Archive | December, 2012

What does 2013 hold for Rwanda?

31 Dec

 

The year 2013 is now here. As always happens, some will sigh with relief that 2012 is gone. Others will look back on it with nostalgia, wishing it had lasted a little longer. For many more, time will pass regardless of our wishes or expectations, or what we get in its passage, so, what’s the fuss?  Still, we all welcome the New Year hoping it will bring better fortune than the last, but knowing it probably won’t.

In our case in Rwanda, 2012 was event-filled – with the good and the bad – and left us quite breathless. This year will no doubt have the same mix of things. The good we don’t much bother  about. They will make us feel good. We can handle that. The bad, too, we have come to expect and can handle as well. The experience of our post-colonial history has prepared us for this. That’s not to say, of course, that we relish having to untangle all the traps that will be laid on our path.

And so, back to 2012, and the good things first. It was a year of jubilee celebrations – three to be exact. Where did you get the third from? The two we know, but another one… Patience, I will tell you anon.

It was the Platinum Jubilee of a charming old lady on the throne of the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II is also the head of the Commonwealth. And just in case you might have forgotten, Rwanda is a member of the Commonwealth.

Her Jubilee was celebrated with much fanfare in the UK and other parts of the Commonwealth. The Brits loved it. For them, it couldn’t have come at a better time. It offered them welcome relief from the economic hard times they were going through.

Many Rwandans didn’t know about this jubilee and probably wouldn’t have cared much anyway. For some, the very idea of monarchy is anathema. Others are such arch republicans that kingship and associated rituals and ceremonies have been expunged from their world-view.

But there is a small band of admirers of such institutions and another group who look on them with amused curiosity who did notice and followed the celebrations, and actually enjoyed what they saw. Of course, our leaders and diplomats knew about the jubilee and sent the appropriate congratulatory messages.

The Brits love their queen, unfortunately so do pranksters. Pranks of all sorts periodically pull off some daring stunts, although some end up in tragedy like the most recent one. Through it all, the Queen remains calm and unruffled. I wonder whether behind that regal demeanour lies hot temper or other strong passion.

Rwandans did care for the second jubilee because it was directly their own. It was the Golden Jubilee of independence that fell on July First. Unlike the Brits, we celebrate in much sober fashion – with no pomp or pageantry. Ours is businesslike and Spartan. It is not because we are such a mean and misery lot. Rather, it is a signal that we cannot rest on our laurels, that we still have much to do before we are so satisfied as to warrant lavish ceremonies.

There are other reasons for not being too excited about fifty years of independence. You cannot celebrate lost time and wasted opportunities. You can mourn and wallow in self-pity. But that, too, is not the Rwandan way – which is to pick oneself up and move on.

The Golden Jubilee of independence was nonetheless an important event that had to be marked. It offered a springboard for the journey to the next jubilee. It was a useful learning experience about how to spend time meaningfully. Rwandans have learnt the lesson, which is why they are in a hurry to get to where others reached a long time ago.

One can almost see that the next independence jubilee will be different. It will be a real celebration of achievements, not simply a mark of the passage of time or a moment to rue missed chances.

The third anniversary – the Silver Jubilee of the founding of the Rwandese Patriotic Front – was marked less than two weeks ago. This was a jubilee of great achievements. But again the celebrations were very practical – no frills, no blowing of trumpets, no chest thumping. In any case, that is not necessary as there are people who will do that for you – unintentionally.

Rwanda haters and bashers, those who allow their twisted emotions to blind them to reality and would rather it didn’t exist, actually illuminate it and make it more visible.

The achievements of Rwandans in the last twenty-five years are solid and visible. Hatred, however strong; treachery, however despicable and wilful blindness, however total cannot wash them away.

I have run out of space to recount the bad things – the sustained savage attacks on Rwanda and Rwandans. The bad often comes with the good, though. The attacks were always followed by sweet victories.  About that another time.

And so we begin another year and a new cycle leading to more jubilees. When the next jubilee comes around (for those who will still be here), there will be no lament about lost time, no excuses about things not done, no reason for the present (then) and the future not being what you really want to celebrate.

Happy New Year!

Advertisements

RPF is ageless at 25

24 Dec

 

Today the Rwandese Patriotic Front celebrates its Silver Jubilee at Amahoro National Stadium. The day’s events are a culmination of a series of events and activities across the country to mark the historic occasion.

There is obvious reason to celebrate because the last twenty-five years have been a period of exceptional achievements by any measure. And what Rwanda has achieved as a nation has an RPF imprint. Talk of sustained economic growth, poverty reduction, security and stability, empowerment of various groups and Rwanda’s international visibility – it is all RPF.

But as usual, the celebrations will be low-key and sober. There will not be much self-congratulatory statements or feasting. Indeed, even the achievements, which are not few, will be down-played.

Everyone should know by now that this is part of our national character. We have become a country of self-effacing people. Every achievement is only a part of longer to-do list and must not be allowed to distract us from the next item on the list and others that will inevitably follow.

So, expect no crowing about extra-ordinary feats, justifiable or not. In this part of the world, bragging is bad manners when there is more work to be done.

Still, there are many things that make the RPF stand out. It has scored many “firsts” in this country.

For instance, it is the first real national political party in Rwanda in terms of ideology, membership that cuts across social classes, countrywide reach and services to Rwandans. And its membership is built on conviction and not coercion.

Others before it were sectarian in ideology and, not surprisingly, served factional interests and as a result created divisions among Rwandans. None could persuade people to join them with a vision for the country. Instead, they used brute force or appeals to some form of common identity to get a following.

The RPF is also in many ways the only independent party this country has ever had. In this sense, it practices what it preaches. From inception, the RPF relied on its own resources, of course, drawn from its members, to fund its operations, including the war of liberation. It did not depend on support from elsewhere, although, of course, this was welcome, but only to complement its own efforts and certainly not at a price.

From that initial self-reliance, the RPF has become a self-supporting organisation that is the envy of many corporate bodies. It has given that philosophy of self reliance to the nation, which has now become a national rallying point.

Political partied in Rwanda have traditionally been affiliated to “parent” parties in Europe which fund them and consequently direct their ideology. They have maintained colonial and neo-colonial ties and for that reason, can never be independent. They can never serve Rwanda’s national interest.

The RTPF has been a unique liberation movement. It was perhaps the only one that had to wage an entire struggle in an utterly hostile environment. That it was successful and turned hostility into support attests to political, diplomatic and military astuteness, and also to the correctness of the cause and depth of conviction.

And again, the ability with which the RPF was able to transform from  a liberation movement into a government was nothing short of spectacular, especially considering that few of its cadres had any previous experience in government. But it did so with relative ease and rebuilt a shattered country and put it firmly on the road to development, confounding friend and foe by the speed and success of its efforts. Prophets of doom had predicted a failed state. They saw a resurgent state. They had prophesied revenge and bloodshed. They witnessed reconciliation and unity.

Part of the reason for the remarkable quick recovery was the refusal by the RPF and Rwandans in general to play victim.

Over the years, the RPF has come up with another thing that is uniquely Rwanda – using home-grown ideas to answer domestic challenges. ‘Home grown solutions’ is a ‘made in Rwanda ‘invention. In the past, other parties resorted to importing ideas and solutions to national problems from abroad.

Twenty-five years on and eighteen years of leading government, the RPF has come of age. But challenges remain and solutions must be found.

Every anniversary is a time to celebrate. But it is also time to take stock of the past and plan for the future. The RPF must do the same at these silver jubilee celebrations.

Every party must constantly evaluate its programmes and achievements and adapt accordingly. At some point it must even reinvent itself in order to remain on top of prevailing situations.

The RPF has not got to that stage yet. But still, it has to continually analyse and evaluate circumstances and its response and come up with policies suited to the moment. So far it has done that and all indications are that it will do so in the future. That is how it will remain relevant.

Who wants peace in DRC? Not the media, rights groups or even some countries

11 Dec

 

Since May this year, the Great Lakes Region has been in the spotlight – with events in eastern D R Congo dominating the headlines. In March, the world’s attention turned on the region with greater intensity when the M23 rebels marched on Goma and captured it from Congolese government forces.

Smelling possible stories of savage brutality and eager to invent them should those they found on the ground not be sufficiently horrific, the international media descended on DRC with heightened, if slanted, imagination. They led a very noisy condemnation of the rebels and their alleged backers. Not a word about the myriad other armed groups in the region and the atrocities they committed. Nothing said about the cowardly national army, pillaging, looting and raping as it retreated.

The international human rights brigade and humanitarian mega business fed the media with material for selective condemnation in the Congolese conflict. They shouted like the onlookers in that famous trial two millennia ago urging the judges (this time not an individual but a few countries calling themselves the international community) to crucify (not an innocent individual but an equally innocent country).

Various governments, as has now become familiar practice, took their cue from the alarm raisers (never mind that they are often false or raised on behalf of the wrong people) and brought out trees and nails for the crucifixion.

Then just over a week ago, the M23 rebels, on the directions of the International Conference on the Great Lakes (ICGLR), withdrew from Goma and other towns it had captured as a condition for negotiations with the Congolese government.

With the prospects of peace and the consequent absence of blood and stories of horror, the scene was no longer interesting for the international media. They packed their cameras and notebooks and disappeared. Screaming, shock-filled headlines became fewer.

The rights and humanitarian groups suddenly fell silent. They had achieved their aims.  Not only had they stopped the M23 advance, they had also forced it to withdraw, and more importantly, had the rebels’ alleged supporters punished.

Such quick disappearance from the scene when prospects of peace increase, raises a few questions.

Are all these groups – the media, human rights and humanitarian agencies really interested in peace and stability in DRC? Do they want to see the conflict there resolved?

Clearly not. If they were, they would be putting pressure on their countries to force them to get the DRC Government and M23 rebels to talk peace – the same pressure they had exerted to get them to cut aid to Rwanda, ostensibly to force it to rein in its supposed protégés.

At the very least, they should be supporting the ICGLR mediation efforts

They have done neither of these. At best, they have remained silent. At worst, they have continued to harp on their favourite blame game.   Or they have been very loud in expressing doubts about whether they can work. On other occasions, they have undermined ICGLR efforts outright.

In this atmosphere of lack of enthusiasm for, or hostility to, an enduring solution to the conflict in eastern Congo, other complications have come in. Different interests seem not to be prepared to give ongoing efforts a chance to succeed. They are pushing other, parallel efforts that are bound to distract from the primary objective and make the situation even more confusing. 

For instance, even as the ICGLR mediation efforts continue, the French Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr Gerard Araud, has been canvassing support from his colleagues for a more robust mandate for MONUSCO, the UN force in Congo.

There are several problems with this proposal.

One, MONUSCO has not failed because of a weak mandate or insufficient equipment. Their failure is a result of lack of interest in a resolution of the conflict. None of the troops – nearly all of them from faraway places – are keen to understand the issues, let alone lay down their lives to resolve them. In any case, as has amply been reported, they stand to gain materially from maintaining the status quo.

Two, the French have a record in this region of hiding behind the UN mandate to advance narrow national interests that are often counter to the stated aims of the mandate. Their proposal cannot inspire confidence that it will be otherwise this time around.

Equally, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) has been dying to get directly involved in the current conflict in DRC. Although they appear to support ICGLR mediation efforts, they would (at least the more powerful ones) be happy to be taking the lead.

Again, there are problems with SADC positioning itself to replace ICGLR.

Firstly, SADC cannot be impartial. Already in a statement after the meeting in Dar es Salaam at the weekend, the leaders restated their support for DRC against M23 which they labelled a negative force. That does not help improve the atmosphere at the ongoing talks in Kampala.

Secondly, nearly all the southern African countries, especially the big ones, have mining interests in the DRC. Their offer of support is more likely to do with safeguarding these interests, and even acquire new ones than with the search for peace and stability.

Besides, an increasing number of players in the DRC will only confuse the situation a lot more and not lead to a resolution of the conflict.

In the current circumstances, the most sensible thing to do is to support efforts that are already underway. New proposals can only distract from these, or even take the region back a few months. That is not in anyone’s interest.

Why UK cut aid to Rwanda – the economy, stupid

4 Dec

 

Last Friday, the United Kingdom cut aid to Rwanda, citing the latter’s alleged support for the M23 rebels in eastern D R Congo. The move was not unexpected. There has been a loud clamour for it from the very moment M23 began their mutiny.

But is the actual reason for cutting aid really the supposed backing of M23? It would appear not.

Most keen observers – the sort who are not taken in by eye-catching but deceitful headlines or false accounts – do not see a useful link between cutting aid and ending the conflict in D R Congo. Among them is Ms Jendayi Fraser, former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the George W Bush Administration. Appearing on Al Jazeera, she said blaming one country and finger-pointing has never helped solve problems in the Great Lakes Region. Cutting aid to Rwanda won’t be a solution to the conflict in DRC.

Mr Paul Vallely, writing in The Independent on 2/12/2012, questioned what the UK will achieve by cutting aid. In his view, nothing, except to hurt the progress that Rwanda has already made.

Both find fault with the Group of Experts report which has supposedly informed the British action. Ms Fraser thinks it is unreliable because its authors are anonymous and their accusations are not supported by evidence.

Then consider the timing of the cut. If it was meant to pressure the Government of Rwanda into withdrawing its supposed support for M23, then the timing was definitely wrong. It came when M23 rebels were pulling out of the areas they had captured from the shockingly inept Congolese army following pressure from the leaders of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). The initial demands to cease hostilities and withdraw were made by Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Joseph Kabila, and endorsed by the ICGLR.

If we follow the logic for withdrawing aid to Rwanda, the most sensible reaction to what the three presidents had done should have been reward, not punishment.

Could the wrong timing have been a result of a bumbling government? Hardly. Bumbling of this sort is not in the British character.

Clearly, linking aid to the crisis in Congo is only a convenient pretext. The real cause for cutting aid is elsewhere, most likely in the economic hardship the West is facing. The West is going through unprecedented economic turmoil. There is a lot of popular discontent, especially in Southern Europe where there is record unemployment, mortgage defaults and repossession of houses. But even in the traditionally more prosperous north, all is not well either. The economies of the United Kingdom and France are limping.

British commentators admit the connection between reconsidering aid and domestic economic realities. The Bagehot column in The Economist of 10th November, 2012 questioned the wisdom of continuing aid support to developing countries when things are grim at home. In his opinion, Britain should stop punching above its weight in a world where its economic and military advantages have shrunk. That admission, however, did not stop him from hurling the now familiar insults at Rwanda.

Lord Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, has been even more scathing in his criticism. He wondered on a Channel 4 programme last week how, in a time of austerity, Britain should increase aid when public spending had been slashed. He called it “particularly crazy” and “difficult to justify”.

Then Lord Lawson remembered why he was appearing on Channel 4 – to nail Rwanda, not to come clean on aid and domestic economic woes. In a classic mix of arrogance and ignorance and a reminder of Thatcherite callousness, Lord Lawson says Britain should stop giving aid to a” monster” and an “unsavoury regime”

I doubt Lord Lawson knows where Rwanda is or is interested in what goes on there. He probably based his judgement on what he has read in The Daily Telegraph (he almost certainly doesn’t read The Guardian or Daily Mail), watched on BBC Television, or on the prompting of a biased presenter like Jonathan Miller.

Domestic economic woes are obviously difficult to accept. The steady decline of the once powerful nation on earth is particularly difficult to come to terms with. As often happens in such cases, it is easier to package unpleasant reality in more presentable form likely to find acceptance from the ordinary people. And so the choice to cut aid is presented as a philanthropic imperative to appeal to that streak of the British character. But it turns out to be a cynical manipulation of an otherwise noble inclination of the British by politicians, their media allies and NGO errand boys (and increasingly, more girls).

Considering all that was said before the decision to slash aid was finally reached, you would think that the UK government agonised over the choice given Rwanda’s record on efficient use of aid. Both Labour and Tory governments have had good relations with Rwanda in the last eighteen years.

But the agonising may have been only appearance. The moment Andrew Mitchell, then Secretary for International development, did what he judged to be right and within his authority, the Labour opposition was quick to pounce to score political points, the merits of whether Rwanda deserved aid notwithstanding.

Now, no British Government, afraid of losing domestic support, would its life on the line for a country far away in the heart of Africa.  It was left to Ms Justine Greening, concerned about what Bagehot called “self-preservation” to wield the axe in this political points contest, cut their losses and chop aid to Rwanda.

All the talk about support for rebels and other high-minded concerns is a diversion. The real issue is realpolitic and realeconomic.