Archive | June, 2013

Rwandans never succumb to threats or blackmail

25 Jun

 

Rwandans have a way of shrugging off unpleasant things that seek to distract them from getting on with whatever task is at hand. They always have an apt response that is often a resolute and defiant statement with the strength of a solemn vow. The most current one is to say: dukomeze imihigo. A very liberal translation of this is: let’s stay the course, keep our objectives in sight and attain our goals. It is a way of saying; we shall not be distracted or diverted.

This has proved an effective rallying point for the nation – whether in nation-building or countering adverse events.

The latest such attempted distraction from our course has been the unsolicited advice from our good neighbour – President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania for Rwanda to hold talks with the FDLR terrorist group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We may not discount the good intention behind the advice. It was probably good neighbourly advice conveyed with neighbourly insensitivity. Or perhaps it was a message from elsewhere delivered with the bluntness of the impatient messenger. It could even have been a smokescreen for other motives. It does not really matter.

It does not matter whether the advice rose from a burning desire to join the ranks of that elite group of peacemakers and earn a Nobel Peace prize in the bargain. Sainthood, particularly on earth, is very tempting. You only have to desire it. Saintliness is, of course, less attractive. It requires a higher moral standard and degree of selflessness that most mortals lack. There have actually been publicly acclaimed peacemakers who have also stoked the fires of conflict.

Whatever the reason for the good neighbour’s advice, it certainly did not divert Rwandans from their course for long. It was meant with “dukomeze imihigo”.

And sure enough foreign experts and media were soon reporting imihigo that had been delivered. At the weekend, Foreign Policy Magazine’s Profitability Index ranked Rwanda the fifth best investment destination globally. The magazine projected that the country was now more likely to pull in more investors and that the resulting increased revenues would reduce the fiscal deficit and heavy dependency on aid.

Now, this was evidence of the benefits of staying the course and attaining goals. The news carried more benefits for Rwandans than debating whether it was or was not a good thing to sit, talk and even sup with the devil and at the end hug him and say all is well and he was no longer an outlaw.

Problem is the devil revels in being an outlaw. That is what gives him distinction and relevance. He is by nature destructive and asking him to build anything is demanding the impossible – to deny his very nature.

If President Kikwete’s advice was meant to distract, it has done the opposite. It has put people on their guard and made them more determined to not be derailed but to deliver more imihigo.

Before the most recent attempt to get Rwandans to take their eyes off the ball as it were, there were others with the same intention. These previous cases were also met with the resolute call for staying the course – dukomeze imihigo.

Only last year, an avowed FDLR apologist led a United Nations Group of Experts in fabricating a report that sought to make Rwanda responsible for the governance weaknesses in the DRC. The absence of the state in huge parts of the enormous country has spawned numerous rebel groups. The man, Steve Hege, and the people whose errand he was running spared no effort in trying to divert Rwandans from their path. They actually did manage to convince some countries to cut their support to Rwanda.

In the event, Rwanda kept sight of its goals, got elected to the United Nations Security Council and became a moderating voice on the council.

The economy did not crumble. Novel ways of raising capital were sought. The resilience of Rwandans was once again in evidence.

Interestingly, in other previous cases intended to divert Rwanda from its development course have been linked in some way with FDLR and the genocide against the Tutsi. Take the case of the French judge Louis Bruguiere or the so-called Mapping reports, for instance. Both were meant to exonerate perpetrators of the genocide by placing the blame on the victims.

They failed and Rwandans went on with their imihigo.

We have seen it all before – advice, threats, accusations of all sorts and blackmail. They have not distracted us from our course. Even today, the latest friendly advice will not divert Rwandans. Nor will it absolve those responsible for the genocide of their crime.

In the meantime, Rwandans will keep their eyes on their goals and move to attain them. Dukomeze imihigo.

Why Africa must get most from new media

25 Jun

 

Africa is the most sought after place in our universe. The next is perhaps outer space. But this is for a very small elite. On the other hand, Africa is being courted by everyone like she was the most and beautiful girl in this wide neighbourhood. Which, of course, she is.

China has come calling. It has actually been doing that for quite a while, quietly, sometimes unnoticed so that some people were caught off guard when they noticed its real intentions. But now it is so determined that it won’t take no for an answer.

India, too, is a very serious suitor. In the past India left its huge expatriate population resident in many African countries do its work. Lately, it has become clear that delegated courting is no longer enough. The stakes are high and the rivalry so intense that India has decided to be more direct about its intentions.

Japan does not want to be left behind by these up and coming Asian neighbours flaunting their new wealth and power. It has also joined the fray and last week hosted a conference in Yokohama on Africa’s development that was attended by many of the continent’s bigwigs. The Japanese have been doing this for the last twenty years (this year’s conference was the fifth).

All these countries courting Africa claim that they want to be part of the continent’s growth. And they go about it the same way – organise huge conferences to which they invite African leaders to come and show off their countries’ attractions. The Japanese call theirs the Tokyo International Conference for Africa’s Development (TICAD) that is held every five years. For the Chinese it is the Forum on China Africa Cooperation and it takes place every two years, which perhaps shows their urgency.

The increasing attention Africa is attracting has the west burning with jealousy. The west thought they had Africa in their tight embrace and all to themselves, well, until the new kids arrived. As so often happens where there are no rivals, the west had neglected and even mistreated her.

Now the appearance of serious rivals has rattled them out of their complacency and the fear of losing what they had always taken for granted has become real. And like someone who has been used to having things his way, the west initially responded predictably, with arrogance, abuse, threats, warnings – never an attempt to win her back. That is changing as they realise the competition is for real. That is one reason United States President Barrack Obama is going to Tanzania soon after China’s President Xi Jinping was there earlier this year.

This is not the first time that there has been such a rush for Africa’s fortunes. Nor are the reasons very different. The methods may have changed, but even then only slightly. The first time resulted in carving up the continent between various greedy and impatient suitors in order to avoid deadly blows over Africa’s bounteous beauty.

Today the story is very similar. The talk about being interested in Africa’s growth and wanting to be part of it is typical suitors’ talk – sweet, persuasive and sometimes even irresistible, but concealing the real desire of total conquest. In any case, no one will say their real intentions are to grab and own completely. The interest is Africa’s beauty, its resources, which are so dazzlingly inviting, they get those who eye them drooling.

Africa is getting wealthier, too, and that is another attraction. Who wants a poor person for a partner? The Indians know that very well. The poor bride, unable to stand the taunts of her in-laws, often douses and burns herself. Self-immolation is an Indian invention we certainly don’t want here.

In between, Africa was scarred by ideological fights by two distant rival bullies.

In all this rivalry, Africa has always come off worst. She has obviously failed to use her many charms to extract the best deal from rival suitors. Is it going to be any different this time?

One hopes that the presidents and their delegations (some of them incredibly and inexplicably large) use the opportunity at the meetings to learn about how the hosts got to where they are and come home and adapt the lessons to their countries.

Today’s African leaders, especially those sitting on newly found wealth, must surely have learnt from the folly of their ancestors who gave away Africa’s wealth in exchange for bottles of schnapps, cheap trinkets and other kids’ stuff. Many of them ceded entire countries to European adventurers and imperial agents by appending their signature – really an X mark – on agreements they could not read or understand. Sometimes this was done at the point of a gun, the promise of protection or after they were thoroughly inebriated.

Today, there are many agreements floating around seeking signatures for similar concessions. The guns have been replaced by the cheque books, but the schnapps, toys and other objects of vanity remain.

Still, Africa can play hard to get and extract the best deal from all these suitors. After all she holds what everyone wants. At this year’s TICAD Japanese Prime Minister pledged $32 billion, a fifth of which is to go to infrastructure development. In the last ten years, the Chinese have committed $75 billion, the United States $90 billion. What the Indians and Europeans are willing to offer can only match this.

This gives you an indication of Africa’s worth and why there is a veritable rush and competition to lay hands on her. This time, Africans must know the value of wealth of their continent and not give it away again for next to nothing.

 

Reports, indices as sorcery – the hidden truth

25 Jun

 

In 1972 Stanislav Andreski, a sociology professor at the University of Reading, published a delightfully provocative book about the scientific pretensions of social science investigation at the time. His broad conclusion on the matter was that most of the methodology was pseudo-scientific, or in his words, “most of what passes as scientific study of human behaviour boils down to an equivalent of sorcery”.

He was dismissive of their claims to truth. He noted that many social scientists make the claims they do, not because they have corroborated, diverse evidence supporting them as descriptors of reality, but rather because they desire their opinions to become reality.

Andreski was writing about social science practitioners, especially psychologists, conferences and publications that were mushrooming everywhere, all claiming to understand, explain and provide answers to the individual and societal condition. They all craved recognition as scholarly, scientific and relevant and worth serious attention.

He might very well have been writing about today and the proliferation of various reports, indices of every sort and such like from think tanks, foundations and similar bodies that sprout all too frequently. The indices of today, like the social scientists Andreski criticised, purport to measure anything – from the highly subjective subjects such as the state of a society’s well-being or perception of itself to the easier to measure economic development.

Today, anyone with the money or financial backing, or a cause to push can set up a foundation and commission a study into any imaginable thing. It is not far-fetched to imagine a Global Sex Orientation and Development Index with the finding that Africa remains underdeveloped because of its refusal to recognise GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans-sexual) rights.

All the reports, including the above hypothetical one, employ various scientific investigative methodologies, including a liberal splash of statistics, to convince us of their validity. In reality, however, most of the methodology is either faulty or self-serving, designed to reach a pre-determined conclusion.

The latest such Index to fit this description is the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index Report for 2013 that claims to measure the level of peace in 162 countries. The findings are startling. Countries, whose defence budgets are a mindboggling multi trillions of dollars, where arsenals of conventional weapons and those with a mass destruction capability (real WMD not the made up stories of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal) can obliterate the earth at the touch of a button, are listed among the most peaceful. Countries where gunmen walk into a school and shoot to death school children and their teachers, where organised crime and drug dealers rule the streets and eavesdropping on citizens’ private conversations is the norm are presented as the very model of peace.

On the other hand, where crime of any sort is so low as to be almost negligible (statistically), where citizens can freely talk in their sleep without the fear of someone listening in on their dreams, are surprisingly listed as among the least peaceful.

Rwanda was ranked 135 out of 162 countries surveyed. Rwandans and those who visit Rwanda regularly find this ranking difficult to understand. Foreign Affairs minister Louise Mushikiwabo was prompted to respond: “Anybody who thinks Rwanda is not peaceful certainly doesn’t have information or measures backwards”.

Professor Anastase Shyaka, CEO of Rwanda Governance Board, faulted the report’s methodology, pointing out that in the 22 qualitative and quantitative indicators used to measure peace, there was systematic mismatch between scores attributed to Rwanda and the reality on the ground.

The Global Peace Index Report follows other reports that have misrepresented the real situation in Rwanda. We have seen the Mo Ibrahim Report on governance and the various media and human rights groups’ reports. They all have one thing in common. Their objectivity is questionable because they tend to push a propaganda line. Their methods cannot be trusted because they measure difficult to quantify indicators and are selected to fit the chosen line.

Like the scientific pretensions of the social scientist Andreski criticised four decades ago, today’s various reports can be dismissed as sorcery or propaganda.

Reports such as the Global Peace Index confirm Andreski’s observation that they tend to express their authors’ desire to have their opinions or wishes become reality and that sophisticated statistical language lends scientific air to their pet hypotheses.

To be fair, the reports sometimes carry some truth. There are cases where no amount of statistical manipulation will alter facts.

But there are other cases where such reports conceal other insidious motives.

They are means with which to flog those countries that will not easily fall into line. The method is simple. Show the irreverent lot who want to go their independent ways that they are nothing after all, that they are no better than the rest, that what they say are achievements are simply hollow claims.

More dangerously, it has the effect of sowing doubts and undermining confidence among ordinary citizens and foreigners alike (friends, partners and visitors) that what you see is not what actually is. That is the intended impact of sorcery – to cause uncertainty, disbelief and confusion in one’s own ability on the one hand and create dependence on the sorcerer to unravel complicated things for you on the other.

Were Stanislav Andreski alive today, he would certainly warn us against the sorcery of today’s reports and indices. He would be right.