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Ingabire was not a political prisoner; now she needs to prove it

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By FREDRICK GOLOOBA-MUTEBI
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Just over a week ago, something quite dramatic happened in Rwanda. For most people it came as a bolt out of the blue.

President Paul Kagame, it was announced, had commuted the prison sentence of one of Rwanda’s better known prisoners.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is the leader of FDU-Inkingi, a political organisation domiciled in Europe, which some, in the foreign media especially, insist on calling a “political party.”

In Rwanda, however, it does not exist. It is not one of the 11 political parties that have fulfilled the requirements for registration and been cleared to operate in the country.

She had been in prison for about eight years now, having been incarcerated in 2010 after a failed attempt to contest as a presidential candidate in that year’s polls.

That she was a would-be presidential candidate is the one thing people who do not pay attention to the details of any story, especially one that touches on politics in a country such as Rwanda about which there is an established narrative, know. And so they jumped to a conclusion, a fallacious one, but to which they have held tenaciously all these years: That she was a “political prisoner.”

Well, if by political prisoner one means a politician who is in prison, she was indeed one. If, on the other hand, one means somebody who is in prison for no reason other than that they are a politician, then she was nothing of the sort.

Ingabire returned to Rwanda in the run-up to the 2010 presidential election, after 16 years of living in the Netherlands where she had been a student at the time of the 1994 genocide. By 2010, she was a permanent resident, not a citizen of the Netherlands.

Reliable sources say that, before she returned, Dutch officials cautioned her against returning to Rwanda and violating the country’s existing laws.

They suspected that if she did she would be arrested and charged. They informed her that were such a thing to happen, she should not expect the Dutch government to intervene on her behalf.

But she did exactly that once she got to Rwanda, making statements and raising issues about the genocide in ways that, in the eyes of the government and subsequently the courts, amounted to criminal activity.

Soon enough, a key associate who had fled from Rwanda after the genocidal government collapsed, and who had returned with her to Rwanda, was arrested for having participated in the genocide, on the strength of testimony by, among others, his ex-wife, whom he had abandoned in a refugee camp in Tanzania.

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Subsequently, it transpired that Ingabire and her political organisation, FDU-Inkingi, stood accused not only of fraternising with the DRC-based FDLR insurgents, remnants of the army and militia that committed genocide in Rwanda, but of fundraising and channelling money to them.

Details of all this can be found in a well-researched paper by a former American diplomat, Richard Johnson, titled The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda, and a recent book, Who is Manipulating Whom? by Alain B. Mukuralinda, a former judicial officer who prosecuted the Ingabire case.

And so Ingabire was prosecuted in an open court, its sessions attended religiously by diplomats and other concerned observers, and then jailed. She appealed, lost the appeal, and had her sentence increased by several years.

She subsequently wrote to President Kagame a few times to ask for clemency. A copy of one handwritten letter has recently been circulating on social media. But all this is now water under the bridge, to borrow a well-worn cliché.

Her release has triggered mixed reactions from Rwandans. Some argue it is good for the country and its politics overall. Others beg to differ, wishing she had been kept in prison for many more years.

From a purely political point of view, President Kagame has once again bitten the bullet and given a chance to someone considered by many to be beyond the pale, to step up and embrace the new way of working with potential adversaries to build a new Rwanda shorn of the sectarianisms of old.

The political arena in today’s Rwanda has a fair number of actors with reportedly worse backgrounds in sectarianism than Ingabire is accused of.

They, too, were given a chance for a fresh start, not without misgivings in certain quarters, including within the RPF’s own inner sanctums.

According to reports, not all have reformed completely, but many have and are playing critical roles in building and reinforcing society-wide cohesion.

It is difficult to say what will happen with Ms Ingabire. There were good early signs when she acknowledged Rwanda’s transformation in the past two decades and expressed the hope that Rwandans will continue to work together to achieve even more for their country.

And then she seemed to veer off in directions that have so far served to strengthen the sceptics’ view that all she can do is stir up trouble. She has an opportunity to prove them wrong.

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs. E-mail: [email protected]

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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