Tag: Rwanda

Rwanda’s story: Women integral to governance, peacebuilding in Africa

After arriving in Kigali last month, the first thing my friends and I did was hire motorcycles and ride around the city. It was the best way to get reacquainted with it and take in all the sights and sounds and smells – it was cheap therapy.

For a few moments during that ride, it didn’t feel like I was in Africa. Kigali over time has developed into a lovely city. The growth is something that you see when you meet the locals and look at the infrastructure. A country once wounded so badly is shining and we Africans are all visibly proud. The story that is being told about Rwanda is that where there is a will, there is a way.

When the 1994 genocide happened, I was eight years old. I vividly remember huge black helicopters hovering over us for days. There were lots of gunshots and very loud bangs, which my parents told me were ‘bikompola’ (bombs/grenades). I didn’t understand what was going on but I took notice of everything. I come from a small district south west of Uganda, which borders Rwanda. The effects of the genocide happening to our neighbours were very visible.

A view of the centre of the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Rwanda is positioning itself as a regional hub, twenty years after the genocide ravaged the country. (Pic: AFP)
A view of the centre of the Rwandan capital, Kigali. Rwanda is positioning itself as a regional hub, twenty years after the genocide ravaged the country. (Pic: AFP)

Fast forward 20 years on to October 2014. I got to visit Rwanda again, this time to attend an African Union-hosted forum where we discussed Silencing the guns: Women in Democratisation and Peace Building in Africa. It was a pertinent theme – some African countries have barely known peace for up to 50 years. The continent has been in constant turmoil and conflict, and it is widely known that women and children bear the brunt of it. Initiatives like this pre-forum aim are aimed at including them in the process of peacebuilding rather than keeping them on the periphery.

The African Union has a vision for the continent for the next 50 years known as Agenda 2063. One of many goals is a peaceful and secure Africa. “By 2020 all guns will be silent. Mechanisms for peaceful resolution of conflicts will be functional at all levels. A culture of peace and tolerance shall be nurtured in Africa’s children and youth through peace education.”  This is why the conversation on silencing of guns was very relevant and timely.

Rwanda’s post-genocide story is unique in so many ways. Speaking at the event, Dr Aisha Abdullahi, commissioner for the AU department of political affairs, said: “Rwanda is a shining example that we can forgive,  that we can achieve healing and reconciliation, that we can prosper even when we do not have oil or minerals. Effective governance is key”. However women have got to be at the centre of the processes involved, she emphasised.

Women bring to the table a unique way of governance –  the kind that is sentimental and well thought-out. We are relational beings and while all we do and should listen to the facts and the judge, women bring the ‘Ubuntu’  aspect as well. While in Kigali, we went to visit a reconciliation village in Bugasera, a short distance away from the city centre. We heard testimonies from women who, after the genocide, turned their sons in to the authorities as they suspected they had been involved in the violence. They needed to go through the systems, either go to jail or to a reconciliation camp, one mother said frankly.

Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. (Pic: Reuters)
Photographs of people who were killed during the 1994 genocide are seen inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. (Pic: Reuters)

In Rwanda (and elsewhere), it is women who hold communities together. It is their husbands and children who were killed, it is their brothers and sisters who were wounded, but that does not stop them from advocating for equal justice for all. And history and scholars are on their side.

Over the past couple for years economists have agreed that there is nothing more central to development than the economic, political and social participation and leadership of women.  They go on to say that this is particularly true in post-conflict societies where women often make up the majority of the population. Women have the primary responsibility of raising the next generation. The majority of refugees are women and children, and not just in Africa. Female education, increasing women’s authority and uplifting their political voice have a profound effect on development in post-conflict situations. And this is what Rwanda has done. The have given women more control over resources, which is very important. We see it in our everyday lives: women will tend to give more and invest more in the livelihood of their homes and communities.

In other countries around the world, only about 20.4% of the members of parliaments are women. Rwanda prides itself on having the highest percentage of female MPs in the world – nearly 64%.

Rwanda is an example of the new trend to use electoral gender quotas to fast-track gender balance in politics. Africa has only six years to be able to achieve reconciliation and silence guns on the continent as per the aspirations of Agenda 2063, but one thing remains: effective governance is the only road to getting us to achieve a peaceful and secure continent. But women have got to steer the conversation, be a part of it and also be acknowledged by the very many partners in the process.

Ruth Aine is a Ugandan blogger and social media trainer. She blogs at aineruth.blogspot.com.

Ebola and the outbreak of stupidity

Given the extent of the Ebola epidemic, it’s obvious that people should take proactive and preventative measures against it. The death toll has exceeded 4 500, and the worst-affected countries in West Africa are battling to contain it. On the one hand, volunteers like Kathryn Stinson, bloggers like Edith Brou and sites like Ebola Deeply are genuinely doing their bit to help raise awareness. On the other, the US media and paranoid Americans are responding with hysteria and misinformation. Now we have what’s dubbed fearbola. Really though, it’s just stupidity in bad disguise.

So, world, here’s what you shouldn’t do:

1. Ask ridiculous questions. 


Teju Cole won’t always have the time to answer them.

2. Remove your children from their school in Mississippi because you’ve found out that the principal recently visited Zambia. Capture

Quick geography lesson: Zambia is in Southern Africa, not West Africa, and has no confirmed cases of Ebola. ‘Mississippi on Alert’, then, for no good reason.

3. Avoid going to a store because someone who has Ebola went there too.

A nurse visited a bridal store in Ohio shortly before being diagnosed with the virus. Now no one is shopping there because: paranoia. To convince customers to return, the owners have scrubbed their shop down and brought in ultraviolet ray machines to rid it of any traces of the virus. This, after the health department told them it was unnecessary as Ebola doesn’t live long enough on surfaces to pose a risk.

4. Fly in this outfit

This photo of a woman in a homemade protective suit at Dulles International Airport outside Washington has gone viral, and not because her outfit is on trend. There have been eight cases of Ebola in the US; gloves, a mask and body gown are not necessary here.

5. Prevent kids from attending a New Jersey school because they’re from Rwanda which has zero reported cases of Ebola and is over 4 000km  from the affected West African countries.

Two East African students were meant to begin classes on Monday at a school in New Jersey, but following a backlash from other parents, the school asked them to stay home for three weeks. Rwanda (perhaps in retaliation to this incident?), announced on Tuesday that it will start screening all Americans entering the country for Ebola, regardless of whether they are exhibiting symptoms or not.

The list could go on – from a man in Cleveland charged for inducing panic after he made a my-wife-has-ebola joke, to a college in Texas that has rejected applicants from (Ebola-free) Nigeria.

As panic and ignorance about the epidemic continue to spread, it would be more useful to rely on facts instead of fear-mongering. Pack away the Hazmat suits and pick up a map.

Rwanda court’s forgotten men pose challenge to international justice

Justin Mugenzi was legally cleared of any role in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. But an oversight in the international justice system means he remains a virtual prisoner in a United Nations safe house in the eastern African state of Tanzania.

“My wife and eight children are all Belgian citizens now,” the 75-year-old former trade minister told Reuters in Dar es Salaam after submitting a third – and unsuccessful – visa application to the Belgian embassy there.

“I have nowhere else to go,” said Mugenzi.

Despite his acquittal last year by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), based 650km further north in the city of Arusha, he is too scared to go back to Rwanda, where political rivals now hold sway.

Former Rwandan trade minister Justin Mugenzi. (Pic: Reuters)
Former Rwandan trade minister Justin Mugenzi. (Pic: Reuters)

The ICTR is scheduled to hand down four more verdicts on Monday, potentially creating more such limbo cases.

The plight of Mugenzi and others like him is a setback to years-long efforts to create a system of international justice by using special courts such as the ICTR – set up to try those accused of carrying out the Rwandan genocide – or permanent tribunals with a more general remit such as the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

Backers say such courts are needed to deal with the world’s worst criminals: perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But some doubt their legitimacy, pointing to the ICC’s patchy record in securing convictions.

The ICC’s critics say it ignores crimes in the West to focus on Africa. The collapse through lack of evidence this month of the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta – accused of stoking ethnic violence after Kenya’s 2007 elections – was a new blow to its credibility after a string of failed prosecutions.

Arrangements exist for witnesses to resettle or for defendants to go to jail in third countries. But when the tribunals were created in the early 1990s, no one imagined that those acquitted would be either unable or unwilling to go home.

International law experts say this snag could further undermine confidence in the courts.

“How can we possibly consider a system to be fair if before the trial, the tribunal makes lots of arrangements about where to put the defendants in jail if they’re convicted but makes no arrangements at all for what’s going to happen to them if they’re acquitted?” said Kevin Heller, Professor of Criminal Law at SOAS, University of London.

Safe house
Like Mugenzi, 10 other individuals acquitted or freed by the ICTR are living in a safe house – in limbo in a country that is not theirs.

“We couldn’t leave these men on Arusha’s sidewalks, with their small suitcases, no pocket money and not the slightest idea of where they would go,” said Pascal Besnier, chief of the judicial and legal affairs section at the ICTR.

But what was intended as a temporary solution when the first acquittal was handed down in 2001 is still in place. Only six men have been resettled – in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. The safe house’s longest-standing resident has been there for over 10 years. This month, an acquitted former general joined his family in Belgium – the first to leave since 2010.

Tanzania tolerates their presence under UN surveillance but other countries are not keen to welcome them. Francehas taken in two and believes others should now step forward.

In the well-appointed safe house in Arusha, where the ICTR’s registrar used to live, acquitted and freed prisoners share meals and do the chores. They are allowed to travel around but they often stay in. “Why would we go to town?” one resident asked. “We can’t work or study.”

Each resident costs $1 500 a month including rent, telephone, cooks, guards and other outgoings. The house, paid for by the United Nations and guarded by Tanzanian police, is almost full even before Monday’s fresh set of verdicts.

In a statement to the ICTR, Kigali said it would welcome the acquitted and respect the ICTR’s verdicts.

“The official position of the Government of Rwanda … is of respect for decisions of courts, including the ICTR, irrespective of whether the Government, Civil Society or any other person or body perceives them to be less than fair”, said the Ministry of Justice.

But after Mugenzi and his family fled Rwanda 20 years ago, he has nothing to return to. He fears for his safety in a land where his acquittal was condemned at public demonstrations.

“They’re very high profile people,” said the ICTR president, Judge Vagn Joensen. “We can’t force them back.”

Some of them have “well-founded fears” of going back, said Human Rights Watch senior Africa researcher Carina Tertsakian, adding that they risked being prosecuted on other charges.

“It may well be that those people have a case to answer but our concern has to do with whether the process of justice would be fair,” she said.

Contacted by Reuters, Rwandan Justice Minister Johnston Busingye denied there would be any attempt to make them face similar charges if they returned.

“I can assure you that nobody would say, ‘Now they have survived conviction for genocide I am going to hit them with genocide denial or ideology or divisionism’ – nobody!” he said.

Anti-immigrant sentiment
Applying for refugee status is a long shot for them. Having been accused of the worst crimes is often enough for an application to be rejected. The Western countries in which they have families are increasingly reluctant to receive them, not least because of a rise of anti-immigrant sentiment that has accompanied Europe’s protracted economic downturn.

“The potential public reaction might be quite an issue,” said Belgian Justice Ministry official Adrien Vernimmen.

According to the ICTR statute, states must assist the tribunal, including in the arrest and detention of defendants. But it does not mention the relocation of acquitted individuals. Neither does the Rome statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Yet, with only two convictions and one acquittal so far – all being appealed – even the ICC is already facing this issue.

Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, a former Congolese militia leader acquitted in 2012 after prosecutors failed to prove he ordered atrocities in eastern Congo in 2003, has lodged an asylum request in The Netherlands saying he will be persecuted after he testified against Congolese President Joseph Kabila.

ICC officials play down the issue. “So far there is one acquitted person. He didn’t want to go back but nothing tells us that that will be the norm for the future,” said ICC registrar Herman von Hebel, adding he was sure Ngudjolo could return.

Yet, the problem could come up in future. If acquitted, would former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo want to return to a country led by his rival Alassane Ouattara and where his wife, who also faces ICC charges, sits in detention?

Experts fear this could hurt the image of international criminal justice, already criticised for its alleged slowness, selectivity and alleged shortcomings of its prosecutions.

“It is a human rights issue that the international community, through the UN, takes over criminal proceedings and then doesn’t complete the work and reinstate people who have been acquitted by our system,” said the ICTR’sVagn Joensen.

Von Hebel said he was confident the ICC would be able to build a wider network of states willing to help in the future. But international tribunals, by definition dependent on states’ cooperation, have no means of forcing them to comply.

With the ICTR due to close next September, observers wonder what will happen to the remaining residents of the safe house. The tribunal says it will find a solution for the time being.

“As long as those people have not found homes elsewhere, we will try to continue helping them,” said judge Theodor Meron of the ICTR.

In the longer term, says David Donat Cattin, secretary general of Parliamentarians for Global Action, a network of international lawmakers, it boils down to political will.

“Governments are very lazy,” he said. “They are ready to support the court when there is an anniversary, but when they have to do concrete things, they are very reluctant.”

Lessons from Rwanda’s female-run institutions

An MP listens to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon speak at the Rwandan Parliament building on January 29 2008, in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)
An MP listens to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon speak at the Rwandan Parliament building on January 29 2008, in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)

Friday 4 July: Independence Day. There will be speeches, celebrations and fireworks. But these celebrations will be taking place on the other side of the world from the US, because on Friday, the central African country of Rwanda will mark its own Liberation Day.

It is 20 years since the end of the genocide that saw the deaths of more than 800 000 people. Since 1994, Rwanda has worked hard to create a peaceful state and among those enjoying the fireworks will be female parliamentarians from around the world, who are meeting in Rwanda this week to discuss how to get more women into every country’s Parliament.

For this is Rwanda’s big success story. It has the distinction of being the only country in the world with more female MPs than male ones, a statistic that has attracted a good deal of international attention, not least from the Zurich-based Women in Parliaments organisation, set up last year, which this week is holding its summer summit in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Not surprisingly, many of those attending the conference are keen to find out how Rwanda has managed to reach the figure of 64% women in its Parliament, which is unheard-of everywhere else. Worldwide, women still represent under a quarter (21.9%) of all elected parliamentary seats, but in Rwanda the post-genocide situation, in which 70% of the country’s remaining population was female, and the introduction of quotas requiring 30% of political and government candidates to be women, have brought about real change, in national and local politics and across public positions. Half the country’s 14 supreme court justices are women, for instance. Boys and girls now attend compulsory primary and secondary school in equal numbers, and new laws enable women to own and inherit property.

But this is not just about numbers. The rebuilding of Rwanda’s public bodies was driven by a number of senior women determined that women’s gains in senior positions would not be lost as the gender balance gradually began to adjust. They include Donatille Mukabalisa, the speaker of the Rwandan chamber of deputies, who has been pushing reform over the past two decades. Mukabalisa, whose keynote speech opened the conference on Tuesday, has said that while the quota system clearly helped speed up women’s participation in politics, women appointed and elected to a whole range of public positions have been so successful in making a positive difference that the country may reach a point where quotas are unnecessary.

There are other lessons to be learned from the country’s rebuilding process. One of those is about handling disputes, and the need to increase the participation of women in post-conflict societies.

The middle day of the conference has been set aside for field trips, to see more about the real lives of women other than society’s leaders. It’s an astute move, for behind the headlines is anxiety about the reality of life for ordinary women in the country. One Rwandan women’s rights campaigner has described the female parliamentarians in Rwanda as like a “lovely vase of flowers in a living room” – decorative but not a huge amount of use.

There are concerns about violence: the government’s own figures from 2010 show that two in five women reported suffering physical violence at least once since the age of 15. And many public services in the country are sparse. Rwanda’s first state speech and language therapy service was set up only this year at the Rwanda Military Hospital, with support from a volunteer UK speech and language therapist.

But Rwanda certainly provides a useful lesson for UK politicians. The Conservative party, which has failed to increase the number of female MPs in the party from a dismal 16%, is now seriously considering all-women shortlists. The Liberal Democrats, with an even worse figure of just 13% female MPs, and even the Labour party, with 33% female MPs, might also want to take note.

• Jane Dudman is chairing a session on the impact of female parliamentarians on the UN’s post-2015 millennium development goals at the Women in Parliaments’ summer summit in Kigali.

Impressions of Kigali: This city works

The first and only time I had been in Kigali before was in 2009 and I saw only a little of it. I remember that I was unable to complete my tour of the holocaust memorial for the emotion that overtook me; successive rooms of shelves stacked with hacked and broken skulls, the skulls getting smaller as you progressed through the dark display. My tour didn’t last long and I left there quickly, only to be shown the bridge from which mothers were forced to throw their children into the river far below. The place left an impression on me.

This time it was different…

The last 50 kilometres of Ugandan road, to the border with Rwanda, is hardly a road at all. The potholes are huge and our vehicle jolts and shudders with the unremitting impact of those potholes we fail to avoid. My back starts to hurt and I’m very irritable by time we reach Katuna, a small border town on the verge of Rwanda.

It takes standing in a queue for half an hour to exit Uganda. Then, after a short walk to the Rwandan side, there’s no one at all to delay us. The stamp on my South African passport is simply routine and the customs declaration for our car is handled efficiently. Our journey continues. The machine gun-toting policeman checks our passports, swings the boom and politely ushers us into Rwanda. Immediately we change to drive on the right hand side.

Suddenly the road is impeccable, although it is still being cut out of the Virunga mountainside. It is wide, newly surfaced, perfectly cambered, and winds easily down into the nation’s capital, Kigali.

Two hours later, in Kigali, I am first struck by the fact that the city is spotless and inhabited only by well-dressed people going about their business. Shoppers are carrying big brown paper packets and I am told that no plastic packets are allowed. It’s midday and there’s no sign of a traffic jam anywhere. The dual-lane bypass sweeps through the city, out and on.

Unlike Kampala, where simply everywhere is a trading zone, Kigali is highly ordered, zoning regulations clearly in force. There’s no one selling cooked chicken pieces on dusty sidewalks. In fact, there are no dusty sidewalks; on the sides there’s paving, and at the centre of the dual carriageways are well trimmed lawns and palm trees.

While Kampala might have the highest per capita number of motorbike taxis in Africa, Kigali must come a close second. But again, Kigali is different. Whereas riding a motorbike taxi (‘boda-boda’) in the vehicular mayhem of Kampala poses threats to life and limb (especially without a helmet), Kigali riders are sedate, controlled, everyone wearing protective headgear, colour-coded according to the mobile service provider that sponsored it; green for MTN and blue for Tigo.

A street in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)
A street in Kigali. (Pic: AFP)

Both Kampala and Kigali are cities built on hills and both cities are widely spread out. Large sections of Kigali’s hilly suburban areas are beautiful, the older parts very reminiscent of the older parts of suburban Cape Town; narrow, meandering roads wind around the hills and you even find the occasional cobbled street.

During my week-long stay, the Rwandans I meet speak their own language (Kinyarwanda) and although almost everyone is fluent in French, the language is seldom used despite the fact that the locals I meet have names like Jean-Baptiste, Philippe and Patrice among them.

Kinyarwanda sounds a bit like a Bantu language mixed with Russian. It is not an easy language at all, but that the colloquial version is infused with variations on many Swahili words makes it a little easier for me to understand. Some of it I get, at least. And many Rwandans are fluent in Swahili too.

“English is problem,” I am repeatedly told.

On Saturday night I am taken out to see the Kigali night-life. It is sedate by comparison to Nairobi and Kampala too. People are well dressed and well behaved and I hear smatterings of French being spoken around me. People drink cognac and expensive whiskies more than beer. Around midnight the place starts to empty and by 1am we are heading home.

Patrice, my host, is a connoisseur of fine spirit liquors and we stop at Kigali’s only 24-hour liquor store. Instead of the cheap liquor one might expect to find in a store that services the needs of the all-night drinker, this one stocks mainly Hennessy, Johnny Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal and Jack Daniels.

“This place will finish me,” Patrice says as he hands over more than $100 for a bottle of Johnny Walker.

That there is a lot of money in Kigali is obvious from this store alone.

My visit coincides with Rwanda marking 20 years since the genocide that happened in the country.

Rwandans gather under a banner at the Amahoro stadium in Kigali on April 7 2014, during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda's genocide. (Pic: AFP)
Rwandans gather under a banner at the Amahoro stadium in Kigali on April 7 2014 during a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide. (Pic: AFP)

‘Kwibuka’ is to remember. Remember, Unite, Renew. The Rwandese are not about to forget what happened in 1994. Everywhere around Kigali are large corporate banners with the logo and in the week that I’m there, spending time among Rwandans, I don’t hear the words ‘Hutu’ or ‘Tutsi’ even once. The genocide is remembered but is obviously not up for discussion any longer.

I fly from Kigali International Airport on a RwandAir flight direct to Nairobi. My departure is handled efficiently and we take off only a few minutes late because passengers connecting from Burundi arrive late. The flight takes just over an hour as the pilot makes up for lost time. We land exactly at the expected time of arrival.

Things change immediately. At Jomo Kenyatta International Airport it takes nearly an hour to clear Immigration and get my luggage. Nairobi’s perfunctory traffic jam starts at the airport parking area where the pay station has no change. The boom rises as we are told to proceed to the next pay station, outside the parking area. Here the ticketing machine is not working and we have to wait for a half hour for the jam to build enough for a supervisor to let us all go, scot-free.

I am left with the impression that Africa can indeed work as the west might expect. From what I saw, Kigali has achieved it. For now, we’ll leave the contentious subject of there being a dictatorship in Rwanda, even if somewhat benevolent. We’ll leave the subject of restrictions on mobility imposed on the local population. We’ll leave the fact that you can’t ride a bicycle into the city, or be void of shoes when you walk there. And, we’ll leave the contention that Paul Kagame is “eating” as much as any other despot in Africa. So too will we leave the contention that Kigali is packed with Kagame’s spies, tracking down any likely suspect.

Africa can work, even if its operation is conditional and enforced.

Brian Rath was born and raised in Cape Town. He now lives and writes in Kenya, and recently had a novel published.