commitment to “NEVER AGAIN” has proven that it has failed

Over the years, the international community’s commitment to “NEVER AGAIN” has proven that it has failed, as it happens “AGAIN and AGAIN.” The promise the United Nations made was broken, as again and again, genocides and other forms of worst pogroms in human history have befell the world. If I could list all the genocides that have occurred starting from the one in 1915 in Armenia that recorded 1.5 million deaths, the holocaust that lasted 3 years from 1942 t0 1945, claimed 6,000,000 Jews, Cambodia from 1975-1979, over 2,000,000 lives were killed, Rwanda in 1994, registering over 1,000,000 deaths; and ongoing killings  in Darfur-Sudan from 2001 to present where UN puts it to over 300,000 deaths have been recorded and not forgetting what is going on in Syria at the moment . These cases are not definitive as there are many others that are still debated upon if they should be termed as genocides or just civil wars that don’t need medaling. All the genocides have one shared characteristic, a human common tendency of considering only “one group” as human, and “de-humanizing” the other, which sparks off the need for ethnic cleaning.

For the next 100 days from 7th April, Rwandans in Rwanda and around the world will commemorate the genocide that was perpetrated against Tutsis 23 years ago and honor the courage of those who risked their lives for others. Although it’s a time to remember the pain and horrendous killings, it’s mostly a time to remember, unite and build. There has been a growing concern on how the fight against genocide can be sustained. And since the human being cannot determine how there forgetting curve can hold their memories, it would be appalling if the genocide was erased from our memories and future generations found themselves at the center of the brutal killings all over again.  Although most of us will be long gone and won’t have to endure that pain again, we can at least secure a better tomorrow for our children and those to come after them.

Genocide, like armed conflict of a certain dimension, does not erupt from one day to the next, but a result of a combination of factors: a lack of dialogue, a failure to respect Peoples fundamental rights and an absence of shared values among many others. It is difficult to anticipate the critical moment at which genocide will begin or the scope that the massacre will take, but at least we can relay concrete strategies that will kill genocides even before they manifest. We grow up and live in particular cultures, with particular lineages, but we are one, not us against them.

The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda was sparked by poor politics which incited ethnic differences; but in the spirit of unity and reconciliation, the current  government of Rwanda and other stakeholders have worked tirelessly towards building a national identity and  foster a Rwandan community that is based on respect, trust and unity.

Although the international community has continued to fail world citizens, watching in silence as genocides claim millions and millions of lives for example the Syria of today:-, there is something we can do on our own to never again have to witness or record any genocide in Rwanda. There is a common but powerful statement, united we stand but divided we fall.

 

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

Some aspects of our cultures greatly affect us and bind us in mediocrity

Net File.

This past week-end, I had  the  opportunity to travel upcountry for a retreat of  one of the charities am involved in , when I was on my way home, I saw newlyweds(bride and groom) walking on the street with their bridesmaids and the crew. Did I mention that they were WALKING? It is definitely not often that I see newlyweds walking on the day of their weddings. Most weddings that I, probably some of you as well, have attended are usually accompanied by fancy cars, expensive dresses, luxurious venues, you name it! When I saw this couple, of course I was taken aback and they made me think about the very content of this new blog.

I live in a culture that greatly encourages solidarity and fraternity. We are called, from a young age, to help our brothers in need; in times of troubles, and rejoice with them in times of joy. That is great! Who wouldn’t appreciate such a society? However, these very same aspects of our dear culture make people lag behind and bind them in mediocrity. You may ask me how solidarity can lead to mediocrity; let me illustrate this for you with a personal story.

The wedding season, in several    African communities , is one of the most stressful season (you could also say happy but I omitted the comment). I think it is only in Africa where the invitees, the organizers and the couple are equally stressed. The pressure of solidarity becomes unbearably stressful when a wedding turns into a fundraiser where those invited are blackmailed into giving. If you do not contribute, you should not even attend the wedding. And the sad thing in this situation is that the couple is solely relying on the donations to organize a ridiculously expensive wedding.

Wedding Venue. Net File

The African culture  does support solidarity but to what extent should this be tolerated? If people let this aspect of culture drag them into a hypocritical form of begging (blackmail and forceful giving) where would this stop? My friend, a few months ago, borrowed a large amount of money from me to  help him support his family this was after his wedding. WHY DO YOU GET MARRIED IF YOU DO NOT EVEN HAVE THE RESOURCES TO PLAN YOUR WEDDING? Of course I did not say this out loud but it was a clear disappointment. However, I am not blaming my friend; this has been fed into the minds of us Africans from generations.

Back to the first couple that was walking; I cannot express how happy I was that they did not feel the urge and need to waste millions on a single day. And, did I mention that they were HAPPY? Many people, especially women, equate the cost of their wedding day to the happiness of their marriages. It is NOT the amount of money you spend on your wedding or engagement ring that will build your marriage.

As a married person (and I’ve been married for some time), I would like to propose to young lovers out there planning to get married; PLAN YOUR WEDDING ACCORDING TO YOUR FINANCES! Please, do not drown yourself in debts before you even celebrate your first anniversary! It is not worth it! I am not saying that your wedding day is not important. I am saying that there are more important days to come. Do not waste your money on imported flowers, rugs, and wines. Save your money for your future, your children, and maybe a house? You should plan for a wedding that you can afford. Do not try to impress people.

Net File.

Unfortunately, us Africans have been trained to impress; “Fake it till you make it” is our motto. We take captive of any opportunity to prove what we are not. This is one of the biggest reasons why we throw extravagant weddings. We worry about what people (who don’t even care about us) will think about us. We want to impress people who do not matter. I am writing this because it is high time that we change things around.

We will forever drown in poverty if we do not stop investing in things with no returns. I would personally rather help a sick person, than spoon feed a young man organizing his lavish wedding. If you do not have enough money to get married this year; get married NEXT year! Do not beg! Work Hard! And by the way you might even get married without having a 1000 people at your ceremony .THINK ABOUT IT!

When we start believing in self-reliance, we will value hard work, savings, and time. I do not think that those who will attend your wedding should be as stressed as you are. Take time to plan and organize not just for the wedding day but, most importantly, for the marriage! Even if it means that you will walk from the church to the venue, if that’s the cost for a happy and healthy marriage, do it. I surely commend the couple who arrange their wedding the way they could afford it and not how it is expected of them. Remember, it is not the amount you invest in your wedding day that will make your marriage happy.

This question goes to my followers how can we use our rich culture to embrace development? Remember Japan was once poor but after the world war II the embarked on development by exploiting their culture.

 

You can reach us at ryarasa@ryarasa.org

 

 

Africa’s Next Security Threat

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You know sometimes we husbands don’t really have a choice when it comes to the rock of your home : your better half whom Adam referred to as “bone of my bone. This weekend, I headed to the market with the rock of my home hoping for a sabbatical from that peculiar type of people who never mind their own business and let husband and wife shop in peace. And as I hoped for the best, I also prepared for the worse just in case hell broke loose and demons presented themselves in the market equipped with their usual and quite familiar “hey Dr. Joseph, so you also frequent the market place like we bachelors do?” type of salutations. That was the last thing I even wanted to think of hearing! Many thanks to the gods who stopped naughty loquacious mouths, I never had the misfortune of such encounters. But something else happened and this is what has inspired me to write this piece.

20140824_105856It was last week when on my own volition (not a trace of duress), I decided to accompany my wife to the market to purchase quite some stuff for our kitchen and general home usage. And as I left home, I begun forming imaginary pictures of bemused and baffled male counterparts, looking at me and wondering just what the hell, I was doing at the market place. Interestingly and contrary to my expectations, I encountered fellow husbands walking side by side, holding hands with their wives as they smiled and shopped together! Was this Africa? But shock wasn’t done with me yet, from a close view, I could see relatively young men who were at the best guess dating or most preferably single. They too were here, not to buy the clothes they fancy these days or to just wander about in a lazy for-lack-of-what-to-do walk,no! These young men were actually buying food most of which had to be cooked before consumption.“Africa has really changed! This is a true transformation”. Truly,  the general  African perception about food and other home issues has tremendously undergone a significant metamorphosis into an all-inclusive process.

And with the shock still fresh in my mind and evidently aware that I was not the only “culprit”, I walked to a nearby stall owned by a mid-aged lady, who at the time of my arrival was somewhat lost in thoughts. I saluted her and introduced myself as a potential buyer, who was particularly interested in passion fruits and that information about the pricing would suffice in determining anticipated transaction. If I ever saw a pure undisturbed honesty, then it was on this day right there on the face of the lady as she informed me innocently that 1Kg of passion fruits goes for 3USD. That, by all standards was extremely for our local market rates, but, I decided to purchase the fruits nonetheless and   proceeded to the next stall where I met another vendor dealing in tomatoes. This particular lady had a huge stock of tomatoes and was very busy signaling the presence of her quality goods to approaching customers. Yet despite all, I managed to start conversation with her from which I  learnt that she and her colleagues lacked proper storage facilities for their commodities and that after every two or three days, especially when sales are down, they have to throw way some of the tomatoes which unfortunately rot and are rendered not fit for consumption. This last encounter encouraged me to walk around the market and do my own survey of the sort of needs assessment as we proceeded with the shopping. With our 300 USD spent, a lot of lessons learnt and many solutions crossing my mind, we slowly drove back home.

And now after much reflection, this is what I have to say;

If Africa cannot focus more on food production and double her efforts in promoting food production, food insecurity will hit Africa very badly. This is a problem that awaits us like a time bomb just waiting to explode sooner than we may think. I fear for a food problem, so gross in nature and deep in magnitude that it will prove more devastating and frightening than the current problems terrorism, insurgency, political instability in some Countries and the scourge of HIV and other diseases. It will be a menace- a total mess! Do we as African feel ashamed that 60% of the World’s farmable land is in Africa, and that it is here in Africa with naturally fertile soils, that pictures of emaciated bodies dying of hunger are no longer news? And that it is again here in our Continent where children spot inflated stomachs which are full of nothing but the disease of malnutrition? Until when shall diseases like Kwashiorkor and other related illnesses continue to rob us of our people?

Listen to me somebody!

As a people, we are beginning to accept the fact that access to food is our collective responsibility as can be seen on the various efforts we are making at individual and national levels. This is excellent! It is admirably commendable. It is encouragingly fantastic. But it is also dangerous! When everybody begins to appreciate the importance of fresh farm produce and engages in Agricultural endeavors that can only offer ephemeral solutions, we are only setting dangerous precedents. We must from the backs of our mothers and sisters, remove the burden of subsistence farming. We must commercialize our agriculture and boost our production or brace ourselves for the reality that the prices of such readily available fruits like passion fruit will continue to skyrocket.

African governments must adopt Green Revolution as a strategy to combat hunger and prevent future crises.The Agriculture sectors of our countries must undergo a paradigm shift from the current low productions to an agricultural environment which promotes productivity of land, strengthens the resilience of farmers to climate change (through introduction of viable crops), reward capital and labour invested in agriculture by ensuring that the current fluctuations in the price of farm produce is addressed and both domestic and international markets are made available for the farmers.

But this is not to treat the African Continent as a homogeneous entity. I am alive to the fact that in some African countries, production is not the problem but marketing and preservation of the produce from our farms. This brings me back to my reflections about the plight of the tomato vender, the lady who has had to throw away her goods due to lack of proper storage and preservation facilities.

How about if we began taking things seriously? What if our farmers were organized into manageable Cooperatives and assisted through loans and grants to boost their production? Is it possible that the problems of farmers which are typically represented by the situation of the ladies in my example be effectively addressed?

This is a question, the response to which I wish to hear from policy makers  from across Africa, those who meet in fancy hotels to discuss hunger, who travel to the capitals to attend conferences about food production while intentionally forgetting about the real stakeholders and those who might read this piece and dismiss it as mere scare mongering.
Something must be done, food security is not negotiable.

Dr. Joseph R Nkurunziza is a Public health Expert and Social Justice Activist. He can be reached at ryarasa@ryarasa.org

We are Poor Because WE have Decided To be Poor

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      I recently went to the land office at District offices to pay land taxes of my plot. Not too late, I learned that the previous owner never bothered about taxes for the past four years! Who wouldn’t be shocked? I was left with a dilemma so big that made me do a bit of thinking and research. It is always good to understand the provenance and roots of every issue if one expects to propose a solution. Therefore, the issue of paying taxes is definitely a big problem; not only for the people but also for the majority of governments both in Africa and the rest of the world. 

      The people of African Nations must learn to be accountable to their governments to enable their governments to be accountable to them. If we, as a people, are expecting infrastructure and technology developments in our countries, we must help and work with the government. Development, Hospital facilities, even university scholarships for our brothers, sisters and our  children will not and CANNOT come out of thin air! We must realize that we are accountable to our governments if we are to expect anything back from them.

      Should the African people wait for Western nation’s Aid and support? Should the African people be fully and solely dependent on  charity from abroad? When would we be expected to move out of the stagnant poverty afflicting us and being the leading cause of most of our conflicts? Africa must get up and tap existing opportunities for taxes. Taxes are not meant to harm  people but to help the people and their nations. 

      It is high time that the African continent moves out of its dependency on Western support and aid. The source of this support is none other than the taxes of the western tax payers – the citizens of the western world. If these citizens are able to sustain themselves and even others, why can’t the African people? The government has to educate people to make them responsible and accountable. It is the duty of the government to make sure that the task of paying taxes is uncomplicated and straightforward.

       Going back to my dilemma, when I resolved to pay for the previous accumulated taxes, I was led to yet another problem. I first went to the  District land office to pick up the Land Invoice  and then to the bank for paying the taxes, . Then, I had to go to the sector office to  give the  bank slip to the accountant and be provided with a payment receipt. I again had to return to the district to get an acknowledgement receipt that would finalize my task. It took me six full hours to have the documents ready; thanks that Ihad requested for leave from my Job; from one office to another back and forth. I came to the point where blaming the citizens was unfair. It requires a lot of courage for people to run from offices looking for letters and receipts. This might be one of the reasons why citizens are reluctant to go through the hassle of paying taxes.

      The government, especially in this case of Rwanda, should utilize  Information Technology to ease the hassle of taxpaying. It should not be necessary to run through eight to ten offices to fulfill the duties necessary for taxpaying. I might not be close to Steve Jobs and types but here is a suggestion of software that would greatly help the taxpaying process. First, there should be, through  information Technology a software that would let the bank receive the required amount and send  a short text message(SMS)  directly to both the district and sector. These two offices should receive acknowledgement receipts from the bank in the name of the taxpayer. This would reduce the hassle of running from offices back and forth. The taxpayer should in turn receive an e-receipt from the  district and the setor acknowledging the payment. This would be the receipt that would be taken directly to the taxpaying main office (Rwanda Revenue Authority).

       Educating and encouraging the citizens to pay taxes should involve making the process more straightforward and trouble-free. Although the people are accountable to their governments, the government is also responsible for the delays and reluctance of its people. I do not think that there are many citizens who enjoy running in several offices for a simple letter or invoice. With the rise of technology, this issue should be addressed as quickly as possible as a means to encourage the citizens in their taxpaying duties.

       The poverty in Africa takes deep roots in ignorance and dependency; as soon as the nations and the citizens will take more efficient steps in making the taxpaying process citizen-friendly. These steps will play a pivotal role in moving the African citizen from dependence  of other people’s taxes  to autonomy and self-sufficiency.

Joseph RyarasaNkurunziza is a Public health Expert and a Social Justice Activitist he can be reached at ryarasa@ryarasa.org