Africa’s Next Security Threat

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You know sometimes we husbands don’t really have a choice when it comes to the rock of your home : your better half whom Adam referred to as “bone of my bone. This weekend, I headed to the market with the rock of my home hoping for a sabbatical from that peculiar type of people who never mind their own business and let husband and wife shop in peace. And as I hoped for the best, I also prepared for the worse just in case hell broke loose and demons presented themselves in the market equipped with their usual and quite familiar “hey Dr. Joseph, so you also frequent the market place like we bachelors do?” type of salutations. That was the last thing I even wanted to think of hearing! Many thanks to the gods who stopped naughty loquacious mouths, I never had the misfortune of such encounters. But something else happened and this is what has inspired me to write this piece.

20140824_105856It was last week when on my own volition (not a trace of duress), I decided to accompany my wife to the market to purchase quite some stuff for our kitchen and general home usage. And as I left home, I begun forming imaginary pictures of bemused and baffled male counterparts, looking at me and wondering just what the hell, I was doing at the market place. Interestingly and contrary to my expectations, I encountered fellow husbands walking side by side, holding hands with their wives as they smiled and shopped together! Was this Africa? But shock wasn’t done with me yet, from a close view, I could see relatively young men who were at the best guess dating or most preferably single. They too were here, not to buy the clothes they fancy these days or to just wander about in a lazy for-lack-of-what-to-do walk,no! These young men were actually buying food most of which had to be cooked before consumption.“Africa has really changed! This is a true transformation”. Truly,  the general  African perception about food and other home issues has tremendously undergone a significant metamorphosis into an all-inclusive process.

And with the shock still fresh in my mind and evidently aware that I was not the only “culprit”, I walked to a nearby stall owned by a mid-aged lady, who at the time of my arrival was somewhat lost in thoughts. I saluted her and introduced myself as a potential buyer, who was particularly interested in passion fruits and that information about the pricing would suffice in determining anticipated transaction. If I ever saw a pure undisturbed honesty, then it was on this day right there on the face of the lady as she informed me innocently that 1Kg of passion fruits goes for 3USD. That, by all standards was extremely for our local market rates, but, I decided to purchase the fruits nonetheless and   proceeded to the next stall where I met another vendor dealing in tomatoes. This particular lady had a huge stock of tomatoes and was very busy signaling the presence of her quality goods to approaching customers. Yet despite all, I managed to start conversation with her from which I  learnt that she and her colleagues lacked proper storage facilities for their commodities and that after every two or three days, especially when sales are down, they have to throw way some of the tomatoes which unfortunately rot and are rendered not fit for consumption. This last encounter encouraged me to walk around the market and do my own survey of the sort of needs assessment as we proceeded with the shopping. With our 300 USD spent, a lot of lessons learnt and many solutions crossing my mind, we slowly drove back home.

And now after much reflection, this is what I have to say;

If Africa cannot focus more on food production and double her efforts in promoting food production, food insecurity will hit Africa very badly. This is a problem that awaits us like a time bomb just waiting to explode sooner than we may think. I fear for a food problem, so gross in nature and deep in magnitude that it will prove more devastating and frightening than the current problems terrorism, insurgency, political instability in some Countries and the scourge of HIV and other diseases. It will be a menace- a total mess! Do we as African feel ashamed that 60% of the World’s farmable land is in Africa, and that it is here in Africa with naturally fertile soils, that pictures of emaciated bodies dying of hunger are no longer news? And that it is again here in our Continent where children spot inflated stomachs which are full of nothing but the disease of malnutrition? Until when shall diseases like Kwashiorkor and other related illnesses continue to rob us of our people?

Listen to me somebody!

As a people, we are beginning to accept the fact that access to food is our collective responsibility as can be seen on the various efforts we are making at individual and national levels. This is excellent! It is admirably commendable. It is encouragingly fantastic. But it is also dangerous! When everybody begins to appreciate the importance of fresh farm produce and engages in Agricultural endeavors that can only offer ephemeral solutions, we are only setting dangerous precedents. We must from the backs of our mothers and sisters, remove the burden of subsistence farming. We must commercialize our agriculture and boost our production or brace ourselves for the reality that the prices of such readily available fruits like passion fruit will continue to skyrocket.

African governments must adopt Green Revolution as a strategy to combat hunger and prevent future crises.The Agriculture sectors of our countries must undergo a paradigm shift from the current low productions to an agricultural environment which promotes productivity of land, strengthens the resilience of farmers to climate change (through introduction of viable crops), reward capital and labour invested in agriculture by ensuring that the current fluctuations in the price of farm produce is addressed and both domestic and international markets are made available for the farmers.

But this is not to treat the African Continent as a homogeneous entity. I am alive to the fact that in some African countries, production is not the problem but marketing and preservation of the produce from our farms. This brings me back to my reflections about the plight of the tomato vender, the lady who has had to throw away her goods due to lack of proper storage and preservation facilities.

How about if we began taking things seriously? What if our farmers were organized into manageable Cooperatives and assisted through loans and grants to boost their production? Is it possible that the problems of farmers which are typically represented by the situation of the ladies in my example be effectively addressed?

This is a question, the response to which I wish to hear from policy makers  from across Africa, those who meet in fancy hotels to discuss hunger, who travel to the capitals to attend conferences about food production while intentionally forgetting about the real stakeholders and those who might read this piece and dismiss it as mere scare mongering.
Something must be done, food security is not negotiable.

Dr. Joseph R Nkurunziza is a Public health Expert and Social Justice Activist. He can be reached at ryarasa@ryarasa.org

African People’s Suffering Due to Lack of Effective Leadership

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About three months ago, I received very sad news of a death that has to me, become reminiscent of the cancer that is eating away our African governance organs. Nakato aged 35 at the time of her untimely demise, was my classmate at the elementary level.The determined, intelligent and focused African beauty had great dreams not only for her country Uganda but also for Africa and the world at large; dreams that did not live to see the beauty of actualization.

On that fateful day, Nakato was admitted in Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda purposefully to deliver and hopefully to be a mother. Little did she know that by her entry into the Hospital compound, she was signing her own death sentence for the popular crime of “attempted procreation” . There i
n the revered National Referral Hospital, she laid, assured of a successful medical procedure which unfortunately never materialized because negligence had conspired with fate to robe her of her dear life. The course of death was recorded as “excessive bleeding during delivery” and satan not the system stood accused of this death that would have otherwise been prevented. Nobody was held accountable and probably many after her have succumbed to and will continue dying of the same fate in scenarios that are swept under the carpet of such platitudes as “we have greatly reformed our medical institutions.”
Maybe it is the pain of losing a friend or the respect with which I practice my profession as a medical practitioner that has driven me into writing this piece of work. Or perhaps it is my impatience with the mediocrity with which most of our policy and governance issues are addressed here in Africa. I’m completely deficient of any logical justification to the horrendous experience of having to lose a mother as a result of over bleeding in National Referral Hospital of  a Nation which is wealthy enough to spoil its politicians with extravagant and exploitative affluence.

Recently, my attention was drawn to a loud outcry of citizens in our neighboring countries; Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya about the gluttonous and stubborn refusal of their legislators to exercise restraint in their expenditure and to stop the impunity with which they embezzled public funds while at the same time, allocating themselves huge salaries. Debates, Hullaballoo and theatricals revolving around the demand by legislators to raise their salarieshave taken center stage evenas many people continue to die of poor healthcare. The gravity of this matter left me no other option, but to do surveyabout the salaries of legislators in 5 Countries within the Great Lakes Region.  On a monthly basis, Uganda pays each of its  378 legislators a salary of 6,100 USD, Tanzania’s 375 and Kenya’s 447 law makers  each takes home 7,000USD and 6,300 USD respectively.Burundi pays its 107 legislators 1,500 USD and Rwanda’s parliament (both senate and Chamber of Deputies). From this data, it is correct to argue and rightfully so that Uganda is economically stronger than my own Country Rwanda, but a comparison between the two states, reveals a completely different scenario.

After the 1994 genocide committed against the Tutsi which claimed over 1 Million lives, Rwanda was left in complete desolation. The infrastructure was extremely in bad shape, the institutional structures across the nation were deformed, infant mortality was very high and the security situation was precarious. But 20 years later, from those shackles of doom, Rwanda has made tremendous progress in key sectors of the economy to emerge as one of the most desirable countries in Africa. In Healthcare for instance, each of the 30 Districts of Rwanda has a well-equipped and functioning District hospital with two Emergency Ambulances. In addition, each of the 416 Sectors has a functional Health Center and the Government has ensured that every Citizen has access to affordable and reliable medical insurance. The Infrastructure of Rwanda has greatly improved, assured security, good road networks, sufficient street lights across the nation, clean and organized Capital, towns and neighborhoods among other things can be mentioned of the visible change in Rwanda but one would have to be a very brazen liar to list similar achievements in some of our countries, most of whom, have had no major conflicts that have had a negative impact on their economy.
So what magic or rocket science technique has been applied in Rwanda?

It is all about leadership and the choices that leaders make. Let us do a little arithmetic. If by all standards of decency, the Ugandan legislature took an unpaid Christmas holiday, one particular December of their choice and made a legislation authorizing that the money be used in the construction of a State of the Earth Referral Hospital, How far would they go in solving such problems as the one whose pangs, I’m currently addressing? That will be 375 MPs each donating 6,100 USD for a worth course, tell me people; won’t 2,287,500 USD be sufficient enough to construct and equip such an Hospital?  And remember, that will be in just one short month! No External aid will be needed and the donors might for once take a break.

It is very worrying that while their people succumb to preventable deaths, these legislators take most of their time discussing about their pay raise. Must a multitude of ordinary citizens carry pigs into parliament to demonstrate the greed of legislators (as was recently witnessed in Kenya) before a solution can be offered? Or will many more continue to die before we can begin to treat human life seriously.When the negligence of leaders begins to cause deaths and destruction across our nations, we must be worried because the impacts will spread to affect generations to come. Politicians must not be allowed to be what Ernest Benn described so eloquently, that 60 years down the line– The lack of vision in most of our leadership is aptly defined by his assertion that “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy.”

Dr.Joseph Ryarasa Nkurunziza-  is a Public Health Expert, social and Justice Activitist. He can be reached at ryarasa@ryarasa.org

We are Poor Because WE have Decided To be Poor

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      I recently went to the land office at District offices to pay land taxes of my plot. Not too late, I learned that the previous owner never bothered about taxes for the past four years! Who wouldn’t be shocked? I was left with a dilemma so big that made me do a bit of thinking and research. It is always good to understand the provenance and roots of every issue if one expects to propose a solution. Therefore, the issue of paying taxes is definitely a big problem; not only for the people but also for the majority of governments both in Africa and the rest of the world. 

      The people of African Nations must learn to be accountable to their governments to enable their governments to be accountable to them. If we, as a people, are expecting infrastructure and technology developments in our countries, we must help and work with the government. Development, Hospital facilities, even university scholarships for our brothers, sisters and our  children will not and CANNOT come out of thin air! We must realize that we are accountable to our governments if we are to expect anything back from them.

      Should the African people wait for Western nation’s Aid and support? Should the African people be fully and solely dependent on  charity from abroad? When would we be expected to move out of the stagnant poverty afflicting us and being the leading cause of most of our conflicts? Africa must get up and tap existing opportunities for taxes. Taxes are not meant to harm  people but to help the people and their nations. 

      It is high time that the African continent moves out of its dependency on Western support and aid. The source of this support is none other than the taxes of the western tax payers – the citizens of the western world. If these citizens are able to sustain themselves and even others, why can’t the African people? The government has to educate people to make them responsible and accountable. It is the duty of the government to make sure that the task of paying taxes is uncomplicated and straightforward.

       Going back to my dilemma, when I resolved to pay for the previous accumulated taxes, I was led to yet another problem. I first went to the  District land office to pick up the Land Invoice  and then to the bank for paying the taxes, . Then, I had to go to the sector office to  give the  bank slip to the accountant and be provided with a payment receipt. I again had to return to the district to get an acknowledgement receipt that would finalize my task. It took me six full hours to have the documents ready; thanks that Ihad requested for leave from my Job; from one office to another back and forth. I came to the point where blaming the citizens was unfair. It requires a lot of courage for people to run from offices looking for letters and receipts. This might be one of the reasons why citizens are reluctant to go through the hassle of paying taxes.

      The government, especially in this case of Rwanda, should utilize  Information Technology to ease the hassle of taxpaying. It should not be necessary to run through eight to ten offices to fulfill the duties necessary for taxpaying. I might not be close to Steve Jobs and types but here is a suggestion of software that would greatly help the taxpaying process. First, there should be, through  information Technology a software that would let the bank receive the required amount and send  a short text message(SMS)  directly to both the district and sector. These two offices should receive acknowledgement receipts from the bank in the name of the taxpayer. This would reduce the hassle of running from offices back and forth. The taxpayer should in turn receive an e-receipt from the  district and the setor acknowledging the payment. This would be the receipt that would be taken directly to the taxpaying main office (Rwanda Revenue Authority).

       Educating and encouraging the citizens to pay taxes should involve making the process more straightforward and trouble-free. Although the people are accountable to their governments, the government is also responsible for the delays and reluctance of its people. I do not think that there are many citizens who enjoy running in several offices for a simple letter or invoice. With the rise of technology, this issue should be addressed as quickly as possible as a means to encourage the citizens in their taxpaying duties.

       The poverty in Africa takes deep roots in ignorance and dependency; as soon as the nations and the citizens will take more efficient steps in making the taxpaying process citizen-friendly. These steps will play a pivotal role in moving the African citizen from dependence  of other people’s taxes  to autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Joseph RyarasaNkurunziza is a Public health Expert and a Social Justice Activitist he can be reached at ryarasa@ryarasa.org

The Power of the Young

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He alone who owns the youth, gains the future,” this statement carries much truth and weight especially in this generation. The international day of youth was held on August 12, 2014, in Kigali with the aim to celebrate the power and importance of the youth in bringing about change in a nation first, then in the world. There is a mighty power in the midst of our nation and it is our duty to utilize that power to bring out positive change.
Countries in the world, especially in the Great Lakes Region, have to realize the importance of the youth as partners of positive change and development. Governments, leaders, and policy makers must seek to implement relevant laws and policies that will empower the youth as pivotal citizens of the nation. The youth’s input is equally, if not more important as they hold the future of the nation. Every generation must be given room to bring about the revolution and change suitable to its needs and vision.
The international day of the youth’s should focus on raising the voice of the young especially in policy making bodies. There is much that could be gained from the young people of our nation. Their power to discover, explore, and create new things should be respected and empowered. The nation should provide the support and tools required to the youth in their endeavors because they are the source and actors of a change for brighter nation.
There are several committed, energetic, and proactive young citizens in Rwanda who instill hope in a better nation. Young entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and movements can bring about social change in the nation if provided with the right support and tools. There is hope that the issues that strike the region, even the world, have their solutions in the hands of the young generation.

Israel-palestinian conflict

In Palestine, ‘aid’ rhymes with ‘chahid’. Two months ago, Israel launched ‘operation protective edge’ (OPE). The latest conflict was triggered by the murder of three Israeli

Illusion that we can get there!

Illusion but we can get there!

youth who were studying in Palestine on 10th June. Israel responded by arresting a large number of Hamas and by air strikes. Hamas launched dozens of rockets into Israel and Israel responded with many more air strikes.

The Israeli-palestinian conflict may have its roots in the early 20th century. The issues around mutual recognition of borders and control of Jerusalem, Israel settlements have not been resolved. Israel and Palestine have failed to reach a final peace agreement.

To date, the death toll on both sides from hostilities in Israel and Gaza is over hundreds. Many children and civilians in general are the principal victims.

Hamas and Israel blame each other for not respecting numerous cease-fire. Netanyahou told CNN that ‘ Hamas is responsible for all deaths on their side and on our side because they are the ones who kept  the conflict going’.

The conflict has been the source of many peaceful manifestations all over the world.  In many countries today, although many have heard of the ongoing conflict, all we know is that the conflict is ongoing, bad and that there is a lot of hatred on both sides but no one knows the real source of the last conflict. One thing is sure, this conflict should not be about who started the war and why. Both sides have squandered conflict but Palestinians today bear the suffering. A new missile from Israel made a hundreds of civilian victims says Dr Zouhair Lana.

Did the so called international community resign?

Should Civilians pay the price for the irresponsibility of their leaders?

The conflict matters for the human suffering it causes. Countries have demonstrated their inability to effectively intervene and have failed in its responsibility to protect.

In front of this mass atrocity and killings of civilians in violations of the law of war, the shameful quietness of the international community is highly disturbing. Preventive diplomacy has failed to achieve sustainable peace and countries members of the Security Council do not share the same views on conflict.

Recently, the UN has condemned the shelling of the school in Gaza but at the same time added that there were weapons kept there.The two parties have failed to reach an agreement and have failed to protect their own citizens. This humanitarian crises calls upon the absent international community to evacuate citizens from Gaza since Palestine seems to be using its citizens as a shield to build a strong case. Israel should stop using guns to kill flies and hence make fewer victims.

This brings on the surface the terrible inability of the international community to prevent the Rwandan Genocide against Tutsis of 1994.But there again, the international community’s capacity to resolve this conflict is limited because of the ‘structural legacy of the cold war restricting multilateral actions.

At the human rights council, a resolution was adopted on 23 July to condemn strongly the widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights. It has been decided that an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights in Gaza, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014.

Whatever the case may be, while we are waiting for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, citizens are still dying.  And again to what extent should we trust the international justice? This is another controversial topic worthy of another debate.

No, citizens should not pay the price for the irresponsibility of their leaders. But this trend has been so common over the world that we are starting to question the whole idea of having states and leaders.

From article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stating the right to life, liberty and security of every person, the logical state responsibility is to protect and respect citizen’s rights to life. Palestine is failing to protect its own citizens and is arguably using them as a shield. Do Palestine value its own citizen? They should start before others can do the same.

Someone should teach  the palestinians that there are better ways of responding to such acts. As a human rights activist killing hundreds of Palestinians is inappropriate but this is a result of Palestinians leaders who have sacrificed their own by engaging them  in terrorist acts.