The Great Lakes Syndrome

What’s past is prologue, what to come in your and my discharge’. Shakespeare, The Tempest.

Other than the Middle East, the Great Lakes Region is arguably the hardest geographical location on earth to originate from. Mind you, Mother Nature had been good to us. Our countries are endowed with the most precious resources anyone can wish for; oil, gold, diamond, uranium, timber, fresh water, you name it; in abundance. But instead of coming together to protect what’s theirs, neighbors have spent half a century undermining each other. In all that confusion, powers from overseas have built cities, fortunes and atomic weapons with our resources, while we continue to swim in generalized poverty and conflict.

Between the sixties and the eighties Tanzania led by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, was industrialized and on a steady path to development. But Uganda’s Idi Amin Dada was unhappy with that. After many provocations ignored by Mwalimu Nyerere, Idi Amin, with help from outside attacked and briefly occupied parts of Tanzania. Tanzania responded, won the costly war and overthrew the Ugandan dictator. But Tanzania has lost the developmental momentum ever since.

Each time a visionary leader has risen up in our region, others have seen him as a threat and sought support from outside to turn against him. There was Lumumba in DRC, Nyerere in Tanzania, and now Kagame in Rwanda;

This is the story of the Great Lakes Region, told by a Rwandan.

In-spite of western media hype, we have only gone to war in the Democratic Republic of Congo when our survival was at stake; or, in the case of the Central African Republic, South Soudan and other countries in crisis; when the survival of fellow human beings was at stake; only! We have many Congolese, Ugandan and Burundian brethren in Rwanda; we don’t even call them migrants or refugees, except those who choose to go in camps.

Everyone who has visited Rwanda can attest to the fact that we are welcoming to foreigners; we treat them with decency, because we, ourselves were once refugees for thirty years. We facilitate visas and working permits for all Africans and it is not uncommon to see Ugandans, Tanzanians, Congolese and Kenyans working in Rwandan offices, both public and private; as it should be!

Under Paul Kagame we are trying to develop and we count on our neighbors to support, emulate and certainly benefit, but some have chosen to undermine, due to petty jealousy.

In Kaname Akamatsu’s economic concept called the ‘flying gees paradigm’, based on Southeast Asia’s collective development, countries advance in a ‘V’ gees formation; a bit like Team Rwanda Cycling, if you will… The idea is that the front runner takes the wind in the face for a while, as teammates conserve their energy, then rotates to let another runner take his place while he is transported by collective efforts.

Japan, in this case developed first, then focused on creating the technology while it moved the production of commoditized goods to its neighbors; South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong and enabled them to catch up. Then after they had developed too, they moved the role to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia, whom also developed and now that role has been given the rear guard in the geese formation, which is China, Vietnam, Philippines, etc. This is how Southeast Asia has been able to catch up, and in some cases surpass European economies.

But in the case of our Great Lakes Region, we are led by shortsighted parvenus; leaders who sing Pan-Africanism daily, but do all to undermine fellow Africans. Leaders who see their neighbor’s efforts and little successes as an indictment to their internal and personal shortcomings.

It is not leaders only; it is the people too. African people entertain petty jealousies. I call them petty because, envying a small country like Rwanda; after all that it has gone through, is a sign of inherent petty-mindedness. If you want to envy, envy China, USA or Norway. Big, powerful, rich. Not Rwanda, one of the poorest in the world, fighting to break the Great Lakes curse.

We Rwandans hold no grudge against no one; not even Belgians who colonized us and the French who supported the Genocide against our people, and continue to undermine our country to date. We clearly understand that all that happened to us did, because we allowed it to happen. With that in mind, we are determined to shape our future differently from our past. But we are not an island; we are landlocked.

In principle, landlocked wouldn’t be the rights description to define Rwanda; Land-linked is. We are linked to bigger markets, more people, more opportunities, etc. However we are seeing our efforts systematically undermined by those whom we would, in principle count as our allies.

While we hold no grudge. We are however grateful; mainly to Burundians, Zairians, Ugandans, Tanzanians and Kenyans; those who were kind enough to give Rwandans refuge for thirty years. I would like to recall with them though, that for the 30 years we spent in their countries, we displayed exemplary behavior, always! Anecdotal examples aside, Rwandans as a community were never involved in criminality, theft, corruption, etc.

Let’s recall with our neighbors also, that we fought and died for them; alongside them; we contributed to chasing some of their most ruthless dictators; in that regard we paid our dues.

It is not my intention to settle any scores, which would be meaningless for we are neighbors until the end of times. Which brings me to the object of this story: We want opportunity!

We have 1.5 million young people who are unemployed, we must industrialize to give them jobs. For that we want access to the sea and we want access to electricity. Our brethren in Ethiopia have generously accepted to share electricity generated by the Grand Renaissance Dam, to which we all have a stake as contributors to the Nile.

Our brethren in Kenya have brought the power line up to the gates of Uganda, we too have built the powerline on the Rwandan side and are waiting on Ugandan to connect us. Uganda seems to have other priorities, so we offered to pay for the power line that traverses Uganda, so that we can access power in Rwanda; Uganda has refused.

In initial agreements on the northern corridor, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya had agreed that a standard Gauge railway would be built linking Rwanda to the port of Mombasa through Uganda; President Kagame can be seen alongside his East African counterparts, launching the construction of the railway line in Kenya. Recently Uganda announced that the railway would be going to Juba, South Sudan instead of Kigali. Now, that is great news for South Sudan, which was always part of the project, but that must not be mutually exclusive, like Uganda seems to indicate.

Rwandair, our national airline has been growing leap and bounds, to join Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines as the third biggest East African airline. Recently, Rwandair opened routes to Europe and Dubai. Rwandair has also applied to fly to China and the United States and will be getting the relevant accreditations any day now.

None of our four direct neighbors has an airline that travels overseas, so it is only natural that Rwanda would be favored to transport their citizens across the globe, until they develop their own airlines.

However, Direct flights on most interesting routes such as Kinshasa-Brussels, Kampala-London and Dar-Es-Salaam-London are closed to the Rwandan airline, because our beloved neighbors won’t let us compete with KLM, Brussels Airlines, Swiss air, Qatar Airways, etc. The reason? Leaders of those countries feel that the sight of Rwandair planes landing and taking off from their airports daily, is politically risky as it might prompt their citizens to ask uncomfortable questions, such as ‘Why does the small country have an vibrant airline and we don’t?’.

Of course politicians from our neighboring countries would find a million other explanation, but in reality Jealousy is simply what has prevented Rwandair from harnessing regional routes.

Export from Rwanda to Uganda is systematically undermined, yet, Rwanda imports over $250 million worth of Ugandan products and another $700 million worth is routed through Uganda. The trade deficit is around thirty to one (30/1) in Uganda’s favor.

There are so many Ugandan businesses in Rwanda and with Ugandan names and boards. No Rwandan citizen has been permitted to open a business in Uganda, except one man, who happens to be funding an anti-Rwanda militia (Rwanda National Congress) – whose training camps are based in Uganda. Several senior members of FDLR – another militia made of genocide perpetrators based in DRC forests – have confessed to be collaborating with the Ugandan government.

More recently, hundreds of Rwandans have been detained – and still are in Uganda on allegation of ‘espionage’, tortured, at times dumped at the border, their houses searched – and lists of their names drawn. Now we Rwandans are scared of being listed as spies for the simple reason that we are Rwandan, it’s happened to us before.

This is a travesty to the so-called regional integration and Pan-Africanism. This is an insult to the vision of Mwalimu Jilius Nyerere, Dr Kwame Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba. That Agenda 2063 is not ready to be implemented if our enemy is within us.

Shouldn’t the fact that we are a small country be a reason for our bigger brethren to support us? Why should they always expect us to be small? Yes when we were refugees we were inferior; but we’ve always had dreams. Now we want opportunity.

We are farmers and we are cattle keepers. We must do both. Our livelihood involves taking our cattle to the river. On the way, there are all sorts of obstacles: hyenas, lions and burglars, all wishing us or our animals’ ill. When we find our brethren on the way we need not fight, we salute them and peacefully ask for safe passage to the river.

We do what we must, we do not seek recognition. President Kagame never campaigned for his appointment to lead the African Union’s reforms, in fact, as he says it himself, he wasn’t even in the room when the decision was taken by his peers. Similarly, he never campaigned to chair the AU next year.

He was chosen, not because he spends his days reciting African proverbs, wearing traditional African outfits or reminiscing on the ‘struggle’ to liberate Africa from colonialism or neo-colonialism. He was not chosen because he is the longest serving head of state. He was chosen because African leaders came to Kigali, saw what he was doing for his people and wished the same for the continent.

No one stopped any leader in this region from doing the same in his country. So Africans shouldn’t wish underdevelopment upon each other, we already have non-Africans to do that. African problems are created by Africans. Sankara wouldn’t have been killed, if Houmphouet Boigny wasn’t a puppet of the French. Lumumba wouldn’t have died, if Mobutu wasn’t a puppet of the Americans, and the Belgians.

Now, it is a secret to no one that France supported the Genocide against Tutsi and has since tried to undermine our country’s reconstruction. It also is a secret to no one that countries in West Africa are still paying colonial tax to France. That is whom our neighbor Uganda has recently entered into military agreements with, and allocate drilling contracts to for their newly found oil.

At this juncture, let me pause and tell Ugandans what is likely to happen: For inviting a Trojan horse in their midst, Ugandans should say goodbye to two things: 1. the oil and 2. The Political Stability.

When the oil starts pumping, Ugandans will never see a single penny from it. The area in which it is being exploited will be polluted, nothing will grow there; other sectors of the economy will be destroyed and the population will live off imports of French products, including food and drinking water. Museveni will remain in power for life, then his son, his grandson after him and his great grandson, so long as they let the French sack the oil undisturbed. People’s cries for freedom will be crushed, tribal conflicts will be accentuated. The day a Ugandan president finally grows a conscience, tries to demand that oil returns be redistributed to his people, he will be killed or removed and replaced by another puppet of the French. GOD FORBID EVERTHING IN THIS PARAGRAPH!

Our neighbor may think that France’s presence in Uganda is a threat to Rwanda only. But they should speak to brethren from Guinee, Central Africa, Gabon, Cameroon and all the places where France has been invited. Uganda has just sold its Soul to the devil and soon, the devil will come to collect on Uganda; it is not a question of if, it is a question of when. Hopefully we will still be here to give them refuge.