"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


oh, right

There's been a lot going on in the Great Lakes lately:
  • Rwanda's government is so mad about all the bad press it's been getting of late that the Friends of Rwanda hired a London-based consultancy to run a fact-check site for them. Too bad the "facts" are all government press releases and New Times articles.
  • Speaking of facts, KigaliWire has a nice analysis of the breathtakingly naive Michael Fairbanks HuffPo piece, in which Fairbanks seems to accuse anyone who criticizes Rwanda's government of being racist.
  • Speaking of naivite, the New Times ran an op-ed entitled, "Accuracy is Fundamental to Journalism," apparently without intending to be ironic.
  • Nkunda's lawyer accuses Kigali of stalling his client's case. Ya think?
  • Andrew Mwenda considers the prospects for a Kagame retirement in 2017.
  • Reporters without Borders named Rwanda to its list of predators of freedom. State newspaper The New Times will not stand for this kind of fact-based judgment calling.
  • The New York Times ran a big set of stories on Rwanda's prison/reeducation camp at Iwawa Island. Two things to say about this: 1) I give Gettleman a lot of grief for his exoticization of Africa and Africans, but he did a great job on this piece, including by getting video and photos of the pitiful conditions. 2) I haven't commented on this because I've spent the last two weeks trying to figure out why on earth the RPF let a New York Times reporter on to the island. Do they really believe they've done nothing wrong by summarily arresting homeless and poor people and rounding them up on an island without choice? Did they think he wouldn't find out about the minors who are housed alongside petty criminals? Or were they looking for a reason to ban Gettleman from coming back to cover the August 9 elections? Stay tuned.
  • The whole Iwawa incident prompted letters to the editor, one from Rwanda's Minister of Youth, who said, "It's all good" and another from an expert on the country who replied, "No, it isn't."
  • Meanwhile, a prosecutor in Rwanda said that two FDLR members confessed to terrorism and confirmed the existence of a connection between the FDLR and opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. Ingabire denies it. There's almost no independent information with which to validate this claims, so there you have it.
  • In some good news, Rwandan coffee is now widely available in the states, which is great for local producers in the country. In fact, I'm enjoying a cup as I type this at a coffeehouse overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
  • Moving on to the DRC, Human Rights Watch senior researcher Anneke van Woudenberg (who knows more than anyone - including most Congolese - about the atrocities committed in the country) calls for a new approach to MONUC's peacekeeping, one that focuses on keeping troops in rural areas as well as the cities. I could not agree more.
  • A Congolese court handed down a death sentence to three people convicted in the murder of Radio Okapi journalist Didace Namujimbo.
  • The leader of the rebellion in Equateur province was captured last week. It remains to be seen if this will help to stabilize the situation.
  • Want to help victims of violence in the DRC? Jina Moore recommends sending cash to Heal Africa, which will give that cash to women who are leaving their facilities to start their lives again. I second that. Heal Africa is a fantastic, community-based organization that will ensure your donations are spent as you intend.
  • Even Papa Wemba is openly criticizing Kabila. I would say this doesn't bode well for Kabila's re-election prospects next year, but the lack of a credible opposition candidate who could draw even enough of the vote to force it to a runoff means that Kabila's likely to hold on to power for another five years.
  • Rachel Strohm ponders the social norms of bribery in the DRC. One important point: people consider some of those payments "bribes" and others "taxes." Outrage arises over bribes, but everyone understands that the government employees who don't get paid salaries by the state have to earn money somehow.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Iwawa Island

I do not think that the Rwandan govt feel they have done anything wrong.

All societies have people who fail to fit in with the idea of working or studying. Many of these drift into homelessness, drugs and crime. In London (UK) one young person stabbing another for no good reason - not from that area, made eye contact with you, refused to be robbed, from the wrong gang, muscling in on your drugs patch - has ceased to make the news unless the victim dies. No one knows what to do about it. Ideas like a return to "national service" have been suggested. TIA you will know better than me the situation in the USA (where i assume it is much worse?).

There have always been "street kids" in Rwanda some helped by largely ex-pat started NGOs eg SACCA which have been tolerated by the authorities.

In the last few years the "shanty town" dwellings of Lower Kiyovu in Kigali were flattened and residents moved to umudugudu developments elsewhere where it is possible to give better access to services, drainage etc. Poor shanty town dwellings as seen in many other countries is not part of Rwanda's vision.

Similarly the idea that an unskilled, economically inactive section of society will engage in crime is also not part of that vision. Walking the streets of Kigali you are safer than in London - where car jackings for example also take place - and the Rwandan govt want to keep it that way.

Iwawa Island is an attempt to give some discipline and skills to street kids. It might not be successful for all of them but it is an effort to do something positive. It will not be perfect at this stage - mosquito nets should be provided and it might not have been done in the same way as in the USA but it is problem that the US for one have no idea how to solve anyway.

Of course HRW will criticise as they do everything in Rwanda. Although the presence of street kids and crime as in other cities would be something no doubt they would be delighted to report. It might be more credible if comments could focus on the problem Rwanda is trying to address in its own way. Finally, Susan Thomson is always saying that the Kigali govt does nothing for the poor but a project such as this, with all its faults, is another project along with the umudugudu housing developments I have also mentioned.

Sunday, May 16, 2010 6:53:00 AM

Blogger mary said...

i love that coffee house overlooking the 'hooch - thanks again for all the amazing links you provide - it makes learning about the Great Lakes region incredibly varied and interesting

Mary Hoyt Clarkston, GA

Sunday, May 16, 2010 10:30:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would be more inclined to agree with annoymous above if the programme was not forced labour for 3 years. indoctrination cambodian style it seems. all this does is erode reconcilliation efforts. there will be violence in the future if the govt continues with current strategies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 3:47:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To be fair not even the NYT call it "forced labour" and only the NYT refers to 3 years. The Minister, the person who took the journalist to the island, in this country where according to HRW and others there is no freedom, describes it as a place to give the homeless skills. While I realise that many foreigners do not believe the govt, it was the govt who took the NYT there.

I read a quote from someone who said that he would go there in the hope of getting this free training. He will not be the only one.

As for indoctrination, you must realise that most young people in Rwanda will have been told their family's own version of Rwandan history.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 6:21:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is exactly because they view Rwandan history through a different lens to teh RPF that such an initiative will help foster inter-communal violence.

I would be very inetrested in the length of time people stay on the island, what curriculums and training courses are offered, what teh conditions are and who is on the island.

I would be much more comfortable with such things if it had been made public (to internationals) from day one & completely transparent and the govt wasn't cracking down on anyone and everyone recently.

Thursday, June 03, 2010 10:19:00 AM


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