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.

 

 

Accelerating GENDER EQUALITY in Africa

Every time I look at my two little girls, I get over protective and anyway what would any responsible father do? Watching them grow every day, makes me wish for them nothing less than gold, in all its forms. Gold in this case would stand for the right to participate in decision-making in the home, economy and society, right to inherit property/assets, right to empowerment, right to education and the right to anything their male counterparts has. Well, this will not just be wishful thinking for me; I have the key to accelerating gender equality right from my homestead and my community.

According to the Africa Human Development Report 2016, gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, 6% of the region’s GDP, thus jeopardizing the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth.

Taking it about 69 years ago when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, to 20 years ago of the Millennium development goals and the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, global attention has been focused on promoting human rights and eliminating discrimination.  However, despite the relentless efforts in respecting women’s rights by some countries and some governments, inequalities persist. There are still political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement especially when it comes to the unequitable treatment and access to resources and opportunities for women and men.

Removing inequalities for women has not kept pace for a number of reasons to include:

  • The spectrum of violence in all forms; domestic violence, intimate partner violence, rape, female genital mutilation, intimidation, and additional threats to women´s personal security in periods of war and conflict
  • Islamic Sharia law often plays a large role in the governance of personal matters like marriage, divorce and inheritance among Muslim populations to include stipulations that womencannot pass citizenship to their children, spousal rape is not illegal, two women are equal to one man in court and women cannot divorce their husbands.
  • Existing legal and social norms, and the ways they interact have a major effect on gender equality and women’s empowerment. Very few African countries have non-discriminatory gender laws.
  • With respect to education, it is remarkable that near gender parity has been achieved in primary school enrolment. However, gender discrimination is still significant in secondary and tertiary education.

These are reasons that have been adopted form different countries and across cultures in Africa but even we are to look at our communities, the situation isn’t any better. Girls are forced to trek long distances to fetch water, it’s the girls that are forced to do all the chores at home, it’s the girls whose education is sacrificed once the family’s income drop, it’s the girls that are forced in to early marriages to boost the family’s financial status.  Well, we have to choose approaches that can help African countries to more forcefully confront the challenge and accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Let us start by keeping our girls in schools. As we work hard to sustain the boys in school, the girls have a right to the quality education too. We should stop hiding behind the notion that women will not belong to their family but to the family of their husbands, so what? She stays your pretty little girl, whether she goes to the husband’s side or not.

Boys and girls should do the same chores at home. What would happen to a boy if he washed utensils or mopped the house or even cooked? Teach a boy that he is equal to his sister and he will never deviate from that teaching, he will never have the audacity to raise his hand to beat his wife, charity starts at home.

Although there are political initiates to drive women empowerment, accelerating gender parity right from our homes will be the only strategy that will yield sustainable results for our continent.

picture: Credit 123rf.com

What happened to the wisdom leaders used to have?

As a parent, I can imagine the disconcerting moment of my life if I ever have to look in to the eyes of my hungry child with nothing to help then quench their dire hunger.

There have been reports on international media of over 17 million people from Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan at a stake of a hunger crisis. All the images show children who look like they have starved for days, longing to be full of food and hope.

South Sudan declared famine in the country in late February, a situation that was termed by many as a ‘man-made’ tragedy. Why? Well it’s the youngest country, but its citizens have suffered a devastating civil war that broke out in 2013, till 2016 when it got the second highest score on the Fragile States Index. A formal famine declaration means people have already started dying of hunger. As if it’s not enough that people are dying because of the war or being displaced and children becoming orphans, they also get to die due to starvation. All this is because leaders are clinging on to one more day or year in power while the opposition believes they have the right to fight their way to the presidency.  As the war goes on, farmers can’t till their land or even plant any seeds, meaning food security is threatened.

As for Somalia, it’s not any different from South Sudan’s story of hunger being caused by a long spell of conflict, over 10 years of civil war. For Somalis, the memory of the 2011 famine, which left a quarter of a million people dead, is still fresh and dreadful recall that has forced many to leave their homes and villages to look for food.

May be we look at Kenya, where people in more than half of its 42 counties face starvation due the cycle of famine related deaths brought about by ongoing drought that has seen an estimated 1.3 million Kenyans acutely food insecure and in need of assistance. This drought could be blamed on poor rains in 2016 but what about corruption and income inequalities. In January this year, Transparency International’s corruption index placed Kenya 145th out of 176 countries, ranking it one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and on the globe. The levels of inequality escalate the level of corruption, as the wealthy have both greater motivation and more opportunity to engage in corruption, whereas the poor are more vulnerable to extortion and less able to monitor and hold the rich and powerful accountable. The finances meant for seeking environmental solutions or ending extreme poverty or improving health care provisions are swindled mercilessly. Corruption affects the targeting of social programs to the truly needy; the syphoning of funds from poverty alleviation programs by well-connected individuals, diminishes the impact of social programs on income distribution and poverty.  The prolonged drought that has reached the level of claiming lives might be blamed on no rains but we should know that our leaders have looked on as people die of starvation, yet their bellies are so full, with left overs to fill up their trash cans.

For Ethiopia, the cause of its recurrent famine has also been blamed on lack of accountable government. Although the late Prime minister Meles Zenawi had a vision for every Ethiopian to have enough to eat, at least three times a day and also have the luxury of choosing what they eat, his vision could have gone with him (May his soul RIP). In Ethiopia, it has been noted that there is no incentive for the government to work hard to avert famine. Come one, at least the incentive can be the people that put you in power.

Well, let me take you back a little to the ancient biblical studies where the love of the shepherd for his sheep was best seen when times of special need call forth unusual acts of care for members of the flock. One of the principal duties at all seasons of the year was for the shepherd to plan food for his flock, this entailed trekking long journeys if the shepherds predicted a drought in the area, just to ensure their cattle are safe. On the contrast, today we have leaders who have time, only to think about their bellies, their power struggles, and their desires. May be you might say that our leaders can’t look out for all citizens, since the population is proliferating at a worrying level, where were they before the population started skyrocketing? What are they doing about the corruption that is eating up our economies like a cancer?

Anyways, the worrying issue about the responses to drought or famine or crisis, is that they are too little and too late, because it takes several months for emergency aid to reach people on the ground.

Starvation is not like losing an election or a bad report of inflation or even a poor international ranking, it’s a dent on the future. Let us save the generations by fighting starvation. Picture Credit BBC

 

 

 

POST ELECTION VIOLENCE IN AFRICA: WHERE IS THE RULE OF LAW?

“It is election time? Stock up and stay indoors, it is that time of the year again!” This statement may seem like part of a script in a fictional movie but it is a reality for a large number of citizens living within various countries in the African continent. It is an open secret that election periods in these countries are characterized by violence, intimidation, flouting of laid down procedures and a myriad of other illegalities perpetrated by those seeking positions of power and their supporters.

Kenya, Zambia, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Uganda, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo, Chad and Gabon, to name but a few, are testaments to the violence that takes place before, during and after the elections phase. A simple online search will present any curious information seekers with stories, pictures and videos of both victims and culprits of these acts of violence. WHY THEN IS POST ELECTION VIOLENCE ALMOST A NORM IN THESE COUNTRIES? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?

There have been studies and researches that have been done, albeit a few, that give possible explanations for the “trend” of post-election violence. These include but are not limited to: poor governance, poverty, patronage systems in political structures, previous failed or flawed elections, electoral misconduct and weak or compromised institutions and laws governing the electoral process. All countries, the world over, are governed by laws that are aimed at ensuring that all possible injustices that could occur are prevented or dealt with so as to ensure that they do not re-occur.

The prevalence of post-election violence cases is therefore a demonstration of the absence of the rule of law in the respective countries within which they occur. The rule of law indicates that all citizens within the jurisdiction of the law are subject to it and abide by it. This means that all aspects of social, economic and political activities are conducted according to and within the confines of the law with no exceptions. Bearing these definitions in mind, it becomes apparent that there is a huge gap in the observance of the rule of law in the countries where post-election violence is rife and growing ranging from the laws themselves to the institutions charged with application of the law.

The inadequacy of the laws stem from the fact that they are not airtight i.e. there are many loopholes within the laws themselves that allow electoral malpractices to go unpunished. This is exemplified in cases whereby those who are suspected of engaging in electoral misconduct are set free based on technicalities rather than proof of innocence. Even in cases where the laws do exist, they are blatantly disregarded by those who are supposed to abide by them such as the electoral bodies, law enforcement agencies, the politicians and the voters themselves. Reported cases of harassment of opposition groups by police, misconduct by election officials and voter bribery (buying of votes especially from the poor sometimes even in exchange for a packet of maize flour) are just a few examples of well known “accepted” activities during electioneering periods that are against the law but seem to go “unnoticed”.

The lack of independence of the judiciary is also a huge impediment to free, fair and non-violent elections whereby bipartisan rulings in election petitions are the order of the day. This breeds distrust of the judicial process and as a result forms the breeding ground for frustration among those seeking redress from the courts. At this juncture where the aggrieved parties feel that their issues of contention cannot be fairly judged under the law, they tend to resort to violence.

All the issues discussed above are, in no way, meant to justify or excuse violence of any form, but are aimed at addressing the underlying issues so as to have lasting remedies to the challenges that exist within the electoral process. Apart from a review of the electoral laws, all the citizens need to have high levels of integrity so as to ensure that the electoral process is not compromised at any level; be it by the voters, politicians or the judiciary. There is need for a turnaround in the “normal way of doing things” to a progressive culture in which the focus is not only in the present but also in the future.

THE AFRICAN PUZZLE; AN ENDOWED CONTINENT BLEMISHED BY DEFICIENCY IN THE CORE AREAS OF NEED

It has been said that to whom much is given, much is expected. This seems to be a paradox in the African continent where a lot of resources abound but the continent does not seem to be reaping the benefits in the wholesome manner that it should.

Africa is classified as the richest continent in terms of natural resources ranging from a large percent of the world’s mineral deposits, vast land reserves, wildlife and most of all it is enormously rich in terms of human capital. These components alone are a testament to the capability within Africa and the potential that lies therein. Why then, one might ask, is Africa and by extension majority of Africans not living up to its/their potential instead languishing in a state of poverty? This poverty is not only financial but also in terms of knowledge, opportunities and facilities. Why haven’t the leaders who have been tasked with the responsibility of managing this great continent been able to guide it to the ‘promised land’?

A leader is someone who is able to determine the needs of those he/she leads and envision a way in which he/she can provide for those needs. So the pertinent questions are: what are the needs of the African people and what are the leaders doing to cater to those needs? Let us begin by the simple, most basic needs. Food (including water), Shelter, Clothing. Can all Africans say that these three basic needs are within their reach? Taking it a step further, we look at access to medical care, education and sanitation. Are they feasible? The answer to all the above is a resounding NO! Even those that are able to access all of the above, more often than not, have to outsource what they need from other countries; including the leaders!

Coming from a solutions-based point of view, it is important to determine what the gaps are and then find ways and means to resolve them. It goes without saying that the resources, without effective mechanisms to utilize them, are of little to no use. Farming tools and a fertile piece of land are useless without the farmer who is both capable and willing to till the land so as to enable crops to grow on it. Since we have established, based on the farming analogy, that the “land and tools” are present in Africa; the point of focus now becomes the “farmer” who represents the leaders both in the private and public sectors.

Africa needs visionary leaders who are forward thinking and development oriented in their decision making and in the programs that they implement for those that they govern. We must begin to think of a future where we will be self-reliant as a continent and in our own individual national capacities using our own home grown policies. We must invest in sustainable farming/food production (actual farming not the metaphor) methods, water conservation, suitable and safe housing, indigenous and affordable clothing, well equipped healthcare facilities and policies, quality education that is accessible to all and proper sanitation.

Putting all these systems in place will ensure that we, Africans, have all we need right in the comforts of our own countries and we do not have to take long journeys to look for what is right under our noses. This will also facilitate self-actualization where citizens who have all they need at the basic level are able to look beyond that and grow their skills and knowledge so as to reach their full potential and by extension bring Africa as a continent up where it belongs.

By Joseph Nkurunziza

Poor public service delivery slowing development in Africa

The consequences of corruption in Africa are evident in the poor standards of living and slow rate of development. Rwanda has come a long way in terms of development since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi that led to the loss of more than one million lives and dilapidated public institutions and structures. A lot has been achieved so far to rebuild the nation. However, more needs to be done to position Rwanda as a center of excellence on various fronts in Africa in line with the vision of the country.

The public service sector is a key driver for growth in any country. Substantial public funds and foreign investments are channeled through public institutions and some development programs are implemented in collaboration with these institutions highlighting the pivotal role of the sector. For Rwanda to achieve sustainable development it is paramount that corruption is stemmed out of public institutions.

While corruption leads to poor service delivery for citizens, the converse is also true. Poor public service delivery leads to frustration among the service beneficiaries many a times leaving them with little choice but to engage in corrupt practices to access services that they are in the first place entitled to. Corruption in the public sector has led many African states to experience stagnated growth.

Africa is not poor but poorly managed. The main reason Africa has lagged behind in development is not because of a lack of resources but rather mismanagement of resources. Many African states have rich natural resources in terms of minerals deposits such as gold and oil which should by now have contributed to advanced development. Mismanagement of resources leading to corruption is the greatest cause for underdevelopment. Developed countries with little or no natural resources have been able to overtake Africa in development simply because they have managed their resources and even managed our own resources to benefit themselves.

It is high time that Africa awakened to the fact that corruption can never be effectively dealt with if states do not invest in proper management systems and processes for effective public service delivery. Frustrations due to poor service delivery drives corruption when citizens do not get what they are entitled to.

A common frustration that many face with the public sector is delayed payments by public institutions for services rendered or goods sold. There are no systems in place to hold public institutions accountable for delayed payments. This has created a loop hole in the sector where public servants manipulate citizens to bribe them in order for their payments to be processed faster. In this case frustrated citizens are coerced to bribe so that they can beat the system that has refused to change to foster development. In the end, the service provider has not got the full worth of his work and has encouraged corruption within the sector so the next service provider will also be forced to part with his or her earnings. This cycle continues and has been repeating itself for many years. Such loop holes have fostered a culture of corruption that has infiltrated many areas in the public sector.

Public servants have also exploited the public tendering process where management systems are weak. Citizens and public servants in institutions collude to obtain inside information on how to win tenders. Such widespread corruption hurts the integrity of public institutions limiting their effectiveness in contributing towards development.

Certainly both citizens and governments are to blame for corruption. On the one hand governments for failing to put in place proper systems that do not frustrate citizens forcing them to engage in corruption and on the other hand citizens for not speaking up and demanding for action for these systems to be put in place.

Fighting corruption requires the joint effort of both citizens and the government whereby each effectively performs their duties.

By Dr. Joseph Nkurunziza