The International Day of Peace: Peace is not just a word

By the grace of good Heavens, we are in September. Since 1982, on very 21st day of each September in every year, the world observes the International Day of Peace; a day “devoted to strengthening the ideas of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples”. This years’ International Day of Peace celebrates the 30th anniversary of the UN General Assembly Declaration on the Right of peoples to Peace and has in this regard, adopted the theme, “Right of Peoples to Peace.”

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What a theme! Appropriate, relevant and spot-on. This is certainly a theme to reflect on, first because of it’s congruence with the theme; “The next 50 years, The Africa we want” which was the focus of the 2014 African Development Bank Annual Meeting held here in Kigali-Rwanda. The second reason for this reflection is personal -my nationality. In Rwanda, Peace and Reconciliation are household terms for they are key pillars to all that as a nation, we feel very proud to associate with today, bearing in mind from how far we have come. To marry the two reasons, The Africa or the World we want, will only be a reality if we formulate and implement policies that encourage Peace and Harmony within and among states. We may have great economic emancipation plans for our Nations and Continents, but all these will be in vain without peace for it is not unknown to us that the rage of war can in one day, destroy what generations have built over the years .Meaningful progress in the plans of nations can be only be realized if peace is considered as a mandatory precondition of development and as an enabling impetus in the sustenance of Development and advancement.

But what is this peace and just why is it so important? As global Citizens, what is our conception of peace? Is peace as a concept, limited to the lexical definition of “a state of freedom from disturbance”? Or is it simply (as others would say) the amity caused by the absence of war?

A good majority prefer the above definitions of peace, others however subscribe to the assertion that peace is when we “are able to resolve our conflicts without violence and can work together to improve the quality of our lives”?  And yet to others, pace is being calm and safe, caring for one another, having inner peace, having a quiet time, getting along and keeping good friendship. Personally, I agree with all these views and I tend to think that the combination of all these views is what we should call peace. Nonetheless, I must add that good governance is the soil on which peace grows. Fair accesses to and distribution of resources, become the conditions necessary for the germination of the seed of peace and finally,  elimination of discrimination and fostering of mutual understanding, tolerance and unity are the fertilizers that help the seed to grow.

The observance of International Day of Peace means more than just an International event to Rwanda. As we celebrate this day, we also remind ourselves as a people of what we have achieved in peace just 20 years after the horrific brutalities which marked the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in which more than a Million lives were lost.

As we celebrate this day, we also acknowledge the fact that our development story cannot be told in isolation without Peace and Reconciliation. In so doing, we appreciate the inextricable link between peace and reconciliation on one side and economic development on the other, noting with evidence that just as peace is necessary for development, attainment of development eliminates conflict areas by making life affordable and desirable.

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This great day is a reminder to all of us that peace should never perish. It helps us to understand in our own local context that whenever there is peace in a country, it enjoys political stability which creates an enabling environment for both local and international businesses. Wherever there is peace, investors will always come knocking and when there is peace, security is guaranteed to people and property which encourages wealth creation.  Peace and reconciliation replace mistrust with trust and help a society to build confidence in team work, replacing animosity with harmony and guaranteeing fairness before the law by punishing corruption and impunity.
How then can Peace miss in our developmental agenda? Blessed International Day of Peace to all of you friends!

African leaders should see through the lenses of their people

Last week, I went on a road trip to a village in Rwanda called Kaduha, in the Southern province ,to visit a stranded yet modernized health facility. This hospital, in the middle of just nowhere, was 48km from the main road. The trip from the main road took me about two hours in the nice Land Cruiser V8 that I was driving, specifically for this trip. Of course, this very nice car made my trip a lot friendlier with the air conditioning and the beautifully tinted windows. I was enjoying my ride! I barely noticed or felt the hard bumps of this long uneven road towards the stranded hospital. 20140911_160549However, my road trip high did not last for long as I started to reflect on my fellow brothers and sisters who have to take this trip in indescribably worse situations than me. Did I mention that this hospital was two hours away from the main road? I thought of the mothers who might need to bring their dying children urgently. What happens to them? The average Rwandan cannot afford this nice car I’m riding in. What happens to the sick wife and the husband who might be forced into widowhood because he will not reach the hospital in time? What happens then?

Two weeks ago, an eighteen year- old boy was forced to walk at eleven o’clock in the night to find to a hospital. He was at his boarding school when he started having bad migraines. They were told by the headmaster to go to the nearest hospital. His friends tried to carry him but he was too heavy so he was forced to walk. He never made it to the hospital. He died on the way because he could not get the help he needed in time. It wasn’t until one o’clock in the morning that they could get a car to carry the body to a morgue. All of a sudden, this trip made me reflect on the horrors the people of the village go through and, most importantly, the roles of our leaders in such situations.

You see, if I was asked to make policies for the people of Kaduha, I might not be the most suitable for it. Why? Because, I am driving in my V8, my air conditioning is on so that I do not breathe in the dust, and I do not have to take this 24 km trip on foot. I believe I am not suitable to write a policy for them because I am not walking in their shoes. I am definitely not seeing life through their lenses. May I submit to you that I am also talking about several leaders and policy makers all over Africa? Leaders who have not experienced the pain of their people will never make the right policy meant to help the same people. And you can mark my words!

Back to my drive, my windows were tinted therefore I could not see the environment surrounding me. From where I was sitting, the grass looked greener, the soil looked darker and fertile; the place looked like it had great potential for agriculture, farming and the sorts. It wasn’t until I got out of the might Land Cruiser that I noticed that the soil was red and not unfertile. As the ardent sun hit my face, I realized that life is not as easy as it seemed from my Land Cruiser.

I believe that the people have a voice that needs to be heard! Citizens, because they know what they go through on a daily basis, should choose the policies that would best work for them. The people who experience the hardships of travelling three to four hours for medical assistance should be given the opportunity to speak out and to change the policies around them.

When a consultant comes to examine and research the area, he may come in an air conditioned car, food for the trip and much more money than the people could have in a year. Will such a person choose the right policies for the villagers? I do not want to undermine the expertise of the researchers and policy makers; do not get me wrong. What I am saying is; the people would benefit much more if they gave the ideas that suits their lifestyles and the same ideas could be refined as policies. The people own their situations, problems, and even solutions. Therefore, a much bigger importance should be given to them when making policies

I would just like to submit some ideas as to how to go about the following and how policy makers could consider the voices of their people;

* Interviews and open discussions: Villagers could be met and asked about the situations that could be improved. Do they have the necessary medical facilities? Do they have means to reach their hospitals? If not what is an alternative?

* Policies could be consulted by the people and they should be given the opportunity to revise and edit them according to their situations.

* If possible, the people should be given the chance to refute a certain policy and present their most pressing needs.

The development of a nation will always lay in the hands of the people. The citizens are the life and growth of their country. They must be considered as much as possible and they must be given the opportunity to work with their leaders in order to develop their country jointly.

Prudent Utilization of Aid for Sustainable Development


Kigali at Night. File

Kigali at Night. File

On the 11th September 2014, I read an article by Edwin Musoni in The New Times titled, “We can develop faster – President Kagame.” In his article Musoni noted that while addressing residents of Gikomero Sector in Gasabo District, President Kagame emphasized the importance of home-grown solutions as an approach to development. “Ask yourself, those who give us aid, where do they get the means? Aren’t they human beings like you and I? If you perceive yourself as poor, you will remain poor. If you believe you are worth more, you will achieve more. Dignity is about saying no to always being the recipient of help. It is about being determined to achieve self-reliance,”

What a timely challenge, I pondered. And it sunk even deeper considering the fact that these words were spoken in Gikomero, a Sector that was once one of the poorest among the 15 Sectors of Gasabo District, but one that through hard work, cooperation and proper planning, had emerged from indigence to registering an admirable progress in development.

This prompted several questions in my mind, beginning with the real meaning of sustainable development and whether as a concept, it is an open possibility to all countries in any region of the world or just a reserve for the core countries from the north as political economists would prefer to call the advanced economies. I also sought to know what the key objectives of sustainable development were. Even before I could find answers to these questions, a third one dropped with a thud- , “Is development in Africa really possible without Aid?” And as the queries kept reverberating in my mind, a series of related questions joined the queue; “do we need aid in Africa?  Is aid of any essence? Do we need it? Is it important? Is aid a precondition for development in Africa?”

Too many questions!
And you know , we doctors are so attuned to asking questions and giving prescriptions, not the other way round- being asked countless questions without the benefit of ‘prescribing’ a response. And so as quickly as it was only logical to do, I temporarily closed that part of the brain faculty responsible for the reception of questions and alerted the other part that deals with response that I had taken way too many questions and it was now incumbent upon it, to reduce the jam of queries in my mind by providing solutions. As a fair man, I will have to say that it obliged.

“Sustainable development, importance of aid in development in Africa and the significance of aid in development”, that is exactly how the questions were reworded and arranged for scrutiny and analysis in my brain. And just to ensure that I adhered to the demands of empiricism, I consulted an academic journal which described Sustainable Development as the   “ability to make development sustainable—to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. And then with a second quick glance at another journal, I was able to decipher the categorization of the key objectives for Sustainable Development into economic, social and environmental objectives.

Succinctly, my new findings, if I were to summarize, led to the conclusion that for Sustainable Development to be a reality, it will need no less than an efficient, sustainable system with a steady growth in which there is creation of jobs and investments, where security is guaranteed, in which there is a stable education system, a dependable health care, a well established social security and where through bottom-up approach, development is made participatory and resources are equitably distributed. In such a system, conservation of non-renewable natural resources and the effective utilization of renewable natural resources are both an obligation and a responsibility. And with this, I was contented that I had either answered or tried to provide a satisfactory response to the first question.

The second part of my inquiry was on aid and I deliberately chose to look at it from a localized lens within the Rwandan context. And to do this effectively, I took a quick mental flight back to the years preceding the brutalities which marked the 1994 Genocide of Tutsis. Then I saw Rwanda in the eyes of a Nation struggling to rebuild itself after 1994 and then to the present moment, analyzing the reconstruction and development initiatives that have been made in Rwanda, and I observed that whilst the will to reconstruct and develop has purely been a Rwandan initiative, the support of its implementation has immensely come from our friends, donors and partners.

I got a chance to interact with Rwanda’s Economic Development and Poverty Reduction strategy  2013-2018 and Read through the Nation’s vision 2020, taking note of  the prioritization (in both documents) of home-grown solutions through community-based projects,  technology and ICT, Increased interconnectivity and External connectivity of the Rwandan economy, accountable governance, Rural Development as well Productivity and youth empowerment among other priorities that Rwanda has considered in her plan towards sustainable development, and this information led into offering a rather vague answer to the question on aid- My answer was yes and no!

Yes; we needed aid and external support to rebuild our nation after the genocide and we still do in order to accomplish certain objectives in our ambitious developmental plans. Mark you, Rwanda was in 2000, ranked the 10thfastest growing economies in the world and this is despite the fact that Rwandan economy is almost wholly dependent on Agriculture with a manufacturing industry which is still picking up. So why would Rwanda be a first growing economy? As a nation, we have one of the best security systems in the world, which attracts investors and tourists thereby earning the country revenue and creating jobs for citizens. What more? Rwanda is one of the least corrupt countries in Africa which has adopted and is implementing a zero-tolerance policy against corruption; this has earned the confidence and trust of donors, which has led to several projects being initiated through aid to develop the country. Rwanda has come a long way and without such support, we would not be where we currently are.

But again, just that aid has been helpful in our development, is not a justification on why we should encourage dependency on it. Looking at it from this perspective; when a child is born, the baby is breastfed, introduced to soft food and then later develops teeth strong enough to masticate hard food. A good parent does not serve his/her one-month old baby, sugarcane and expect him/her to chew it, but the same parent should be very worried if at 20 years this (once a baby and now a young adult)  adamantly  refuses to leave the mother’s lap and lead a responsible life.

Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda has managed to build one of the most efficient road networks, managed to unify her population, attracted investors and visitors, maintained her world-wide celebrated cleanness, reformed her judicial system, improved  her education, made healthcare affordable and accessible to all citizens, promoted a dependable social security system and remained a safe and secure country. All these are proof enough that the baby Rwanda that was born by the stop of genocide, has steadily grown into a promising adult. We are on the road to self-reliance and if the country can collect all its revenue effectively, and if all citizens were engaged in productive activities and all paid their taxes, then we would have effectively answered the President’s question, “those who give us aid, where do they get the means?”- The Aid we receive comes from the taxes of others who work hard and pay back to their governments to support their operations. Sustainable development can only thrive where accountability and responsible leadership is present and where there is a general consensus among the citizens, that national development is the responsibility of each citizen. We do have an accountable government which is serious in its commitment towards development of Rwanda, what then do we lack? Is it the knowledge of where and how taxes should be paid? You know what?
I’m very convinced that very soon, we shall bid bye to aid and welcome self-reliance.

Joseph Nkurunziza is a public health expert and social Activist based in Kigali. He can be reached via ryarasa@ryarasa.org and on  twitter @ryarasa

The African Culture Contributes to Gender Based Violence

women in africa. source  (http://www.wunrn.com/)

women in africa. source(http://www.wunrn.com/)


 

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to visit and spend some time with our community. It is always nice to get out of our comfort zones and find out the hardships of others; especially those who aren’t as fortunate as we are. So, as I went, we shared some stories and I have to admit that I was heartbroken by what still happens in our communities. As I mentioned in my previous blog, a single story can open our eyes to larger and more dangerous issues in our society. Here is a shocking facts that I was reminded of this past weekend. A man coerced and impregnated a young sixteen year old  girl in his village. After the horrendous act, he had the nerve and audacity to go and apologize to the young girl’s family. As if the story could not get any worse, unfortunately it does get worse, the young girl’s family simply asked for two cows as a ransom. Let that sink in for a minute. Which is sadder? That the man walked back home free and only short of two cows or that THE SOCIETY THINKS THAT OUR YOUNG GIRL HERE IS WORTH TWO COWS! Please notice the danger and the agony here. How many more girls have gone through this horror? And how many more WILL go through the same in the future? This is what inspired me to raise the issue today; as long as the African society thinks its women’s dignity and honour are worth two or even ten cows, Gender Based Violence will NEVER be history.

Gender Based Violence is making the headlines of several media channels and is also the subject of many campaigns. But there is an issue; we could be as efficient as possible in our campaign and publicity but as long as the cultural beliefs are not changed, GBV will forever be alive in the society. The African Cultures, although a bit diverse, all come together in agreement that the woman has less value than a man; the man has the authority and the woman is merely a servant. Therefore, there is a pressing need to educate the people about the negative impacts of some aspects of culture. The people need to get out of the boundaries of culture; learn its failures and correct them. I am not saying that culture is not good; culture is the heritage of a country from centuries and generations of the past. Culture carries the riches, qualities and uniqueness of a country. Culture is important. However, as the world evolves and changes, culture must also find its relevant place in the society. Therefore, the African population must be educated about the boundaries and wrongs of the culture and the way it treats women; the humiliation and violations they endure.

As a medical doctor, I thought about the young girl mentioned above and the complication she might face with the pregnancy be it now or in the future. I decided that abortion could be a suitable option for her. She might not be financially, physically or even emotionally ready to have the child. Is it her right to carry on with such a controversial act on African soil? You could be the judge of that. But I would like to say that I would support this young lady if she made the decision. One of the descriptions of Gender Based Violence is “An act that could result in the deprivation of freedom and negative consequences”. Basing on this definition, wouldn’t this young lady have the right to regain her freedom through abortion? If yes, shouldn’t she carry on with it? If this was your own daughter, what would be your reaction?

Women, just as men, are entitled to their dignity mainly because they are human beings! There are some many other horrendous cases all around Africa that show the extent of GBV. Female Genital Mutilation is practiced in more than 28 countries in Africa. According to some cultures, this is an important rite to passage. It has been part of their cultural identity for several years and the people have come to accept it. Let me tell you some of the dangers of FGM and how it is violence against women. According to EndFGM (http://www.endfgm.eu/en/female-genital-mutilation/what-is-fgm/effects-of-fgm/), the practice has several consequences such as severe bleeding which can lead to death, neurogenic shock as a result of pain, infertility, and painful sexual intercourse. FGM inflicts such suffering on young women in Africa that it is high time for leaders to come together and fight this issue! Many who practice this mutilation on young women argue that women are not supposed to have sexual pleasure. They are only supposed to please their husbands. They also argue that FGM lessens the woman’s sexual desire which is pivotal for her faithfulness. There are so many reasons, may I call them sad excuses, given to exercise FGM. The truth of the matter remains; women are considered as mere objects by our cultures and societies and this needs to stop! If you have a daughter, like I do, the emotional pain I carry for these young ladies will be yours as well.

Our cultures will only change if our leaders begin to intensively educate the people against treating women as object. There is a priceless value that a woman carries and it must be honoured. Why not ask women if they want to have such practices done on them? Why not take the time to educate the women on dangers they might face if they proceed. Sometimes, the society takes advantage of the ignorance of people to harm them! It is the duty of all leaders to educate and protect these women. We need to realize that for a brighter future, the women’s role is as important and necessary as the men’s