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:

 

Women are not your Property, they are your partners to live with and respect

Fostering gender parity in the socio-economic and political arena in Rwanda has been a successful endeavor, however, some reports still hint at a gloomier picture in the success stories of women empowerment in the country. As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to mark the international women’s day, we have to recognize that the government of Rwanda has relentlessly strived to promote women’s economic empowerment in a number of ways. All the ways have been aimed at fighting all forms of injustice including gender based violence, ensure women economic empowerment and break the barriers that hinder women to reach their full potential in adding their contribution to national development.

Due to government’s unwavering efforts, in 2015, the Inter-Parliamentary Union updated its database to reveal that Rwanda had more women than men in parliament at 63.8%. Still in 2015, the Global Gender Gap Report named Rwanda as the best place to be a woman in Africa, also the sixth in closing gender gaps world-wide. All these achievements indicate a strong commitment for advancing and sustaining gender equality and empowerment.

However, we can’t blindly ignore the few cases that still impede the development of women. The Rwanda National Police in one its periodic reports indicated a decline in rape, defilement and physical abuse cases, but even the few victims of GBV are inexcusable. The ordeals narrated by the women who fall prey of the shameless men in the society reveal a permanent damage on the victims. Studies have indicated that some women in our lives are either sexual-assault victims or survivors of domestic abuse and these life experiences leave life-time pain and trauma. Some women sustain permanent physical injuries, others live miserable lives while others lose their lives.

Scanning through the regional or global scene, women are still trafficked and sold as sex slaves. Women and girls are ensnared in sex trafficking in a variety of ways: some are lured with offers of legitimate work as shop assistants or waitresses in developed countries, while others are promised marriage, educational opportunities or even a better life. Worse still, many are sold into trafficking by boyfriends, friends, neighbors or even parents. When the protector becomes the betrayer, just for an extra coin! The victims are physically and psychologically tortured, deprived of food and sleep and forced to start a new and degrading life.

One thing that I have always asked myself but failed to get an answer is, “they are our mothers, daughters, aunties, sisters, friends, spouses, nieces and cousins, but why do we hurt or abuse them to an extent of even killing them, why beat them up simply because we want to feel more powerful, why plot deviously against them for a few minutes pleasure?” Well, this still boggles my mind, but maybe I am not alone. Either way, I believe that the best way to eliminate violence against women is not only speaking out but having the men’s voice strongly backing them. #BeBoldForChange, stand up and fight injustices against women!

The intricacies of relocating all businesses operating in Kigali’s residential facilities to commercial buildings

On the 5th January 2017, Rwandans woke up to the news that all businesses (including NGOs), operating in residential houses, have three months to relocate to commercial buildings.[1] In the article, a city official said that the city administration had given written notice to businesses to relocate by the 1st March or face closure.

The reasons, given by the City of Kigali official, for this directive include  the following:

  • Availability of commercial spaces
  • Low occupancy of the commercial spaces , leading to defaulting on the loans by the investors
  • Businesses operating in residential houses drives the rent rates up , making it unaffordable for anyone looking for a home and
  • It is against the city’s master plan to have businesses in residential houses.

Those reasons are the ones that sparked a conversation in the country, especially on social media; I will briefly look at each reason and its implications.

Availability of commercial spaces and low levels of occupancy

The first two reasons are interrelated and I will discuss them together. The government encouraged people to invest in commercial buildings as commercial spaces were lacking. Investors listened and fancy new buildings were built in the city, such as Kigali Heights and CHIC among many others being erected in the city. The issue now is the availability of those spaces but very low levels of occupancy. The City of Kigali is putting the blame on the residential houses that are cheaper to rent for businesses, but is this not the nature of business? Why would  business owners subject themselves to high rental tariffs when they can pay cheaper? Why is the city administration getting involved in this, instead of letting the market regulate itself? The City also says that as a result of the low occupancy, the investors can’t repay their loans, what about the owners of those residential houses who also have loans to pay and also the business owners who are trying to make a profit and can’t do that when they have high rental fees to pay. It seems like the directive is aimed at protecting the investment of a few at the expense of many businesses which I think also, has adverse effects on the economic growth of the country.

Residential houses are expensive as a result of them being used by businesses

This is a very valid reason, especially for many young people who are trying to be homeowners and are at the early stages of their careers. Although it is a valid reason, it is not a good enough as the City should have urged investment in affordable housing before commercial spaces. The solution is for the city to make those commercial spaces cheaper so that they can be affordable and be an incentive for businesses to move in without sacrificing their profit and growth … also urge investment into affordable housing.

The relocation is part of the master plan of the City of Kigali

This is also another valid reason, the issue is the implementation. The adherence to the master plan is very important in order for Kigali to become a world-class city, but that adherence should be organic, it should not be marked by knee-jerk reactions in forms of directives. The three months period is unrealistic as it doesn’t take into account the rental contracts that have already been signed for the whole year,  annual  plans that have been already made and didn’t account  for the increase in  rent (in case of NGOs)  and many other related issues.

President Paul Kagame in his  2017 New Year address to the Nation said that everyone has a right to ask for explanations in case they are not satisfied and also give input. So we are asking the City of Kigali  if  consultations were done and with whom, as ‘consultation’ is a big part of “agenda setting’ which is one of the step in policy formulation. Were all the stakeholders consulted and was a feasible study done on the implication of this directive?  In my view,  the City leadership  should  , reconsider this directive and conduct more consultations and dialogue with relevant stakeholders to ensure a win-win deal. Alternatively, the City administration should negotiate with the owners of those commercial buildings to set affordable rent prices to avoid  business operate in residential facilities.

And finally, is the City of Kigali willing to listen to the inputs of the people, as emphasized by His Excellency in his New Year address.

[1] The New Times No.4197 on http://www.newtimes.co.rw/section/article/2017-01-05/206842/ accessed on 5/1/2017