Archive | August, 2012

Why Rwanda attracts the ire of the powerful

27 Aug

At the launch of Agaciro Development Fund, President Paul Kagame wondered why Rwanda, often dismissively described as a tiny country, attracts so much attention, blame and vilification from some of the most powerful countries in the world.

On the face of it, it looks inconceivable that such a small country, as they don’t tire to tell us, can occupy the minds of people used to dealing with more weighty issues. Why not dismiss the little thing, ignore that it even exists and get on with the more important matter of ruling the world? But no, the little spot in the heart of Africa insists on being a nuisance that cannot be easily shaken off.

In reality, however, this is exactly the point. The tiny country is not so small after all. It is actually big enough to make it difficult for those who want to rule the world to do so as they wish. It insists on having a say about how things are done and on the choices it makes – certainly within its borders.

The so-called small country is not inhabited by puny people with undersized brains and underdeveloped aspirations. On the contrary, its people view Rwanda as the whole universe and have aspirations to match, and fashion their actions to fit this conception of world and country.

In this world divided between the rich and powerful and the poor and weak, you attract attention for two main reasons. You are either doing some remarkably great things, which, in the view of the powerful, you have no right to be doing. Or you are doing the most horrendous things for which you should be condemned, but which in their view is closer to what is expected of you.

We will concern ourselves with the former where the remarkable things you are doing (unexpected to them) are a challenge to their long-held beliefs about your place in the world. They are a threat to their monopoly on good governance, efficiency, and working in the national interest as opposed to individual gain. They question the stereotype attitudes that African governments are inherently inefficient and corrupt, that famine and disease are endemic.

And so, when a country like Rwanda or Ethiopia, makes famine a distant memory of a forgettable past through a combination of hard work, land reforms, appropriate and modern agricultural practices and market-oriented economics, it is a challenge to the notion that we must live at the mercy of nature. Worse, it is denying some people the opportunity to do good by feeding starving people, and perhaps earn easy passage to heaven. Self-reliance becomes a crime because it sabotages the interests of a huge humanitarian industry built on chronic famine, conflicts, instability and all kinds of disasters.

No one takes kindly to saboteurs, and so Rwanda will earn the wrath and condemnation of those affected. But to ease their conscience and make Rwanda appear guilty, the good things being done are rebranded as horrendous acts, like repression and autocracy, for which the country should be punished.

Again, when like Rwanda, you do not tolerate any form of corruption, you are not behaving to type or you are not open, or are repressive. How else can corruption which is endemic to Africa be absent? In any case what will the various anti-corruption agencies report and how will they get money for their operations?

Current reports about Rwanda speak of reputable foreign universities setting up campuses in Rwanda to tap into the high demand for higher education. We read about local and foreign investors setting up schools of every type, and ordinary Rwandans contributing to build schools in their areas. What this means is that Rwandans will soon be well-informed about most issues and will have acquired skills to improve their lives. More significantly, it means that there will be less ignorance to exploit and therefore Rwandans will be more difficult to manipulate.

Also, when like Rwanda, your people say they are contented about nearly every aspect of their lives, surely that cannot be right. There must be some discontent. If it is not there, it is because of repression. Or if it is not that, it must be sown to maintain a “normal” situation. And if you insist on being the principal actors in changing your lives, assert your human dignity and demand your right to be heard and to choose what is best for your country, you upset the accepted form of power relations and will bring the ire of the powerful on your head.

In all the above instances, you are challenging the conventional view of an African country whose leaders are seen as either bumbling idiots or blood-thirsty dictators, and the people as helpless and passive victims of circumstances.

Of course, you will attract some admiration, but a lot of wrath as well. The wrath will grow if the country begins to wield some influence or command respect. It will grow stronger if it is felt the country is getting out of control and threatens to set a “bad” precedent. That seems to be the crime of “tiny” Rwanda.

Rwandan opposition in treasonable acts

21 Aug

It is an indisputable fact that Africa remains the most backward continent. This situation is largely our fault. Africa has the world’s largest deposits of natural resources, most of which are absolutely essential for the comforts of modern life. But those countries that have them in plenty give them away for next to nothing. As a result their people live in untold poverty in some indefinable age – certainly not modern. In a country not far from here, where reportedly precious minerals can be picked from every village path and cranny in the ground, citizens still hunt birds, monkeys, other hairy crawling insects and slithering reptiles for sustenance.

The continent is divided along multiple small, inconsequential things. We are also largely to blame for this. We get divided over such stupid things as which European languages we use or preference for tomato ketchup or mayonnaise. Sometimes these silly things determine how serious matters concerning our continent are determined.

Not surprisingly, Africa is weak as individual countries and collectively. We do not have a single voice and our disparate voices are so discordant they do not command attention, or so frail they can’t be heard.

One needs only to look at what happened in Libya and Ivory Coast last year to appreciate this point. The African Union was essentially absent in Libya, and when it woke up to the reality in country, it was ignored like it did not exist. NATO went on to bomb Libya and drive Gaddafi into a drainage pipe where he was eventually ferreted out and killed in the gruesome manner not even he deserved.

In Ivory Coast, as the AU talked and dithered, French troops walked into President Laurent Gbagbo’s bedroom and marched him out in the most undignified fashion. Most people can remember the pathetic bewildered look on Gbagbo’s face as he was led out of his bedroom.

Today, in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo the loudest noises are being made by foreigners – the media, UN, NGOs and foreign governments. The voice of the Congolese, particularly that of those directly affected by the conflict have been drowned by external noise. The rest of the Congolese, including the government and the military, are actually happy to surrender responsibility for their nation’s wellbeing to strangers.

That’s how pathetic things can be – when nationals gleefully participate in the emasculation of their countries. It is actually criminal.

It is not in the DRC that this is happening. Even here in Rwanda there are people willing to subject their country to shame and pain.

In the past several weeks different groups of Rwandans have been jumping for joy because donors have cut aid to Rwanda.  They have been celebrating the supposed difficulty their country is bound to face.

Now, it is only traitors or the insane who wish pestilence visited on their country or revel in the destruction of their home. But the so-called opposition political groups are doing just that. In the process, they have shown themselves to have no programme except greed and a readiness to surrender the right to decide the national interest to foreigners.

Yet in the countries where they live and from where they commit such treason, sometimes with the active backing of elements from those countries, such things never happen. Whenever the countries are attacked or threatened, all differences are set aside; they close ranks and defend the common interest.

Our neighbours in DRC are also happy that Rwanda is getting the stick, especially from the UN and some Western countries. They can’t stop applauding the countries that have supposedly cut aid to Rwanda. Yet an economically strong Rwanda is in the best interests of Congo – except, of course, if they are driven by spite and want to drag everyone to their level of incompetence and dysfunction.

Congolese experts in sounding the alarm (that seems their only expertise) have convinced SADC to join the bandwagon of those brandishing the stick against Rwanda.

Even some African academics and scholars and all manner of activists have taken up bashing of African countries supposedly in the name of higher ideals in a vain attempt to gain acceptability in the West. In effect what they achieve is support to burn their own house.

It does not require super intelligence to notice that such attitudes cannot serve Congo’s or Africa’s interests. Instead they play into the hands of foreigners who have a different agenda.

Of course, such divisions and lack of common purpose are not new in African history. The continent was colonised because of that. African response to colonialism was divided between resisters who sought to defend their independence and national interests, collaborators driven by greed and guarantees of personal positions, and those who had no clue about what to do.

This is happening again. We have people prepared to collaborate with forces bent on arresting our progress. That should not be allowed to happen.

Congo: a conversation with the deaf

14 Aug

In the past few months diplomatic activity in our region, mainly linked to the violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, has been very intense. As with other fields, diplomacy has its peculiar vocabulary. Dialogue is one of them – frequently used, but as often misused.

In the language of diplomacy, dialogue means a discussion between two groups, countries, organisations and so on aimed at reaching common ground. In ordinary language it means a conversation. Whether you use dialogue or conversation, the essential thing is that more than one person or group, presumed to be equal, is involved.

Dialogue or conversation becomes necessary because people have different viewpoints about an issue which must be appreciated. Appreciation of alternative points of view – some of which may be disagreeable or outright wrong, others right or may turn out to be right seen in a different light, and many more that range between the two extremes – requires that one listens to them. That’s the essence of conversation and what makes it worthwhile.

Incidentally, the above is also an important element in the definition of democracy. Ultimately democracy is the ability to make a choice from different alternatives based on available information. This, too, requires listening to other views.

I have gone to some length to define dialogue or conversation because it seems to me that its chief ingredients are missing from some of the discussions on Congo (and Rwanda, which is always blamed for whatever goes wrong in its western neighbour).

Conversation on Congo is one-sided – which means no conversation at all. One side, the one with the wealth and power, does the talking; others must listen but not respond. This one-sided conversation, also known as monologue, comes to us from governments of powerful countries, international organisations, foreign media and NGOs – all of which have appointed themselves custodians and defenders of international morality, even when the very word is unknown to them.

For instance, an ideologically biased UN Group of Experts comes up with a shoddy report by any standard blaming Rwanda for the latest outbreak of fighting in Congo, and all the above groups pick it and compel the whole world that to believe it. Voices on the ground in Congo and in the region say it is not, but cannot be heard. The government of Rwanda makes a detailed, systematic rebuttal that cuts the report to shreds, but that, too, cannot be heard.

None of these become part of the conversation. It is like they were never said. All the groups that were shrill about the Group of Experts’ report are suddenly silent about evidence to the contrary and the rebuttal like someone had put a heavy hand on their mouths.

So, the monologue continues in what amounts to: “You have to listen to what we tell you, but do not expect us to listen to you – not because you have nothing of value to say, but because we choose not to”. Another word for this attitude is arrogance.

Inevitably, in this sort of conversation, there are casualties, the main one being truth. Truth becomes what those doing the talking decree it to be. Forget it being that which is an objective fact. In other words, those who arrogate to themselves the right to speak but deny others the right of response, create their own truth, or select what elements constitute truth and trash what does not fit into their one-sided conversation.

And so, the Group of Experts, foreign NGOs, media and Western governments can clearly see M23 rebels, but find FDLR genocidaires invisible. They create and therefore can see Rwanda’s hand behind M23, but are totally blind to a Congo government that cannot keep its word, or protect its people, or their own historical role and continuing interest in keeping Congo impoverished, disunited and its government incompetent.

They choose the lie of recruitment, training and arming of rebel soldiers by Rwanda over the truth of rebel ranks being swelled by deserting government soldiers and large quantities of weapons left behind by the fleeing Congolese army that has no will or cause to fight. They elect to see crimes allegedly committed by M23 rebels, such as rape, abduction and murder of civilians and plunder of minerals. Never mind that it does not make sense for M23 to commit such crimes against their own people and in an area it seeks to raise support.

Instead, they refuse to see the same crimes actually committed by Congo government troops, FDLR and a host of other criminal outfits, even its own UN force. And as President Paul Kagame has consistently pointed out, they find the supposed recruitment of child soldiers a worse crime than the murder of those children and their families.

If you reject the terms of the one-sided conversation, or refuse to be party to it, you will be whipped. Now, the horrors of the kiboko (whip made from hippo hide) are well-known in Belgian-run Congo and Rwanda and Burundi. In Congo, when the kiboko was not persuasive enough, Belgian colonial and commercial interests made sure their will was obeyed by chopping off  limbs, lips and ears, or burying their Congolese victims alive. The Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony obviously learnt that lesson very well.

In modern times, you will be whipped with the aid stick and threat of prosecution in the International Criminal Court.

The only speakers permitted to be heard in this non-conversation (if they were from Africa, they would be called dictators) will do everything to make sure that only what they have decreed to be truth is heard. They will create such a cacophony as to drown all other voices. The media will bombard us with inaccuracies and outright lies; spokespeople and all manner of experts will issue reports of dubious quality and questionable intentions. 

And all this from the preachers of democracy and champions of various rights and freedoms. The one-sided conversation imposed on some of our countries sounds like an argument with the deaf. You can’t get far.

Kampala summit on Congo must tackle citizenship

6 Aug

Today a two-day summit of Heads of State of countries that make up the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region opens in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. The summit is supposed to find answers to the political and security mess in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Kampala meeting follows others – Addis Ababa in July and Khartoum last week in which diplomats and defence experts have been trying to work out a strategy to end the seemingly intractable conflict in the east of the huge and lawless country.

The Kampala summit also comes in the wake of a flurry of diplomatic activity in the Great Lakes Region in search of solutions to the Congo problem. Apparently, not all this activity was aimed at getting a peaceful and lasting answer.

First, Congo’s President Joseph Kabila visited Angola, the big boy of the region which wields enormous military muscle, reportedly to solicit military help to crush the M23 mutineers. Kabila’s visit followed that of his special envoy a few days earlier.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda also went to Luanda, apparently to dissuade the ageing Angolan leader, Eduardo dos Santos from sending his troops to the East of the DRC.

Then over the weekend, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in the region as part of her Africa tour to bolster American influence on the continent. Last Friday, she was in the Ugandan capital. On her visit, she did what the top diplomat of a super power has done foe decades – shower praises on leaders seen to follow Washington’s line and pour condemnation on  those who appear to be straying from it; knock heads together in some places and twist arms in others.

Will all these diplomatic efforts yield peace and stability in DRC?  Forgive, but I am sceptical. There has never been any shortage of diplomacy in Congo. It has never been given a chance to succeed – from UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld killed in 1960 trying to sort out the post-independence fiasco to the March 23 2009 Agreement between the CNDP rebels led by Laurent Nkunda and the Kabila Government, whose breakdown was the spark for the present crisis in Eastern Congo. All have been deliberately torpedoed.

Still, it is a good thing that the summit is taking place and that Africans are seeking solutions to their problems. You can be sure, though, that there will be Western diplomats, NGO lobbyists, experts of every sort and representatives of that wonderful organisation that promises hope but delivers despair – the  un – hovering around the meeting offering unsolicited advice, sounding dire warning and even issuing direct threats. The foreign media will also be there to give its own twist to the event.

The country whose messed up political and security situation the summit is supposed to correct is not likely to help much. The DRC with its immense natural wealth that Western sources do not cease to point out is very sick and needs help urgently. All it gets are confused noises that keep it firmly on the sickbed.

Congo’s leaders who should be the first to seek treatment for what is now the sick man of Africa  are too busy apportioning blame and rolling up their sleeves and taking up a belligerent stance to do much about it. They have the attitude of a child who always comes off worst in a fight and cowers when challenged to one, but when he senses the backing of a big brother or some other bully becomes hungry for a fight. Hardly the attitude for a diplomatic solution.

The Kampala summit can still be useful if it identifies and addresses the real problem of Congo. But if it falls into the trap of blaming others for Congo’s problems and bases its solutions on that, we can say good bye to any lasting solution to the conflict.

DRC has an incompetent government – some will say, even illegitimate – that has no control over the country. The state is incapable of protecting its citizens. Its military is a disgrace to the very name of that proud institution. Even some of Congo’s backers have no faith in its government. It has been reported that they toyed with the idea of toppling Kabila.

The absence of the state and hopelessly inept security institutions have led to armed groups springing up to fill the gap. Terrorist and genocidal groups, including the FDLR that is sworn to complete the genocide in Rwanda, the barbaric Lord’s Resistance Army and Islamist Alliance of Democratic Forces, both from Uganda, have found safe havens in poorly governed country.

This is part of the issue that the Kampala summit must not lose sight of.  Quite clearly, what is needed is not another armed group – international, neutral or by whatever name it goes by – but to give the DRC the capability to establish effective authority over its territory. It is to help the resource-rich country (as we are constantly reminded) to pay its troops and police, provide for them and turn them into an effective fighting force that will defend its territory and enforce law and order, instead of running away at the sight of a platoon of rebels.

The root cause of instability in Eastern Congo is not the invasion of its territory by countries intent on looting its minerals as loudly touted by the foreign media and NGOs. Rather, it is the attempt to disenfranchise a huge section of Congolese citizens of Rwandan descent. When things are not too bad, these citizens are tolerated but marginalised. When the situation gets tough, they are denounced as non-citizens, attacked, killed and those lucky to survive driven into exile.

Weak governments in Kinshasa wishing to gain popularity or legitimacy play the citizenship card in Eastern Congo.  We are seeing this happen in Congo. In the past it has led to only ethnic cleansing. If it goes on, it will almost certainly end up in another genocide.

Urgent action is needed to stop this happening. If the international community really wants peace and stability in Congo, it must offer equal protection to all Congolese citizens, especially in the east of the country. It must bring pressure to bear on the government in Kinshasa to recognise all its citizens without discrimination. They can do it. They did it in the former Yugoslavia, although they left it late. This time there is no excuse not to act because there are sufficient signs and lessons from history.

If the Kampala summit wants to contribute meaningfully to a lasting solution to Congo’s problems, it cannot run away from the citizenship issue. It’s about time Congo’s problems were solved once and for all and the Congolese given the opportunity to enjoy the immense wealth of their country.