From Scratch…

5 08 2010

The difficulty in writing a dissertation is that you have to read an awful lot of stuff, of which most is largely irrelevant to what you want to find out. After all, the point is that you are doing original research, so the answer aren’t going to be laid out in black and white in a book in front of you.

As a consequence you find that time to read other things becomes more limited, which means that the stuff you do read tends to stick with you. Just like this article, which appeared in the Telegraph a few weeks ago. It is really quite an interesting insight into the redevelopment of Rwanda after all the horrors which the country suffered from in the past tewnty years.

As I read the article I was equally impressed and appalled, which, judging from the article’s title, I suppose was sort of the point. I don’t know what to think of Kagame. I don’t know whether to be impressed with all that has happened to Rwanda since the genocide, or whether to be concerned about the continuing role of an educated dictator in a war-torn environment. I don’t know whether to like Kagame for all that has been achieved under his rule, or fearful that when he departs, the country may collapse around itself once more.

I remember watching Kagame on Top Gear a while ago. In fact, I think I may even have blogged about him then. It was a confusing issue then, and remains so. Are we supposed to like this man, this leader who has dragged Rwanda from civil war into the twenty-first centruy almost single handedly? Or are we meant to criticise him for being another of the world’s dictators, controlling a country through a regime of fear masked by democracy?

Or perhaps that is not the point. Perhaps the point is that we are just meant to watch, like the world did in the 90’s. Perhaps Rwanda doesn’t need or want the help of the MEDC’s. Perhaps we are meant to accept the role of Kagame in Rwandan history, take him for all his merits and problems.

Perhaps though the point of the article was not even that deep. Perhaps we are just meant to remember. To remember all the things which happened in Rwanda, to not forget that an incomparable genocide happened in this country not so very long ago, and its redevelopment in such a short space of time is remarkable. Perhaps we are meant to simply remember that there is an African country which should be held up as a beacon for the continent.

Of course, the timing of the publication of the article was significant. Whilst the eyes of the world were on South Africa for a month or more, it is easy to forget that the rest of the continent continutes to suffer under various ailments. It is easy, and convenient to forget Darfur. It is easy, and convenient to forget Zimbabwe and Mugabe. It is easy and convenient to forget HIV, drug smuggling, illegal gangs, blood diamonds, the gun trade.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the article was there to remind us of the two sides of Africa, so ably epitomised by Kagame. On the one hand there is a man, country and continent moving forward, developing at a pretty impressive rate. But on the other there is darkness, there is militia, there are guns, violence and death. There is the undercurrent of fear and forceful control of the people. There are continuing medical issues.

And perhaps that is the point, Kagame is not the finished product. It is likely to be almost impossible to change the mindset of a country in such a short period of time. His dictatorial control is perhaps necessary to resurrect the country, to drag it away from its past. Perhaps, in some cases, democracy can only be built upon the strength of a few. The past was horrific, the future is intriguing.


The World’s New Superhero…?

25 06 2009

Perhaps the post should have been entitled “Can the Internet Save the World?”. But the above sounds better. Anyway, it’s an interesting question, which perhaps should be expanded to include ‘technology’.

I ask this bearing in mind Gordon Brown’s recent comments about Rwanda. It is an entirely debatable issue of course, but it is an interesting starting point. Would the Rwandan atrocities have happened had Twitter, YouTube, Facebook et al been in their pomp at the time? I think they probably would have, except that the world would have been much more aware of what was happening at the time. Fergal Keane’s writing about the subject was, for me, a brief glimpse into the events of the massacres. It’s well worth hunting down his book “Season of Blood” and giving it a read. It’s pretty harrowing in parts, but worth it. However, they have largely escaped media attention, and indeed, analysis. Perhaps, given how far the internet reaches into the lives of millions of people, if not billions, a crude youtube video of some of the events would have brought home the atrocity of the Hutu actions.

But what would the reaction have been? Perhaps the same as that towards the video of Neda Agha-Soltan that is now doing the rounds. I am not going to provide a link simply because it is there to be found, if you can bring yourself to watch the last thirty seconds of an innocent womans life. It’s not a comfortable watch. I find it is made worse because it is obviously in a foreign language. For me it increases the sense of helplessness I feel just watching it. Anyway, the point was that it has, despite some comments, been largely ignored. The Independent had a small article on the story on page 18, a page after it had declared that Silvio Berlusconi was like Teflon, with nothing sticking to him. Ok, so a story about Italian elections is important, but more attention should have been paid to the face of a cause that Neda has now become, at least in my opinion.

I’m not sure why there has not been more coverage than this, but I suspect there is something to do with uncomfortability floating around somewhere. By which I mean, it is not easy viewing for the public, despite it’s presence on the internet. The version of the video I saw had had 131,123 viewings in little over three days. Yet people will not know about Neda, who she was, or what she has come to stand for, despite this internet presence.

So I return to the original point, does Brown have a point when he says that the internet has made foreign policy very different now? Again, I’m not convinced. Yes, things such as this will be put online. But that’s just a by-product of the events. People in Iran know about the power of the internet, yet there are still disturbing scenes pouring out of the country on a daily basis. It has done nothing to stop the problems, it simply has made it more accessible to the rest of the world. The internet will not stop violence, it will not stop murders, or indeed, genocide. All it can do is to make them more internationally condemnable.

An Interesting Comparison…

8 12 2008

I was watching Long Way Down with Euan McGregor and Charlie Boorman last night for the first time. They had reached central Africa on their second journey and it was an interesting watch as they visited Ugandan rehab camps for child soldiers. It was though the visit they made to the war-torn country of Rwanda that was of more interest though. I will admit that other than knowing of the genocide, I knew little of the state of affairs of Rwanda over the course of the past half a century. The impression from the programme was that Rwanda was recovering very well after such a tragic happening (put into context by another stat I heard this weekend: there was more killed in Rwanda than there were British deaths in the First World War). People were cheerful and looking forward (this despite accusations of War Crimes in direction to their president) and the nature of the country was that it was hard to imagine such acts (albeit the presentation in the programme demonstrated it as such).

More noteworthy though was the attitude towards education. The children wanted to learn, to get educated and to give themselves the best possible start. My experience of Africa is similar, as children and adults alike are keen to learn a much as they can. It was my mum though that made a good point, comparing such desire for education in Africa to the apparent lack of interest in children of Britain at the moment.

Whilst it is too easy to suggest that more kids don’t care about education than do, it is not a stretch, I feel, to suggest that there is nowhere near the same fervour for education amongst those in Britain.

It is examples such as these which makes me think that we can become too easily forgetful of what we have in Britain. We are lucky to be able to get an education, to build our lives, and not be fearful of war of genocide tearing apart our society. Watching programmes such as these serves to help us remember our own situation and appreciate how fortunate we are.