Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rwanda's Rebuttal to New Claims of Meddling in Congo

Rwanda's relationship with its neighbor, DRC, is complex and resists simplification. Jason Stearns book on the recent wars in Congo provides important insight to the backstory over the past decade or so. In any event, Rwanda has submitted a rebuttal to the recent charges of its meddling, which is accessible through this link. (I cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the document.)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Naive Interview by CNN

CNN interviewed His Excellency Paul Kagame the other day. In a typical Western-style interview, the correspondent asked numbers of de-contextualized questions, almost prideful in showing ignorance of the historical, political context of, among other things, Rwanda's involvement in Congo. One series of questions centered on the ridiculous querying of President Kagame about his picture hanging some hotels in Kigali. The correspondent made fun of the President by saying that she had only seen such photos itotalitarianan countries. I certainly recall seeing such photos in Kigali, but I can't say I recall seeing them in other areas of the country, though it is certainly possible. But it certainly was not irksome. And it is nothing like photos and images of "Dear Leader." Really, for a mzunga reporter to "confront" the leader of a country this way is more than silly -- it is disrespectful and offensive. Faced with query about Kagame's margin of victory in the last election, Kagame tried to compare Rwanda with the US, presumably the latter being the paragon of democracy. Kagame struggled to make an argument along the following lines: if in the US voter participation is something like 60 percent, and if say Obama wins 51 percent of the electorate, then the democracy and the leader of the free world has something like 30 percent confirmed backing. Yet, the reporter would say that the US President is the democratically legitimated leader of the US, but the implied argument Kagame was making was that while given the current context the US President is legitimate. As Kagame was emphasizing, context is important.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Alleged Unreasonable Political Repression in Rwanda

Western liberal political philosophy emphasizes political rights over social and economic ones. From this perspective, the criticism of Rwanda stemming from Western human rights groups neither is surprising nor acute. Often forgotten in international law or legal debates is the UN Covenant on Economic and Social Rights. In speaking with other Americans after my trip to Rwanda, I find that I am too often educating Americans about their (our) own history, particularly the Alien and Sedition Acts. No doubt those statutes remain highly controversial and subject to just criticism, but their adoption in the early years of the Republic reflects a number of similiar exigencies that induce some of the limitations on sedition and ethnic divisionalism that is proscribed in Rwanda. I am not suggesting that one must lock-step embrace every step of the Rwandan government, but it is crucial to understand that there is a context and complex balance that should be considered. One might consider striking a different balance than any current policy in Rwanda, but we should recognize the shades of gray that are involved -- not some simplistic reaction to curbing of some political speech or dissent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rwanda Bonds

Among the things the State of Israel has done that Rwanda should consider emulating is a foreign-investor bond program. 

The way Israel bonds works is like this:  an individual buys a "bond", which means that the individual is leading Israel money in exchange for a promise of return during the period until the invididual's money is returned.  So, for a $100 bond, the idea is that you pay today, say, $82 and after six years you can exchange it for $100.  From Israel's perspective, it get financing for worth-while projects; the individual-investor knows he'll get some investment return, maybe less than he might have received in a commercial bond, but he or she can rationale the lost "opportunity costs" (that is, the smaller return from the Israel bond than what he might have received from a private corporate bond, by saying that this is essential a financial contribution to the State of Israel.

The American Jewish community has responded by using Israel bonds as gifts for bar and bat mitzvah, high school gradualtion, birth of a baby, or the like.  Separately, individuals use the purchase of larger denominated bonds as an element of a diversified investment portfolio (and conconitantly, an element of a diversified charitable giving portfolio). 

For Rwanda, the large community that lives today outside of the country might well be willing to put some of their "savings" into Rwanda bonds.  They might give them as gifts.

Moreover, I can imagine giving a combined Israel bond/Rwanda bonda instrument as a gift.  This could be developed as a single dual-sovereign bond whereby perhaps a small percentage of the other governmnet's risk of default is assumed by the other.  But the key would be the marketing advantage and how this would foster stronger ties between Israel and Rwanda and Jews and Rwanda.  Moreover, the large american Christian community that has proven so supportive of Rwanda over last dozen years or more likewise may be interested in buying either Rwanda or Rwanda/Israel bonds.

For American Jews who have participated in the purchase of Israel bonds, the reception and satisfaction has been uniform positive and welcoming.  Like Israel was when the bond program was developed, Rwanda is an emerging county with many viable projects it can use to build its future.

Manchester, England

I haven't been to Manchester, but it's what Rwanda needs.

Projections are that Kigali will reach a population of more than 5 million people in a generation.  This is the current population of Singapore, a country that the Rwanda government holds up sometimes as a model.  Buy Singapore is one of the largest ports in the world.  It's not landlocked, surrounding by mountains.

Kigali presently is the economic center of the country and its capital.  As more and more Rwandans achieve the benefits of higher and higher levels of education, the pressure to go to the big urban center to take advantage of white-collar, middle professional jobs and opportunities will impel ambitious Rwandans to go there.  As this city grows, it will naturally expand physical, at the risk of driving up costs for low income people and forcing them to move.  This dynamic usually produces social instability, sometimes leading to development of shantytowns, a phenomenon not really seen in Rwanda. 

Rwanda needs to provide mutli-dimensional opportunities for its young people.  It needs to develop a vibrant alternative city to Kigali.  Butare is a logical choice, given the placement of the national university there.  (Kigali has the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, which I had the chance to visit, and which is a handsome campus that naturally will lead to spin-off technology enterprises and the like in Kigali.) 

But whether it is Butare, some existing city, or a newly designed information-technology center like Palo Alto, California, the plan for Rwanda's future must allow more than the alternative of (i) returning home to a rural community, (ii) moving to Kigali, and (iii) moving abroad to join the vibrant Rwandan expatriate community.  I am not suggesting, by the way, that farming does not engage the mind or call for great talents; I lived on a kibbutz in Israel where the person in charge of the orchards also was a colonel in the military and whose "business meetings" seemed like complex corporate strategy sessions.

Developing a light industrial, high value added manufacturing and quality-centric tradesman (and tradeswoman) community that provide opportunities to the upcoming generation -- and their children -- is crucial for Rwanda's longer-term development.  While some English youth might gravitate toward living in London, others will see Manchester as a different option might provide opportunity them. 

Decreeing the existence of a new city did not work so well in Brasil or Burma, but it has been successful in China.  Putting all the eggs in one Kigali basket is a strategy with high risk and, frankly, inadequate reward.  Rwanda needs to create viable, vibrant alterantives for the future of its wonderful people.  Manchester:  address --Rwanda, Central Africa.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Can George Washington Teach Paul Kagame?

George Washington, the first President of the United States, plainly was a great man:  a great field commander, one who shared the burdens with his soldiers, and became the first elected President, and who retired after his second term.  Washington could have been king or President for Life.  Yet, he choose to leave office at the end of his second term.  Washington's retirement allowed for the peaceful transition of civil power in the US.

Will Paul Kagame, a man whom I admire second to none, emulate George Washington?  The temptation to stay in power -- for the noblest reasons to help heal his country and perpetuate the change he has spearheaded -- must be overwhelming.  He is indispensible, but so was Washington. 

Kagame's seven year term ends in 2017.  He has been somewhat coy on allowing calls for the constitution to be changed to allow himself to run for election again.  I think it is right for him to leave the question open; no one wants to be a lame duck, and Kagame genuinely has concern about the stability of his government and country.  The moment of truth is several years from now.

George Washington was a man of incredible personal courage and dignity.  As one reads his biographies and learns about him, one sees that the US was fortunate indeed to have Washington as its first President.  Paul Kagame is made of the same stuff as Washington:  a great man, a humble man, and a man who can be a paragon of virtue, one who can continue to make great sacrifices for his country.  His courage, and his virtue, should lead him to follow -- to follow the example of George Washington.