28 March 2019 was a good day for the Ugandan people. In fact, the entire week will go down in history as the one in which Government was forced to back down from an attempted fraud. There has been a whiff of scandal in the air since the President announced plans to revive Uganda Airlines last year. Created by statute in 1976 and privatised in 2001, the plan was to revive the airline through a Public Private Partnership scheme. With the public still reeling from revelations that an intended PPP for the construction of a private hospital has been transformed into a $300 million build-and-operate contract awarded to a shady Italian firm called Finasi, and wholly financed by a promissory note from Government, last week was the wrong time to attempt the flying crane heist.
The country is notorious for disastrous PPPs. In 2017 the Auditor General reviewed the functions of the PPP Unit and reported: “The position of Director (head of the PPP Unit) had not been substantively filled despite its critical importance to the functioning of the Unit and the PPP Committee. The current Head of the Unit has been in acting capacity since 2015. In addition, the key positions of the PPP unit such as communication expert, project finance expert, legal expert, technical expert, and technical specialist were also vacant. This means that the PPP unit cannot provide the technical, financial and legal expertise to the PPP Committee and project teams established by contracting authorities as required under the Act.” [Emphasis mine]
Who owns the new Uganda Airlines? It does not appear on the books of Uganda Development Corporation, the investment arm of government. The Auditor-General does not include it in his tables of State enterprises, either active or dormant.
This writer commented at the time that keeping all the key technical positions vacant enabled the junta to override the functions of the PPP Unit and implement projects over which there has been no technical, financial or legal oversight.
An old rumour has resurfaced that Sam Kutesa, the President’s brother-in-law and Minister for Foreign Affairs, acquired the brand ‘Uganda Airlines’ and required billions of shillings in compensation to surrender it to the State.
As with the contract to build Lubowa Hospital awarded to Finasi, so with the formation and financing of Uganda Airlines. No procurement procedures were apparent when aeroplanes were ordered, two of which are to be delivered this April at a cost of UGX 280 billion ($75,380,200.00). Nobody could or would answer the question: who owns the new Uganda Airlines? It did not appear on the books of Uganda Development Corporation, the investment arm of government. The Auditor-General did not include it in his tables of State enterprises, either active or dormant, loss-making or profitable.
Privatisation has generally been a massive looting exercise by the junta that rules Uganda. Various family members own or owned various assets divested by the State. Caleb Akandwanaho (aka Gen. Salim Saleh), the President’s immediate younger brother, was forced to resign his seat in parliament after fraudulently acquiring Uganda Commercial Bank.
An old rumour has resurfaced that Sam Kutesa, the President’s brother-in-law and Minister for Foreign Affairs, acquired the brand ‘Uganda Airlines’ and required billions of shillings in compensation to surrender it to the State. Kutesa’s censure by parliament in 1999 for the irregular acquisition of the once State-owned cargo and ground handling service company, the only profitable part of the privatised Uganda Airlines was still fresh in people’s minds. That same year, a parliamentary committee was set up to investigate the sale of the ground handling service to Kutesa’s Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS) and the sovereign routes.
Privatisation has generally been a massive looting exercise by the junta that rules Uganda. Various family members own or owned various assets divested by the State. Caleb Akandwanaho (aka Gen. Salim Saleh), the President’s immediate younger brother, was forced to resign his seat in parliament after fraudulently acquiring Uganda Commercial Bank, the country’s largest commercial bank.
In a report, policy researcher, Wairagala Wakabi noted:
“At the time, the World Bank noted these and other serious flaws in the privatisation programme. It said a number of privatisation transactions had been unsuccessful and “the program has been widely criticised for non-transparency, insider dealing, conflict of interest and corruption.” Besides this, the Privatisation Unit, the agency responsible for carrying out privatisation, was unable to collect many outstanding payments for firms which were sold on a deferred payment basis, and questions had been raised about the use of the funds in the divestiture account.” Bringing affordable telecommunications services to Uganda: A policy narrative and analysis W. Wakabi, 2009.
The current re-nationalisation is proving to be just as opaque. The facts relating to the ownership of the resuscitated Uganda Airlines only began to emerge when the Ministry of Works had to submit a request for a budget supplement to complete payment for the planes. Although the order had been made months earlier, there was no provision for it after Export Development Canada pulled out of negotiations in September 2018. At the time, Canada’s action was thought to be related to the state brutality that erupted in Arua in August. Whatever the reason, the aircraft were ready for delivery this April after payment. The public maintained pressure on government via social media and two opposition MPs Joy Atim Ongom and Winnie Kiiza led the charge in the House. The Ministry tabled its request before a belligerent Parliament. The first objection was that the State had been allocated only two out of two million shares (0.0001%) in Uganda National Airlines Company Limited, (UNAC) the new entity that was going to run the airline. The 1,999,998 unallocated shares became the focus. To whom did they or would they belong? Is UNAC in fact a State Enterprise?
The first objection in Parliament was that the State had been allocated only two out of two million shares (0.0001%) in Uganda National Airlines Company Limited, (UNAC) the new entity that was going to run the airline.
The risk was that having passed UNAC off as a State enterprise thereby securing State funding, the drivers of the project – who remain unknown – could then allocate shares to ‘investors’ via the usual middlemen. The experience of Uganda Telecoms is indicative of this modus operandi.
In the beginning, the State held a 49 percent stake in UTL, selling 51 percent to investors. UTL also retained residual rights to license value added services. Currently the State holds only a 31 percent stake. Furthermore, no value-added service provider can operate without getting past MTN, a potential competitor allowed to begin operating before UTL , formerly the telecoms segment of the old state-owned Uganda Posts and Telecommunications Company, had been relaunched. With its history, infrastructure and brandname, MTN therefore holds a massive advantage in the telco market.
Minister Azuba Ntege gave an uncharacteristically embarrassed response for the NRM government and withdrew the submission to ‘correct the errors.’ The Speaker allowed her a day. The following morning the Minister arrived with fresh forms, updated to allocate 100 percent of UNAC shares to government.
“The sale of the 18 percent public holding was queried by the Public Accounts Committee not least because it flouted the requirement that the shares be valued by at least three qualified valuers (and not a mere broker) and advertised for sale to attract the best offer,” explains Wakabi in his report.
The Uganda Airline operators, whom the Ministry of Works is fronting, have been less fortunate. Minister Azuba Ntege gave an uncharacteristically embarrassed response for the NRM government and withdrew the submission to ‘correct the errors.’ The Speaker allowed her a day. The following morning the Minister attended the Budget Committee with fresh forms, updated to allocate 100 percent of UNAC shares to government. At that point the registrar of companies, Uganda Registration Service Bureau (URSB), announced that the updated articles and memo of the company were null and void. One reason for this was that the share allocation did not reflect the history of the initial allocation of two shares.
During the UNAC debate, Movement MPs pleaded that the State was days away from penalties for non-payment; an earlier deadline had been missed in December and the $27 million deposit stood to be lost.
It seems the effect was that a new entity was being formed with an initial allocation of 100 percent of the shares to the State. If so, that would have raised the question: who ordered the Bombardiers in 2018? It could not have been a company formed in March 2019. The question remains unanswered. Another mystery centres on the entity called Uganda Airlines Limited registered in 1999 and which has had no operations since. URSB even wrote to government in 2017 advising them that Uganda Airlines Ltd could be operationalised. Government preferred to register the new entity, UNAC Limited, in January 2018.
During the UNAC debate, Movement MPs pleaded that the State was days away from penalties for non-payment; an earlier deadline had been missed in December and the $27 million deposit stood to be lost. None addressed the issue that the State was in fact not liable in the event of UNAC defaulting.
A third set of papers was presented with effusive apologies from both ministers: “The registration process had gaps and I regret on behalf of myself, ministry and government. I beg to withdraw those documents,” apologised Minister Ntege. They now held all the shares in their capacities as public servants and not individuals. The government had no option but to accept radical amendments to the report of the Budget Committee that had spearheaded the defence against this latest attempt to raid the Treasury.
We are not out of the woods yet. There remains the issue of the two Airbus A330 aircraft ordered from Rolls Royce. It must be pointed out that the vendor, Rolls Royce has a long record of engaging in the kind of business practices for which Patrick Ho was convicted.
The ownership issue was sorted out with a resolution to transfer UNAC to Uganda Development Corporation. Ground handling services are to be re-nationalised regardless of the fact that Kutesa has allegedly sold ENHAS to NAS, allegedly a Kuwaiti entity. It is worth noting that there were rumours of this transaction around the same time that one Patrick Ho was being indicted in a New York court in 2017 for bribing both Kutesa and the President for oil and other business rights. (When Enhas was mentioned in parliament, Beatrice Anywar MP, who recently deserted the Opposition front bench for the NRM, was seen to leave her seat and in highly unorthodox fashion, whisper in to the ear of the Deputy Speaker. He waved her away).
We are not out of the woods yet. There remains the issue of the two Airbus A330 aircraft ordered from Aerospace and powered by a Rolls Royce engine.
In this case there should be more time to scrutinize the business case for the investment, something not done with the earlier ones because of the payment deadline. It must be pointed out that Rolls Royce, which issued a press release welcoming Uganda’s decision and looking forward to developing its relationship with Uganda Airlines, has a long record of business practices for which Patrick Ho was convicted.
Due diligence demands that Ugandans ask: Who negotiated with Rolls Royce for the Airbus aircraft? Did they receive a bribe? Having interrupted a burglary in progress, they need to be on the lookout for other attempts to milk the Treasury.
Following an investigation by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office, it was found that Rolls Royce exchanged bribes for business with officials across the globe. The operation continued for 24 years before Rolls Royce reached a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in 2017 under which individual officials would not be prosecuted but Rolls Royce would pay penalties of US$800 million for bribery in Angola, Nigeria and South Africa as well as Azerbaijan, Brazil, India, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.
The judge found:
“v. […] substantial funds being made available to fund bribe payments.
vi) The conduct displayed elements of careful planning.”
Due diligence demands that Ugandans ask: Who negotiated with Rolls Royce for the Airbus aircraft? Did they receive a bribe? Having interrupted a burglary in progress, they need to be on the lookout for other attempts to milk the Treasury through this enterprise. The greatest weakness is that private operating capital will have to be found because Isimba and Karuma Dams are ahead of the airline in the financing queue and have not yet found the public funds needed to transmit the power they will generate. There is also the proposed oil pipeline and refinery for which investors are either not forthcoming or remain cautious. How the shares are sold and to whom is key.
Regarding any compensation for ground handling, if this service was illegally carved out of Uganda Airlines and in fact led to its collapse and sale, there should be no obligation to compensate NAS. It would be interesting to find out if in fact NAS is not Sam Kutesa in disguise.
With respect to the Airline, parliament adopted a business plan that they have not seen and whose profitability is questionable. It may have made sense for private individuals to own 99 percent of it, and operate a business for which all funding and liabilities are borne by the government, but it may not make sense for government to own 100 percent, and operate an airline when other regional airlines are struggling. Previous efforts by private entities in Uganda have not been successful, all but one failing for lack of cash, a shortage of which, incidentally, is also haunting Government.
In 2020, the grace period on 19 loans (including for the Entebbe Airport expansion and the Expressway) will expire requiring government to allocate 65 percent of her revenues to debt servicing. With 44 percent of revenues currently being devoted to debt service, the economic situation is already untenable for the majority who use neither the airport nor the expressway. The fiscal crunch is characterised by drug-stock-outs in health centres and lack of teaching materials in State schools. Feeder roads by which smallholders (80 percent of the population) transport their produce are in a dire state. Their maintenance requires UGX 800 billion ($215 million) a year but the government was only able to manage a fixed amount of UGX 417 billion for the three years up to June 2018.
In A brief chronological history of Uganda Airlines, Kikonyogo Douglas Albert gives an insight into the vicissitudes of the air transport sector. In 2001 Africa One opened and closed within the year owing to limited capitalization; East African Airlines with a single ageing Boeing 737-200 running flights within East Africa, to Dubai and South Africa lasted five years before an investment shortfall forced it to close in 2007. Royal Daisy Airlines founded in 2005 lasted five years.
Government ventured back into the industry in 2006, investing in a 20 percent share of Victoria International Airlines regular flights to South Africa, Sudan and Nairobi. This venture too suffered from inadequate capitalization and closed after only 2 months. Finally, the Aga Khan Group’s Air Uganda started regional operations in 2007 and stopped in 2014 after the International Civil Aviation Authority Organization November raised technical queries.
Signs of incompetent management have manifested sooner than expected. Although the Ministry states 12 pilots have been recruited at UGX 42m ($11,307) a month and 12 co-pilots at UGX 38 m ($10,230.17), and promised Parliament to table their professional records, on 31 March it transpired the airline may actually not have pilots. Documents were leaked to NTV Uganda investigative journalist, Raymond Mujuni, showing that owing to a dispute over pay, they have not reported to work objecting to salaries apparently lower than those of Kenya Airways and Rwandair pilots. The pilots also want permanent terms (which would make them eligible for massive pensions – Uganda has no public service pensions fund and billions are owed to Uganda Communications Employees Contributory Pensions Scheme (UCECPS) pensioners in arrears).
The airline immediately tweeted a disclaimer urging the public to ignore the report. Given the choice of R. Mujuni, a competent investigative journalist, and the shady airline company, a vigilant public might be more inclined to believe the pilots are on strike. Now that it is a public enterprise, the Auditor General and Inspector General of Government will need to pay particular attention to the Flying Crane. An important line of enquiry is whether the jobs were advertised and whether or not the recruits are beneficiaries of the controversial State House scholarship scheme, the educational arm of the junta.
As it is, the airline is to be launched in April. So far there has been no marketing of the maiden flight. The challenges ahead notwithstanding, after 33 years of fiscal abuse by Yoweri Museveni’s regime, Uganda was able to stop another heist of public funds. What made it even more beautiful was the fact that the methods used were parliament and the media.
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Changes in Suicide Reporting Welcome, but Slow
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness.
Earlier this year, the Baraza Media Lab and the Centre on Suicide Research and Intervention published a report that looked at how broadcasting stations report on suicide on social media. Its contents were sobering. Many leading media houses were found to report suicide as a criminal act. Reports also contained harmful elements such as descriptions of suicide methods and imagery of suicide and did not provide helpful information for readers who may be thinking of suicide.
So how have journalists been reporting on suicide since the data was collected? A very cursory survey of news outlets on social media shows reasons for both optimism and worry. Over the course of 2023, media outlets have published more stories about mental health, indicating an increasing awareness of it. This year has also seen an increased number of responsibly written social media posts that take into account the need for sensitivity on suicide.
Now, the negatives. Knowledge on responsible reporting of suicide, while improved, remains inconsistent across news operations. Real progress will require further integrating social media into editorial processes, subjecting its copy to as much rigour as the stories themselves to ensure errors are not introduced once stories are completed. Also, many insensitive references to suicide on social media were accurately reproduced from news stories.
The term “committed suicide” continues to appear on news websites, even in stories where responsible reporting would be expected, such as those that explore the risk factors of suicide. Stories use the insensitive word “suicidal” in phrases like “treating suicidal people as criminals” and “people who are suicidal”. The same insensitivity is also observed in the phrase “mentally ill” – ironically in stories that call for acts of suicide to be decriminalised.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary. It was interesting – and revealing – to see a media outlet’s official X account, formerly known as Twitter, include both the terms “died by suicide” and “committed suicide” in the same tweet.
News websites continue to narrate morbid details about the manner of death by suicide. You are still likely to find phrases like “the body was found hanging in his room”, a man “who set himself ablaze” and “doused himself in a flammable substance before setting himself ablaze while carrying the Kenyan flag”. The imagery of suicide, with the noose particularly prominent, continues to be used in stories, inadvertently advertising hanging as a suitable method.
It’s not clear that all journalists understand why respectful reporting on suicide is necessary.
Media outlets aired insensitive footage. One camera focused on a woman overcome with emotion, who understood she was being filmed. One story goes as far as to narrate that instead of dissuading the deceased from taking his own life, a bystander handed him a lighted match and taunted him over unsuccessful attempts to light himself on fire, displaying the contempt people have for people thinking of suicide and inviting viewers to agree with those ideas.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing. Reports are more likely to use “died by suicide” where the only death reported is by suicide. On the other hand, when person who died by suicide had killed another person, the phrase “committed suicide” is used freely.
The approach to reporting suicide varies depending on whether the person who died by suicide had committed a violent crime just prior, usually another killing.
Yet the same responsibility to reduce the prominence of suicide applies even in the context of crime reporting, and steps that broadcasters take to make footage of murders acceptable, such as using trigger warnings and black and white for bloodstains, may still be unacceptable in the context of suicide prevention. According to a 2021 brief by the University College Cork, Ireland, no graphic footage should be used in reporting murder-suicides, and care should be taken to discourage copycats, or position murder-suicide as a solution to anything.
Without a deeper understanding of the harm insensitive reporting on suicide causes, attempts to change may be wrongly deemed as political correctness, resulting in disrespectful coverage that tries to “say it as it is” and neglects to include sources of help for people who may be thinking of suicide.
Why President Kagame Should Not Run for a Fourth Term
The 2024 elections in Rwanda are an opportunity for the country to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions and a governance that is more tolerant of critics.
The constitution of Rwanda was amended in 2015 to allow President Paul Kagame to stand for a third term of seven years. Kagame was re-elected in 2017 and his term ends in 2024. The change in the constitution also allows him to stand for a fourth and a fifth five-year term. In my view, President Kagame should not run for a fourth presidential term in the 2024 elections.
President Paul Kagame was appointed Vice President and Minister for Defence on 19 July 1994, immediately after the end of the war and the Rwanda genocide. When President Pasteur Bizimungu resigned in 2000, Kagame was elected by the Transitional National Assembly to replace him. Three years later, in 2003, Kagame was elected president and has been president of Rwanda for over two decades. He has, therefore, risen to higher levels of decision-making over three decades, a sufficient period of time during which to oversee the implementation of policies he thought would advance the betterment of Rwandans. Kagame should, therefore, consider letting another willing and capable Rwandan build upon his achievements and continue to advance Rwanda’s interests. Indeed, under Kagame’s leadership, Rwanda has made some achievements but there are also shortcomings.
First, from a war-torn country, Rwanda has emerged to become a state with well-defined and functioning structures and institutions supported by fairly clear legislations. In my opinion, this has been achieved thanks to Kagame’s administration’s commitment to bring about change in Rwanda manifested immediately after the end of the war and the genocide against the Tutsi.
Second, Rwanda has also made some economic gains even though these can be challenged in many aspects. In 2000, Kagame made a pledge to transform Rwanda from a low- to a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy by 2020. Since then, the Rwandan economy has grown significantly and its GDP per capita has increased from USD304 in 1995 to USD940 in 2022. The country’s human development index has soared and Rwanda has been recognised by the World Health Organization as one of the countries that are performing well on the goal of achieving universal health coverage. The country’s life expectancy has increased significantly, from 47 years in 2000 to 67 years in 2020. Moreover, according to UNICEF, the government has made some improvements in expanding education for all across Rwanda.
Lastly, through a meticulously executed campaign of communication, compelling narratives have been disseminated across the world that speak well of Rwanda. This along with the country’s commitment to deploy its soldiers to multinational peacekeeping missions across the world (Rwanda ranks fourth on the list of countries that contribute in peacekeeping in the world) has enabled Rwanda to strengthen its foreign relations with other countries and project its image as a development success story.
There are certainly more achievements that President Kagame has made during his 30 years in leadership that his replacement can learn from and retain to move Rwanda forward. However there are shortcomings. Kagame managed to put the country back on the world map but failed to create an environment for the country’s citizens to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.
Upon taking power following a military victory, his political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), pledged a consensual democracy to Rwandans. But over time this democracy has transformed into a political system that suppresses political dissent, restricts pluralism and curtails liberty in Rwanda. Most affected are those who dare or are perceived to challenge his government’s narrative in Rwanda and abroad. In many instances, Kagame’s government has abused its power, colluding with the judicial system to criminalise his critics. As a result, Rwanda has repeatedly been categorised as not a free country by Freedom House.
This has led to independent and inter-governmental human rights organisations and representatives of developed countries that financially support Rwanda to publicly criticise his leadership for lack of political inclusion, human rights violations and the overall democracy deficit in Rwanda. This situation continues to tarnish Rwanda’s reputation that Kagame’s leadership has been working hard to restore.
Furthermore, independent reports on the development of democracy and governance throughout the world – and in Africa in particular – all point out that citizen participation in Rwanda remains limited, as do local NGOs.
Political participation in Rwanda is limited only to those who adhere or are willing to be affiliated to his political party, the RPF. This has prevented the emergence of a genuine opposition that could have provided checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda. The repercussions are that lack of accountability within public institutions is rampant and Kagame has many times publicly criticised officials in his administration for not delivering as they should. In fact, the pledge he made in 2000 to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country driven by a knowledge economy has not materialised and Rwanda remains a low-income country to date.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population. Hence, the economic gains made by Kagame’s administration can be challenged in many aspects as previously pointed out. For instance, substantial public funds have been invested in the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (MICE) sector while less has been allocated to education, agriculture, and rural infrastructure development. Thus, despite remarkable economic growth and a significant improvement in the human development index registered by Rwanda since 1994, these achievements are tarnished by high inequalities in income, health and education. Furthermore, they are characterised by economic injustices such as unfair land expropriation and the uprooting of farmers’ crops. Rwanda’s human capital development remains below the average for African countries due to a lack of quality education and high levels of malnutrition among children below five years. Only 41 per cent of households in Rwanda are considered to be substantially food secure. The private sector’s contribution to growth has remained small and growth is predominantly led by state-owned enterprises and those belonging to the ruling party. Overall, Rwandans have been consecutively ranked among the bottom five least happy populations on the global happiness index.
Failure to effectively engage citizens in decision-making has also resulted in the implementation of development policies that do not meet the immediate needs of the population.
Over the past three decades, curtailed civil liberties and mounting social inequalities have seen Rwandans seek refuge abroad and prevented from returning to their homeland those who had fled Rwanda after the RPF took power in 1994. This situation has exacerbated the issue of Rwandan refugees that has persisted since Rwanda’s independence.
In particular, under President Kagame, the unresolved issue of Rwandan refugees settled in Rwanda’s neighbouring countries has been a source of political tensions between Rwanda and its neighbours. The Rwandan government has maintained that there are negative forces resident in eastern DRC that are out to destabilise Rwanda, a reference to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). The FDLR is an armed group formed by Rwandan refugees in DRC who, following their forcible eviction from Rwanda during the genocide, resorted to armed struggle as a means of retaking power in Rwanda. Despite Rwanda’s armed forces launching military operations against the FDLR on numerous occasions on Congolese soil in collaboration with the Congolese army, the Rwandan government continues to insist that the FDLR is a threat to Rwanda’s security.
The United Nations has twice – in 2012 and 2022 – accused Rwanda of supporting the M23, an armed group that is fighting in the eastern DRC. This conflict has displaced populations and led to the death of millions of African civilian lives. In 2016, the UN Security Council accused Rwanda of recruiting and training Burundian refugees with the aim of ousting the then Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza. Western countries have suspended or withheld aid to Rwanda over allegations that it supported the M23 in 2012 and some of Rwanda’s donors have recently publicly called on the Rwandan government to stop supporting the M23 and remove its troops from eastern DRC. The European Union and United States of America have sanctioned Rwandan military officials for backing the M23. The US has placed Rwanda on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act List and suspended its military aid to the country due to Rwanda’s support of the M23, which the US says recruits and uses child soldiers. Not only do these allegations of Rwanda’s involvement in the regional conflict further tarnish the country’s image that Kagame’s administration has worked hard to restore, but the tensions with neighbouring states have also prevented Rwanda from maximising the benefits of regional integration and trade for its development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive. To successfully implement such reforms in governance requires a new leadership with fresh perspectives and approaches that will be able to build on Kagame’s achievements in order to address unresolved historical grievances of Rwandans and at the same time enable Rwanda to maximise its potential in the region and experience genuine development.
President Kagame should not run for a fourth term as the governance of Rwanda needs to be reformed so that it becomes more tolerant of critics, democratic and inclusive.
Considering Rwanda’s history of long-serving strongmen who have taken power, retained it and lost it through violence, the 2024 presidential election is an opportunity for Rwandans to experience the transfer of power in a peaceful and transparent manner as has been the case in neighbouring countries including Burundi, DRC and Tanzania. It is an opportunity for Rwanda to move away from strongman leadership to enable the emergence of strong institutions to take the lead instead. This can be achieved by building on the legislations that have been reviewed and implemented under Kagame’s leadership. Therefore, while recognising with gratitude the achievements that he has made over the past three decades, Kagame’s greatest achievement yet would be to step away from power at the end of his term in 2024. In so doing, Kagame will have paved the way for better leadership in Rwanda and opened the door to future generations of Rwandans aspiring to become leaders in Rwanda.
Why Kenyans Demanded an Apology from King Charles
The traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day, and this is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from King Charles.
Many British people are surprised that King Charles’s visit to Kenya was not welcomed by many Kenyans and human rights organisations. People whose families had suffered at the hands of British colonialists during his mother’s reign demanded an apology for crimes committed. Although the British monarch expressed “deepest regret” for the atrocities committed by the British in Kenya, he fell short of making a public apology.
However, many Brits believe that there is nothing the king needed to apologise for. One presenter on Sky News even wondered why Kenyans were calling for an apology from the king given that Britain had done much “good” in the country. After all, he said, without any hint of irony, the British Empire had brought democracy to Kenya (how he equated imperialism with democracy beats me) and given Kenyans “the gift of the English language”.
It was obvious that the presenter had been taught British imperial history that has whitewashed the atrocities that the British Empire committed in its colonies around the world. British children are to this day taught that British colonialism was a “civilising mission” that brought modern education and infrastructure, in addition to Christianity, to regions that were steeped in ignorance and backwardness. Apologists for the British Empire, such as the historian Niall Ferguson, author of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, argue that Britain should be congratulated for conquering the world because British civilisation brought science and technology to people who held superstitious beliefs, and injected a “work ethic” in populations that were lazy and lacking in imagination. This is sort of like saying that slave owners did slaves a favour by shipping them to the Americas and forcing them to work for free because these slaves are now US citizens and enjoy all that America has to offer (even though it took them four centuries to gain rights as equal citizens).
A few months ago, the editor of a German magazine contacted me to ask whether I could submit an article on the atrocities the British had committed in Kenya during colonialism. He told me that while his magazine had documented human rights violations by German and Belgian colonialists in places like Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it had largely ignored the violations committed by Britain in places like Kenya because the majority of Germans believe that British colonialism was not as brutal as that of other European powers, and that its net impact on its colonies in Africa had been positive. It dawned on me that perhaps Europeans are not being told the true story about colonialism and its horrific impact on Africans. So, here’s primer.
Erasure of memory
Kenya officially became a British colony in 1920, but prior to that, from 1895, it was deemed a “protectorate” – a term suggesting that the colonisers who grabbed the land were there to protect the interests of the “natives” who would benefit from being colonised. A widely held belief is that because Britain spearheaded the abolition of slavery, the British were “benevolent” colonisers, unlike the French and the Belgians who plundered and looted their African colonies. (In addition to extracting raw materials and exporting items such as ivory and rubber, the French and the Belgians also stole invaluable artefacts from their colonies in West and Central Africa, which today are displayed in museums across Europe, including in Britain, despite efforts by African governments to have these artefacts returned to where they were stolen from.)
Yet, those who care to join the dots between the anti-slavery movement and the colonisation of Africa are acutely aware of the fact that the Berlin Conference of 1884-85 (dubbed the “Scramble for Africa”) that carved up Africa among European nations, including Britain, took place just a few years after slavery ended. Because slavery was no longer legal and was costly to maintain, the only other way Europeans could extract cheap labour and highly profitable resources from Africa was by colonising the continent.
In order to justify colonisation in settler colonies like Kenya and Zimbabwe (formerly known as Rhodesia), it was necessary to erase evidence of atrocities committed by the Europeans. Many of these atrocities remained unacknowledged and unreported for decades because archival documents were either destroyed or deliberately concealed. British historian David M. Anderson, author of Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya, discovered that thousands of documents belonging to the British colonial administration were flown to London in 1963 on the eve of Kenya’s independence and remained hidden from the public for decades, despite attempts by successive post-independence Kenyan governments to have these “stolen papers” returned to Kenya.
The magnitude of these atrocities was finally revealed in 2005 when the Harvard historian Caroline Elkins’ book, Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, was published. The book documents the many crimes that British colonial officers committed in Kenya in their relentless pursuit of wealth, land and power for themselves and in the name of the British Empire. Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The areas where these Mau Mau revolutionaries were arrested, detained, tortured or killed in the 1950s were in and around the Aberdares mountain range in Central Kenya where Queen Elizabeth, during an official visit to Kenya, ascended to the throne after the death of her father, King George VI, in February 1952. Eight months after she became Queen of England and head of the British Empire, a state of emergency was declared in Kenya that allowed the British Colonial Office to detain people without trial. Many freedom fighters languished in camps or jails where they were subjected to torture.
Mau Mau fighters and their supporters were subjected to extreme forms of torture, including castration, whipping, waterboarding and electric shocks.
The Mau Mau rebellion was a reaction to the expropriation of some 7 million acres of the most fertile land in Central Kenya and the Rift Valley – dubbed the White Highlands – in the early part of the 20th century after the building of the Uganda Railway, which opened up the interior of East Africa for British colonisation and settlement. The indigenous population was pushed into so-called reserves while others became squatters on land that was once theirs, working for white farmers for very little wages.
Elkins estimates that between 160,000 and 320,000 detainees, mostly from the Kikuyu, Meru and Embu ethnic groups, were tortured or maimed by the British at the height of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, although official figures state that the number of detainees was no more than 80,000. It is estimated that more than 20,000 Mau Mau militants were killed. Further, more than a million people, mainly in central Kenya, were detained in camps or confined in villages known as “reserves” (which have been described as “concentration camps”) surrounded by barbed wire. Tens of thousands of people held in these dense and unsanitary guarded camps and villages died from hunger or disease.
To justify these atrocities, British officials painted the Mau Mau as savage “terrorists” because of the violent and brutal methods they used to hunt down and kill white settlers and local informers. Official figures show that Mau Mau fighters killed 32 British settlers and 1,819 indigenous people whom they believed to be spies for the British.
Today what the British Empire did in Kenya might be perceived as a form of ethnic cleansing, but because colonisation was not unfashionable then, the atrocities were not condemned, nor was anyone tried. It was only in 2011, during a landmark court case brought against the British by a group of Mau Mau veterans, that the British government, under legal pressure, admitted that the documents were in a high-security facility that also contained files from 36 other former British colonies. (In 2013, 5,228 Mau Mau veterans were awarded £20 million in compensation by a UK court, which amounts to roughly £3,000 per victim, a paltry sum given the suffering they endured.) One of these documents contained details of eight colonial officers stationed in Kenya “roasting detainees alive”. All of the accused officers were granted amnesty.
Official amnesia and disinformation were not just part of a deliberate campaign by the British Empire to whitewash the crimes it committed in its colonies in Africa and elsewhere, but also a strategy employed by post-colonial governments in Kenya to cloak their own complicity in ensuring that British interests in the country were preserved.
Post-independence Kenyan elites benefitted from colonial policies that alienated Africans from their own land and became the biggest beneficiaries of post-independence land grabs disguised as land redistribution or adjudication. After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power. According to Kenya’s 2013 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report, “Rich businessmen and businesswomen, rich and powerful politicians who were loyal to the colonial administration, managed to acquire thousands of acres at the expense of the poor and the landless.” Hence, “instead of redressing land-related injustices perpetrated by the colonialists on Africans, the resettlement process created a privileged class of African elites, leaving those who had suffered land alienation either on tiny unproductive pieces of land or landless.” Even today in Kenya, members of freedom fighting movements like the Mau Mau remain landless and poverty-stricken while those who sided with the colonialists are among the richest people in the land.
After independence, the so-called home guards or loyalists became the biggest beneficiaries of land and political power.
The Mau Mau remained a proscribed organisation for four decades after independence. It was only in 2003, when Mwai Kibaki became president, that the Mau Mau were recognised for the role they had played in Kenya’s struggle for independence. Kenyatta Day on 20 October was renamed Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) to commemorate all those who died while fighting for freedom. In 2007, a statue of Dedan Kimathi was erected in Nairobi’s central business district, and in 2015, following the 2013 UK court decision to compensate Mau Mau veterans, the British government put up a Mau Mau memorial sculpture in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park “as a symbol of reconciliation between the British government, the Mau Mau and all those who suffered”.
Despite these symbols of reconciliation and healing, the traumatic legacy of British colonialism lingers in Kenya to this day. This is why Kenyans were demanding an apology from the King – because the wounds have not yet healed. While a public apology might not have been enough to completely heal the wounds and traumas of the past, it would have been an important first step.
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