FEATURE : Someone ‘abduct’ and enslave me on Iwawa Island, too

On 21st  March 2010, the NEW TIMES Newspaper reported that the Ministry of Youth had officially launched a Rehabilitation and Vocational Centre at Iwawa Island in Rutsiro District, Western Province.
L-R : Iwawa trainees ; Minister Mitali joins the youth to sing.
L-R : Iwawa trainees ; Minister Mitali joins the youth to sing.

On 21st  March 2010, the NEW TIMES Newspaper reported that the Ministry of Youth had officially launched a Rehabilitation and Vocational Centre at Iwawa Island in Rutsiro District, Western Province.

Protais Mitali the Minister of Youth was quoted at the launch as saying that, “We have designed the curriculum with the Work Force Development Agency in order to help you become better people useful for your families and country... You will go back needed in the job market since you will acquire relevant skills and certificates bearing testimony of what you have learnt.”

The move by the Ministry of Youth to equip Rwanda youth who are unemployed because they have no skills demanded on the labour market was applauded by many.

A stroll on the streets of Kigali especially at dusk will reveal an army of young people, who play hide-and-seek with law enforcement agents while hawking pairs of second-hand shoes, used ladies’ bags and briefs, used jeans, sandals, fruits and vegetables. Many of them sleep during the day and go out to ‘work’ at night.

It is not unusual, to find a man hawking a single belt or tube of deodorant. Some may make a difference selling products to unsuspecting pedestrians, at prices above the selling prices, but this is not always the case.

These people may spend days without selling an item or product and yet they survive in Kigali and other cities. They prefer hawking to the settled market environment, because, that way, they do not pay taxes and other dues, and in markets there are many sellers allowing the buyer to compare prices.

They hide from law enforcement and many times, their perishable fruits and vegetables become rotten and therefore, unsalable, compounding their misery.

Many of these energetic young Rwandans turn into pickpockets to survive in the city. These young men, milieu among commuters, and struggle to enter taxis while snatching mobile phones, watches, money and necklaces.

Many times, they are caught stealing and are saved by the Police from mob-justice. At Nyabugogo and other bus and taxi stations, there are dozens of young men who survive on carrying luggage on their heads or backs. They live hand to mouth, and can survive as long as they are energetic and healthy enough to lift and carry loads.

They run after every bus or taxi that comes in, hoping that a passenger or two, might have luggage to carry and many times, passengers carry handbags that do not call for their services.

There is another group of young Rwandans, who wake up every morning, and go in search of construction sites, where they might sell their labour for a day’s wage.

Considering the number of labourers, many times some of these young people are turned away in preference for those who can ‘give a hand to senior bricklayers so that the latter can rest for some time’. When these Rwandans are turned away, they must find alternative ways to survive for the day, because by that time, they cannot find other places of work for the day, and in many cases they end up committing petty crimes.

Another group of Rwandans survive the hard way vending their bodies at night on the street corners of Kigali and other cities.

These so-called sex workers might be respected artisans and business had they had the skills to engage in productive income generating activities. Instead they brave the night, thugs and risk HIV/AIDS or actually transmit it in a bid to earn a living the means notwithstanding.

The possibility that these sections of Rwanda were to be facilitated to acquire skills without paying money in form of tuition, transport fee, scholastic materials and accommodation was a Godsend for many right thinking Rwandans and friends of Rwanda.

The lack of skills on part of a section of Rwandans is not a disadvantage for the people concerned but the nation as a whole because many of these people are in their prime; a time they should be preparing for their old age and the future of their children.

Unfortunately because they live hand-to-mouth they cannot save, they do not belong to pension schemes and the nation misses their contribution to nation building. Equipping these Rwandans is not a service to these individuals alone but their families and the nation.

As Mitali put it the initiative, is part of government’s policy, to nurture productive youth and equip them with necessary skills to boost the economy.

In developed and middle income countries, it is people  with practical skills like those  trained at Iwawa Island that  drive the economies of those countries,  as they “practically” contribute to their countries’ economic growth and development.

Such people are paid per hour for their service and their products have ready markets. In Rwanda and many developing countries, education is about diploma and degree certificates with no option but to be employees of others.

The fact that the government of Rwanda is willing to offer practical training to the young people of Rwanda free of charge, should be commended unless of course you are a “Whiteman” writing for an international Newspaper on ‘the other side of the world” whose employers expect you to file the expected ‘bleak news’ from Africa.

In an article in the NEWYORK TIMES of 30th April, 2010 titled “Rwanda Pursues Dissenters and the Homeless” Jeffrey Gettleman wrote that, “Nearly 900 beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves, including dozens of children, have recently been rounded up from the nation’s neatly swept streets and sent -- without trial or a court appearance -- to this little-known outpost. They will spend up to three years here being ‘’rehabilitated,’’ learning skills like bricklaying, hairdressing and motorcycle maintenance…” When did beggars face trial or get charged in courts?

How many homeless people live in Kigali? Where would the Government collect 900 “beggars, homeless people and suspected petty thieves”? Not unexpected Gettleman meanders on to the usual reports his ilk prefer to write about Rwanda, “…Recent grenade attacks in Kigali and a shake-up in the army showed that even one of the cornerstones of the new Rwandan state — personal security — might be in danger...With less than four months to go before national elections, few of the major opposition parties have been allowed to register... But on the mainland, people describe it as an Alcatraz.... ‘We call it the island of no return,’ said Esperance Uwizeyimana, a homeless mother of four… ‘This isn’t a good place for children,’ one employee said in hushed tones because the minister was nearby.

“They could get abused.”  Whereas there have been a half a dozen  grenade blasts in Kigali and Huye town in the past, Gettleman should have known that personal security  in Rwanda  is not in more danger than any other  country .

In his article in the NEW YORK TIMES of 8th November 1995 he wrote that Government forces killed some 300 former Rwandan troops and militiamen on an island near Zaire’s border in their heaviest blow yet to rebel forces...
As many as 600 rebel troops were based on the island, which had been used in recent months to launch hit-and-run raids on Rwanda… Heavy machine guns, antitank cannons and antiaircraft guns were also captured on the island, he said, adding that many were new and were yet to be assembled.”

Do the couple of grenade blasts pose a greater threat to personal life in Rwanda than the situation he described, with dozens of thousands of armed killers on the prowl in refugee camps in Zaire?

Gettleman writes that, “With less than four months to go before national elections, few of the major opposition parties have been allowed to register.”
This is an insult to the people of Rwanda; to him and others like him ; Parti Démocratique Chrêtien (PDC), Parti Démocratique Islamique (PDI),  Parti Socialiste Rwandais (PSR), Union Démocratique Du Peuple Rwandais (UDPR),  Parti Social Démocrate (PSD), Parti Pour le Progrès et la Concorde, (PPC) PS-Imberakuri and  Parti libéral (PL) are not “major Opposition Parties” and instead “Mrs. Ingabire, a Hutu…says it is impossible to challenge the government, arguing that it is controlled by a cabal of Tutsis”.

To Gettleman and Ingabire, Rwandans are Hutus or not and their politics must be either Hutu or otherwise.

The comparison between Iwawa and Alcatraz islands (a notorious small island off the coast of California, USA that was used as prison) though meant for dramatic effect the Joseph Ntawangundis of Rwanda hiding from justice, jumped at the opportunity, and flooded their websites and blogs with appeals for “assistance” to the poor children “incarcerated’ on the island. One such ‘Ntawangundi’ using a pseudo name wrote that, “In a nation rebuilding itself on hope and forgiveness this appears to be a step in the wrong direction… This island screams injustice from every side.... More of these men have been accused of being political dissenters and many have been outspoken for their opposing political views to the current presidential election.... Sadly, in my search for NGO’s seeking to help the injustice of this horrific situation I was not able to locate any.”

The government should give interested Rwandans the opportunity to undergo practical skills training at Iwawa Island. I will be glad to enlist before trainees pay and no one should say I was abducted and enslaved on the Island.