SHOULD ELECTIONS POINT TO VIOLENCE?

“………Why should an act of democracy be the same that takes people’s lives or one that dents the country’s history and its development?………”

Recently, a team of Ugandans visited one of the organizations I work with and after debriefing them about the vision  and mission  of the institution, they couldn’t help but ask about the election mood in the country.  The question was prompted by a mention of one of the pillars of the organization – governance and rights. They had though in Rwanda no local organization intervenes in governance and human rights  related issues.  With just less than 2 months to go to the polls, our visitors were surprised that there are no billboards advertising the presidential candidates or even that the city is not polluted with the loud campaigns or even flyers and brochures showing the flashy manifestos of the aspirants. They had just witnessed the primaries of the ruling party that were held in a peaceful and non-chaotic manner, contrary to what had happened in Kenya this April, a process that was marred by either kidnaps, injuries, accusations of seeking sympathy votes or even malpractices, causing fear that Kenya’s history of election violence may repeat itself, according to observers. Another friend from UK lured me into a conversation on elections and his fear was that back in the UK, the election turnout would be low (according to recent reports, he might have been right – only 68.7 %.) Well I am not here to compare the affairs of the nations, every country has its own challenges but I was taken into a moment of asking a question that I think we all need to ponder about: Do elections mean violence? Why should an act of democracy be the same that takes people’s lives or one that dents the country’s history and its development?

Some people have gotten so greedy for power that they don’t want to let go while others are so slobbering to be in command that they don’t mind the lives they have to leave on the way to their self-acclaimed glory. Oh my God!!!! Don’t these people know that they can do a lot out of the office? Most heroes didn’t have to first be presidents or cabinet ministers nor did they hold parliamentary seats to cause change in their communities – they just used what they had. All it needs is a remarkable drive and commitment to create a better world through community service.

Anyway my intention of writing this article wasn’t to tell you about how to effect change without necessarily being in the government but to ponder on how our nations can keep the election processes peaceful for the sake of the people they claim they want to serve. People everywhere deserve and rightly expect a pleasant and safe environment in which they can live and work. We all want good quality public services, with rising standards in our schools and in our health care institutions. We want local communities where everyone can participate in society, and effective care is available to those who need it. You can argue if you wish but it’s only that selfless leader who will work tooth and nail to ensure that the people live in a peaceful setting, they can even step down if the safety of the people is guaranteed. Therefore, as different people head to the polls this year, let me use this platform in my authority as a human rights activist to urge all to exercise their right to cast their vote and not allow to be intimidated in to voting any candidate that they don’t favor.  Also to our aspirants, we are here to hold you accountable for your decisions, walk away peacefully if you lose and serve the people if you win.

Elections don’t have to point to violence but to a pacific transition of power.

 

 

HOW SOLID IS THE AFRICAN UNITY? – AFRICA DAY

“…..Some counties tend to think in the confines of their small, fragmented and parceled-out little states forgetting they have no impact but if colonial boarders are opened, the impact will not only be for a single state but for the entire continent……”.

Every 25th May, the African day is celebrated within the African continent to mark the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963 and the African Union (AU) in 2002, as well as celebrate the continent’s progress. 2017 of course wasn’t any different, African leaders were seen hosting events and ceremonies to mark the significant day. This year’s celebration was under the theme ‘Harnessing the demographic dividend through investments in youth”. The theme was derived from the fact that the continent today has one of the largest populations of people aged 35 and younger, and while that can be an asset, it can also be a challenge. Over the years, I used to ask myself why we celebrate the Africa day; I realized that we do so because of the richness and diversity of the continent and its people, and it’s also one of the ways to promote unity and solidarity among the African states. After realizing this, I started pondering on how solid the African unity is?

So far, only 13 countries have loosened or scrapped Visa requirements for African travelers in a move towards the lofty goal of turning Africa into a continent with seamless boarders, modeled after other regional blocs like the European Union, but what about the other 41 countries? This means that some African travelers are denied entry into many African countries. Let me just point out Ethiopia, a country that hosts the African Union headquarters requires almost all African states but 3 to pay for a visa between US$28-US$50. To what extent is this promoting the free movement of people and goods on the continent? I also tried to apply for a Visa to another African country (I choose not to disclose) to attend an International conference only to be denied. I wasn’t disappointed because I was not going to attend the conference but simply because I realized we still have a long way to go as far as reaching the African solidarity. Some counties tend to think in the confines of their small, fragmented and parceled-out little states forgetting they have no impact but if colonial boarders are opened, the impact will not only be for a single state but for the entire continent.

The notion “African solutions to African problems” became very popular in 2014, but it seems to just have been an interesting catchy phrase.  I think the founding fathers of the OAU: Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie and Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere envisioned a united Africa free of war but African countries are fighting amongst themselves either politically, economically or even cold wars. Back to the popular phrase “African solutions to African problems” that is yet to yield much for the citizens of the continent. If we are to look at insecurities and conflicts in some countries like Burundi and South Sudan, many lives have been claimed and scores displaced. What has the continent done? To what extent has the AU gone to pacify these areas? How are the young people affected in the conflict areas? These are the questions and many more others that someone keeps asking. What solutions have been adopted for these African problems? Like xenophobic attacks that are still make headlines on the continent – often surfacing at the beginning of every financial year because post-apartheid South Africans are looking for job opportunities in order to put food on their table. This is not only a symptom of the deep leadership deficit but an indicator of limited or no African unity and solidarity.

Africa is a large and beautiful continent blessed with ample natural resources but surprisingly young Africans are always risking their lives on a desperate journey to cross the Mediterranean, only to live as illegal immigrants in Europe. We have lost thousands of young people to the sea, who are fleeing the poor state of the living conditions in their respective countries. What is the missing link? Unless African leaders start thinking about a more forward-looking, people-centered developmental agenda aimed to transform African communities, they might just continue singing the African unity and solidarity without realizing it.

 

 

AFRICAN UNION GENOCIDE PREVENTION EFFORTS – LONG OVERDUE

“Last year, a despairing 14 year old boy committed suicide in a Darfur camp, a situation that was worth the world’s effort to reflect on the appalling situation that was biting hard on the war-torn region”

The Peace and Security Council of the African Union, on April 11, 2017 convened for the 678th time, to receive a briefing on the prevention of hate crimes and the ideology of genocide in Africa, from which various resolutions were adopted. From its communique, the meeting stressed the importance of the need to deepen democracy, participatory governance and a culture of peace, a strategy I believe if implemented, gives a strong glimmer of hope for sustainable development on the continent. The emphasis is in line with aspiration 4 of Agenda 2063 that aspires for a peaceful and secure Africa. This aspiration stipulates that mechanisms for peaceful prevention and resolution of conflicts should be functional at all levels and all that guns should be silent by 2020

However, gun shots are still heard flying around in South Sudan, claiming thousands and leaving over one million people displaced by the violence. The South Sudan conflict was declared genocide by the UK in April, 2017, as the conflict is perpetrated along tribal lines. Also, a UN report in March stressed that South Sudan was experiencing ethnic cleansing by mostly government forces and their allies and that the country was teetering on the edge of genocide.

This could be more or less the same way Genocide  started in Rwanda. They were rumors of the killings, then journalists flooded the country from different parts of the world to report on the killings in some small country in East Africa and they later fled for their lives while the innocent lives were killed mercilessly as the world watched claiming their hands were tied. While the World repeats continuously that genocide should not happen ever again, , there have been reports of targeted killings in   South Sudan, driving  the youngest nation in the world towards i the edge of genocide and the world is looking on again in the name of non-interference in sovereign state matters.

However, with the 678th PSC declaration, Africa ought to shift from rhetoric to action, strengthen measures for prevention and reading early signs to avoid Genocide.  This declaration is long overdue, and will be meaningful, only if it doesn’t stay on paper, a declaration we refer to only in continental meetings, or an indicator of the achievements of the African Union towards genocide prevention, without practical strategies to implement it.

It’s very common for some warning signs of genocide to escape much notice but if there is more analysis, the signs will present themselves in all forms. Last year a despairing 14 year old boy committed suicide in a Darfur camp, a situation that was worth the world’s effort to reflect on the appalling situation that was biting hard on the war torn region. Imagine a young boy hanging himself with a rope in his family’s home, tired of the dire circumstance his family was living in. Although many people looked at it as extreme, especially being done by a child, with limited and blurred knowledge on death or even hanging himself for dead, but it’s the best in his own mind that could show a despairing sign of saying enough is enough.

So my point is, we welcome the 678th PSC declaration but it should not just be another statement without supporting action. Africa needs to walk the talk!  After the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, Africa committed to walk away from the old Non-interference principle and not to remain indifferent in the face of a tragedy on the continent.  We cannot remain silent while the people in our neighboring countries perish as we look on.

I pledge to keep my voice alive and loud to silence the guns on the continent. I will start with what I can do for now.

Photo is from http://www.voanews.comA man collecting bodies to bury in a mass grave approaches a burned hut containing charred corpses, on the outskirts of Yei, a center of the country’s renewed civil war, southern South Sudan, Nov. 15, 2016:

 

COMMITMENT TO THE FIGHT AGAINST GENOCIDE

I am back with another piece on genocide, not only because we as Rwandans are in the 3 month commemoration period of the genocide against Tutsi but because being at the helm of an organization that is hinged on the history of our country, gives me a drive to steer conversations about peace, good governance and genocide prevention. In this piece, I am drawing focus on three elements that can contribute to a sustainable fight against a replay of genocide anywhere in the world.

  • The respect for the dignity of each and every human being by combating all forms of discrimination, racism and exclusion can prevent genocide.
  • In our education systems and in schools, history should be emphasized as a way to avoid the mistakes of the past.
  • Empower critical thinking among the young and encourage active citizenry so as avoid blind following

Genocides are often carried out in a manner where one group of the society wants to exterminate another group. This in many cases is perceived as the struggle against political, economic and social marginalization and discrimination of ethnic, racial, religious or political inclinations. Although it is difficult to anticipate the critical moment at which genocide will begin or the scope that the massacre will take, it’s imperative to examine and interpret the warning signs and respond to them adequately. If one group is continuously discriminated against, they will start by resenting the system, then start forming opposition groups, then resort to organizing illegal or unknown meetings with others who are tired of a dire situation, from there, they develop a determination to end it once at for all, no matter the extent to which they have to go to. Considering that all human beings are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law against any discrimination and against any incitement to discrimination, any nation should treat all citizens equal in a bid to avoid a potential genocide.

Secondly, education is an important medium of acquiring skills and knowledge. A common saying notes that our education begins at home, but thereafter, as we grow we go to schools, colleges and other educational institutions. School education lays the foundation stone for the child’s future. As years go by after the genocide against Tutsis happened in Rwanda, a new generation that has no idea about the brutality of genocide is born. The best way to keep them informed and committed to Never Again is if they know the history of their country.  The more the young generation knows about their past and how it darkened and silenced the country, the more they will renew their commitment and intensify their efforts against genocide. Education can play a great role in a given society as a means of conflict prevention.

The aspect of critical thinking is both an education element and a trained skill. If the young ones acquire this skill, they will involve in active citizenry and thus know when they are manipulated or lied to. In this case, critical thinking constitutes the ability to integrate and evaluate information, that is looking at a conflict and see the similarities between it and previous conflicts, related or unrelated. The individual can then resolve the conflict using resolutions that have worked or adopt strategies that can prevent a potential fatal conflict or violence. A critical thinker can’t be just lured to hold a machete for the sake of ethnic clinging, they would questions the approach, they would weigh in to the impacts, and they will ask if there is no other way to resolve rather than opting to blood shedding.

I can’t say that these are the best mechanisms to preventing genocide, but these complemented with other approaches can promise a genocide free world.

Special dedication of this blog goes to the the millions of innocent children, women, and men who have suffered and died from the genocide against the Tutsi. It’s a reiteration that we shall do everything in our capacity not to let the genocide happen again in Rwanda but also to collaborate with other key stakeholders globally to prevent any genocide anywhere in the world.

Why is active citizenship under attack and the space for civic engagement closing?

Earlier this month, I travelled to Zanzibar to attend a workshop on strengthening the capacity of rights based CSOs and women human right defenders in East Africa. The gathering that attracted 25 participants representing various CSOs across the horn of Africa was organized by the office of the high commission for human rights, East African region. I couldn’t help but notice that most of the participant’s presentations pointed at the challenges, insecurities and the closing space for CSOs in their home countries.

Civil society represents organized groups and institutions that are independent of the state, voluntary, and at least to some extent self-generating and self-reliant. This includes non-governmental organizations, independent mass media, think tanks, universities and social and religious groups. One role for civil society organizations is to lobby for the needs and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors, and youth among others.

However, civil society organizations globally have been increasingly subjected to threats and excessive scrutiny by government officials thus restricting the functioning of the civil society. We talk of democracy and citizen participation but how will that be possible yet the civil society space is slowly by slowly dwindling?

Reports indicate that over 63 countries passed restrictive laws, shrinking civil society space and increasing the criminalization of and discrimination against CSOs worldwide. This is attributed to many reasons but in Africa, some countries see CSOs as drivers of the western agenda, forgetting their major role of advocating for people’s rights and needs and the fact that they represent citizens and give them a stronger voice. There is an increasing number of laws and bills across Africa, intended to regulate the activities of CSOs, directed at restricting the access to funding, particularly when sourced from abroad, yet NGOs have the right to access funding. This entire legal arsenal is aimed at stifling all forms of promoting and defending human rights by the CSOs.

May be, let’s talks about the reasons why many donors prefer often times to channel their overseas development aid through CSOs: it is because they can easily maximize the impact of the scarce development aid. It is easy to ensure good service delivery at CSOs. Logically, CSOs look at the funds as their source for survival and the path to the realization of their vision. I am not ignoring that there are some CSOs that swindle funds but the trend is very common among government institutions across Africa that do not care to efficiently use the funds.

Also, have we thought about how CSOs act as beacons of democracy, since they ensure direct citizen participation? CSOs work with citizens at the grass roots, they tackle the main challenges that people face and they are able to touch the lives of the people in the simplest forms, either by providing them spaces to talk about their day to day challenges or even facilitating their economic development.  Civil society actors have also increasingly become vital forces in discourses, initiatives and programs that foster peace and security across the world.

So question is: Why exclude the civil society yet it plays a pivotal role in democracy consolidation of any given nation? Why is active citizenship under attack and the space for civic engagement closing?

The civil society is enormous in its size and diversity, its members of the media, for-profit businesses, volunteer associations, political parties, trade unions, faith communities, private foundations, and nonprofit organizations. But because the space we need for this work is closing, we must come together, understand our mutual dependence and interrelatedness, and support each other in this work. We must forge a new solidarity and thrive through to realize our mandate and change every life we can reach

 

 

 

Freedom of Speech misused

Last week, videos and images from South Africa during President Jacob Zuma’s state of nation address showed chaotic scenes as some members of parliament were literally dragged out of the chamber by the guards. Those ejected were opposition deputies who could not let the South African President start his address, denouncing and labeling him all sorts of names from “scoundrel” and “rotten to the core” because of the ongoing corruption allegations. One of the MPs called President Zuma “an incorrigible man which means hopeless. Really? Is this the freedom of speech that we keep referring to as our right? For a citizen to stand up to the president and call him all sorts of names in the name of opposition or the fact that he has a right to speech is appalling. This is the worst state of abusing our rights. What legacy are these leaders passing on to the young generation, “tomorrow’ leaders”? Does it always have to be confrontational and violent? Our continent deserves better leaders, our youth deserve better mentors and our rights deserve better respect.