Daniel Kalinaki's weblog

A commentary on news and events in Uganda and elsewhere


Just an ordinary bloke.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ask not what Rwanda has done,

KIGALI – It is 7am and the city is just stirring from its slumber. The rays of the sun gently but resolutely torch the mist that envelops the valleys, slowly bringing a golden hue to the tin roofs and shanties in the distance.

Kigali is still a poor, shanty town and from my penthouse suite on the sixth floor of the City Plaza, where our newspaper has an apartment-cum office, you can see the shanties all around the place.

But there is more to Kigali than tin roofs. The city is in the middle of a construction boom with new office blocks going up all over the city. When I first came here, in 2002, the largest shopping centre was KBC, a strip of a block that has a coffee shop, a discotheque and a couple of shops.

I have been here a number of times since but now there is a Union Trade Centre in the heart of the city, a complex with, I reckon, more than 100 shops waiting to be filled. But the impressing things about Kigali are not big buildings, but the small things.

The few tarmac roads are kept in tip-top form, with no potholes. Most of the (few) traffic lights work. Last night, as we returned from dinner at a small but lovely restaurant in Remera, a place popular with Ugandans, we went past several policemen standing by the roadside in many places, their reflective jackets the only protection from the cold and dark. I was told that there is always a police presence on the streets (to prevent crime, catch traffic offenders) come rain or shine.

There is a temptation, both in Kigali and Kampala, to compare Uganda and Rwanda on everything. When I flew into town on Sunday night, the buzz was about President Paul Kagame of Rwanda visiting his alma mater, Ntare High School in Mbarara, where he was warmly received by President Yoweri Museveni, also an alumnus of the school.

One cannot, or should not compare the two countries on size. Uganda, with 28 million people and a GDP of about $8 billion is way larger than Rwanda, population 8.3 million and a GDP of under $3 billion.

Some of the comparisons of military might arise from the late 90s when the two countries, once very strong allies, fought in eastern DR Congo over mineral rights and local political influence. The Ugandan army, led then by businessmen in fatigues, lost the battle and, one feels, still itches for a real war.

But the things to compare the two countries are the smaller, innocuous things. Take security. When I was last here, in May, I returned to Kampala to cover President Museveni’s swearing-in ceremony where, despite the presence of heavy security to protect the 10 or so presidents or leaders in attendance, my car was broken into and my laptop and passport taken.

In the four months since then, I had another laptop almost stolen and have had my car broken into thrice. I know at least 10 people, personally, who’ve lost laptops to this racket. There are hundreds more unknown to me. Despite reporting to the police and paying them to ‘facilitate’ the investigation, nothing has come up. Nothing. Today people in Kampala do not leave their laptops in their cars. Not even in their trunks. They lug them around.

Switch to Rwanda. A mate who picked me up on Sunday took me to a hotel for dinner. I got out of the car with my laptop.

“You can leave that in the car,” he said.

‘Hell no,’ I retorted. ‘They might break in and take it.’

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said. “This is Rwanda.”

So the laptop stayed in the car, my heart stayed in my mouth throughout dinner, but the bloody thing was there when we returned after two hours.

Crime is severely punished in Rwanda and I would be arrested if I offered the policemen money to help aid their investigations. The government runs a zero-tolerance on corruption and several officials have either been jailed or sacked for embezzlement.

In Uganda, we run, on paper, a zero-tolerance to corruption. We have a full ministry for Ethics and Integrity (which spends most of its time lambasting the gay community) and an Inspectorate General of Government, which does some good investigations, writes good reports and submits them to the President for action.

The only action that usually happens is dust slowly gathering on them as they rot away on the shelves. Of course we have the political will to fight corruption. Our Cabinet would know.

It includes a senior member who was impeached for corruption a few years ago (and promptly reappointed, with a promotion), a senior minister who resigned in 1994 for stealing 4,000 litres of diesel (he was given a job in the ruling party structures and then bounced back, with a promotion), two ministers, who are also soldiers, who were accused by the UN Security Council of looting timber, gold and other minerals from the DR Congo (both have a litany of other corruption cases against them), as well as another minister who is battling allegations he took a $1.8 million dollar bribe to help a company win a tender.

Oh, the vice president also withdrew a defamation suit he’s brought against a local paper that accused him of buying a government house below the market price, and without bidding!

President Museveni recently accused his ministers of being sleepy and not sharing his vision. Anyone who’s been in school knows that in a class of 69 (that’s how many ministers we have), it is easy to dodge or just doze off in the back. Add to that the comfort levels of air-conditioned 4WD cars, a bevy of staff to open doors and carry bags, and sumptuous lunches and you have a sleepy and bloated Cabinet – bloated in more ways than one.

We could take a leaf from Rwanda, which took all government cars away from the ministers (if you are earning a minister’s salary, you should be able to afford your own car, they argued) and auctioned them.

Ministers have performance contracts with clear terms of reference which are reviewed regularly to ensure that they meet their targets. In Uganda, our newly-appointed Lands minister has been tussling with his Works and Transport counterpart, who previously held that docket, for control of the ‘lucrative’ project to repair State House in Entebbe.

Rwanda’s critics accuse President Kagame and his government of jailing political opponents (a reference to former President Pasteur Bizimungu) and for being authoritarian. Bizimungu’s case was heard by the courts and he was convicted. Whether it was fair or not is a matter for the courts and judicial reviewers to decide.

But the ‘authoritarian’ regime has managed to return peace and security to the country, and keep out the FDLR rebels, many of whom are accused of participating in the 1994 genocide (I thought I would write an article about Rwanda and not mention the genocide; I guess you just can’t run away from it), and who are hiding in eastern DR Congo.

We’ve had our share of authoritarian tendencies in Uganda (the banning of political parties, break up of demonstrations) and jailing of political opponents (including the leader of the opposition, Dr Kizza Besigye on what court later ruled were trumped-up charges). Nevertheless, we’ve had war in the north for 20 years.

We could go on and on comparing our two countries on all sorts of things, like why Rwanda, which a few years ago we used to thump 5-0 regularly, qualified for the last African Cup of Nations when we have not been there since 1978.

But that would be an exercise in self-humiliation. We Ugandans should ask why we allow our government(s) to get away with murder, why countries do more with less while we squander our resources (taxes, public land, etc) as well as our future (forests, wetlands, etc). Do we really need 69 ministers, 84 districts (and counting) over 333 MPs, hundreds of political bag carriers (RDCs, presidential advisers, special assistants) to run the country? And if we do, why isn’t there a single road in Kampala without a pothole (a local radio station has, for the last month or so, been offering a cash reward to anyone who can “find a track without a crack”; the last time I checked, the cash was still a stash), why are our streets covered in dirt? Why don’t the traffic lights work? Why do the taxi drivers act with deadly impunity on the roads? Why do we go for 24 hours or longer without electricity? Why don’t we have medicine in our hospitals? Why are our doctors paid a third of what RDCs get?

We could go on and on. But we won’t. My coffee is getting cold. The point? We should not ask what Rwanda has done with its meager resources; we should ask why Uganda has not done better with much more resources. We could learn one or two things from Rwanda, but we must start questioning why most things don’t work in Uganda. We are not fascinated by Rwanda – we are passionate about Uganda.