Tag Archives: politics

Biased western reporting on Africa

8 Oct

 

Many foreign writers on Africa are guilty of two extremes – condescension and too much praise, with the former being more dominant. It is easy to see why it is so much simpler to be disdainful. Arrogance does not require mental application. In fact, it shows a certain degree of laziness. All one has to do is follow a narrative that has been fashioned from the time of Africa’s contact with Europe to the present.

The middle ground – presenting Africa as it really is – is less attractive because it is more difficult. It requires patient study, clear analysis, objectivity and better understanding – all of which writers impatient to make headlines in major newspapers and on to quick fame sadly lack.

And so it was that Mr Geoffrey Gettleman published an article in the New York Times purporting to be an authoritative understanding of President Paul Kagame and Rwanda. Gettleman is, of course, no stranger to Rwanda. He has published many articles on the country – many of them so clearly inaccurate and biased that it is difficult to understand how his editors could pass them for publication. But wait. The narrative, of course!

In the strange world of Gettleman and the other occasional visitors, the number of his articles qualifies him to be an expert on Rwanda and East Africa. However, this has not made him more familiar with Rwanda or made it easy for him to accept what he sees as the reality. The reason is simple – it contradicts the laid down narrative.

In his recent article, he acknowledges the progress that Rwanda has made, but is quick to find an explanation for this “rare” occurrence – naturally outside Rwandans’ own efforts. 

For instance, Gettleman admires (grudgingly) the cleanliness of Kigali and the absence of plastic bags from the streets. He is quick to notice the absence of beggars and street children and other homeless people. But for him the reasons for this are not because Rwandans value tidiness and have social programmes for the most vulnerable members of society. He sees the heavy hand of government behind this. It has banned plastic bags, dictated that streets must be cleaned and carted off the homeless to a rehabilitation centre (which he doubts).

Gettleman is surprised by how secure Kigali is; he can walk at any time of the night without fear of being mugged. However, he does not see security as something Rwandans desire and deserve, but as an imposition by an authoritarian state.

Ordinarily Gettleman would find little fault with President Kagame’s leadership, which he credits with Rwanda’s progress in the short period following the genocide against the Tutsi. It seems it is too painful for him to accept this fact that goes against the predetermined narrative. It must therefore be tempered with a description of President Kagame as the typical African leader – intolerant, brutal, and oppressive and so on.

The problem is not that Gettleman and other so-called experts do not know what is right or that they are agonising to be fair and give credit where it is due and apportion blame where it is deserved. The issue is that what they see – that an African country and its people and leaders can make progress, however modest – does not fit the chosen narrative of Africans as inherently inept, corrupt and murderous, incapable of determining what is good for them.

To be fair to Gettleman, he did not start this narrative. It is part of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

It can be traced back to the earliest European adventurers (sometimes called explorers) who traversed Africa on behalf of various interests. In addition to staking out territory for their masters, they doubled as amateur anthropologists, historians and geographers. From these part time pursuits they passed down prejudices and inaccuracies that have become permanent points of reference, even by Africans.

Adventurers were followed by missionaries.  These stayed longer in one place and some were schooled in anthropology and ethnography and made some systematic observation of the societies among whom they worked. The problem was that they observed Africans through western intellectual lenses and used their own social organisation as a standard. Quite often, their conclusions were wrong and went to reinforce an already formed view of Africans.

They, too, passed down bigotry dressed as scholarship.

And in spite of preaching brotherly equality (they were not yet gender sensitive) the missionaries were also racist. The words of the celebrated medical missionary and philanthropist, Dr Albert Schweitzer, aptly summarise this attitude. He is reported to have remarked, “It it true the African is my brother. But it is also true that I am his elder brother”.

The chosen narrative about Africa was then taken up through literature. Writers like Sir Rider Haggard popularised the notion of the noble savage through his novels set in Africa.

In Mr Johnson, the Irish writer, Joyce Cary, presented the African as little more than a boy, incapable of understanding complex issues, but full of admiration for everything European. Luckily, something good came out of Joyce Cary’s racism. Chinua Achebe (RIP) wrote Things Fall Apart partly in response to the misrepresentation of Africans in Mr Johnson

Frustrated colonials like Karen Blixen in Kenya carried on the tradition in Out of Africa.

Today, the same narrative has been picked up by new agents.

First, there is the media (Gettleman and co.) whose general characterisation of Africans differs little from that of Rider Haggard or Joyce Cary.

Then there are the NGOs and various international agencies, which, in a bid to justify their chosen role as saviours and benefactors, seek to portray those they want to save as a people with a predilection to violence and self-destruction.

All these are fed by anecdotes of diplomats gained from chance conversations at the numerous diplomatic cocktail parties.

Even with the best of intentions, foreign writers will not be able to present to their audiences the real story of Africa, the struggles of its people and the motives of its leaders until they free themselves from the narrative imposed on them. They must get rid of the blinkers.

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Tanzania’s isolation in the East African Community

8 Oct

 

In June this year, the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda met in Kampala and then announced a plan with definite timelines to speed up integration in the East African Community. They have since met again in Mombasa and will be in Kigali soon.

There were two reactions to this development.

The first was that the three were creating a two-lane integration process – one for those who wanted to sprint and another for dawdlers.

The second was a signal that if the other two could not make up their mind about how they wanted the East African Community to move forward, they risked being left behind.

In both cases, depending on where one stood on the issue, the action of the three countries was said to be leading to the possible isolation of Tanzania and Burundi or to pulling them along to join the others.

Tanzania shrugged and scoffed at such suggestions, saying they were inconsequential and that the trio could go ahead with their plans. Some Tanzanians even claimed that not much could be done without their country since it was the regional centre of gravity.

That initial disdainful dismissal of what has come to be known as the tripartite arrangement has given way to realism. Now Tanzania and Burundi are chafing at being left out by the other three partner states. The prospect of isolation, or at any rate being left behind, is looming.

Indication that this change of attitude is happening came from a recent meeting of the East African Council of Ministers in Arusha.

A lot of good may come from the decisions of Presidents Paul Kagame, Yoweri Museveni and Uhuru Kenyatta to go it alone. They are now likely to pull along the other reluctant partners after all.

In many senses both the actions of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and the new response by Burundi and Tanzania had to happen at some point. Exasperation among East African Community enthusiasts with Tanzania for its slow pace towards integration was bound to trigger some reaction or other.

It is not a coincidence that the three countries chose to address the very areas where Tanzania has been less cooperative: single customs territory, non-tariff barriers, free movement of people, goods, services and capital, infrastructure and political federation.

For long the excuse of the Tanzanian leadership was that their citizens should not be stampeded into faster integration because there was no urgency and in any case they needed time to grasp the concept.

As it now turns out, that was only a pretext. Ordinary Tanzanians now recognise that the other three partner states are determined to go ahead without them. The prospect of achieving what they have set out to do is very real. The likelihood of isolation, or at the very least being left behind, is also becoming real and is being voiced by ordinary people.

Politicians are now picking it up because it is becoming a serious issue and likely to make them climb down from their arrogant position.

This change of attitude has obviously been forced on the Tanzanian leadership. They now realise they might lose out if the other countries establish a single customs territory and also start using a single-tourist visa. And despite repeated denials, plans to build the oil and transport infrastructure in the northern corridor will significantly affect the volume of cargo along the central corridor.

Already, there are examples of a climb down. Tanzania unilaterally hiked charges on Rwandan-registered trucks ferrying transit goods through its territory. Rwanda retaliated and raised charges on Tanzanian trucks. Tanzania cried foul but in the end backed down and reduced the charges they had set without consultation.

The decision was not, of course, a result of good neighbourly feelings. It was the product of hard-nosed business calculations. Tanzania has more trucks doing business from the port of Dar es Salaam to Kigali and on to northern Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was therefore bound to lose from a protracted tariff war.

The same considerations are probably coming into play with regard to the tripartite arrangements between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. The fear of loss and isolation will make the Tanzanian leadership find their East African feet and recognise that it is in their best interest to travel together with their partners and at the same pace.

They might yet rediscover the integrationist spirit of their predecessors. Historically, ideologically and even in practical terms, Tanzania was the most integrationist of the East African countries. This owed in large measure to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s Pan-Africanism and de-ethnicisation of the country, and the fact that the country was the home of nearly all liberation movements in East, Central and Southern Africa.

About ten years ago, all that began to change. We began to see the development of an inward looking nationalism and dangerous flashes of xenophobia.

That could yet change again and the previous enthusiasm for a united East Africa return. The fear of isolation and loss of business may bring that about.

US gets it wrong on Rwanda

8 Oct

 

In this region, some things never change regardless of the facts on the ground. For instance, when it comes to issues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda inevitably gets drawn into the mess even when it is evident that it has nothing to do with it.

And so predictably, last week the State Department announced that the United States government was suspending military aid to Rwanda. Rwanda’s crime? Aiding and abetting the recruitment and training of child soldiers for the M23 rebels in Eastern DRC.

When this was announced, there was a collective sense of shock and disbelief. What? Child soldiers in Rwanda? Impossible. Not in a million years!

I believe some in the State Department were equally flabbergasted by the utterly wrong and illogical accusation.

But in the Congolese jungle, now also inhabited by the United Nations and the big powers, logic is an alien concept; truth doesn’t matter; shock and puzzlement don’t count. What matters is to advance the plot of a narrative that has been created about Rwanda.

The accusation against Rwanda raises an important question. Who actually shapes the Obama Administration’s policy on the Great Lakes Region? Is it crafted by the State Department as indeed it should be? Or is it fashioned elsewhere and then brought to bear on the State Department?

Apparently, Obama’s Great Lakes policy is made elsewhere, not at State Department. This is why.

The United States embassy in Kigali, the US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) and the US military in general know and understand the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) very well. They all know its composition and reputation. They are aware it is a highly respected, disciplined, professional and an efficient fighting force. It therefore has no need or place for child soldiers.

The US military has cooperated with the RDF in training and peace-keeping missions. So has the United Nations.

All top AFRICOM Commanders, almost as a rule, call on the Rwandan ministry of defence and RDF at the start and end of their tour of duty, and many times between.

On the basis of all the information gathered by the different agencies, the US Departments of State and Defence have the correct picture of Rwanda and the region.

So where does this obviously misinformed policy come from?

For one, it has the unmistakable imprint of Human Rights Watch, the UN Department of Peace –keeping Operations (DPKO) and their media allies like Reuters, For some inexplicable reason, Human Rights Watch has President Obama’s ear and is able to influence his policy towards the Great Lakes Region.

For long Human Rights Watch has set itself in opposition to Rwanda. It has carried out a hate campaign against this country and attempted to implicate it in the anarchy, numerous rebellions and human rights abuses in the ungoverned Eastern DRC. This crusading rights group has done so through misinformation, lies and fabrication which are then spread as truth by their partners in the media.

None of this has stuck. Which is why they keep on rehashing it or looking for fresh accusations like the new crime called the recruitment of child soldiers. If everything else fails, surely thi will work. Apparently it is a worse crime than extensive massacres, mass rape, pillage, extortion and wanton destruction of property, and even genocide.

How else can one explain the complete lack of condemnation of the FDLR and the Congolese army’s adoption of the genocidal group as their comrades in arms? Or the total absolution of the DRC government from all blame by MONUSCO’s chief of child protection, Ms Dee Brillenburg Wurth with her laughable assertion that DRC has zero tolerance to the use of child soldiers? She has effectively become DRC’s spokesperson. A certain Mr Lambert Mende had better watch out.

There is another sinister motive behind the present accusation against Rwanda. It follows a familiar line peddled by MONUSCO and its parent body, the UN’s DPKO, Human Rights Watch and associated media, and the DRC government. They have always insisted that M23 is not a Congolese rebellion but rather a Rwandan creation.

Denying that the rebellion is a Congolese problem removes the responsibility for its solution from the DRC government and from the huge UN peace-keeping operation in the country. On the other hand, making it appear like external aggression gives the enemies of Rwanda, especially the foreign backers of the FDLR and remnants of the genocidal regime that created it the pretext to continue supporting them so as to destabilise the country.

Equally dangerous, the denial of M23 as a genuine Congolese rebellion with legitimate grievances is also denial of the right of thousands of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese to Congolese nationality. This is at the root of M23 grievances. It is hardly surprising that the so-called international community refuses to discuss the plight of Kinyarwanda speaking Congolese refugees in neighbouring countries. 

In seeking to punish Rwanda for crimes it has not committed, the Obama Administration is placing itself into a trap. First, it is ceding American leadership in the region to non-state actors and special interest groups as well as certain countries with a vested interest in the continuation of instability in the region.

Second, it risks becoming complicit in ethnic cleansing and probably genocide.  Neither of which does anything to advance peace and security in the region or globally, not to speak of Obama’s legacy in Africa.

Peace in DRC distant

6 Aug

Is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) anywhere near achieving peace? Hardly, even with the massive deployment of troops, huge expenditure and frantic diplomatic efforts. And this is why.

Firstly, there is growing evidence that the various organs of the United Nations are pulling in different directions in the search for an end to the conflict in DRC.

On the one hand, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appears to favour a peaceful solution to the conflict. He put a lot of effort in formulating the Framework Agreement for peace in the DRC and having it signed by the heads of state of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region. He also seems to support regional initiatives. The appointment of Ms Mary Robinson as his special envoy to the Great Lakes Region would also indicate his intentions for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

On the other hand, the UN peace-keeping department under Frenchman Herve Ladsous seems to pull in another direction. It supports military action and ignores, even undermines regional efforts to end the conflict. For instance MONUSCO issued an ultimatum to all armed rebels to disarm just an ICGLR Summit was meeting in Nairobi, Kenya to seek a more workable solution within the Framework Agreement.

MONUSCO was set up precisely to disarm armed rebels in DRC, but there is very little to show in this regard. Instead, it has partnered with some of them.

MONUSCO’s partisanship and the ultimatum it issued a few weeks ago are eerily reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda between 1990 and 1994. The French supported a regime that was clearly planning and later committed genocide. When the regime was facing certain defeat, its leaders, armed forces and armed militia were shepherded to safety in DRC (then Zaire) by the French who continued to arm them.

Apparently Ladsous’s MONUSCO wants to shepherd them back into Rwanda – arms, genocide ideology and all.

Pulling in different directions at the UN obviously complicates matters and leads to the question. Who actually runs the United Nations? It seems the Secretary General does not. A cartel of powerful nations and interests does.

Ban Ki-moon will trot to the different trouble spots across the globe and try to persuade groups facing off against each to come to the negotiating table and talk peace. He will smile to emphasise his peaceful intentions. Occasionally he will threaten and frown to signal the gravity of his mission. But that’s about all he can do because most of the time he will be ignored.

Ladsous will sit in New York and bully his way to achieve what his masters want.

All the powerful nations and groupings such as the United States and the European Union also have special envoys in the DRC to further their own interests which more often than not do not correspond to those of the UN.

Not surprisingly, President Uhuru Kenyatta was prompted to point out at the ICGLR Summit in Nairobi on July 31st that the UN in eastern DRC should “strengthen rather than complicate and overlap” peace efforts already initiated in that country.

Secondly, the money and effort are spent on finding the wrong answer to the problem in the Congo. The military solution that is now the preferred option in dealing with an essentially political and governance issue will not work. Insecurity in the east of the DRC and other parts of that huge, wealthy but ill-governed country is a consequence of bad governance, not inherent criminality. The proliferation of armed groups (as we have argued many times before) is a result of the absence of an effective state in the area.

No amount of money, no number of troops however well-supplied with sophisticated weapons, including drones, will fix the security and political problems in DRC.  The United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUC) set up in 1999 and its successor, the UN Stabilisation Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) and now the Intervention Brigade only add to the insecurity; they don’t end it.

Until all the money and effort are put to the right cause –  to strengthen the state and address the denationalisation of some Congolese, which is the root cause of the conflict, all attempts at pacifying eastern DRC will remain futile.

Thirdly, the deep involvement of the United Nations is itself a problem. I do not know of any troubled place where the United Nations has actually brought peace. On the contrary, wherever the UN has been involved, it has only succeeded in exacerbating the existing situation, often making a temporary territorial split permanent or helping fragment a country.

Examples abound. Two years ago NATO, with UN backing, attacked Libya to remove Colonel Muammar Gadaffi. The country has since been fragmented.

Congo itself is a classic example of UN failure from the 1960s to the present.

The lowest point of the UN getting it wrong was in Rwanda and the Balkans. In the former, genocide was committed while its peacekeeping force, weakened by the very organisation that had set it up, looked on. The genocide only ended when the Rwandese Patriotic Army resumed its offensive and drove the genocidal regime out of the country. In the latter, ethnic cleansing on a massive scale was systematically carried out as the UN watched. It took action by the United States and NATO to put an end to it.

Today, ethnic cleansing is happening in the DRC as the UN again watches, and if not checked it will turn into genocide. Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese and even Rwanda nationals doing legitimate business in the DRC have recently been arrested, taken to unknown places and tortured. The UN, whose mission is to protect civilians, has said or done nothing about it.

This time it even gets worse because the UN is complicit in the crime. Through MONUSCO, it has knowingly or through inexcusable negligence allowed the genocidal Front for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) to fight in the Congolese army’s ranks which it backs or as part of its own Intervention Brigade. This is bound to destabilise not only DRC but the whole region, and for this reason, peace remains distant.

Youth task Rwandans on forgiveness

18 Jul

Politicians in most of our countries swear by the might of the youth – at least in public. They say they are a very important section of society, that they are the future of the nation and that its very survival depends on them.

Of course, the youth are a very important, if vague, demographic, not just in numbers but in attitude and outlook to life.

With most young people what you see is what you get. They are full of energy born out of their very youthfulness, idealism and conviction that everything is possible. They are genuinely concerned about making a difference in the world. Most of them do not carry any ugly baggage from the past – no heavy guilt to weigh them down, not many scores to settle or favours to return, certainly no skeletons straining to burst cupboards.

Because of this, they have not yet developed a high degree of cunning, calculation, intrigue and hypocrisy that is usually associated with older people, particularly politicians. And politicians know this. That is why many political parties have youth wings/leagues or individual politicians use interns. They want to use the youthful energy and enthusiasm of young people to further their particular cause and in a sense to sanitise their not-so-pure positions.

But there is always the danger that idealism, once not realised, can quickly turn into disillusionment, enthusiasm into despair and energy get channelled into violence. Anyone watching the revolutions of the Arab streets and squares in North Africa and the Middle East must be aware of this.

Politicians also know the negative and dangerous potential of the youth and will therefore tend to keep them close so as to keep them in check. And so they become a sort of tool in the hands of older, more calculating and cynical politicians.

That is why politicians’ public pronouncements about the youth, or their response to demands by the youth to live up to their expectations, do not necessarily match what they think in private.

There is little sincerity in the many platitudes about the youth. Indeed, sometimes referring to them as the ‘future of the nation’, ‘leaders of tomorrow’ and many other things about a time that has not yet come is a cunning way of denying them responsibility for things happening now. It is a cynical way of using them to further certain ambitions while putting off potential competition. It is a way of saying, ‘yes, you are important, but your time has not yet come. You must wait’. By the time it does, they are no longer youthful and a lot of opportunity has been lost.

In Rwanda, however, the situation is different. The youth as the future of the nation is not an attractive but empty slogan; it is taken seriously in its literal sense. In fact, the role of the youth is taken so seriously that it does not have to wait for the future but is real here and now and an indispensable part of the present. And from their standpoint in the present, they want to leave the past behind and forge a new future where what counts is the contribution of everyone.

And they match words with action. They are entrepreneurs, leaders in government and non-governmental organisations and even politicians. They have taken the initiative on many issues without waiting for directions from government or other leaders. Often, they lead and government follows.

Rwandan youth have been so bold as to broach subjects their elders would consider taboo.  For instance, they have taken the lead in proposing that some Rwandans should seek forgiveness for their role in the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. Now, this is a matter about which some people get touchy, yet one that must be confronted.

It is well-known that many Rwandans were compli0cit in the genocide – either directly as planners and killers, or indirectly through inaction or the deliberate refusal to help those in distress. They share a sense of guilt and cannot run away from it.

Difficult as it may seem, many survivors of the genocide have unconditionally forgiven people who killed members of their families. Some killers, too, have asked for forgiveness and been pardoned.

Is it too much to ask those who killed or stood by as the killing was done, or turned away those looking for a place to hide from the murderers to seek forgiveness?

This is all the young people are asking. It does not merit the angry reaction from self-exiled Rwandans, some with good reason to ask for pardon.

More importantly, in doing this, Rwandan youth have shown that they have been liberated from the world still inhabited by their elders and are prepared to march on. As President Paul Kagame has observed, they are way ahead of the older Rwandans.

Significantly they have are not doing this from a political party position or on the instructions of anyone. They have taken a position based on the national interest and the direction they want Rwanda to take. It is in our interest to support them.

 

Arab spring scorched in desert summer

18 Jul

 

A few days ago, Mohamed Morsi was deposed as president of Egypt by the military following many days of mass protests. Mr Morsi had won the popular vote but was accused of promoting an Islamist agenda and stifling secular voices. So the Egyptian experiment in democracy has lasted barely one year.

That is a little longer than what the Palestinians experienced in 2006 when Hamas won in the legislative elections of the Palestinian Authority. United States President George W Bush refused to recognise Hamas’ victory. Hamas was accused of being a terrorist organisation.

But even that was a little better than the annulled victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS by its French acronym) in Algeria in December 1991. The FIS had won 188 seats out of 231. The army cancelled the elections in January 1992 and banned the FIS. Civil war ensued and lasted several years and killed thousands of ordinary Algerians. The FIS, although popular among ordinary Algerians, especially the poor, small traders and business people and rural communities, was outlawed allegedly because of pursuing an Islamist cause.

In Libya, the much anticipated democracy following the fall of Muammar Gaddafi is as distant as it has ever been. Libya remains a faction-ridden, militia ruled, largely lawless country.

Even Iraq where billions of US dollars have been poured and thousands of American troops died reportedly to remove a dictator and install a democratically elected government remains torn by sectarian violence. True, elections have been held, but along old factional lines. No real democracy exists there despite George Bush’s avowed aim of promoting democracy in the Middle East.

Many people are now asking questions. What is wrong with democracy in Arab countries? Is the much-touted Arab Spring being scorched in the Sahara and Arabian deserts in the summer?

The Western promoters of democracy face a huge dilemma (or do they?). Can they recognise and therefore endorse a democratic process in which the winners are their sworn enemies? Or are they prepared to reject a clear people’s mandate and call into question the very principle of free choice on which democracy is founded?

In the end, the dilemma is not that big, or at any rate Western democracies are not shy about preaching one thing and practicing another. They don’t mind about the contradictions.

In the ongoing Egyptian case, there is a great deal of ambivalence. No outright condemnation of the military has been heard, except from Senator John McCain. The US government has made vague noises. So has the European Union. Ironically the loudest voice has come from the African Union which has suspended Egypt from the organisation.

Instead there have been attempts to explain and rationalise the removal of Morsi from power. Tony Blair penned a piece in the London Observer titled “Democracy on its own doesn’t mean effective government” in which he tried to justify the course of events in Egypt and the West’s actions in the wider Arab world. It’s a brilliant piece. I only wish his analysis was universally applicable.

When Algerians were being killed in their thousands in the crackdown on the FIS, no western voice was raised in defence of the democratic choice of the people. None will ever be heard condemning the US government for refusing to recognise Hamas’ victory in Palestine.

All of which confirm western doublespeak where democracy is concerned. The people’s will doesn’t count when it does not serve their purpose.

Arab countries have not helped their cause either. Some of the political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and FIS and so on, have failed to make a distinction between religion and the state. There is an understandable difficulty. The western concept of religion does not quite fit Islam. For Muslims, Islam is not simply a set of religious beliefs and rituals for worship, but an entire social, political, economic and judicial system.

The trouble is, there is no agreement among Muslims about the extent to which Islam and the modern state should relate, and more particularly, the role of religious leaders in state organisation. Equally contentious is the place for people of secular or different religious beliefs in an Islamic country. Until all these issues are sorted out, there will always be problems of democracy in the Arab world.

Also, until democratic standards are applied universally and not selectively, the world will continue to experience fits and starts in establishing enduring democratic societies.

The democratic experiment in Egypt is not dead. It is going through a process of definition and refinement and hopefully will come out with a system that is able to accommodate divergent views and harness their power for effective government. That way Tony Blair will not have to labour to explain the difference between democracy and effective government.

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.