Archive | April, 2013

You can’t put Rwandans down-they bounce right back

29 Apr

Try hard as they might, no one will put down this country. And so many have tried, but all their efforts have come to naught. Rwanda continues to push ahead, brushing aside all attempts to distract it from pursuing what is best for the people.

The last few days have been full of evidence of this irrepressible spirit of Rwanda.

The first was the news of the issuance of a $400 million Eurobond on the market and its resounding success. It attracted so many investors and was consequently heavily oversubscribed. Even the usual Rwanda bashers have been gushing in their reporting of the success of this bold move.

For those, like me, who are not very familiar with these sorts of financial transactions, a debt bond (or sovereign bond when issued by a government in foreign currency) is a debt investment where an investor lends the government an amount of money for a given period at a certain interest rate. In other words, it is a form of borrowing from financial investors.

In this case the bond is worth $400 million for a period of ten years and the money raised will be used to finance certain projects that will in turn raise more money.

What is the good news in borrowing that we should all get very excited about?

It is generally agreed that the confidence to go to the market in this manner was significant.  It is evidence of the mature and prudent management of the economy that has been responsible for the consistent growth rates over the last decade. Equally, the overwhelming oversubscription to the bond is seen as a vote of investor confidence in the performance of the Rwandan economy.

The significance can also be appreciated when considered in the context of preceding events. It comes in the wake of attempts to derail the country’s progress by denying it promised support on the untenable evidence of lies and false accusations. And in this sense it shows a determination to diversify sources of finance so that development efforts are not held back by arbitrary, unilateral or capricious decisions of some in the international community.

Furthermore, this action shows that Rwanda is prepared to do whatever it takes to finance its projects and does not have to wait for the generosity of .others. Money from this sort of source is often given as a reward for good behaviour or withheld for allegedly being naughty, even when the definition for such behaviour keeps shifting.

This measure, together with other actions to raise capital, points to one thing: realising double digit growth in the next few years is quite possible.

The second piece of good news happened at about the same time as the bond was getting such a huge reception. It was the humiliation of Steve Hege (he of the infamous UN Group of Experts report on alleged Rwandan support for M23) at the hands of a handful of Rwandans during a public discussion in the United States on the deployment of the intervention brigade in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

As usual, he demonised M23 but conveniently ignored the existence of armed groups like the FDLR which have a more atrocious record. He was in his element when accusing Rwanda of responsibility for all the ills in DRC. His obsession with today’s Rwanda and his support for FDLR have turned him into a one-track mind crusader against this country.

Reports say, however, that this time Hege did not have it all his way. He was challenged about his open bias for a genocidal armed group, his lies about Rwanda and dragging the United Nations into what appears to be an inexplicable personal vendetta against Rwanda’s leadership. The fellow had no answer to any of these and fled in panic and humiliation.

Steve Hege’s public disgrace comes hot on the heels of a similar treatment of Ken Roth, Director of Human Rights Watch, who thinks he is some kind of a god. He too was unmasked at a symposium supposedly to honour the late Allison De Forges and revealed for what he really is – a sour-faced, petty-minded individual who is ready to abuse the generosity of benefactors to his organisation in order to finance a personal hate campaign.

In the last few years, memorial lectures have been organised purportedly to pay tribute to Allison De Forge, but in reality to give a platform to Rwanda haters to vent their hatred.

Like in the bond issue, Rwandans have shown that they will do whatever it takes to defend their dignity and the good name of their country against all manner of detractors and other malcontents wherever they may be. They are prepared to expose liars and charlatan, bigots and opportunists.

You may try but you cannot put this country down. It will bounce right back and leap higher and farther.

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Lull before the storm in DRC?

22 Apr

It has been unusually quiet in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) of late. Is this a sign that things are getting better there? Don’t fool yourself. They haven’t for the last fifty years and won’t now unless several things happen.

First, the Congolese government must take responsibility for what has gone wrong in the region and correct it. It cannot continue blaming outsiders for its own failures. In the same way, it cannot rely on outsiders for solutions to its own weaknesses.

Second, the United Nations and others in the international community should stop treating Congo like a country more sinned against than sinning. They must show it its sins and pressure it to put its house in order. In any case they share the blame for the mess in Congo and have an obligation to put the situation right. That requires that they own up and see the situation as it actually is, not what they would like it to be. It requires respecting the lives of millions of Congolese and not putting narrow and selfish economic and political interests above them.

The silence is not about improvement in the Congolese situation. It is perhaps because the international media and their rights kin, those creatures who seem to enjoy beating war drums and then gleefully cheer as people tear each other apart and then pretend to be horrified,  have their attention turned to other areas that feed their lust for violence. Or it may be the proverbial lull before the storm. It is probably both.

While there hasn’t been much fighting on the ground lately, there is still an atmosphere of belligerence. There has been a great deal of sabre-rattling from all sides involved in the conflict in eastern DRC apparently caused by the imminent arrival of a military intervention force in the region.

The Congolese government has high hopes in the force and has felt so emboldened as to order the M23 rebels to disarm and disband. They give the impression that the intervention brigade has come to help the government fight M23.

Notice they do not mention other rebel groups like the FDLR. Is it because it has ceased to exist or is no longer a threat to its citizens and neighbouring countries? More likely, it is because the Congolese government and FDLR are now allies and the latter’s fighters have agreed to fight alongside  the government troops.

As usual in Congo, the government and the international community are living under self-delusion. Even if the M23 were the major problem and even if they were to disappear, it is doubtful that peace would return to eastern DRC. M23 is not the cause of the conflict. it is merely a response to an existing situation.

In their excitement about the intervention brigade, the government in Kinshasa has ignored the peace talks with M23 in Kampala, which shows they were never committed to them in the first place.

On its part, the M23 has been warning both the government and the countries that will contribute to the force against attacking its positions and has promised them a bloody nose if they do. They have reminded them that they have a cause to fight and even die for while the intervention brigade does not.

The M23 rebels insist that there are ongoing peace talks in Kampala which should be given a chance. They have therefore put the UN on the spot for its apparent preference for a military solution to eastern Congo’s problems, when its mandate should be working towards a political resolution of the conflict.

Countries contributing troops to the intervention brigade have also been flexing their muscle. For instance South Africa has said it is not afraid of a fight with the rebels. They obviously want to prove a point – that they are a capable force despite suffering heavy casualties inflicted by the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic. There are, of course, other reasons for South Africa’s involvement, among them, protecting South African individual and corporate business interests in DRC.

Tanzania has been spoiling for a fight for different reasons.

Ever since Mrs Joyce Banda became president, Malawi has been cosying up to the west, and contributing troops is part of the effort to ingratiate itself to them. Besides, Malawi has a large Rwandan refugee population that includes Interahamwe, and it would not be beyond them to want to use the opportunity to infiltrate into Congo and join their FDLR confreres.

These are all the ingredients of a major conflict in Eastern DRC if good sense does not prevail and restraint exercised.

Amidst all this, the UN and the international community are making the same mistakes they made in Rwanda in 1994.

In Rwanda, they withdrew UN peacekeeping troops and looked on as the genocide was committed.

In DRC they are reinforcing an already huge force with a brigade that has been given a shoot to kill mandate. However, its role is not to protect vulnerable civilians, but to prop up an inefficient government and protect business interests of outsiders. It has nothing to do with getting rid of armed groups in, or return peace to, the region.

G8 on rape in DRC – what effect?

15 Apr

The G8 usually meets to discuss international politics and economics – or more precisely, how the most powerful nations can maintain a stranglehold on the world’s resources, international trade and dictate other relations among nations. Their meetings are all about power.

Rarely do we associate the G8 with concern for social issues, especially in the third world. Certainly not with sex crimes such as rape in conflict situations. Nothing could be further from power politics at the meetings.

But strange as it seems, rape was on the agenda at the G8 foreign ministers meeting in London last week. They even agreed to put up US$350 million to help fight the vice.

And the champion of international action against war zone sex crimes is Mr William Hague, Britain’s foreign secretary.

Now, it is very difficult to think of a more unlikely defender of the cause than William Hague. He comes across as a cold, uncaring figure both in appearance and speech. You cannot, with all the generosity in the world, associate him with compassion. Hague is cut in the same mould as the late Margaret Thatcher (bless her soul. No? Some would beg to differ insisting she had none). Still, being African, we must be respectful to the dead. They have a knack for visiting misfortune on the living, and if what she did in life is any indication, what she could do from the afterlife is terrifying.

Anyhow, Hague wants to reinvent himself as a compassionate man. No one seems to have told him that part of that might include smoothing the hard edges on his face, softening his speech and occasionally allowing a smile on his lips.

He is trying nonetheless. And as part of reconstructing his image, he recently came visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the American actress Angelina Jolie in tow. He even made a brief stopover in Rwanda.  Her superstar status would presumably soften his uncaring reputation and advance his cause.

DRC is a good choice for Hague’s reincarnation. Everything that takes place in that much abused country happens in excess – including sex crimes.

Rape of even one individual is, of course, a most reprehensible crime. It is infinitely worse when done indiscriminately on a mass scale as regularly happens in DRC and other conflict areas.

Sexual violence must therefore be condemned in all its forms, wherever it occurs and for whatever reason. That is why the initiative of William Hague and the G8 is a good thing and deserves the support of all people of goodwill.

However, I am sceptical about whether the approach they have adopted will end sexual violence.

First of all, they are treating sex violence in conflict situations in purely legalistic terms – of trial and punishment. It is more than that.

Why would ordinarily decent people commit mass rape? It is not because of the absence of sanctions against the crime or because the perpetrators do not know it is wrong and that their actions have consequences. They know all that and yet go ahead and do the most horrible things.

The cause lies in the nature of conflict. People live under the illusion that the anonymity of belonging to a large group – army or militia – removes individual responsibility from them. And the power that bearing arms gives them adds another dimension to the illusion – no accountability.

This is what happens when ordinary social and moral restraints no longer apply as in most conflict situations.

And so Congolese soldiers will rape hundreds of women and feel no remorse. American and British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan will urinate on dead bodies of enemy soldiers or even civilians, force prisoners to perform unnatural sex acts and commit other acts that humiliate and debase fellow human beings and laugh about it.

If Hague and the G8 want to end sexual violence in war zones, they should address the root cause of the conflict and not simply its symptoms or consequences.

In the DRC as we have argued in this column many times before, the problem is the absence of the state in large parts of the country. Ending conflict and crimes that arise from it requires extending governance to the entire territory. It is that simple. Hague and co. should spend their time, energy and money in more useful ways by helping the Congolese and other conflict-prone areas exercise more effective control over their countries. The rest will fall in place

The G8 has allocated 435 million to fight sexual violence in war zones. Again I am not sure that money will be effective – not because it is little but the way it will be used. Most likely it will be channelled through western NGOs, who will spend most of it on administration, luxury cars and on other indulgences of lavish living. Little will go to hunting the perpetrators of the crimes or their victims. They will probably introduce alien and strange sexual behaviour that will compound the existing problem.

The G8 needs to get to the roots of conflict, otherwise their current initiative, though perhaps well-intentioned, will be viewed as mere moral posturing.

Raila Odinga returns to natural habitat

2 Apr

The suspense is over. The anxious waiting has ended. The Supreme Court of Kenya’s ruling last Saturday cleared the way for Mr Uhuru Kenyatta to be sworn in next Tuesday, 9th April, as the fourth president of Kenya. It also means that Mr Raila Odinga, Kenyatta’s main challenger, must return to familiar territory – the opposition.

In a sense this seems the most natural outcome. Mr Odinga has spent most of his political life in the opposition that it is difficult to envisage him in a different role. Indeed it might even be said that opposition politics is Odinga’s natural habitat.

By temperament and long historical conditioning, Odinga’s mind has been set on bringing down governments, not building them.

Even when he was in government, first in the Daniel arap Moi’s administration in the late 1990s and more recently as a joint principal in the Grand Coalition with President Mwai Kibaki, he always acted as if he were on the outside and opposed the set up that he was part of.

Mr Odinga is not alone in this. Most of his allies and advisors have a similar political mindset moulded during their long stay in the opposition. Many of them started as student activists against the Moi government and matured into politicians opposed to the same government. Others matured into civil society activism where they have remained. All have failed to make the transition from those earlier positions.

However, Odinga’s going back to what he knows best is not necessarily a bad thing. He and his associates are expected to provide a worthy opposition to the Uhuru Kenyatta – William Ruto administration, keep them in check and hopefully that should benefit Kenyan democracy and the wider East African region.

There is one proviso, though – that he keeps his coalition intact and other such arrangements survive the electoral outcome. That is doubtful.

If there is any serious contribution that Mr Odinga has made to Kenyan politics, it is the politics of coalition. Kenyan style coalitions are typically the coming together of political parties for the express purpose of removing an incumbent president from power or denying another accession to power. As such, they often reflect the interests of party leaders. Seldom are they formed on the basis of principle, ideology or common programme.

Because of this, coalitions and alliances are seasonal. They rarely survive beyond a particular election. And while Odinga has been behind nearly every political alliance in Kenya, he is also responsible for wrecking most of them. His track record in this respect is impressive.

His first involvement in making and breaking coalitions was with FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy) formed by his father, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Kenneth Matiba to remove Daniel arap Moi in the 1992 elections. Soon, FORD split into tribal and regional factions and the attempt to remove Moi from power failed.

Raila Odinga eventually left his father’s faction, FORD- Kenya and joined the National Development Party (NDP) to fight the 1997 elections, which Moi again won.

Soon after this failure, Odinga engineered the merger of NDP and KANU, the party he had quit before. He left KANU again following President Moi’s endorsement of Uhuru Kenyatta as the party’s presidential candidate in the 2002 elections. Together with Kalonzo Musyoka, his losing running mate in the 2013 elections, and some other disaffected members from KANU, he formed the Rainbow Movement and joined the Liberal Democratic Party,  which he led into a coalition with Mwai Kibaki’s National Alliance of Kenya (NAK), itself an alliance of smaller parties, to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). NARC defeated Uhuru Kenyatta’s KANU and Mwai Kibaki was elected president in 2002.

Odinga, however, was not happy within NARC, complaining that Kibaki had not fulfilled pre-coalition agreements about sharing cabinet posts. He and his associates subsequently left NARC and formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which he led in the 2007 elections. NARC as a national coalition was effectively destroyed, leading to the formation of other alliances.

Kibaki contested the election under another alliance, the Party of National Unity (PNU). He was declared winner. Odinga contested the verdict. Violence broke out in which thousands died or were displaced. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan brokered a Grand Coalition between PNU and ODM that saw Kibaki remain president and Odinga become Prime Minister. The conduct of government was, however, fraught with disagreements about practically everything, with the notable exception of the referendum on a new constitution.

The March 2013 elections were all about coalitions. Odinga led the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD), Uhuru Kenyatta, Jubilee and Musalia Mudavadi, Amani. There were other smaller ones.

Given Odinga’s coalition destruction record, will CORD survive till the next election, or shall we see yet another political alliance?

Mr Odinga will spend more time in the opposition for another reason – arrogance. His now infamous retort about governing the country from The Hague via Skype will surely haunt him for quite a while.

One will also recall his ill-advised derisive dismissal of a political scientist’s prediction of the election outcome based on the analysis of registered voters in given parts of the country – what he called the tyranny of numbers. As it turned out, the political scientist was right. Odinga was wrong.

The arrogance seems to have developed from what he interpreted as endorsement by Western leaders. He had hobnobbed with many of them on his many foreign travels and thought he was already president. Former US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Johnnie Carson, with his warning of consequences if Kenyatta was elected and the British High Commissioner to Kenya saying very much the same thing gave him further false confidence.

In this sense Raila Odinga behaved like some Rwandan politicians who put much store on foreign backing and completely ignore the local population. They have many interesting stories to tell about their folly. Now Odinga has them too.