What is education for? To solve problems. PBL explained

Solution-based learning


What is education for?

We do not ask ourselves this question often enough, we take education as a given, children must be educated but we never truly think why. We will say; to get jobs, to make tomorrow a better world, to keep them out of trouble, but never truly ask why. If we answer that question, then the next question is; how we do we educate our children? We agree that we have a largely colonial education system, we deal with the remnants of colonial dogma in our text books, curricula, and methods, but we never deal with the root cause. The colonial system was not built to make you understand but to remember. What we have today is not so much an education system but a Memory Championships. We measure to see which kids can memorize the best, we select these kids and set them on a path to success, understanding is not necessary, just memorizing is enough. We do not focus as much on analytical skills, critical thinking, teamwork, motivation, and other skills needed for the market. School teaches you two things; facts and skills, facts are facts “2 + 2 = 4” but skills are more beneficial in life. Learning negotiation, compromise, teamwork, communication skills, report-writing, problem-solving, and such are the real benefits I got from school, I have since forgotten most of the facts the teachers yapped all day. Employers in Rwanda complain daily about the caliber of graduates, the qualifications are fine, but core skills are lacking. Every Job Ad says the same “Must have good communication skills, analytical skills, leadership skills, teamwork, and be highly self-motivated.” That is a model employee, technical skills are not enough, core skills differential a good from a great employee.

What is solution-based learning?

You will notice I have used “Solution-based learning” instead of the proper title “Problem-based learning” but I did it on purpose, so as not to scare away policy-makers who boycott anything with “Problems” in it. The intention is the same, it starts with a problem, and ends with a solution. We complain that our courses are not geared towards seeking solutions to our problems specifically. It is about what skills we develop while teaching. We have tried to defund certain courses we see as unnecessary but the problem is the core skills. In traditional learning a solution is decided for a problem, the person memorizes, then a problem is assigned to illustrate the solution. In Problem-based learning you come with a fresh approach, a problem is assigned, not a solution, you never assume to have the answer. Second, you decide what information is necessary to help understand the problem, only then do you assign a solution.

PBL has certain advantages.


  • It creates Student-centered learning, it shifts the focus away from the teacher to the student. The teacher is merely a facilitator who will help the students teach each other.
  • It create lifelong students, the skills you learn can be used for life.
  • Comprehension not memorization, if you understand something you don’t have to remember, it is at your fingertips.
  • Students deal with real life relevant situations to their contexts, students also build on prior knowledge they have.
  • Helps with self-learning, a student researches alone then goes to share with their counterparts and spreads it in the group.
  • Interpersonal skills and teamwork. We create a competitive environment in school, but the job world is a collaborative effort. Children who have been programmed to compete, to win at all costs, make bad employees in the long run. Teamwork and collaboration is needed now.
  • It improves the Teacher-student experience. Teaching become a two-way experience, the average Rwandan teenager knows more about technology than their teachers, the teachers can learn as well in this. To understand this crazy new world better.


The concept of modern education is very new, only 100 or so years old since it became compulsory in the West, we try to copy all their mistakes to remain relevant. However, in the thousands of years before that we still had education, children were banded in groups of 6-10 and taught in small groups, not classes. PBL tries to recreate that pre-historic method, our forefathers walked through the woods as they taught biology, naming each plant, letting you smell the scent, feel the leaves, see the insects underneath. In this method, a child can never forget because all their senses were stimulated. The PBL system can help augment traditional teaching methods, it is not there to replace traditional teaching but make it more accessible. Teachers have to change the way they teach, to include the pupil and student more. Students have to change their attitude to be more self-motivated and not look to their teacher to do everything. We must find a way to use all the technology and information at our disposal. One of the secret reasons why One Laptop Per Child works is the interactive group learning aspect, less the technology which merely facilitates learning. PBL needs the education policymakers to be on board, the teachers, as well as students have to be re-sensitized


  1. Prepare faculty for change
  2. Establish a new curriculum committee and working group
  3. Designing the new PBL curriculum and defining educational outcomes
  4. Seeking Advice from Experts in PBL
  5. Planning, Organizing and Managing
  6. Training PBL facilitators and defining the objectives of a facilitator
  7. Introducing Students to the PBL Program
  8. Using 3-learning to support the delivery of the PBL program
  9. Changing the assessment to suit the PBL curriculum
  10. Encouraging feedback from students and teaching staff
  11. Managing learning resources and facilities that support self-directed learning
  12. Continuing evaluation and making changes




Core skills, and not bad subjects?

There is no such thing as a bad subject, or wrong subject, only a wrongly taught subject. A friend of mine in UK studied Medieval Arts, he’s now a bank manager. Even though he studied a superfluous subject, he learnt core skills; good communication, analysis, report-writing, teamwork, leadership, self-motivation, and was ready to learn. Cutting funding to Arts, or Business courses and focusing on STEM will not produce any better students. The employers will say the same “they can’t think for themselves, communication is poor, no critical thinking, reports are terrible, lack of teamwork, not self-motivated, waiting to be told to do the smallest thing, and they are not curious about knowledge. If our STEM courses do not teach these critical skills, then we in the same situation and nothing will change. Facts vs skills; we want our students to remember more facts than ever before, facts that became obsolete and irrelevant years ago. We never truly focus on skills, skills which last a lifetime, skills for life and not just the job. In today’s world facts are less important to memorize, we have Google, but we don’t have the skills to analyze the facts. We should allow students to bring laptops and Google stuff, but test them on analysis and cognitive skills. Our system will just continue to produce memory champions, they won’t understand the knowledge but will remember it verbatim like a parrot. Look at the Expats we have here, what do they have that we don’t? It might be as simple as they took PBL in school and we didn’t.


What are the obstacles to PBL?


The system is not perfect, it also has so flaws, but its benefits outweigh the downside

  • The role of the teacher is crucial, some teachers are not naturally suited to PBL. It must be up to the teacher to have more freedom to choose their methods.
  • Time-consuming, it is far easier to just lecture, but less effective.
  • Changing assumptions is hard, teachers should teach and students should study, challenging social norms can lead to friction. Especially when teachers are locked in a target culture or ticking boxes
  • Cognitive load – a group discussion can lead to TMI (To Much Info) overloading the student. Teachers should set strict parameters for discussion to avoid deviation, repetition and misinformation.
  • Student feedback – it is very important that the teacher gives the student marks, but also important for the student to mark the teacher a grade as well. To help perfect PBL you need end user feedback, in this case the learner. This upsets the balance of traditional teaching.


Producing 21st century thinkers


Rwanda is trying to produce the best thinkers of the 21st century, we are doing all the prescribed things but we fall short somehow. Something is missing, critical thinking – critical thinking does not equate to being a critic or criticizing, it pertains to being about to think systematically about a problem, devise a solution, implement it, appraise it and mitigate it from happening. In Rwanda, I leave work at 9 for field trips and come back at 4 and nothing happened, no one had the initiative to think for themselves, or take responsibility, so they waited for boss to come back. This happens in every office, when the Boss is away, nothing moves, no one can take responsibility. We are producing brilliant coders who can’t think for themselves, geniuses who can’t communicate well in even one language, leaders who can’t lead, something is missing in the current upcoming generation.


I will give you an example of how PBL can be transformational. A Girl’s School in Zambia was next to a bar, drinkers from the local pub would urinate outside and it would stink for the girls in class. The teacher gave them an assignment, to find a solution to this problem. The Girls designed a urinal that collected this urine and they later discovered this urine could be used to make electricity. They then made a giant urine battery to light up their school, the urine of drinkers went from being a nuisance to a blessing. That is PBL at its core, practical solution made by learning on the job, turning problems into solutions. Look around us, so many problems, but also many solutions as well, we need to put our young minds to work on fixing them. We can turn a sewerage problem into fertilizers, a rubbish problem into jobs and cash, all our problems are also solutions to another problem, we just need to pair them up. We need to teach this can-do attitude to our student, to collectively solve their problems and not wait for others.


Solution-based learning or Problem-based learning, call it what you want. It works

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The Death Of Mowzey Is a Wake-up Call To Artists



Know the ledge

The untimely death of Moise Sekibogo AKA Mowzey Radio has hit us so hard. We celebrated his life with 6 hours of continuous music, each song better than the next. The Rapper Rakim said Knowledge is knowing the ledge, life is short and delicate, we walk a fine line on a ledge of life and death. Many fall in that pit. It makes you wonder if artists are doomed to die young, if the same forces that make them great make them fall. Uganda doesn’t have a music industry, it has a party scene, the ethos is chakalate, paka late, pakalast. Radio and Weasal were born out of this hedonistic party scene, the party started and never stopped for 11 years, issues like management, royalties, contracts, percentages and the nitty-gritty was left to another day. People will tell you it was an accident but it was clearly murder, they created a drunken brawl to cover that but it was planned from the minute he was invited. Their former manager had threatened Radio’s life several times, they were embroiled in legal cases as to where their money went. No one in Uganda expects the killers to be brought to justice, these are rich men who can pay bribes.


The perfect formula

Radio and Weasal perfected the formula for pop music, their music travelled well because it was always simple, melodic and anthemic. With roots in Luganda Kidandali and gospel, but fused with Ragga, Lingala, South African and rhythms in the language of the streets. It was happy, feel-good music, always upbeat and positive. It was the soundtrack to my life for the last eleven, it was everywhere, blaring from radios, cars, clubs and pubs. They arrived at a perfect time when the internet was penetrating our conscious and download speeds where fast enough to listen and watch songs. Their first show was here at an old mansion-style hotel called Royal Villas, I had no idea who they were but when I heard 3 of their songs I realized they were stars in the making. Their output was prolific, some 138 hits plus features, means you can play 7 hours nonstop. They never did albums, just hit after hit after hit. They could never stop to plan and sort out their lives. They went from tour to tour with a ceaseless energy, but when you look at their catalogue they should be millionaires, their potential was fulfilled musically but not fulfilled. They still remained in the Kampala Chakalating matrix, a little bubble onto itself, and they never broke out of it and it killed Radio. Their management was not capable of taking to the next level, they wanted them to stay small so they could eat their money. Only going to the BET awards and winning woke them up to their true international potential.




Management is crucial


Just like leadership is crucial to a nation, management is the defining factor in maintaining success. Any talented artist can break into stardom, but to stay there you have to good management. Artists choose the worst managers, people who just want to hang around stars, normally the guy who settles and counts the bar bill becomes you manager. Music management is no different from corporate management, in fact you are better off hiring a manager who worked in a normal company, like a bank or a factory. A person who is disciplined, has people skills, clerical skills for records, can negotiate contracts, can handle bookings but leave your financial management to a qualified financial manager. Do NOT pick the friend you drink all day with, don’t pick a friend who helped you along the way because you feel you owe them a favour. Don’t pick someone because they know the industry better than you, that is an agent, not a manager. Your manager manages you, your team around you, your financial manager handles money, your agent books your shows for a commission. DO NOT  and I repeat DO NOT give ALL these jobs to one person, ESPECIALLY if you are related. Don’t pick relations or best friends, and if you pick strangers maintain a professional relationship, don’t be best friends, maintain a distance. Above all, sign contracts which stipulate everything, their workload, their responsibilities, the timeframe of the contract and how much they are paid. This is very hard in the chaotic world of music, where money comes in spurts and dry spells.


Get a team


Radio should never have been killed like that, he should have had management protect him more. Good management spots problems early and cuts them out. They manage your security, entourage, spending, and keep you out of dangerous locations. Good management understand that nothing can touch the golden goose, otherwise they will all be out of a job. King James was once in a bar and called his financial advisor to ask if he could afford to drink that day, he said no, and he left. That is what happens when you have a team around you to keep you accountable, no just vultures wanting to eat your money, who keep you drunk all day and night to steal. Have a publicist, manage you image, every word you say must be on point, all actions, all pictures. Beyonce has a team of 50 people so she just has to arrive on stage and perform, that is why she looks professional because someone is behind taking care of everything. Her father, was a VP at Sun Microsystems and left to manage her group and it was $1bn venture. Do not rely on rich benefactors because they will control you forever, rely on your talent.


Maintain some aura of mystery, don’t be everywhere all the time, be paid to make appearances not pay to make appearances. Crucially, separate your real self from the Star you portray, don’t mix your ego and alter-ego. If you are called David Mugabe always remember, remember the real person you are before you became famous. So many stars forget who they are, become a cartoon version of themselves, no one around you will tell you you’re crazy. Keep people who keep you grounded in reality.


Think global, act local

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Arts and Culture can build our nation

A Case for the Arts


You would never know it, but Rwanda is going through a mini-Golden Age of Music and Culture in general. Rwandan artists are enjoying millions of hits on their streaming platforms, we have some of the best songs in ages, but the plight of the arts and the music industry remains dire. We do not pay enough attention and money towards the arts, the arts were never factored into our development plans. We have even come to see music as decadent and time wasting, without understanding the full potential of music in developing our nation. Our artists also have some fault here as they have not made enough art that reflects the values of the nation, they often expect to be supported without a two-way partnership. The previous generation of Artists played both negative and positive roles in our past, some sang songs inciting division, others sang to heal. The likes of Kamaliza, Sentore, Kayirebwa and Rugamba rose to folk hero status, embodying the aspirations and ideals of their nation. They were not concerned with passing trends but creating works that stand the test of time, songs that become prophetic with time and serve to restore a nation to its rightful path. Music and culture in general, have a major role to play helping Rwanda develop, there are rich rewards to be gained by supporting the arts.


Cultural Product – we judge our economic progress on the Gross National Product, but what about the Gross Cultural product? Is the total cultural product we are producing enriching us or making us poor? Rwanda has such a unique cultural product that travels easily; the clean lines and angles of our aesthetics, the haunting melodies of our music, the graceful dance of Intore, they all display a refinement perfected with time and matured with wisdom. A cultural product can enrich a nation in real terms, it imparts information, values, pride, comfort, happiness, and the full spectrum of life. Most importantly “One good thing about music, when it hit you feel no pain.” It releases the tension and frustration of society, provides an outlet for anger that could boil over. Politicians all over the world know, a dancing population is a happy population.


Unity and Nation-building – Music can teach, it builds teams, it plays a part in nation-building. The Blues built America, the whip-lashed slaves who kept singing through the hard times would have never made it if it wasn’t for music. Rwandan artists need to wake up to this, the Government wants to sponsor you, but what are you giving in return? Artists are not doing songs that reflect our development struggle. You don’t have to make all your songs about praising Rwanda, but on an album of 16 songs, put one for the powers that be. Do it your own way, make songs about; Birth control, women’s rights, domestic abuse, environmental, reconciliation, and all other development that government is pushing, but with a funky beat. Artist understand that if you go to MTN you have to say nice things about MTN, but if you go to Government it is the same thing, praises must be sung.


Soft Power – we have to understand the power of arts in global power, a small country like Jamaica has so much global cultural influence. America uses its arts to dominate the world culturally through music, Hollywood, video games, fashion, literature, comics, and these have done more to pacify us than guns and bombs. Rwanda can leverage its soft power globally, just one song can bring Rwanda to the world cheaper than anything. Just a music video of $4,000 can be playing across dozens of music stations, to millions of people, and all while showcasing the beauty of Rwanda. This boosts tourism, national branding, awareness of Rwanda in general.


The multiplier effect – arts bring in money, bars are open, nightclubs, restaurants, venues all thrive off good music. There is a whole industry of support staff, one artist can employ dozens; manager, agent, producer, director, videographer, hair and make-up, choreographer, dancers, lighting crew, sound technicians, sales, marketing, stylist, dietician, vocal coach, PR, social media, I can go on and on. Supporting an artist supports another 20 people behind the scenes.


There are a number of obstacles blocking music development, both on the artist side and on the side of Government and policy. The artists need to do a lot more to make this industry viable.


Professionalism – wanting it is not enough, are you willing to do what it takes? Having talent is not enough without professionalism. Arrive on time, be sober, be polite, be attentive to minor details, prepare well, and take your job seriously. Rwandan artists sometimes want to act like stars before they are stars, arrive late, drunk, sing off key, unprepared and expect to be paid. Professionalism means getting serious about your job, to dedicate yourself full-time to music. You cannot have a part-time job, you have to sing to live, only then do you learn that “Hunger is sweet” and nothing is free. Invest in your career, every move you make must be to advance your career and talent. Keep a tight hold of your money, keep receipts, contracts, accounts, and spending.


Unique product – Rwandans are prone to copycatting, lack of long-term exposure to varieties of music means they often jump on trends. There are some awful Rwandan Trap records just because it is a trend. This is not new, even our Kisope music was an imitation of Congolese Rhumba until we put our own flavor in it. Rwanda has a unique sound in our traditional folk music, it is on a 3/5 beat, sometimes a 2/3 or even a 6/7. We have a half-beat that is muted but drives the tempo, in trying to copy Western styles (which are actually West African in Origin) in a 2/4 and ¾ beat  we lose the essence of our music. We need a unique musical product, that fits us and can be exported. We need to constantly be in touch our past, to make our music a continuous thread, but modernize it for the times. No nation will buy imitation, we need an original product with its unique selling point.


Lack of cooperation – Rwandan artists need to stick together, to extend the meager resources they have, not just collaborating on songs but sharing resources and expertise. There should be a chain of artists, each artist must mentor and nurture the next, if you blow up then use that profile to raise the profile of other up and coming artists. Stop competing and cooperate, set an minimum price for a show and all stick to it, stop undercutting each other because you will all get paid less. Create a united platform to speak as one, to fight for royalties, copyrights, licensing, legal reform, and advocate to corporate and government investment in the arts.


On the policy and government side, a number of policies can help artists.


Academy of Arts – we need one immediately, a school for the arts, where artists of different backgrounds and genres can learn not just how to perfect their art but the business and technical side. Imagine in Jay Polly had emerged out of Arts School having learnt how to draft a press release, conduct an interview, balance a check book, bookkeeping, IT skills, maybe even learn guitar, how much better would he be as an artist? An academy is an opportunity to mold artist of the future in the nation’s image, we complain our artists don’t fit the ideals, but we never taught them. It is a chance to increase the quality of our arts, we have Itorero which deals with Traditional culture but it must be fused with a modern school.


Tax-relief – some countries like Ireland allow their artists to be tax-exempt because they represent Ireland abroad. U2 still live in Ireland despite being the biggest band in the world. It is a way to stop the flight of successful artists abroad, we already have most Rwandan artists jumping ship to the West on the first visa they get. Every time a Rwanda artist blows up, I just count down the days till they run away to be a penniless refugee in the West. Maybe the Meddy’s and Ben’s can be enticed to come back if they had tax-relief, that they could use to reinvest in equipment. Instead of government subsidies just give tax relief for a certain caliber of artist.


Venues – make venues available to artists, most of our best auditoriums are unused, Primature, RRA, Convention, and such should be available for emerging artists at affordable rates. We need to build more venues, there are no stages in Kigali, you have to hire one. We need people to invest good sound systems, all the sound systems in Kigali are terrible, you have to import from Nairobi or Kampala to have listenable sound. A clever investor will put Cobra out of business by investing in a good sound system and be rich. Venues have to try and give artists residency, sign contracts annually to have an exclusive star at your venue.


Laws – we still need to relax noise-pollution laws, permits need to be made easier to get, insurance must cover events, fire brigade, and general safety. Even if a Rwandan Artist wanted to showcase the beauty of Kigali, getting a filming permit takes weeks, we need to streamline the process. We need a minimum wage for artists, you can have a singer paid $5 a night when the bar makes $3,000. Artists should be paid a minimum price, an affordable wage they can live on so they can dedicate themselves full-time to music. Then the venue owner has to do more to promote the show or lose out. The show becomes THE show, not a side-show. We need copyright law enforced, Radios have to show how often the played and how much they paid for local music. Require stations to play 70% Rwandan music, then charge Radio stations a set tax per year which goes into developing the arts. Another reform to spur cultural tourism is to put Tourism under a Culture ministry, to develop our cultural product and raise our tourism revenue. It is our culture, not just gorillas, that is the secret key to success in tourism.


Sponsoring – this is always a demand of artists, to be supported no matter what, but understand it comes with conditions. Just like in the private sector, you are expected to fulfill certain criteria. Artists must understand that, but government should also provide more sponsorship but on stricter criteria. We can recognize our artists, give then Intore status and stipend for representing the country. Government can sponsor studios, stages, equipment, courses, if not money directly. Sponsoring music videos, promotional tours, buying airtime on major music channels for Rwandan Artists can also help both promote them and Rwanda in general.


Archiving – one thing we can do to give artists credit despite our small market is archiving. We need to document and catalogue our music history and current music. We need to create an online digital library to preserve our music, to curate what is best to preserve according to each era. We also need to give recognition to works that truly represent Rwandan excellence or capture the time. The best works should be taught at university, the works of Rugamba are worthy of study as are many others, for their literary and poetic skills.


In Part II we look at the artist and the industry in better depth

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Silence: The Final frontier



Bureaucratization of Rape

The problem with bureaucracy is that they bureaucratize, you cannot blame them entirely, it is how they are designed to operate. So when the emotive subject of rape arises it is met with the usual bureaucratic response, there are relevant channels, use the relevant channels. There is no discussion about how to make the relevant channels better, to question why so few women come forward or to make it more conducive for them. In Pontius Pilate fashion, we saw one official after another wash their hands of this, stating the victims are to blame for not coming forward. The onus is placed entirely on the victim to come forward, if they fail to do so then the suspicion now falls on the victim. Why didn’t you report earlier? Why come forward now? The accused is given the benefit of the doubt, seen as a victim of defamation, they enter a period of Grace where they are untouchable. We have essentially legalized rape, there is a small window for prosecution, which also coincides with the most traumatic part but after that, you’re home free, free to rape again, second accusations are easier to dismiss and it goes on. It momentarily absolves the legal system of blame, but they can do more. It is a lie that they cannot help you if you don’t report within 72 hours. They should say any timeframe is possible to convict. Men are being convicted today of rape during the 1994 genocide, so the idea that there is a 72 hours limit is absurd. What seems to be lacking is political will to confront it.


Lack of empathy

“Report early, report early, report early!!!” that was the refrain, if victims don’t report early then our hands are clean. This is not like someone stealing your chicken, if my chicken is stolen I can run to the police and report it, but rape is an entirely different matter. If a person is hit by a car and is incapacitated, we don’t expect them to run to the police station, we understand they need to deal with their physical injuries before reporting. Trauma is invisible, but it is an inner injury which is often worse than a festering wound. If these victims had open wounds, maybe we’d empathize more. You cannot empathize with what we can’t see and what we have never felt. If a person was in a coma at CHK we would understand their delay, but we cannot see trauma or understand it. We have to amend our laws to have higher conviction rates, to deal with the complexity of this.


Stranger danger

This system and laws on rape are mostly designed to deal with “stranger danger” scenarios, a man jumps out the bush and rapes a woman. That is only 10% or less of cases, 90% are people you know intimately, people close enough to abuse the trust placed in them. In stranger-danger cases forensics is a major tool, a DNA rape kit is taken, it becomes a question of alibis but the DNA proves you were there. That is the simplest type of case, but it doesn’t reflect most cases. A DNA rape kit taken within 24 hrs won’t prove anything if the suspect claims it was consensual, if there is bruising he’ll claim he’s well endowed and likes it rough. It often comes down to a he-say-she-say type of story, with society more likely to believe the man. The moral hazard is placed on the victim “Wajyaga he? Where were u going? Why were you dressed like that?” Add to that the social stigma of bringing shame on your family, fearing no man will want you, these are the things we tell people to silence them.


Parallel lines

The system makes nice parallel lines which we all have to fit in, the problem is many fall between the cracks. We must first say that there is no time limit to come forward. There is no moratorium on rape, testimony must matter, above DNA evidence which can only back testimony. The Police should be better trained in interrogation of suspects or rape and victims. The testimony of a case officer should count as evidence. The suspects should be subpoenaed on video to give a statement and be interrogated with that used as evidence. Nurses and doctors testimony should count towards evidence because it is hard to fake the symptoms of rape to an expert. There needs to be an informal approach, a one-stop rape center sounds like a good idea on paper, but in reality, not so much. It looks good but I wonder how many women walk in there? If we had peer to peer counselors who can talk woman-woman about this, who have been trained in helping women but still have that common touch. A toll-free line is also absurd, in our culture we never speak about our problems to people we don’t know. We need one on one communication to break this silence. All the structures are there, but they are like ice-cold towers distant from us, we need to make them more accessible and human. Move to an informal setting but with all the power of a court, a home, an open air meeting. The first step is empathy, that goes a long way, understanding that there is no easy answer but understanding the victim helps.


Eating Children

The final aspect we have to deal with is the sexual culture of Rwandans, this will take longer but sexual exploitation is a common fact of life. It is expected for older men with money to sleep with younger women with less money. The men are seen as generous, the women are seen as enterprising but there is an understood quid pro quo. I buy you and your friends Amarula and Airtime, you give me some sex. We call it eating children “Kurya Abana” the proponents of this artform are celebrated all over town. We must at least start to frown on this, we cannot see it as a reward for services rendered to the country. This Kurya Abana syndrome is a cover for rape, young women barely 18-19, impressed by rich men in a hotel room, a bevvy of drinks for them and their friends and the wake up in bed with their friend’s dad. So when victim of any rape steps forward it is seen in the context of this eating children, the blame goes to the victims, it gets tangles like spaghetti. The other aspect we have to deal with is how society deals with rape, relatives come to the defence of the accused regardless of guilt, the family is seen as under attack, the reputation must be saved at all costs. In one case I know intimately, his friends and family came to save him but he went on to rape 4 other women. This is the price of defending your friend, more victims, then we sit next to each other at a Serena prayer breakfast. I wondered if we pray to the same God? It is our culture that needs to change, we are too closely connected that a charge against someone close is a charge against you. You defend him because even though he’s a rapist, he’s OURS, nuwiwacu.

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Kenya’s digital election, analogue politics – lessons from Rwanda



Kenya’s digital election, analogue politics


We had two contentious elections that turned out to be quite ordinary, the Western media came baying for blood in Kenya, hoping for a repeat of the 2007 violence. They were sorely disappointed when there were no massacres, they were quick to post old or staged pictures, and were often giving voice to incitement in the name of equality. In the end the result was not much in doubt, Uhuru had more tribes than Raila, it all comes down to tribes. The western media was always quick to point this out, but never asked why Kenyans are so tribal? It is just in their nature, in their primitiveness, or so they said in politically correct words. No one ever sees the real reason Kenya is tribal and has tribal leaders, it is not prejudice, it is how the system is set up. Kenyans do not have land titles to the land they live on, and even the ones who do have titles are worthless unless backed by political clout and money. Kenyans rely on tribal rights for access to land, apart from cities, in most rural areas land is still tribal. When you are going to visit a place in Kenya, you ask two questions. How far from Nairobi? Which tribe lives there? Politicians exploit this, band tribes together again other tribes in competition for land and access to government services. Forests are cleared to make new settlements, squatters are brought in as a new voter base, the politician has a hold of the people. It is not in the interests of the politicians to have land reforms, it would make them obsolete in minutes. Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga are two of the richest tribal Oligarchs, Uhuru owns 50,000 kmsq of prime land, he’s the landlord.



Then there was the Rwanda election, a nice 98% win for the incumbent and a chorus of shock from elsewhere. How can I explain this 98%? Many in the media were saying it was intimidation, proof of oppression. The pro-Rwanda twitterati do a bad job in persuading doubters, they are believers, deep believers but cannot explain their faith. Rwandans like to believe first, then understand, so they can never explain themselves so they resort to insults and sarcasm. Never refuting the central point, and presenting their own point rationally. The jokes about Kikukiro which was labeled an enemy stronghold with only 3% voting otherwise, it showed politics is now a sport where we’re looking for a record score. In politics, like football, a win is a win, a 98-2 goal win still gets you 3 points, and you still go to training next morning. Faith is not the absence of doubt, it is going ahead despite your doubts. None of the analysts could explain the result. One said “it is a giant middle-finger” to the West. The West has invested billions of dollars in Rwanda, they don’t want to see their money lost. Most Rwandans, apart from the analysts, can separate Ken Roth from the “West” in general. The average Rwandan has immediate problems so they don’t have time for middle fingers.

I have a rational reason for Kagame’s win – land rights. Land rights were always at the heart of political crises in Rwanda, it was used a pretext for the genocide, and as a promised reward for killers. In 1954, the Umwami abolished the Feudal Ubuhake system, but it was futile to abolish feudalism without giving land titles to people. Into this feudal vacuum came tribal Hutu politicians, they cleared the forests and settled new people, and then organized the nation into strict communes. There was little movement allowed, even going from one commune to another required a stamped pass, the people were hostages to their feudal masters who benefitted from the situation. In order to get the support of the people, this government had to solve the land issue. Now most Rwandans own the land they live on, with a digital satellite image and coordinates. It was the biggest transfer and formalization of wealth we have ever had. The problem is not solved forever, land shortage will always be an issue, but the ownership issue is solved. Then you have the Hutu opposition outside wanting to bring back their old tribal politics, but people aren’t fooled, their power relied on communal ownership with feudal lords to distribute land in exchange for votes. If people already own their land, what is their purpose? They would most likely revoke the titles and hand out to their cronies.


So when we look at Kenya, their tribal politics, we understand it comes down to land usage. We have the populations in mini-tribal reserves, all reserves are in competition for government resources. This leads to Big Men, local people hype up their local demagogue to fight for their rights in Nairobi. The Big Man always disappoints, but reverts to tribal excuses as to why he failed. I asked a British journalist “What if Blair gave every Brit the land they live on? The houses they live in, even council or estates, free of charge, just as their right?” He would get all but the richest voters. What if Uhuru renounced his land and gave it free to the tenants, forever, not 10 year leases? Kenya’s land issue are deep, and precolonial even, Arabs in Oman owned the coast, then came white settlers who took prime Kikuyu land and dumped them elsewhere. After independence the issues were not solved and have been allowed to fester, resulting in occasional killings, massive internal displacement and the toxic politics we see. If any Kenyan president solved the land issue equitably, they could expect a win in the 90’s. Now the incumbent government becomes the guarantor of land ownership, and the opposition becomes a threat to ownership. That must be the reason why he won 98% because he did the impossible. No Rwandan can own over 25 hectares, you cannot grow a political base though tenants and squatters. So now our politics are about service delivery, not tribal grievances based on land disputes. External opposition must adapt or die, but they can’t change because they see the world differently to their former voters, who now see them as a threat.

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In Defence of African Democracy



Africans are waking up


One of the first things this modern media age teaches you, is to be self-conscious, but often in a conceited way. Africans are reading and consuming Western media but they don’t often like how they are portrayed. African voices are very few in the Western media, the ones that are in Western press are often dislocated from the Continent, mentally or geographically in the Diaspora. Journalists used to be embedded in nations, to make connections, to understand local culture and nuances of political discourse. Bureaus were shut down, and now you have an Africa and Middle-east editor covering 1.6 billion people and 65 countries. How can you even begin to understand the events? So we have templates for nations “Pakistan – Most Corrupt nation on Earth” or “Rwanda – Germophobic Autocratic Dictatorship with clean streets.” The Swedish Ambassador recently tweeted “if more Rwandans wrote their stories outside of the “Rwanda is Paradise/Hell” narrative. People would want to read it.” Rwanda is a country like any else, we wake up, brush our teeth and go to work like anywhere else. What is remarkable is overcoming the immense tragedies we had. Everything has to fit in this narrative of Good or Bad, we have our daily stories to tell, we don’t need Western journalists to give us a voice. The danger of a single story, like Chimamanda Adichie said, not wanting to see the shades of grey, and knowing your readers don’t know anything about Africa.




Inherent bias is the editorial line


The Washington post wrote a couple of articles that turned heads here in Rwanda, one by a Western academic and one attributed to a Rwandan. I only discovered the inherent bias at the Post recently, by analysing their coverage of Bernie Sanders. To read the Post, one would think he is the Devil-incarnate. Irrational, intransigent, irrelevant, anarchist, lunatic, demagogue, misogynist, and those are the kind ones. There is nothing Bernie can say or do that can garner praise from them, he is demonized for wanting Healthcare for all, free education, a livable wage, fair taxation, corporate responsibility, everything the Establishment at Wapo hates. I had a friend who was a reporter at a major US newspaper, one day he wrote a beautiful piece about some blind girls that had opened a fruit-selling business. Heart-wrenching stuff, overcoming personal adversity….. blah blah blah. He warned me as I read it “it won’t make it past the sub-editor.” When it came back, it had been slashed to bits, and “context” was added. HRW reports say… in an nation racked with ethnic tension… climate of fear… Congo minerals… and it bore no resemblance to the original piece about two blind girls selling mangoes. In the absence of local embedded reporters, instead of turning to local Africans, they turn to the White Academic corps to fill the void. PHD students, professors of African studies (who are never African) and the Human Right advocates – who often have an interest in painting a dark picture.


Exceptions prove the rule


So this “Scholar on Africa” Klaas writes a sweeping obituary to African democracy “Kick the Bums Out.” Firstly Africa is too big to have an expert, it is 54 countries, each is unique, and you cannot learn enough about all of them. So they are reduced to soundbites. Firstly, many Africans took exception to a white man calling their leaders bums. We have a familial perspective to our leaders, we disagree, we want change, but we also want respect. It is like you are arguing with your relative, then an outsider joins your side and insults your kin “That’s why you’re a useless piece of shit!!” Now it is a dilemma, I might disagree with my kin but you insulting him is also wrong. Africans online are always looking for Western media to reinforce our negative opinions of ourselves. African democracy is as vibrant as ever, when I was young I barely could point to a Democracy on the map of Africa. Today, around 48 out of 54 have democracy and regular handover of power. The ones that remain are ironically, Western-backed, every single one. Niger is a military government maintained by France to keep the uranium yellow-cake flowing. Cameroon, Rep of Congo, Angola, Equatorial Guinea are patronized by Big Oil. Mugabe and Zimbabwe are unique but cannot be understood without understanding colonial history and land rights. Museveni is seen as lynchpin of American policy, acting as a proxy in South Sudan, Somalia, CAR, DRC, so the West ignores a rigged election if it means status quo for their economic interests.



A Knight’s tale


There once was a righteous leader, blessed by God with a magic sword that made him invincible, he vanquished his enemies and founded a new kingdom. He founded this Kingdom on Truth and Honour, he invited all the chiefs to join him in ruling in a roundtable where all matters were resolved peacefully. King Arthur would not survive Human Rights Watch today, he’d be a despot, a dictator, and his roundtable would be a Cabal, or a Junta, or tyranny! The age of Heroes is dead,  now it is hard to mythologize yourself. Africans created these Democracies from scratch, all under the crushing burden of Structural adjustment and crippling debt. We found a way to find consensus, and this is the African way. There is this idea that our democracies should reflect capitalism, a market of ideas, competition creates a balance of power, and voters are customers buying your message. Africans need another way, a way that includes all, not one that excludes one group and they rotate. In Ubuntu everyone gets a voice, even children get a say because decision will impact them in the long term. The idea of winner-takes-all works badly in African politics, it impacts minorities and the most vulnerable, it also creates resentment and future conflict. So we need Roundtable politics, 20 years of infrastructure building and education to make our economies viable so we can have real democracy.


Many of the Western articles published on Africa are cringe-worthy, unconsciously racist, using shorthand and clichés to pigeon-hole people into neat little boxes. Africans are not the intended audience, it is the PME elites of the West, the Professional Managerial Elite. These editors went to the same schools are the academics they choose to quote, they have the same outlook, and expect the same clichés. Nevertheless, Africans do read Western pieces about their continent, we bemoan “the Africa they never show you.” A BBC correspondent once talked of filing a video report from a plush suburb of Nairobi, he was told to do it again, this time standing in front of the biggest slum in Nairobi with flies buzzing around his mouth. No one would believe it was Africa on the first report. That is the image they want to portray, flies on dung buzzing around starving kids with ET shaped heads and big bellies. This narrative of a quaint paradise or living hell is jarring. They cannot say nice things about Africa without qualifying it first. We speak of Africa like a handicapped kid, the smallest progress is amazing, and expectations of us are so low. We autocorrect all the micro-aggressions and ignore them but they become part of our psyche.  We still live in the “Heart of Darkness” but we have more sunshine than anywhere. This is a call to Western media to include more African voices, not just the ones that agree with you. We are now literate, we can tell our stories, we don’t need a white man to parachute down to say what we think. Also be aware that we read now and can see what you write about us, we want respect as people. Lastly, we are consumers, not accidental readers, advertise to us, make content for us.

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Democracy is the road, not the car


Climate of fear and other clichés


It is election season in Rwanda, cue the clichéd headlines, it’s almost like you can guess them before they even go to print. I got a contact from an old friend who is a journalist in UK, I didn’t want to bother, he had already written his story, but he just needed quotes and pictures. I called “Climate of fear” in our betting bracket last month, right on cue, Amnesty – Climate of fear, bing, we have a winner. Couldn’t they pick another word, apprehension – no, not scary enough, climate of fear is perfect. I would say Rwandans were apprehensive in the days leading up, waiting to see the candidate list, there was uncertainty for sure, but not fear. The Western Human Rights organizations paint themselves as honest brokers, but they have their interests as well, they find out facts and wait till they have the maximum impact. Like if a doctor knew you were sick but they waited till it would have the maximum impact, like your daughter’s wedding, and yell it out to shame you “You have hemorrhoids!”  Then others talked of Rwanda ominously being the future model for African nations, to ditch the pretense of democracy in exchange for clean streets. This is also a misnomer, Rwandans hate the concept of one size fits all, and it is blanket solutions, like structural adjustment, that caused the most damage. Again, there is a notion that Africa is homogenous and models are just replicated like in manufacturing. Every nation is unique, our history in Rwanda is tragically unique, a nation would have to go through similar tragedies to understand. When Emmanuel Macron said African problems are “Civilizational” I was incensed, but if you look at it another way, that our problems with the West are caused by a clash of civilizations. We have different mindsets.


The Hegelian Dialectic vs Ubuntu systems


In order to understand the Western way of thinking, one must understand the Hegelian Dialectic, it was the key to Western domination of the minds of others. It basically says this, there is no absolute truth, one proposes a thesis, it is countered by an antithesis, and the two merge in a Synthesis. It is how you get your university degree, it is how you reason in a Western framework. There always has to be counterview to your view, there are two sides to every story…. In reality, there are more than 2 sides, there are as many sides as people, but only 2 are chosen. When the West looks at Rwanda, they think there must be another side to the story, and this side should be given equal value in the conversation. This leads to everything being a clash of narratives. In Ubuntu, the Truth is not relative, the Truth is the Truth, and it is a fixed concept, not a fluid triangulation between positions. The basis of Ubuntu is “I am, because, you are” people define each other, rely on each other, compromise for each other. This is at odds with the individualism promoted by the West, of Identity politics and fragmenting society to its basic elements. The Democratic experiment is over, the idea of parachuting down democracy has been disproved. We have to redefine democracy in our own terms, to match our current social and economic development. We are told that democracy brings development, yet China has pulled more people than ever out of poverty. Democracy can hinder development if the society already corrupt, as in Kenya, where tribal Lords divide up the votes and spoils for themselves. I asked my African friends which was more important, Democracy or Development? Majority said development was more important, especially for the extremely poor.


Parachuting Democracy


In this piece, here, I was astounded to see the last 28 years explained so perfectly. In the Post-Cold War hangover, around 1990, the west was drunk on democracy, it was democracy that defeated the Soviet menace. All over the world, governments were falling down, new democracies rising phoenix-like from the ashes of dictatorship. Africa remained the same, so the West decided to give us a push. Aid could be used to civilize us, to make us democratic. Aid was no longer connected to economic needs but democratic reform, debt relief was the other carrot. The stick was also the carrot, removing the carrot was the punishment. So Africans created a democratic charade, elites created parties, pretended to hate each other in public, all while carousing in private. The West saw a gap in civil society, and they filled this void with NGO’s. Now these NGO’s would be an arm of direct action by foreign governments into African politics. The results are obvious, and invariably the same. They fund a foreign NGO, pick a sexy cause, devise a program, draw up a budget and zoom. The fundamental error is not involving Africans; so they never truly understand the problem, you patronize the people you are meant to help, you are not accountable to them but your donors. They produce receipts, not results. Then when they talk about a given subject, they are seen as foreign, the government dismisses them as biased foreigners, they play the nationalist card and we support them. We need NGO’s that raise money locally, that are accountable to local people. For example, people identify problem, seek foreign donors, but never appraise if it was effective, especially when some use our poverty to get rich.


Democracy is not a car, the gave us shiny democratic models like they were cars. Do you want a Democratic or Federal system, this one has all the features, including 2-term limit to stop overdrive. Democracy is the road on which these vehicles drive, or our institution gets stuck in the bush



Democracy can only be built from the ground up, it can never be parachuted down, it can never be imposed on a nation by aid cuts or sanctions. True democracy has to start at neighbourhood level, and rise up, not top down as the West wants it. This exercise of democratization is over, even in the West, Democracy is under attack because the economic benefits are enjoyed by the few, and not the many. This concept of linking aid to democracy is detrimental. Why should a baby die from lack of immunization because a civil servant in the West decided their country wasn’t democratic enough? Democracy did not build the West, it came along later when people wanted a share of the gains and to secure their property rights. To feed the roots of democracy in Rwanda, we will have to democratize all levels, let Cell-Akagari, Sector-Murenge, District and Governors be elected directly. Open up the field for Independents to run, free of party affiliation, just as public service. Many who failed to get on the final ballot were better served running for MP, but that avenue is closed for Independents. The vote at the moment is whether to continue the status quo or not. In this regard, it is overwhelmingly tilted towards staying the course. It would be a leap into the dark to try another option, it is like losing a nice warm blanket that you are used to, some people tell you the blanket is evil, but it makes you warm inside. That is why the West fails, there are no intellectual arguments that can outweigh feelings. They think our nation must take a leap in the dark and they hope a safety net called democracy will save us.


Never change a winning team


A good friend of mine called Gilbert Rwabigwi wrote an excellent piece, it summed up all my hopes and fears for my nation. Hopes for continued progress and stability, and fears for the long-term continuity of government. What is the RPF doing to attract new blood? After the last election, in an explosion on hope, anything seemed possible and a smooth transition seemed viable. Then came the calls from the Party Establishment “Never change a winning team.” It was clear, the establishment was sticking together, even against the president. The status quo remained. This now meant that the next leader would have to be picked out of this uninspiring bunch, because any newcomers would not get time to learn on the job. None of the other leaders were as inspiring as Kagame, all had fatal flaws, so the writing was on the wall even back then. Watch out when you hear “never change a winning team” or if you do, for it is a sign of things to come. The RPF needs new blood, new ideas, new methodologies, or it risks becoming complacent like other once all-powerful parties. The greatest hero of our president is Julius Nyerere, a true statesman of Africa, he understood that the objective was not to rule till he died but to oversee subsequent leaders. He oversaw two successive presidencies before he died, he famously intervened to stop Jakaya Kikwete in 1995 “Kijana, kaa chini” sit down boy! If Nyerere ruled till he died then TZ would be like Zaire after Mobutu.


When losing is a mortal sin, you make cheating a sacrament


That is the problem of African democracy, it is a game of life and death, it can mean death to all who support you or life for your enemy. All my friends in the African Diaspora were sons of people who lost elections, they lost jobs, land, houses, citizenship, all via the ballot. In Rwanda, this game is even more deadly. The specter of tribal politics and mass-slaughter still haunts us, and Burundi serves as a lesson to us. The West convinced the previous government to hand over power to a tribal party that is now preparing to kill them. When you have France supporting genocidal rebel movements just over the border, you cannot foster democracy at home. It makes our democracy a Game of Death. So my favourite expression is the one above, when we make losing a mortal sin, when losing power means losing your life, cheating becomes necessary to save your life. So what the West complains about and calls cheating is actually seen as essential, the West is also cheating by supporting Genocidal politics, then calls foul when we bend the rules to us. The idea of holding development hostage to democracy is fatal, the main precursor to civil breakdown is always economic, the crashing of the Rwanda economy in 1990 was crucial in the horrific events that followed. So inducing economic crisis does not correlate with democracy, it just makes it worse. The EU will try to cut aid, but its influence is vastly reduced, Brexit, the Euro crisis, Trump’s indifference, the rise of China, have all reduced its role. It no longer has united voice, or maybe it has bigger problems.

long road

The long road

The mistakes the West made in trying to “Democratize” Africa were numerous. Firstly, thinking democracy can be universally defined with a template. Secondly, was the mistaken idea that this democracy template can be parachuted down without grassroots support of Africans. Thirdly, to link Aid to democracy, people in need are people in need, regardless of the errors of their government. Lastly, it failed to deal fully with the global economic system that keeps these countries poor and props up these dictatorships, armed groups, and tribal parties. For Africans, we believed that Democracy can solve all our problems without hard work. Democracy is the road, not the car, it is a hard trek. We need to democratize our parties, let our parties be Guardians of Democracy, we tried to democratize nations, but not the parties. Nyerere left a Democratic party in CCM, a rule of succession – a Christian mainlander, then a Muslim Coastal person. So if a president is one, then the VP is the other, the VP often gets picked for President after learning on the job. That might be the solution for Rwanda, of course we do not acknowledge tribes but it could resolve problems in the future. Knowing that someone is coming after you and can undo any negative legislation, you develop a long term consensus of mutual protection and not competition. This kind of handover requires a Nyerere to oversee at least 2 transitions. When Nyerere was dying in 1999, they asked him if he was worried about his country. He laughed “Not at all, it will continue on schedule, I set it for 100 years. When the time comes, they will know what to do.”


Go thee well Rwanda


Let’s start this process again

Democracy is the road and not the car. We were told these democratic vehicles or institutions would drive us to develop, but we find no road. We have to make the road ourselves, otherwise we just get stuck in the bush. It’s a long road ahead.

Rama Isibo

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