Archive | October, 2012

In Rwanda reality rules; illusion has no place

30 Oct

 

Beware the foreign praise singers; they are up to no good and are not different from the traditional sort. These sang praises for a fee and a livelihood. They were often hired to present the image of the ruler in acceptable light or to satisfy his ego. The modern variety do much the same thing. They are drafted by state agents to polish their image and that of their protégés. In both cases, praise singers cover ugly reality and dress it in more appealing garb, and in the process create a pleasant illusion.

Beware, too, the testimony of strangers. It is never disinterested. Quite often, in fact, it is a projection of the witness’s perceptions, attitudes, or wishes.

Africa has had varied experience with both types over the last fifty years. Some African countries have had many praise singers touting their singular virtues and exceptional achievements they have made in an environment of mass failures by others. This supposedly makes those successes that much greater.

The praise has ranged from economic performance to democratic governance, from observance of human rights to the protection of animal rights.

Most people will remember how the Ivory Coast, under Felix Houphouet-Boigny, was flaunted as a model of political stability and economic success. Its capital, Abidjan was the place to be because it was very French. The country was held out as the shining example of what Africa could be if it kept close ties to former colonial rulers and followed their guidance. This was, of course, in contrast to trying to chart an independent path as, say, Sekou Toure had done in Guinea. The message was clear – there are rewards for toeing the line and severe punishment for striking out on your own.

In the mean time, Ivorian success attracted people from neighbouring countries to continue making it thrive. Successive generations of these neighbours soon swelled their numbers as they also became indispensable to the success narrative. But they also created discontent among some Ivorians.

As long as Houphouet-Boigny reined, a lid was kept on a simmering conflict between ‘real” Ivorians and “foreign” Ivorians. The foreign praise singers ignored the signs of discontent and instead composed more praise songs. It is, after all, in their interest to keep the illusion going.

When the old man died, the much vaunted economic success and political stability crumbled. The fault lines that had been papered over emerged into the open and widened, and the country was split into two. It slid into chaos and violence. The very “French” Abidjan turned into a battleground for rival armed bands.

What had happened to the stable, success story of Franco-African cooperation? It turned out it had been largely artificial, created by the praise singers. It also turned out that these same praise singers were responsible for the destruction of the illusion they had created.

And in a further twist of events, the makers and destroyers of an illusion are now busy, trying to rebuild it. It is another vicious cycle designed to keep Africa moving in circles and never advancing.

Not too long ago, Mali was touted as the paragon of democracy and good governance. The praise did not last long. A young army captain did not buy into the song. He overthrew the civilian government, accusing it of incompetence, especially in dealing with a growing insurgency in the north of the country.

He, too, was not allowed to remain in power for long, but it was long enough for the country to be split in half. It remains so to this day. The model of democratic governance in Mali has also been an illusion – created, spread and kept alive by the foreign praise singers.

Again, there are attempts to restore the unity of Mali, whose destruction in the first place must be laid at the feet of strangers bearing false witness. And as is to be expected, the people who caused the split are now calling for reunification by force, and, predictably, they will demand to lead the force. But Mali did not have to be divided first before it could be reunited – except, of course, to maintain that useless run in circles.

There are many other countries in Africa where the illusion of democracy and prosperity is constantly created. They are held out as models for others to follow. But they remain that – illusions, built on false testimony so as to serve the interests of strangers.

As there are people composing praise songs for artificial creations, so are there others wielding tools of destruction to bring down real structures of success. Countries that work really hard to build prosperity for their people and institutions that will guarantee democracy and well-being are routinely attacked and their leaders vilified.

Take heart if you fall in this category. It means you are doing something right. Praise singers do not like that. You are blunting their creativity and denying them artistic (or perhaps artful) satisfaction. They like inventing, embellishing and polishing. They cannot do that with a reality that already has its own shine.

Still, they cannot be denied their say. Their capacity for praise is matched by an equal one for invective and diatribe. Very likely, they will throw mud and other filth to cover the shine.

In Rwanda, we know this only too well. We have earned the ire of praise singers because we will not hire them to peddle an illusion. We prefer reality and take heart from the knowledge that no amount of mud will hide its shine for very long.

In dealing with Africa, lies, dishonesty and arrogance are official policy

16 Oct

 

Presumed guilt by the international community for its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 has often been cited as the reason for pussy-footing over alleged abuses by the Government of Rwanda. According to this view, President Paul Kagame has been given so much slack and got away with the most horrendous crimes because the international community has been immobilised by guilt.

This is utter nonsense. It is actually a cover for lies, dishonesty and arrogance when dealing with Africa – an attitude that has not changed for several centuries.

There has never been any remorse from the international community – and you cannot feel guilty if you are not remorseful. In fact, the evidence shows that nothing has changed. The international community still does things the same way as they have always done, including the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.

Massacres are still committed across Africa and the only response is long debates and occasional hand-wringing.

Entire populations are threatened with extermination and the world turns a blind eye (as happened in Rwanda).

Appeals are made to end the atrocities, and the evidence on the ground is compelling, but it is like talking to the deaf (as happened here before).

When regional initiatives are made to end conflict (as is happening in DRC), they are undermined. Non-governmental agents of some countries and their media megaphones fill the airwaves and newspapers with reports of how impossible a regionally-brokered solution is a non-starter and thereby put doubts in the minds of the public. This is what the politicians want.

Are these the actions and intentions of people feeling guilty and remorseful?

Perhaps the only sense of guilt is the feeling that countries like Rwanda have come this far when they should not – because they did so without the permission of the powerful countries.

There is also arrogance in this. How can tiny Rwanda have the cheek to stand up to the big bullies? Why can’t Rwandans behave like the rest who put their tails between their legs and run when confronted with a similar problem?

And now a new pattern of misdeeds by the international community, invariably against Africa, has emerged – systematic leaks of United Nations Reports to various media outlets before their official release. It has happened to Rwanda many times before in reference to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Now it is happening to Ghana in relation to events in the Ivory Coast.. This is an underhand method of swaying public opinion against African countries and leaders in the absence of factual evidence.

What is worse, these reports are leaked before the countries concerned have had the chance to see, let alone respond to them. This from the teachers of human rights and justice!

It is no coincidence that in the case of Rwanda, the excuse of guilt always comes up when the country is in a strong political and economic position. The country’s progress does not fit outsiders’ view of Africa and cannot be accepted. Peddling guilt becomes a convenient pretext to deny that Rwanda can move forward and earn respect on its own merit. Bur because the evidence that Rwanda is moving ahead on its own steam is too strong to simply wish away, some other explanation must be found.

There must be some external reason for this. Or something is not quite right internally. The progress must be at the expense of other important things, such as the right of a few individuals to hurt the rights of the majority.

And so, convenient labels will be found to tag guilt on the innocent so that they can be condemned without the feeling of guilt.

For instance, African leaders are labelled dictators for no other reason than that they are popular in their countries. How can they win elections with such huge numbers when in the West they win with a minority? How can you have nearly the whole population turn up at elections when in advanced countries only about a third of the citizens bother to vote?

Here is the dishonesty, coupled with arrogance: Western apathy and indifference become the benchmark for democratic excellence and enthusiasm and full participation is undemocratic.

If that tag won’t stick, there is always another one. Call them sponsors of foreign wars to plunder the wealth of other countries because their own are poor. Politicians and their non-governmental agents originate this view. The media publicise it. The unsuspecting public believe it. And the African leaders are damned. It does not matter whether logic flies in the face of such an argument, as in Rwanda’s case in relation to eastern D R Congo.

Rwanda’s interests, they are told, are best protected by enhanced stability in the region precisely because of the reasons given for alleged intervention in other countries’ affairs – tiny size, little or no natural resources, landlocked, and so on.

But, of course, no one believes Rwandans because they are obviously too stupid to have such a strategic thinking.

Clearly there is a lot of lying, arrogance and dishonesty in the international community. And this is a dangerous mix.

Afrioca’s independence – myth and reality

9 Oct

 

Today, Uganda marks fifty years of independence – three months after Rwanda and Burundi celebrated theirs. But if you think the end of colonial rule signaled the end of foreign control, you might have to think again. Events in Africa today are uncomfortably similar to what happened here just over a century and a half ago.

Take the case of the Great Lakes Region, for instance. What is happening here is almost an exact replay of the events that led to Africa’s colonisation all those many years ago. So, is Africa being recolonised. Perhaps. Some will, in fact, argue that it has never been free, and that there is a continuing struggle to break free.

Looking at today and historical parallels, one cannot miss the connection between the past and today – motives, methods, players and all.

In this region, the Democratic Republic of Congo is currently (it has actually been like this for its entire independent life) in a crisis of governance and security that threatens to undermine the stability of the whole region. Naturally – out of self-interest, if for nothing else – neighbouring countries want to see an end to the decades old instability in the country. However, the most powerful countries – all of them far removed from the situation – will have none of it.

The conclusion one gets from this is that they are not interested in a solution because it does not fit into their geo-political calculations. And so, Congo is once again, as it was in 1884, at the centre of attempts to control Africa. The reason for that today is what it was in the nineteenth century – unfettered exploitation of natural resources.

That is why China’s entrance on the African scene is a threat. It is a competitor for those resources. It is for the same reason that Rwanda is also seen as a threat. It has demonstrated that with proper organisation and independence that make continued control difficult.

In these circumstances, what is the strategy of those countries that want to maintain control of Africa? It is the same as it was more than a century ago. First, make it impossible for resource-rich countries like DRC (as we are reminded ad nauseam) to get properly organised and to keep them beholden to them for their very existence. Second, weaken countries that show determined efforts to break free from control and dependence. And third, prevent these countries from coming together to seek answers to shared challenges. In the old days, this was called divide and rule.

In the past, European interest in Congo, spurred by reports of hired adventurers like Henry Stanley and others of his ilk representing different countries and interests, speeded up the race for the scramble and partition of Africa.

Then, other groups – mainly the media, do-gooders of all sorts and religious organisations – took up the cry for actual control of territory. Their professed aim was to save the savages from themselves.

Soon, politicians and business interests heard the noise and liked what they heard, and took heed. They rushed to stake out areas of control. Their aims, however, were not couched in moralistic tones. They were more blunt – to control Africa for business.

Today the same noise can be heard from similar individuals and organisations. Latter-day do-gooders, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and free-lance adventurers masquerading as experts and heads of all manner of foundations ostensibly for the benefit of Africans, now lead the assault. These groups have been organised into powerful organisations that rival most governments for power and influence.

The media amplify and spread the noise and make sure the unsuspecting public is flooded with unsavoury stories that make take-over inevitable.

The arguments for control today are similar to those of the late nineteenth century. Once again the savages are killing, raping and looting, and worst of all; they recruit child soldiers into their armies.  They must be saved from themselves. Their leaders are blood-thirsty tyrants who must be got rid of.

At the time of colonisation, and throughout the colonial period, if anyone resisted, they got a beating, were killed or exiled. That was the fate of our own kings Yuhi V Musinga and MutaraIII Rudahigwa.

But those who collaborated or gave in easily to external control were rewarded for their cooperation, even if the citizens lost control of their country and resources.

Today, those who resist control also get a beating. Leaders whom our erstwhile rulers do not like are removed from the scene and replaced with more pliant ones. But in an age when democracy and the rule of law are on everyone’s lips, this unlawful replacement must be dressed in legal garb. So, the International Criminal Court is created to legalise unlawful regime change, exile and punishment for recalcitrant leaders.

There are other measures to control those who refuse to fall in line. Slap sanctions on them, impose travel and other kinds of bans, or cut aid to their countries and they will surely get down on their knees.

So, has anything changed in the last fifty years? Is what we are seeing history repeating itself? Only one thing is certain – the struggle continues.

Congo could benefit from Rwanda’s agaciro

2 Oct

In the past ten years, certain words have gained currency among Rwandans. It’s not that they are new or rare. They are actually in common use. But they have gained more significance because they now define who Rwandans are, their attitudes and collective outlook.

The words are ownership (kugira ibintu ibyawe) and dignity (agaciro). The two have become synonymous with the search for practical solutions to challenges and a source of national pride.

Now, Rwandans have always owned everything. They own the whole world because as they say Rwanda is the world and the world is Rwanda. This is not a question of physical ownership. It is more the expression of a concept of a world view where Rwandanness is not defined by physical boundaries but by their citizenship of the world.

This view must have been behind the attitude of those of us who lived in other countries as refugees when we took over ownership of the places where we lived – at least conceptually. Rwandans referred to the nationals of those countries as foreigners (abanyamahanga). They were not being arrogant or ungrateful. It is simply the way they saw the world.

This view of the universe from a Rwanda-centric viewpoint extends to religious matters as well. Rwandans even own God. To my knowledge, they are one of only two people who have appropriated God as their own. He is even domiciled in Rwanda.

I don’t intend to wade into Rwandan metaphysics or theology. I only want to relate how the idea of ownership lies behind Rwanda’s current state of development.

In today’s sense, ownership means taking possession of one’s circumstances wherever one is and turning them to advantage. It means taking responsibility for oneself and doing everything to make them work best for you. Ownership means that you alone are responsible for yourself and what you become. You don’t owe it to anyone else. Nor can you expect anyone to pick up that responsibility for you.

In simple terms, ownership of anything is at the root of a “fix it” mentality.

That’s why Rwandans even own their problems and challenges. It is the beginning of solving them.

The other word is agaciro. It draws wild cheers when it is uttered. The word has become the answer and explanation to practically everything Rwandans face. If a Rwandan does something extra-ordinary, it is because of agaciro. If anything is done to demean Rwandans, you are warned not to play with their agaciro. Rwanda’s economic growth is both cause and effect of agaciro, as well as its expression. The frequency with which agaciro is used, even in conversation in English; I would not be surprised if it becomes part of English vocabulary before long.

Like the concept of ownership, the idea of agaciro is part of how Rwandans define themselves.. It is part of their world view. Because they own the universe, they also feel responsible for its well-being, and can only ensure that if they are dignified – wherever in the world they may be.

More significantly, the word is at the centre of what they want to become, how they want to get there and the means of surmounting challenges.

Rwandans know they could not have fixed their political problems – from liberation to ending the genocide and dealing with its aftermath – if they did not own them or felt that their dignity was sufficiently affronted to warrant action.

Looking at ongoing problems in our region, one wishes other people shared Rwandans’ worldview, especially the determination to solve them. Rwanda’s Congolese neighbours particularly need to make ownership part of their everyday vocabulary, and more importantly, part of a problem-solving kit. That way they would not have to run around the world pleading for help to put their own house in order. They would not put their faith in the hands of foreigners with questionable interests. They would not surrender responsibility over their country, and worse, their sovereignty as they have now done.

That they have done all this betrays a lack of agaciro. Yet they only have to look across the border to see the impact of that short word.  They can even borrow it and it will be given to them gratis. I am sure there is a high price for the foreign support they are so eager to get.

Unfortunately, these particular neighbours of Rwanda do not seem to have a world view in which they have an active part to play. And what’s worse, they won’t permit some among their own people with a “fix it” mentality to help. And that’s a pity.