Thursday, August 5, 2010

Elections in Rwanda

Over the last four months there has been a constant stream of troubling news and developments out of Rwanda and this country prepared for its national elections.  I intended to put together a post to summarize everything, but never had sufficient free time and internet bandwidth at the same time to do it.  Fortunately, Reuters just published a Special Report that provides a pretty good summary for those interested.  Some excerpts below.

Sixteen years on from Rwanda's genocide in which up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed, the country has become a darling of western donors and investors alike. Kagame, a bush war veteran turned civilian autocrat, has helped rebuild the central African nation, propelling its economy to more than 6 percent growth. He's clamped down on corruption and attracted companies such as Starbucks, South African telecoms giant MTN and Gulf investment firm Dubai World, to invest.

As Rwandans prepare to go to the polls on August 9, though, rights groups say political repression is on the rise. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and some western diplomats believe Kagame's strong-handed leadership style and refusal to permit the birth of a critical opposition now threaten the very stability and growth he has nurtured.

Donors and investors are divided over what this means for Rwanda's future. Some, both in Rwanda and abroad, are worried about the direction the country might be headed. Kagame, says one analyst on condition of anonymity, "has put more effort into PR than probably anyone else in Africa. But there is a sense in which they are losing control of the story. You have got to ask why these people keep turning up dead. Either it's the government or it is someone else, and neither is good."

But by suppressing open discourse about ethnicity and the history of the genocide, critics say Kagame may be building resentment in the majority Hutu population. "We've seen throughout Africa that military regimes, who come to power through force, find it very difficult to amend themselves and become real democrats. This is a patent case of that," said Muzong Kodi, an associate fellow of the Africa program at London-based think tank Chatham House.

"It's not only the 80 percent (Hutu) who since 1994 have been passed off as villains. Quite important fringes of the Tutsi population feel alienated. That's what makes the situation rather explosive."

Worryingly perhaps, the army top brass in exile are sounding increasingly belligerent. In a recent interview Rwanda's former spy-chief Patrick Karegeya, who fought alongside Kagame in 1994, described him as a dictator.

Friday, June 4, 2010


We have just kicked off our partnership with Kiva.  For those not familiar with Kiva, it allows anyone to help fund microfinance loans across the globe.  Here is our profile page. Our first three loans posted have already been fully funded, but many more will be put up in the coming weeks and months.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pointe Indienne and Diosso

On the Sunday during my Pointe Noire weekend, I headed a couple of hours north of the city to Pointe Indienne along the coast.  The area has an interesting mix of small villages and oil company weekend homes.


Diosso is the central small town in the area and features pretty spectacular gorges.

Trip to Pointe Noire

We had a three day weekend a couple of weeks ago, and I took it as an opportunity to get out of Brazzaville and finally visit Pointe Noire.  The city is the economic capital of the country given the large oil industry footprint and shipping and fishing activites.  This results in parts of the city (near the beach) feeling somewhat European with very nice hotels and restuarants that cater to the oil-related expat community, while vast the remainder of the city is expectedly undeveloped and dilapidated.


Here is the headquarters for ENI, the Italian O&G company, that is the largest player in Pointe Noire.
My taking of the above photo caught the attention of two police officers across the street who came over to see what I was up to.   Their subsequent discovery that I had multiple memory cards and a work, not tourist, visa led to me getting loaded into a van and hauled off to the police stationing for questioning.  They wanted to go through all my pictures to see what I had taken pictures of and were insistent that because I didn't have a toursit visa I wasn't allowed to take pictures in the country.  As these things usually go, I just argued back and forth with them about whether the law I had supposedly broken was actually a law at all until they eventual grew tired of me and allowed me to leave if I would pay a "fine" to reflect my admission of my mistake.  They let me set the amount, so $4 later I was back on my way to the airport.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Congolese Rucker Park

On Monday afternoon on the way back from Point Indienne, I stumbled across a basketball tournament being hosted by one of the local cell phone companies.  It was a phenomenal playground court, complete with graffiti ranging from Hot Sauce to Che and an unfinished neighboring building serving as luxury boxes.

The play was very sloppy with no real good ball handlers to be found.  But, there were three forwards who were each about 6'6" and could really get up and go.  However, there were no Kevin Bacon sightings.

The halftimes of games featured dance competitions.  This led to the discovery that MJ never died; he just moved to Congo to get away from the press.