My story of last week was the one I caught on an early morning TV Rwanda news broadcast. As the departure to work was imminent, I only caught the news highlights.
The anchor casually mentioned that some research had shown that the HIV prevalence among sex workers was 51%. If there was ever adverse publicity for the world’s oldest profession [or so they say], this was it.
Reckless unprotected clients of these workers were in effect playing Russian roulette with a two-chambered revolver. The researchers were informing us that at least one of every two workers was HIV positive.
This is of some interest to our dear Deputies and Senators as the Parliament was reported to be considering legalizing prostitution. The findings of this particular research can be used by both proponents and opponents of this idea either to promote further control, safety for clients and medical services for the workers or to point out the medical, not to mention moral, dangers posed by prostitution.
I am personally of the view that the underground nature of the profession led to this deadly state of affairs with the workers not having enough power to turn down clients who do not follow basic safety practices, like using condoms.
Additionally, I have a suspicion that they do not access ARVs as they should, which means that for as long as the state’s intervention is restricted to arresting them and not offering necessary medical services to this workers, there will always be a silent reservoir of HIV and other STIs that will put many unsuspecting spouses in grave danger.
It has often been said that Rwanda’s political space is closed and tightly controlled. Every single person or entity with a grievance with the current administration will start with this criticism. If there was ever a time when they were in the vicinity of truth, last week and this Monday was not it.
I had the opportunity to be invited to the Public Policy dialogue organized by the Rwanda Civil Society Platform and the Imbuto Foundation Youth Forum even though I was unable to attend these events. The first intended to promote dialogue on the now infamous ‘political space’ while the second intended to acknowledge Rwanda’s dark past while forging a way forward through a discussion that brought together genocide survivors, those who have a relationship with genocide perpetrators and returnees.
Today, the National Dialogue happens where this country’s leaders become accountable to the people. It seems to me that there is enough space for everyone but then again, if the detractors agreed to this, their manifestos would become irrelevant. Perhaps, a session should be organized where the detractors transparently respond to questions from their supporters, their detractors and the neutrally curious without it being labeled as a form of inquisition. Now that would be the day.
In East Asia, it looks like the Korean peninsula is heading back to flashpoint status. South Koreans have stated that they will go ahead with live firing exercises of artillery on islands next to the disputed sea demarcation line despite North Korea’s threats and China’s plea for restraint.
This may be the most dangerous period of time on the peninsula since the cold war as the South Koreans appear to be abandoning their usual restraint and attempts at appeasing the hermits in Pyongyang.
Following a year that involved the sinking of a South Korean warship and the shelling of an island, Seoul has lost all patience with the antics of its troublesome neighbor. It now remains to be seen if the North Koreans will push things to a tipping point or wisely let things cool down.
Oscar Kabbatende is a lawyer