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.

 

 

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.

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