Rwanda moving to decent housing for all

Some things just don’t make sense. You have several events happening almost at the same time, all about the same country, but they appear so different that they may well be about two unrelated places.

Some things just don’t make sense. You have several events happening almost at the same time, all about the same country, but they appear so different that they may well be about two unrelated places.

Take these three cases, for instance.

Last month’s umuganda was a special one. It was the occasion during which new modern houses for resettling rural communities were unveiled in different parts of the country. The new houses are part of government plans to resettle poor and vulnerable Rwandans and those living in high risk areas in model villages.

A day earlier, a pair of Rwandan fugitives, baptised dissidents by their adopted backers, had procured a hearing by a committee of the United States House of Representatives at which they portrayed the leadership of the country as a dictatorship that tramples on people’s rights.

The duo was funded by a Rwandan fraudster businessman well-known in many countries for tax evasion and other forms of crookedness.

They were joined by an individual from one of the human rights organisations.

The same week, Al Jazeera TV network hosted one of these fugitives and a Rwandan researcher and blogger to a debate on Rwanda. Al Jazeera gave the debate its own slant: Rwanda is a dictatorship.

Now tell me this. Can an uncaring and oppressive dictator resettle people at risk of death due to poverty, poor living conditions or natural disasters in new planned villages, in furnished houses, with all the amenities for decent, modern life?

This is not the first such action that the Government of Rwanda has taken to improve the lives of Rwandans.

There has been, for instance, education for all up to twelfth grade that aims at imparting knowledge and eliminating ignorance so that citizens can live to their potential.

In health, the focus has been on insurance coverage for all, ensuring that no one dies from preventable diseases or due to lack of medicine. It has been about making sure that children once born can live to maturity and mothers don’t die bringing new life,

One can talk about a host of other programmes meant to lift living standards, such as Girinka and other social support programmes, or investments like has happened in ICT, or innovations in governance.

Again, can these be the actions of a leadership bent on oppressing its citizens and clamping down on their rights? Only in fantasyland, perhaps, and only then where morality has been inverted and hatred and misrepresentation are the accepted norm.

In my humble opinion, these actions – the resettlement of people in decent houses, making education accessible and affordable to an ever greater number, universal healthcare, and so on – are in support of the rights of Rwandans, the majority of whom the champions of human rights and democracy often ignore.

And so, taken together and viewed in quantitative terms, this is a huge amount of human rights for Rwandans.

The same policies contribute to raising the quality of life and the dignity of Rwandans. Even in a qualitative sense, therefore, this is immense in terms of human rights.

Yet we continue to hear criticism about violation of human rights in Rwanda. Some of it is so absurd that sometimes one wonders what exactly these rights are.

When plans to resettle people into planned villages were first introduced about two decades ago, there were loud protests from defenders of human rights that this was an abuse of the rights of people who had lived for centuries isolated on hillsides. Apparently isolation and denial of social and other services was a right.

The same loud noise was heard during the campaign to replace grass-thatched roofs with iron sheet ones. The argument then was that some people were being forced out of their natural habitat and were sure to suffer as a result.

Rwandans were being treated like some animals being relocated from their habitat.

With the unveiling country-wide of the new villages, I expected to hear more howls of protest. So far there has been none. But you can be sure they will be there, in a different guise, certainly in the usual, rehashed reports from human rights groups.

If what is done clearly for the benefit of citizens cannot be recognised as good for them, then what is? If their right to lead decent lives isn’t a right, what is?

Obviously the definition of some of these words has changed or the categories to which they apply have. And some people have arrogated themselves the right to define and grade them for the rest of us.

Values that used to be common to all human beings now only apply to a select few. They do not extend to ordinary people going about their daily business of earning a living.

Rwandans beg to differ. Everyone has and should enjoy equal rights, good housing among them.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.


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