

“We met in Cancun, didn’t we?”

“Yes. Nice resort city. Plenty of sun and sand and other things besides.”

“Who can forget that! Next week I’ll be in Geneva. Will you be there?”

“Of course. It will be freezing cold, but I couldn’t miss that for anything.”

In this already thick mix, you will inevitably find another addition – lobbyists, believers in strange causes and spoilers whose sole purpose is to make sure nothing ever works for the poor countries. They raise obstacles in the way of agreement and ensure that the haggling never ends. Again, it is all a matter of business.

All these groups were in Busan, Korea last week at the conference on aid effectiveness. As expected there were mixed results. Some concessions were made, but in general it was agreed to return to the ritual next time. Too many voices, the Tower of Babel effect, you see. And representatives from the countries with the most money to give might well have been stone-deaf.

The Tower of Babel built to reach heaven was never completed. Heaven was the seat of God and therefore wisdom and power. Now, these were divine preserves. And so in capitalist fashion, to retain exclusive rights, the Almighty created discord among pretenders to his power. They never got to heaven.

The big donors don’t seem to want the poor countries to have a share of the wealth and power. How else can they maintain their power and influence if they allow all the little beggar nations to have the same? Simple: create many voices because then they cannot build the tower and continue to give them what you want.

And is there anyone courageous enough to say: damn the donors, let them keep their money and let’s get on with our own efforts to develop ourselves? You bet. In the meantime the ritual and pretence will continue.