There is no Rwandan who can deny that living in a grass-thatched house is a shame. Indeed, the interlocutors on the BBC Kinyarwanda/Kirundi programme last Saturday were in agreement over that. Yet ‘Bye Bye Nyakatsi’ (or simply Nyakatsi), Rwanda’s programme aimed at eradicating those ‘thatches’, continues to generate heated debate. The arguments are on both the fact and the method.
Those who argue against it as a fact mainly point out that replacing grass-thatches with iron roofing does not improve the lot of any Rwandan if substitute shelters are no better. Those on the method are mainly against the eviction of families before securing alternatives. And on that I concur.
But, is it the truth of what is happening?
Mr Augustin Kampayana (Ministry of Local Government), on ‘Imvo n’Imvano’, the BBC Kinyarwanda/Kirundi programme, provided an unequivocal answer. Nyakatsi has been running for two years and the aim is to do away with what has appropriately been called ‘nests’ for better options. Hitches are there, with some overenthusiastic local leaders eager to fulfil the pledges in their performance contracts evicting families too early, but these are few and far apart. And offenders are punished.
The aim is to ensure that every Rwandan lives in clean, habitable conditions. You cannot eat clean food, or drink clean water, when you are under a roof that is dripping soot. You cannot avoid jiggers when you are living in a ‘swamp’ of dust. Without cleanliness and airy conditions, your ‘mutuelles-de-santé’ (Rwandan universal health insurance) is as good as useless.
In fact, living clean and healthy is a fundamental human right that rights campaigners should think of before many other rights.
Moreover, Nyakatsi should not be seen in isolation but within the whole gamut of all Government programmes. The purpose is to empower all Rwandans and improve their livelihoods: better nutrition for all; security, justice, health, education, clean water, improved agriculture, improved incomes, name it – for all.
As is always the case with such time-bound programmes, task forces have come together to effect the fast and smooth execution of Nyakatsi. They include leaders in government, local community members, NGOs, the police and the army.
Mr Zephyrine Kalimba, the second interlocutor on the programme, agreed with what Mr Kampayana said but pointed out that families have at times been put into communal rooms to await proper accommodation. Also, sometimes in some places the task forces have not involved the local communities in the programme. These and other mistakes were made but, as I was able to confirm independently, they have now been corrected.
What I found absurd was Mr Kalimba’s argument that by de-emphasising the ethnic tag, Batwa, Government was playing in the hands of the forces that conspired to marginalise that group. It is an argument that does not hold: trying to improve the lives of all poor Bahutu, Batutsi and Batwa together as Rwandans cannot be said to target Batwa for continued marginalisation.
But the reason for that assertion emerged later, I am told. Now that Mr Kampayana is working with Mr Kalimba, the former has come to learn that World Food Programme has promised food, and World Bank some five billion Francs, to Batwa as a marginalised group, thus the vehemence of Mr Kalimba. That, however, ignores the fact that that assistance will not always be there and that people are better off working to improve their own lives.
Generally, though, the debate on ‘Imvo n’Imvano’ last Saturday was healthy – but for one spoiler!
Fr Thomas Nahimana, the third and last interlocutor, was clearly out for a fight. Ringing in from France (no prizes for guessing why he is in exile since 1994!), he charged that government policies are haughty and full of sins –yes, sins! Fr Emile Nsengiyumva is in prison for defending the poor, fumed he, because priests alone know the truth and they alone care.
For info, Fr Nsengiyumva is the priest who was preaching against family planning because, he said, Government’s intention was to harm them, since pills used have adverse side effects. He urged them to ignore Nyakatsi because it was ill-intentioned and was proposed by ‘ibigarasha’ (useless leaders). He denigrated all other such efforts. He is in prison for inciting the population.
Back to Fr Nahimana, he seemed not to know that Rwandans have exploded all the myths that he advanced. Rwandan priests can’t be said to be most caring today when the other day they were the ringleaders of the génocidaire gangs.
Fr Nadahimana claimed also that President Kagame is given wrong information about the state of policy implementation. That, however, is another myth that has been blown. An armchair president waiting to be fed information about his people is alien to today’s Rwanda, which is increasingly in the thick of a proliferation of mobile-phone and internet connection.
No doubt, Fr Nahimana’s aim was to lift the burden – of seeing a steadily-growing Rwanda that he is not likely to ever again call home – off his chest. But why? He is welcome, anyway.
Principally, Mr Kalimba agreed with Mr Kampayana that Nyakatsi is good for Rwandans.