Archive | July, 2012

Why Kagame and Rwanda are under attack over DRC

31 Jul

“We have finally got you’ seems to be the gleeful cry of the foreign media and rights groups. They are extremely happy that Rwanda, and President Paul Kagame in particular, are accused of unspeakable crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  In some of the media, the president has even been convicted.

They are even happier that some countries have “cut”  aid to Rwanda , or “delayed, suspended, or withheld” it,  or whatever term they prefer to use, This does not come as a shock since they have shouted themselves hoarse calling for such action. But as it turns out some of the claim of cutting aid is false as in the case of the African Development Bank.

This “got-you-this-time” attitude and the unconcealed joy at the supposed cutting of development support borders on the obscene. But it is also perfectly understandable and that explains why Paul Kagame and Rwanda have been singled out for sustained attack.

To be blunt, there are some uncomfortable truths about DRC and Africa that few want to face. There are well-known problems in DRC which the media and rights groups gloss over, and the UN and some countries which have caused them run away from. At the same time none of these groups is comfortable with an African country being successful and charting an independent course, or an African leader with an independent mind.

If Rwanda had been a failed state, as some hoped it would be after 1994, it would enjoy the goodwill of many and there would be a rush to help, even if that ended up entrenching the failed country status.

NGOs would trampling all over the place, setting up this or that project and using the hapless people to raise money in rich countries to finance their lavish lifestyle and hopefully gratify their moral delusions masquerading as activism.

The media would carry reports of famine and pictures of huge expanses of land laid to waste and skeletons of starving children. They would run stories of huge amounts of aid money stolen by government officials and stashed away in Swiss bank vaults. Stories of conflict and turmoil, and citizens tearing each other apart would abound.

That doomsday story so beloved of the foreign media is not happening in Rwanda. Instead, you have reports of food self-sufficiency and surplus for export (incidentally, most of it to the resource-rich DRC). You read stories of more than a million people lifted out of poverty in the space of five years. You learn the country’s economy has been growing at an average of eight percent per year for the last ten years. You are informed of zero tolerance to corruption and holding everyone to account.

All boring stuff – not good copy for the media hungry for its staple of misery, strife and scandal from Africa; not good enough for the army of NGOs seeking the lost Garden of Eden in Africa or to satisfy some moral fantasy.

Western politicians, inept UN staff and incompetent Congolese government officials running away from the responsibility of messing up countries like DRC, find willing accomplices in the media and do-gooders.

The Rwanda of today does not fit the chosen image of an African country. It is not weak or failing. It is not your typical example of a supplicant – down on its knees, holding out the bowl and saying: “Please, help”.

And so, this country that refuses to behave to type and do the reasonable thing of paying homage to the mighty of this world must be cut to size. It must be punished for the arrogance to refuse to fit into the narrative crafted for it by others. And what better way to do that than humiliate its leaders and citizens by reminding them that they depend on the largesse of others for existence. So aid to the upstart nation must be cut and the appropriate lessons learnt.

And then you wonder: why is aid given in the first place? The naive among us have always thought it was genuinely meant to raise the less fortunate of our earth to a reasonable standard of life. The more practical have always known it for what it is – a tool to control the behaviour of recipients so that they remain docile and toe the line.

Just like his country, President Kagame does not fit the media definition of an African leader. He does not, or permit anyone, to plunder his country. He cares about all its citizens and works for their prosperity. He has no luxurious villas on the Riviera or on some paradise island. The man is plain-spoken, not given to expansive or colourful rhetoric. Actually, the president is a regular guy who puts in a normal day’s shift like his fellow countrymen and retires to his home to enjoy a normal family life.

This, too, is not exciting to the media used to villains and scoundrels that they often create to suit the script they write for us. To them, the clean image, the passion and urgency to move the country forward, and insistence that Rwandans must do their bit to earn their livelihood and keep their dignity, cannot be allowed to stand. And it must surely hide other terrible traits.  And yes, he is an autocrat and war criminal, who, like his country, must be punished.

And so, with a pail of mud and brush in hand, they proceed to paint him as a villain and write a script in which he acts the part.

The truth, however, is different and the painters and scriptwriters know it but will not admit it.

The truth is that President Kagame has been urging Rwandans to be who they are and strive to be the best they can be. That means Rwandans defining themselves and rejecting definition by others. With self-definition also comes decisions about what is best for Rwandans. That, too, will not come from outside.

He has also said many times that the story of Rwanda, its national interests and aspirations of its people can best be told by Rwandans, and as such, they cannot leave the narrative of their country’s progress to others to tell.

The president has made self-reliance, respect for sovereign decisions and mutual respect central to relations with others, including development partners.

The independence that President Kagame urges and the refusal to bow and scrape before anyone threatens the continued control of our countries. It also hurts the interests of some people – mainly the so-called Rwanda (Africa) experts in the media, academia, governments and NGOs who find their presumed expertise irrelevant and whose livelihoods are therefore challenged.

And so, the mudslinging begins, a web of lies is woven and made into a narrative whose aim is to stop Paul Kagame from propagating “dangerous” ideas of liberty and development. He must be stopped at all costs lest his example becomes contagious. The price to stop him and Rwanda’s forward movement are the millions of lives in DRC.

Figures guru as entertainer? you heard right

23 Jul

Statistics used to scare the hell out of many us when we were still at school. Still does for some. At that time, tables, charts and graphs of every sort were avoided like the plague. When school ended, many breathed a collective sigh of relief. But the relief was short-lived. The workplace was filled with more of the intimidating figures in their various presentations. And this time you were on your own. There were no smart students to help you with them.

School was not, of course all about deciphering what appeared like encrypted codes. There were some of us who found comfort in the beauty of words – their rhythm, lyricism, fluidity and even vagueness. At least words were more mentally liberating because they did not impose a precision that put you in a corner. With words, there was always space for manoeuvre.

You might say the phobia for figures was really a manifestation of mental indiscipline. But others will argue that the exactness of figures is too limiting and excludes other factors that may have a bearing on a given subject – that, in fact, they are an oversimplification, even a distortion of reality.

Statisticians and others in related fields acknowledge the limitation and attempt to go around it by introducing something called “variables”, some of which must remain constant in order to validate whatever is being postulated.

The fellows who love words will say that, although they lack mathematical exactness, they have the ability to communicate meaning in more pleasing, personal and varied ways. There are no variables, and certainly no constants. They can make you laugh or cry, raise your anger or spirits, send you into ecstasy or depression. They can cause war, but they are also a vehicle to peace. That’s the power of words.

No doubt the debate will continue between students – those with the aptitude to organise thought in neat, precise arrangements and others with a more wandering imagination that nonetheless paints an exact picture.

But the debate will probably overlook what it has always done – the cause for the figures phobia in the first place. The responsibility for turning statistics into unfriendly things lies in the way they are presented to the public. You can appreciate the confusion and intimidation they cause when the cold, impersonal facts are presented by an equally cold, detached fellow with his own phobia and deficiency – of words.

I discovered recently that statistics can actually be fun. Yes, fun. I learned that phobia and morbid thoughts are induced and not innate qualities of figures. And the source of my discovery? Surprise, surprise – a statistician.

The man who made figures look so nice and simple was Professor Hans Gosling, a Swedish statistician, doctor and population expert. He was presenting a paper on global population and economic trends, and their impact on resources at a conference on the sustainable use of water, food and energy at Oxford University on July 12 this year.

Naturally, he used graphs and models to make the point that the Malthusian prophesy of a population growth that will far outstrip the world’s resources and lead to misery all round was a scare-crow. Thomas Malthus is famous for his apocalyptic theory that food production increases in arithmetical proportions while population grows in geometric progression that has informed population studies in one way or the other since the nineteenth century. Gosling, argued that, in fact, more people were good for economic growth and development.

This is similar to the position of our own President Paul Kagame who thinks that a large population is not exactly the issue. He said at the same conference that a larger population can be a solution, not a problem, because it can be an important productive force and drive socio-economic transformation.

Professor Gosling used ordinary words and everyday examples to explain the graphs and charts. He was so many things rolled into one and the combination made his presentation so enjoyable, so humorous that he had the audience laughing throughout. He used a magician’s skill of pulling so many things out of the hat to illustrate complex statistics. The professor was like a comedian – he entertained but also informed. He was the great teacher who broke down difficult questions into easily comprehendible stuff.  To use a contemporary catchphrase, he made statistics user-friendly.

Little wonder, Professor Gosling is referred to as an “Edutainer”.

In the space of twenty minutes, he had banished whatever lingering phobia for figures I still harboured.

However, he did not dispel the mistrusts that sometimes accompany statistics. Nearly every month an index of one sort or another is published by a think tank or NGO to explain a particular state of parts of the world. Usually they are about the third world. There are many think tanks that specialise on Africa without any of their staff ever having set foot on the continent. Still, they publish reports on Africa that are taken to be authoritative.

The latest of these is the Failed State Index issued by Foreign Policy Magazine and Fund for Peace. Nearly all the worst cases are in Africa. Nothing surprising about that. But where do you place countries where there are regular shootings of civilians in schools, shopping malls or other public places? This is apparently not part of the criteria for classifying states as failed or healthy.

Even UN Reports do not inspire much confidence. There are many cases where developing countries are condemned to a low position because UN staff have been too lazy to look for up-to-date figures and instead, use statistics that are five years old or more.

Perhaps all these bodies need a Gosling who will not only make statistics enjoyable, but also reliable.