Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rwanda: Repressive or Responsible?

I am sure the Rwandan government will be blasted for their recent suspension of BBC broadcasts in Kinyarwanda, accused of being authoritarian and repressive. But before anyone jumps to conclusions I would like to see what was actually said, specifically by Faustin Twagiramungu, the former Prime Minister who now lives in exile in Belgium.

This is as much as I could glean, as reported by the AFP:

During the programme, Radio Rwanda said, former prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who now lives in exile in Belgium, said that as a Hutu, he could never give in to Tutsi demands to apologize for the 1994 genocide.

The government had this to say of the situation:

"We have suspended all BBC programmes in Kinyarwanda because they had become a real poison with regards to the reconciliation of the Rwandan people," Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo told AFP.

"We could no longer tolerate that," she said. "The Rwandan government shall protest strongly, until the BBC can give us guarantees of responsible journalism."

The editorial in Rwanda's New Times comes down hard on both the BBC and the international community, concluding:

Even as we prepare to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, under the broader theme to do with the role of media in national reconciliation, the behavior by the BBC in Rwanda leaves us with much to ponder on.

Rwanda has every right to take exception when her history and efforts at moving on through reconciliation are insulted. Just like any other country reserves that right.

In Germany those who deny the Holocaust face judicial processes. Dutch politician Geert Wilder was banned in London and indicted in Holland for his radical anti-Islam views.

As I have mentioned before, those who discuss Rwanda are often polarized, either adoring or despising the government of Paul Kagame, and I think both sides are too quick to judge. Whether the response of the government in this case was an overreaction is impossible to debate (much less determine) without knowing what was being said on that particular show, and without fully understanding the social and political climate in Rwanda today.

Michael Keating of World Politics Review says the sheen has come off Kagame. Human Rights Watch demands Rwanda restore the BBC to air, saying:

"This suspension of the BBC reflects the Rwandan government's growing crackdown on free speech," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "If Rwanda is truly committed to the fundamental right of free expression, it should allow differing viewpoints on genocide issues and related government policies."

Meanwhile, just to demonstrate the degree of this polarization, on the adoring side we have Pastor Rick Warren, who has just nominated Paul Kagame as one of TIME magazine's 100 Most Influential People, gushing:

Kagame's leadership includes a number of uncommon characteristics: One is his willingness to listen and learn from to those who oppose him, and even find ways to partner with them.

When Stephen Kinzer was writing a biography of Kagame, the president gave him a list of his critics and suggested that Kinzer could discover what the president was really like by interviewing them. Only a humble, yet confident, leader would do that.

Another uncommon characteristic is Kagame's zero tolerance for corruption. Rwanda is one of few countries where I've never been asked for a bribe. Anytime a government worker is caught in corruption, he is publicly exposed and dealt with. It is a model for the entire country - and the rest of the world too.

So the debate continues...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday rant on good intentions

I hate to harp on this, but the whole LRA/Northern Uganda/Invisible Children issue is still grating on my nerves (is that the phrase?). I just came across an article by Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy in the Huffington Post on Invisible Children's "Abduct Yourself" event tomorrow. I don't especially want to get into another debate on IC and the work they do/have done, but I want to say that how you approach and write about an issue or situation matters. For example, someone who did not know anything about Northern Uganda would have every reason to believe that the LRA was still active in this country after reading Wentz' article.

He writes:

I watched the film Invisible Children: Rough Cut a while back, about kids sleeping in the streets in Northern Uganda -- hundreds of them -- because they feared being abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony and forced to fight in his rebel militia, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). They're kids. Except no one told them they were, so they carry AK-47s, kill their parents and murder, rape and terrorize their own people on command. In the past two decades, 30,000 of them have been abducted. This is a reality neither you nor I could ever begin to understand. It was one of those times in my life where I was given a choice -- continue ignoring the issue because it wasn't in front of me, or forget about myself and do something. I was losing sleep, I had to go to Africa. My band Fall Out Boy traveled to Northern Uganda to film our music video "Me and You" to see it for ourselves and my experiences have forever changed me.

Everyone I met, everywhere I walked, with every step, the hardwiring in my brain began to change. I was quiet. Every time I wanted to complain, I made sure to bite my tongue instead. One day, we were stopped by some local men holding machetes; they wouldn't let us pass. The fear I felt was paralyzing, but I looked into the eyes of these men and all could see was desperation. A pervasive hopelessness. These men stood at the mercy of a twenty-three year war.

Of course, the LRA are still active and wreaking havoc in the region (namely in Congo). They are continuing to abduct and kill with impunity, there are still many children whom they have taken captive, and whom they have forced to do terrible things. This is unacceptable, outrageous and terrible. It must be stopped. But I am not at all sure that Wentz himself knows that there is no longer a war going on in Northern Uganda.

There are many issues in Northern Uganda that may be publicized, but war is not one of them, and it doesn't really do anyone any service to suggest that the war is still ongoing there. If anything, it continues to make the country sound like a scary and dangerous place (the whole "heart of darkness" thing, a line I wish had never been written). We are working on recovery and redevelopment, people are returning home and trying to begin their lives afresh.

I am more than happy to pressure government to get on with the promised PRDP already, to demand more from a Prime Minister who had never even been to the north until last year. But I am so sick of hearing self reflections and misrepresentation of the many challenges there actually are in the region, especially from people who come for a week or two and leave thinking they understand the whole of the situation. You had to go to "Africa" because you were losing sleep? Give me a break.

Anyway, I'm glad if this publicity will help people find Uganda on a map. I'm glad lots of young Americans want to make their world a better place. I'm even glad if Mr. Wentz' trip has made him appreciate his own life a little more, or to think a little less about himself. Nevertheless, what you write and how you present yourself and your "cause", whatever it may be, matters. Good intentions do not always save the day.

End rant.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cope can't cope

So the results are mostly in for South Africa's national elections, held yesterday. The ANC has won nearly two thirds of the votes counted so far, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) picking up close to 20%. Cope, it seems, however, is not coping so well, winning less than 10% of those counted so far.

The biggest lesson to be drawn from the early results is that Cope, which so many South Africans had hoped would turn into a viable alternative to the all-powerful ANC, has done worse than most people thought it would. It may now fizzle out.

Says the Economist.

Meanwhile, the next biggest question is, with so many wives, who will be Jacob Zuma's first lady?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Burundi is rebel-free

But the challenges are far from over.

African Union troops are physically disarming 21,000 fighters from Burundi's last active rebel group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL).

It follows a weekend ceremony where FNL leader Agathon Rwasa symbolically surrendered his own weapons to the AU.

A grenade attack killed six people but the BBC's Prime Ndikumagenge says it was not linked to the rebels.

But he says it shows how many weapons are circulating in Burundi following more than 10 years of ethnic conflict.

According to the AFP news agency, estimates put the number of weapons owned illegally at between 100,000 and 300,000.

Reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has issued a call to find the killers of Burundian anti-corruption activist, Ernest Manirumva, who was murdered earlier this month:

(Bujumbura) - The Burundian authorities should ensure a speedy, independent, and thorough investigation into the killing on April 9 of prominent anti-corruption activist Ernest Manirumva, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation should lead to the prosecution of those suspected of responsibility for the murder.

In the early hours of April 9, 2009, unidentified assailants raided Manirumva's home and stabbed him to death. Police and colleagues told Human Rights Watch that files were strewn around his room, and that it appeared documents had been taken from his house. Manirumva was vice president of the Burundian civil society group Anti-corruption and Economic Malpractice Observatory (Observatoire de Lutte contre la Corruption et les Malversations Économiques [OLUCOME]). Since January, Manirumva, a highly respected economist, had also been vice president of an official body that regulates public procurement.

"Manirumva's work threatened the interests of corrupt officials and businesspeople who prey on Burundian society," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Those responsible for his death should face justice. That would send a clear message that silencing critics is totally unacceptable in Burundi."

Manirumva's death sent shockwaves through Burundian civil society. Neighbors found his body just outside his home early last Thursday morning and notified police. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that a bloodstained folder lay empty on his bed, suggesting that documents inside had been removed....

Monday, April 20, 2009

Workshops wasting time

So government (or at least Musa Ecweru) has finally realised that workshops are a waste of time. But only in Karamoja apparently. In Kampala, where you could find no less than 30 workshops (at least) per day, they are...productive? At least they are a good place for free snacks, tea and coffee...and lunch if you're lucky!

I like that government is making an effort (however feeble) to regulate NGOs and not the other way around for once, but the logic in this case should apply countrywide -- not just to where Mrs. Museveni is trying to make a good impression in her first cabinet posting.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika

This has to be my favorite national anthem (this version with Miriam Makeba). In fact I once tried to turn it into a title for this blog, but it proved far too lengthy/difficult to remember how to spell...

Anyway, back on the subject of elections, South Africa is next week (April 22) holding its national elections, with the African National Congress (ANC) set to win by a landslide (again) and Jacob Zuma to be elected the country's next president.

But politics in South Africa is not what it was in the 1990s after the fall of apartheid, especially with the dawning of the ANC breakaway party, Congress of the People (COPE -- quite a fitting acronym...), founded by disgruntled former ANC members following the ousting of former president Thabo Mbeki.

"The ANC is poised to win a convincing majority in national polls on Wednesday on the back of an effective electoral machinery and a resurgence in the populous province of KwaZulu-Natal. But beneath the headline figures, which will likely see the party coming close to the critical two-thirds majority it so urgently wants, there are signs of an important change in the political landscape. The ANC’s victory portends an arguably more significant realignment: a shift in the political landscape which could see the Democratic Alliance and Cope work closely together and so begin the work of crafting a governing alternative for future elections."

Says the Mail & Guardian, discussing what the ANC victory means. The Economist also has quite a comprehensive piece on the subject, and you can catch all the latest on AllAfrica...

Friday, April 17, 2009

How to feel like a little fish

in the big sea of democracies... look at India!

India's general elections are currently underway, occurring in 5 phases over the course of a month. The number of voters in Uganda during the country's 2006 presidential and national elections -- 7 million -- was just slightly higher than the number of staff reported to be working on India's election (6.5 million, though some estimates go up to 10 million!)

Some numbers to boggle your mind:

4,617 candidates
300+ parties represented
543 seats being contested in the Lok Sabha
828,804 polling stations countrywide
714 million eligible voters
1.3 million electronic voting machines
$400 million spent on the election
2 million security personnel deployed
5 voting phases across the country over the course of April and May 2009

Also, something to consider -- why does it cost more for some countries to execute an election than others? I calculated that it cost Uganda about $3.50 per eligible voter in 2006, and it is costing India about $0.56 in this year's election....hmm...

(Illustration by Jon Berkeley via The Economist)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saving Survivors or Surviving the "Saviors"?

There is already a lot of heat surrounding the latest book by Ugandan-born Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors. Those whom have been involved in Save Darfur and similar campaigns have taken offense to Mamdani's harsh criticism of their involvement in Sudan. I have just gotten my hands on a copy and so cannot make an informed opinion of the book, but I am excited to jump into it.

In the meantime, Alex de Waal, director of Justice Africa and expert on Darfur, has reviewed the book here in the Monthly Review. Howard French of the NYT has reviewed it here. And the blogs are hopping, with Easterly chiming in on Aid Watch and a lively debate taking place at the SSRC blog, among others.

Anyone read it yet who'd like to comment?

Blogging Kagame's university tour

Rwandan president Paul Kagame's recent trip to the U.S. has got people talking, particularly about his emphasis on technology and education investment.

It is still too early to judge, but I am enthusiastic about the present Rwandan government investment strategy to initiate the necessary infrastructure to take the technological momentum and unlock the private sector possibilities- building of a national fibre network, roll out of national WiMAX access, a Kigali technology park and business incubator and external fibre landing stations to connect Rwanda to the coming east African undersea fibre. The strategies success or failure will hinge crucially on handover of the impetus to private sector actors. Indeed now it is up to private enterprise, foreign investment and the countries talent to sustain this momentum and fulfil Vision 2020’s ambition of Rwanda as a regional technology and telecommunications hub.

Says Jim Cust, writing for the Bottom Billion Blog.

Africa Unchained also linked to Kagame's lecture at MIT.

President Kagame will also be visiting Stanford University this month. These are the details I have dug up for those who are interested and in the area:

The Impact of the Global Slowdown on Africa
President Paul Kagame, Republic of Rwanda

April 24, 2009, 4:00-6:00p.m.
Stanford Faculty Club
RSVP's required and accepted on a first come first serve basis.
Stanford students must show Stanford ID.

RSVP Dafna Baldwin (650) 725-6668 or dafb@stanford.edu

Check it out and judge for yourself...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Debating Rwanda

Starting a conversation about Rwanda is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. Observers of the small East African nation are often polarized in their views of the country's governance -- either President Paul Kagame is an inspirational genius getting things done in a country that was hacking itself to death just 15 years ago, or he is a brutal dictator, quashing the opposition, press and anyone else who threatens his power or so much as mentions the words "Hutu" or "Tutsi". Whichever side you take, it is nearly impossible to talk about Rwanda without talking about Kagame. Because for many, Kagame = Rwanda (which is not to suggest that this is the way he would want to be perceived).

During the 15 year commemoration/remembrance of the 1994 Rwanda genocide last week, there were a flurry of articles and blog posts written on the subject, some applauding and others criticizing Rwanda's current government. You could almost wonder if you were reading about the same country while reading two articles like VOA's "Rwanda Gacaca Criticized as Unfair for Genocide Trials", and then "Rwanda 15 Years On" by Josh Ruxin, director of Rwanda Works and Columbia University public health expert.

Meanwhile, human rights organizations have also been hard at work to publicize their own assessments. Human Rights Watched published a news story last week titled, "The Power of Horror in Rwanda" in the Los Angeles Times and lists many more country reports here. In their 2008 Annual Report on Rwanda, Reporters Without Borders wrote: "
Appalling relations persisted between the government and a section of the independent press, especially the more highly critical publications..."

If you talk to journalists and some members of the diplomatic community in Uganda, you will hear stories of journalists being deported from Rwanda, picked up at their offices and driven to the airport without time to even collect their belongings, you will hear of the arrest of those who speak critically of the government, you will hear of those who have fled the country to escape imprisonment...you will even hear of those who have been disappeared. I cannot speak the truth or accuracy of any of this. What I have heard are second, third or fourth hand accounts.

What I have experienced first-hand is Rwanda (and specifically Kigali) today. I have visited government officials in their brand new office buildings, I have driven (been driven) on smooth roads, I have run on clean sidewalks and walked alone at night without fear, I have seen how patients are treated with care (and medicine...and new machines) in Kigali's main referral hospital, I have met with investors and seen plans and blueprints for beautiful hotels and resorts around Rwanda. And I was impressed by it all.

This is not to say that everything in Rwanda is hunky dory everywhere all the time. Rwanda is a very poor country, with fewer resources and human capacity than Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania (in fact the country is soaking up talent from all over the world in its hospitals, universities, etc). Many people are concerned about what will happen in the next 5 or 10 years. They wonder whether Kagame will step down, or if he will become like so many African leaders before him, refusing to relinquish power. Being the optimistic person that I am, I of course am leaning towards the former. But these are critical years for Rwanda. These are the years in which systems, institutions, and capacity must be built if peace and development are to continue in an era post-Kagame or even post-RPF.

What I can say is that it is almost impossible (if not entirely impossible) to put oneself in Kagame's shoes. He has and will make mistakes, as any leader will do.
But I think as outside observers to Rwanda's development we should ensure that in being critical, we are not unwittingly being hypocritical instead.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"Commotion" prevents rape in Sierra Leone

This has been circulating around a bit, but I found it so outrageous/hilarious/absurd that I had to share here as well. Wronging Rights stumbled across a recent press release from Weyone, a "a public information outlet for the ruling All Peoples Congress political party" in Sierra Leone, in which the APC refutes allegations that women were raped by security forces last month at the headquarters of the opposition, the Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP).

The press release, titled, "We Meant No Harm to Womanhood and Reaffirm That Alleged Rape Is a Mere Fabrication" asserts, among other things, that the rape could not have occurred as it is alleged because:

"Under normal circumstance nature prevents the male penis from erecting when the individual is under threat or acting in a commotion. Even during war time incidents of rape occur when all is calm and quite and not when the battle in raging.
Thus, considering the circumstantial evidence, it is again very doubtful that the alleged victims indeed suffered from rape at a time when bottles and stones were being hurled from different directions..."

I'm sure this will be news to the hundreds of thousands of women who have been raped in wartime across the world.

For a far wittier evaluation of this incredible defense, see the original post on Wronging Rights, "In Which We Learn Something New About Penises."

Friday, April 10, 2009

More on torture...

From the Great Lakes Peace and Security blog, an extended interview with the author of the HRW report on torture in Uganda, Maria Burnett.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Torture in Uganda

Torture has been a sensitive subject for the government of Uganda, and has led to the arrest of journalists who cover the topic. Human Rights Watch today released their 89-page report, "Open Secret: Illegal Detention and Torture by the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force in Uganda."

An article highlighting information related to the killing of four suspects can be found here.

A summary of the report, published in the Daily Monitor, is below:

JATT is torturing suspects - report

The Human Rights Watch will today release a report in which the Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force (JATT), an arm of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, is expected to be accused of wide-scale use of torture and illegal detention of suspects. The report is expected to put the government’s rights record in the spotlight.

Conducted between August 2008 and February 2009, the report lies on testimonies from former detainees.
This won’t be the first time the rights body takes issue with the government on abuse of human rights and freedoms.

Past reports have accused the government of torture, questioned transparency of security agencies and general transgression on the rule of law.

The last human rights report condemned the 2006 election violence, intimidation of the Opposition and raised concerns of fairness ahead of the 2011 elections.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

When the beater is beaten, who wins?

This morning in Mulago hospital, a young man lay on a stretcher in the emergency ward, the side of his head split open over a lump that had swelled to the size of an apple. "Mob justice," explained a nurse. "They were found beating a woman, and so they were beaten." In the hall outside the room, two police officers waited for their suspects to be released. In the next room, patients waited to see the triage nurse, to register, to be whisked away to the appropriate ward, some of which remained too full to admit new patients.

I hoped the young man would make it, but I couldn't help thinking that he was taking doctors and nurses away from so many other patients who hadn't landed in the emergency room for beating someone (if in fact the story was correct, which it sometimes is not in the case of mob justice). I am sure the police saved the young man and his accomplice from the certain death they would have encountered at the hands of the mob.

According to Uganda's 2008 Annual Crime Report, released last month, the incidence of mob justice is on the rise. The statement read by Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura, "Last year registered a 100% increase in cases of mob action leading to death, from 184 cases in 2007, to 368 cases in 2008. Of these instances, 232 suspects were lynched on suspicion of theft and 59 on suspicion of murder. Suspected robbers, burglars and witchdoctors were other categories of persons murdered through mob action."

He continued, "I am putting the public on notice that no one shall be allowed to take the law into their own hands, whatever the provocation or perceived justification. I have given strict instruction to the CID to apprehend and have all persons involved in mob action charged with murder."

I am not sure what the apparent increase in prevalence of mob justice indicates. The obvious explanation for mob justice is that people feel that the legal justice system does not work for them and therefore must take matters into their own hands. But why more so now than before?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Want a Condom? Think again in the land of ABC

Uganda has long been hailed for its success in fighting HIV/AIDS, bringing prevalence rates from a high of 20-30% (depending on estimates) to 6%, where it has remained for the past several years. The success was attributed, among other things, to the ABC campaign -- abstinence, "be faithful" and condom use. Well, I'm not sure about either the abstinence or the being faithful bit (though a new effort is being pushed forward with the be red campaign), but condom use remains tricky around here.

New Vision ran a fascinating piece in their Sunday edition, sending out reporters around the city/country asking to buy a condom from various shops. Results were mixed, but in general most were ridiculed, laughed at, or looked down upon for their purchase, where they were able to make it. It seemed to me the women fared worse...The men's accounts are here and here, the women's here, here and here.

This combined with the not uncommon idea that using a condom during sex is like eating candy with the wrapper on...

In any case, for those who thought promoting condom use abroad would be as (relatively) easy as it has been in the U.S. (where you often have 12 year olds putting condoms on bananas during sex ed class) should seriously think again, even in countries that have been supposedly successful in the fight against HIV/AIDS....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rwanda Rising

Nobody likes to say "No, Mr. President." So three years ago, when Costco CEO Jim Sinegal got a call from shareholder Dan Cooper, a partner in Chicago's Fox River Financial Resources, asking if he'd have lunch with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, he agreed. That meeting in New York led to a presidential stop at Costco HQ near Seattle. Which led to Sinegal's promise to visit Rwanda. "I made it in a moment of weakness," he says, "before I realized how long it takes to get there." He ended up taking his whole family, and today Costco is one of the two biggest buyers of Rwandan coffee beans -- about 25% of the country's premium crop, by Sinegal's estimation. Without Cooper's introduction, "no way would this have happened. I knew the Rwanda story, but I wasn't intimately involved," Sinegal says. "It took more elbow grease to get this started up, but it has been very profitable. Good for us and good for them."

From the article in Fast Company magazine that CEO of Rwanda Development Board, Joe Ritchie, had mentioned in our interview last week in Kigali. Fortune magazine also addresses the issue of why CEOs love Rwanda.