Those dirty hands that have touched us…..

Two days ago, my neighbor’s maid came into my house. I was wondering how she could just get in without even knocking on my small house’s door. She looked older compared to me and I was amused that she called grande soeur (big sister). I had never seen her before and I was really surprised, almost chocked. She had interrupted my breakfast and I was stupidly standing up in front of her, wondering whether I should share with her the unfinished sandwich that I was holding. Before I took that hard decision. She said:

-He is insane. Your neighbor is insane.

I kept quiet, unable to sink my teeth into my delicious sandwich. She then explained to me how he always wants to touch her.

This guy is a respected member of my Rwandan community and when you see him walking around Kigali, he inspired trust especially when he says ‘Hi’ in an unctuous voice.

The maid, Claudine, was new. I had never met her before. She told me that she was there only for a week. She has been hired by neighbor’s sister. But that sister forgot to mention in the job description that the client needed sexual favors and was addicted to inappropriate interfering.

I felt anger raising and I lost the appetite for my sandwich. I was surprised that my half-paralyzed neighbor, who seemed inoffensive, was an ‘ugly individual’.

  • He refuses to feed me too because ‘I don’t do well my job’. She added in low voice. I eat from our other neighbors.

And then she asked me for advice. I stared at her wide-eyed. What could I possibly say? I found myself murmuring in the same low voice:

  • Take your personal stuff and leave. Only sleep with a man if you wish. The 20 thousands that he pays you don’t cover your honor.

And then I wonder, since when maids have honors? We always consider them as towels that wipe our domestic mess.

The next morning, she had already left. I wish I could have taken her phone number but she had just disappeared. I hated myself for not doing more. When I saw my neighbor again I ignored him and when said his unctuous Hi, I responded aggressively, suffocated by my silent anger and ashamed by not being able to confront him. Ashamed by my silence of that moment.

This scene brought me to years back when we were much, very much younger. I rethought about those guys who have touched us, the small young girls. It was either an uncle, a cousin, a family friend, a neighbor and in the worst situation a father.

We were so taught to obey adults that we didn’t know how to react. It was so confusing in our small and innocent minds. Not being able to interpret some attitudes. I guess it was much easier to think that it was an accident instead of consciously recognizing that it was an improper movement.

This brought me to wonder:

  • How many of us have been kept quiet while the poison of interfering was ravishing our purity?

So many I guess. Because even some who dared to say a word where asked to keep quiet. Families wanted to avoid embarrassment.

  • We don’t want to lose that friend. Don’t worry, he will never do that again. We will talk to him.

They never did. And the debate was closed. No one was outraged. I know that some Africans think that sexual harassment is a western obsession, exaggeration and dramatization. But how if it was also our problem that we don’t dare confess.

The most chocking for me was that woman, my neighbor’s sister, who dared to expose another woman to sexual violence. But what scares me the most is that some men who inspire trust and look harmless are capable of terrible acts.

Till now, I am not sure how young boys or male face sexual harassment and violence and I think that it’s a worse and more humiliating experience, an untold story…..

On the other hand, if I keep quiet as I did two days ago, if we keep pretending that it was just an accident; who will protect the maids like Claudine and the young and innocent girls and boys? If we don’t say it; who will beat those insanely dirty hands that have touched us?

Live from a hair saloon in Kigali

Every time when I am about to go to a hair saloon in Kigali, I am always scared because of the terrible headache that I get after and excited as I am sure that in one day I will hear the most authentic gossip of the town that I missed for a whole month. The hair ladies (hairdressers) treat you like the Kigali queen when your head is their artistic hands, they will call you chérie if they give you a good tug.

This Monday morning the client next to me makes understand that she is directly from Europe. She tells the hairdressers that they would make money, a lot of money if they were braiding hair in Europe. She tells them that they could get in a week what they actually earn in three months. She looks fancy and inspires respect to them. I want to complete her thought by saying that life standards are much higher in Europe than here but of course I keep quite. A good girl doesn’t abase discussing her ideas in a hair saloon. She sits down and waits for the tresseuses to finish her hair. She can read or obsessively touch her smart phone. It can be any meaningless book that she can pretend to read; because you can’t easily read when your head is being braided. It is a nightmare. But you can chat with friends on Whatsapp and distract them from their occupations. But she has to try something to look more important than the tresseuses, she has to prove that she is an intellectual.

Multiservice hair saloon in Kigali

Multiservice hair saloon in Kigali

The subject of the day is how Burundian ladies who are now more in Rwandan capital are part of their new clients.

  • They always complain that everything is more expensive in Kigali than in Buja, says the short Congolese woman.

Everyone loves her. Her Kinyarwanda is so sweet. Another Rwandan woman continues that Rwandan men are happy because of the presence of Burundian women in Kigali. They are have been nicknamed “4 G”- compared to the fast and easy internet advertised everywhere in Kigali. Those men are the ones who want to chat up with them.

  • Now the police have asked forbidden Rwandan men (dredgers) to approach them. They are vulnerable because of the tensions in their respective country.
  • En tout cas, says another voice that I can’t identify because I am not allowed to raise my eyes.
  • En tout cas, she repeats, they are less complicated than Rwandans. For them things are black or white. Period..

For a short period no one talks, analyzing the idea. No one makes a comment, it means that they agree. I feel offended as the appreciation goes to Burundian ladies who are getting all the credit.

The woman from Europe says that:

  • But you will only make a lot of money if you braid from home; where you don’t have to pay taxes.

All the tresseuses now talk about Europe, each of them has a relative who lives in Europe and who has promised to take her there. But they all said “No thanks”. It is a lie; everyone knows that because they all dream of living to Europe.

As hours pass, my patience decreases due to pain. It’s as if children are playing in my head. They are making upsetting noise. I have given up playing the brain. Pain has humbled me.

Now we are discussing about women’s lamentations. What I can tell, they are universal. Now I have become one of them. I am woman among other women. Now it’s around 7 pm, we are all the same, no hairdressers no intellectuals. The dominator that links us is the same: PAIN. Mine is currently my hurting head. Theirs is waiting for them at home: a drunken husband, a hungry or sick child, a landlord who wants rent money.

Time keeps running, it’s around 10 pm. We are now laughing at different jokes; one of the hairdresser makes me watch the very popular ‘Babuji’ video. My best friend is there waiting and suffering with me.

As time runs, they want to oblige me to tip them, because of pain and pity, I lose my bargaining power. Outside, people are no longer walking; they are in their warm homes. We finish at 11pm. What we know as we step outside the saloon from Rubangura building: We are all safe in our City Kigali, the police and military are there to protect us. It is a warm feeling to know that if we wanted, they could drive us home.

We step out, as if we were best friends; we wait for the last tresseuse to lock the saloon’s door. Outside is cold and our hearts are cooling down after our hot debates, slowly but fast enough we become the strangers we were at the beginning of the day. And I am sure if ever we meet the next morning, we will have forgotten each other’ faces.

By Bleaching My Skin, I Bleached my dignity

Photo by Arlette Umwali

Photo by Arlette Umwali

When she wakes up, she first makes up; before doing anything else even before praising her God or cursing her parents for giving her such an ugly and old-fashioned name, Marguerite. The oval mirror on the nightstand table is a regular companion because it’s the first thing that her mind thinks about; it is the first object that her dark-skinned hand touches.

Marguerite came to Kigali seven years ago; she flew from a rural life that was not challenging the highbrow she was meant to be. She ran away from a life that would have surely brought her to be a rural primary school teacher’s wife. That was not Marguerite. She needed to shine like the street lamps decorating the streets of Kigali. She wanted to be …. Her heart burnt when she thinks about all that she wanted to be. The list was so long. She was sure that she wanted to be someone no matter how. She dreamt to be like other girls. Those born in the city, whose skins were normally soft and whose graceful fingers could elegantly wear any nail polish.

She has given up looking at herself in the mirror; it always reflects her shapeless body, her scaly fingers. Those fingers that, back in her native village, have dug the soil before Kigali took her away.

‘I have to be beautiful’ whatever it took, she would defy that image in the mirror.

Men in Kigali love fair complexion; not all but most of them. She has always wondered why as she wanted to catch their eyes’ attention. Neither her fashionable clothes, the provocative make-up nor her expensive hair style gave her the feeling that she was admired enough whenever she passed in the streets of Kigali. Some people would look at her before their gaze shifted to others.

While some women like Marguerite bleach their skin as result of low-self esteem, the dominant explanation for skin brightening is the self-hate linked to black identity. For instance women in Togo practice this to appear important, to look attractive or as a means of job-hunting; these women don’t apply bleaching products as an act of denying the African culture.

According to the 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report, 77%, 59% 35%, 27% and 27% of women in Nigeria, Togo, South Africa, Mali and Senegal, respectively use skin whitening products on a regular basis.

A research ‘ Buying Racial capital: Skin bleaching and cosmetic surgery in a Globalized World’ done by Mills College proved that urban, educated women in Nigeria, Jamaica, South Africa and other countries bleached their skins for global job competition in order to compete with other naturally light women.

On the other side, Christopher A.D. Charles in his paper, Skin bleaching, Self-Hate and Black Identity in Jamaica, said that Jamaican women bleach their skin because they suffer from self-hate as a result of lingering psychological scars of slavery. Black Jamaican women believe that white and brown people are better than them.

Marguerite’s soul shouts heart-rending cries; it’s a piercing scream that exhibits her thirst for recognition, a desire to quench.

A friend, Anita, good connoisseur of Kigali, once told her that if she wanted to be at the top of the league in the capital, she had to invest in her beauty. She added that it’s expensive to be beautiful. So Marguerite has poured her salary in the cosmetics and fashion although the seeping roof of her parents’ house needs urgent fixing. She has even adjusted her walk; spicing it up with more confidence and a swinging of her hips.

With all the progress that she made, when Anita saw her again, she let out a loud, wounding laughter and asked her:

“Where can you pass in this clean city with such a dark and black skin? Dear, you need to grow up, we are in Kigali!”

This is how Anita brought her to a friend of her friend. She was a cosmetic expert!

She was a tenant of a small cosmetics shop downtown on the quartier commercial street. She looked like an Indian woman with scary green eyes. Marguerite had never seen a black woman with such eyes before. She told them that her soft bright skin used to be dark as the charcoal. Marguerite wanted to be that light because the cosmetic woman was so white! She was “Classy”.

The most commonly used products are mercury, hydroquinone, corticosteroids, soil and other home made solutions.

She explained to Marguerite that she had two choices; the first that would cost her 15,000 Rwandan francs ($21.4) if she just wanted to clean her skin but if it was lightening it; she would spend only $50. She promised to mix a cocktail of chemical products where she would add a “serum” to make them more effective. She showed her a sample of the final result; it looked like a greenish decomposed mayonnaise or a hair relaxer.

The decision was made in Marguerite’s mind. Quickly…

She decided to transform Marguerite, the rural girl, into an urban woman “Maggy”. She chose to change her appearance to cope with the city standards. Using the $ 50 products, it took her less than a month to see the good effect. And she was always visiting Bellesa Africa, the facebook page for impeccable make-up for dark skins.

This issue of skin lightening has profound causes and early studies have shown that even in the first-half of the 20th century women in their early stage of life had a negative image of their skin color.

Back in 1947, the doll study that revolutionized the Self-Hate Thesis was carried out by the Clarks (an African American couple who were psychologists) on black and white school children who were given black and white dolls and asked to choose. The majority of black kids selected white dolls and these researchers assumed that it was because they rejected their black group.

As weeks passed her friends got used to call her Maggy, replacing the undesirable Marguerite. More people looked at her, which encouraged her to use more and more containers of the skin-lightening cream. This had replaced Carolight, the hydroquinone rich body lotion that she had used for the past few years.

Hydroquinone is one of the most effective inhibitors of the formation of melanin by living cells. Which means that hydroquinone destroys this substance that provides pigmentation to human beings’ skins and that protects them from the cancer-causing ultraviolet sun rays.

A study conducted by the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in UK showed that the adverse side-effects associated with the use of hydroquinone include allergic skin inflammation, skin irritation and malignant cancerous tumors.

Only four months later, Maggy had become who she was meant to be: Umukobwa w’i Kigali ukeye! – A true Kigali girl! She felt the desire in men’s looks and women’s regards were full of envy. She got a well paid job at the reception of a telecommunication company and she has even changed her church. She used to be catholic but it was not a youth church, it was for the elders, those who had plenty of time to lose reciting dozens of chaplet.

She joined a new church where only good-looking people came to attend the Sunday service. The majority of them parked luxurious cars outside and they never offered coins to God, they only gave Him notes. This was the world meant for her; the world where her entourage referred to her as a Muzungu– a White.

She felt that she had conquered Kigali, she was shining. Men fought to offer her presents and this flattered her. This was the emotion that she had always searched for: Having men begging her on their knees. She had touched the sky.

Despites this, she couldn’t explain the reason why, she walked with constant anxiety. She kept checking her image in the mirror every morning because she was afraid that side-effects of her cream, black spots or green veins, would appear one day or another. She heard that the worst consequences of hydroquinone included cancer.

Skin bleaching is a relatively cheaper to way to get a light skin in Africa while cosmetic surgery is more common in Western countries. In Africa, brightening started three to four decades ago when naturally black women who considered their blackness as a low status wanted to be socially accepted by the white. For several years, blackness was associated with ugliness. Winthrop D. Jordan in his book ‘ White over Black’ shows that White is connoted with purity, virginity, virtue, beauty, beneficence, God while black is seen as filthiness, sin, baseness, ugliness, evil and devil.

Again research suggests that social status is greater for black women with lighter complexion.

Now that Maggy has tasted the fruitful savor of being someone, she wanted to go back to her village for a three day period. She wanted her mother to be proud of the woman she became.

Once there, she passed by aunt Yvonne’s house; the middle-aged woman didn’t recognize Maggy. She thought that her niece was someone else, perhaps a demon because of her new skin color. She pushed away the expensive clothes Maggy bought for her. The aunt hugged her as if she was a monster that would swallow her if she got any closer.

Maggy consoled herself treating her aunt Yvonne to be a poor uncivilized peasant. The most painful part of her return was to see the desperation in her beloved mother’s eyes and disgust on her father’s face. Her siblings were just curious, wondering how the city could transform Marguerite in such a ‘surprising’ being.

They were not impressed as Maggy expected. Some sensed pity, others just didn’t understand her. She felt hurt, insulted and rejected.

If at least they could know how much she paid to get the confidence she was displaying now. How much effort she had spent on her skin to chase away the low-esteem and self-hate feelings that Kigali had engendered in her heart.

They didn’t allow her to take pictures with her nice smart touch-screen Samsung.

–          You have denied us. You became another person; you are no longer my daughter. I can’t recognize you.

Those were the harsh words from Maggy’s father’s mouth. They were wrapped with a good dose of disdain.

Her mother too, was deeply troubled, prompting Maggy to calmly tell her, ‘Mum, don’t worry for me, I am alright. I have everything in my life. I even have a rich fiancé in Kigali.’

Tears dropped down her old cheeks. Maggy knew that it was not due to the smoke from the fire but the pain of seeing the new Marguerite. The bowed woman gave her Saint Marguerite’s life brochure. She reminded her of Saint’s humility. Maggy wanted to explain to her mother that she no longer believed in the catholic preaching.

Instead of three days, she slept in her parents’ house for a night. Back at Kigali, she was wondering what all of this meant to her. Why did she feel beautiful but not joyful?   Why this new skin did lead her parents to cry?

The beauty industry in South Africa has made some progress to restore the place black beauty. Some stores, where black people are the majority of clients, are trying to use black or brown mannequins to expose clothes for sale. The power of colorism in the global society is not only affecting black women because the same WHO report clearly shows that a good number of women in China, Malaysia, Philippines, The Republic of Korea, India and more other country do also apply skin lighteners.

Among countries affected by this problem, Gambia, South Africa and recently Ivory Coast has banned the use of these products. But despite severe laws, these products are still sold in some markets.

More efforts are being made for instance a South African doll maker Molemo Kgomo is creating a brand of black dolls, called Ntomb’entle, for African young girls to play and identify with when they grow up.

But more efforts are needed especially from the media to bring people to truly believe that black is beauty. The saddest part of the story is that black people who live in this Barbie World don’t always see the beauty in their beauty. Most of them have unconsciously accepted that thin, light long-haired women are necessary the most attractive. There is still a long way to go to change this mentality.

In Kigali, Maggy heard a high school student screaming to her in a bad joke:

–          Look at the Michael Jackson of Kigali.

That night she cried while looking at herself on the mirror. The mirror only showed her the beauty that she had purchased in the expensive creams, the mask that covered her natural complexion.

She cried for making her parents cry and ashamed of the Kigali product she became.

She cried because she understood that she got all the material life she dreamed of but lost her spirituality.

She lost the feeling that God loved her more than anything, she lost His presence. She hitched up paltry search of beauty instead of allowing the mirror to reflect the real beauty, the image that God clothed her in at her birth. She understood that by bleaching her skin, she bleached her dignity, her identity, her family.

When she wakes up, she no longer starts her day with make-up. When she wakes up, she first takes time to hear the birds singing near her window.

Rwanda’s bitter-sweet marriages

rwanda bittersweet

Solène, 25, is one those Rwandan girls who have drunk  so many cups of fresh cattle milk- inshushyu that her skin has the natural glow of the water that trickles from a rock. A nurse at Plateau Clinic has confirmed her worst nightmare – that she is pregnant.

This sudden announcement has taken the shine off her beautiful face; her lovely fair complexion has darkened. She can’t call her family just yet and instead dials her best friend’s number.

Solène atendeka (double dates) two men. The one she is really in love with is not her official boyfriend. The one she truly loves is a friend from high school. She couldn’t date him simply because his faded jeans and humble background wouldn’t sit well with her family. He would also be a source of ridicule from her friends. ‘Have you seen the loser Solène is dating?’ They would whisper behind her back.

These reasons pushed her to say yes to Joe, her “cover” for seven months now. Solène despises his rich man’s arrogance, his disdain for the poor, his pretentious manners, and the superior expressions that his face displays like the way he never say thanks after receiving a service or the way he always wants to give a tip instead of queuing like others. But despite this, she goes steady with Joe because he inspires the pride and offers the luxury that her heart desperately desires.

Solène is what many Rwandans call umukuzi, a profiteer; as she double-dates and stays with Joe for financial reasons. His money is the only quality she likes in her businessman boyfriend, the father of the baby she is carrying.

In Rwanda, 47% of all pregnancies are unintended and sex before marriage is taboo . When Solène goes to the church every Sunday, she is supposedly a “good virgin girl”. This is why it’s difficult to announce her pregnancy to her family. She will blot out the nearly perfect image, the virtual label she has proudly worn for 25 years.

“Why haven’t you taken contraceptive pills or used a good condom while they are available in all pharmacies of Kigali?” A cousin asked accusingly after discovering about Solène’s pregnancy.

‘You must abort!’ Her best friend told her, as did several other close friends.

But her moral sense refused to take this path. In addition, her church mentor admonished,

“If you follow this ghastly choice, God will never forgive for killing His child and will curse you.”

If Solène aborts, she will be among 25 abortions per 1000 women in Rwanda. A third of abortions are done by various faiseuses d’anges, French for angel makers, as traditional healers are known. 14% and 19% of abortions are performed by midwives and doctors, respectively. The majority of women who abort are unmarried, first time mothers who are below 25 years.

Solène’s second choice is to keep the baby and carry the shame of a single mother. Her third choice it to get married to Joe. Despite her beauty, she worries that Joe will not wait for her. He is an eligible bachelor, her mother always reminds her. He will be an easy prey for other ambitious female scroungers starting from her church choir mates.

Ninety four percent of Rwandans are Christians. Whenever they get married, they engage in a civil ceremony, traditional wedding and a church service. These three parts of a Rwandan marriage have to be accomplished for one to feel “fully married”.  Unfortunately, this ‘full marriage’ sometimes lacks the good old love and focuses more on social aspects.

Common factors behind such marriages are unintended pregnancies, age, social pressure, financial interests, better employment opportunities and then…. deep affection.

As the foundation of the actual marriage is not solely love, conflicts often arise. In 2013, Rwanda faced 508 murders, assaults and suicide cases related to family conflicts. Extra marital affairs have increased considerably and sugar daddies have run riot. Due to unhappy marriages, there are also young men called abapfubuzi who offer their services to satisfy old sugar mummies.

It is a web of deception that binds together young and old; rich and poor; religious and secular.

After finding herself caught in this web, Solène decides to save her honor and get married to Joe.

She chooses comfort over love.

In the past, a woman was considered as “umutima w’urugo” (the soul of the family). She was not allowed to voice her thoughts too often or to share her complains too loudly. She was meant to keep her feelings at the bottom of her heart and humbly accept her blissful or painful destiny. A respectful Rwandan woman was meant to raise a family and take care of the husband.

This cultural subservience gradually subsiding  thanks to flourishing women emancipation.

The Rwandan woman who had silently faced gender based violence in the past is now aware of her RIGHTS. She now knows that her dignity is non-negotiable.

As women are more empowered, they are allowed to defend their rights including the right to divorce. Rwanda counts 3.4 % divorced women against 1% men, a seven-fold growth since 2002. Still, it’s harder for a divorced woman to find another stable partner as there are 88 men for 100 women countrywide.

Consequently, the Rwandan woman often remains single after divorce, which can expose her to sexual depravity. The same is true for a single woman who becomes accidentally pregnant, especially in rural areas. Most men will not consider her to be ‘wife material.’

On the other hand, in Rwanda, the womanhood and the motherhood depend on the manhood. She has to wait for the male to propose her. The life of an adult woman is intimately defined by her marital status otherwise, she will be considered as a social failure. Around the age of 30, she is already seen as an old girl, umukecuru.

It is against this backdrop that Solène cannot risk becoming an unwed single mother. Her parents are so eager for their daughter to give birth within marriage that they take a bank loan to fund her wedding.

On a Saturday evening, Solène’s aunts organize a kitchen party where all men and children are excluded. These elder and wiser women share with Solène and other young women the secrets of a successful marriage.

A week later, the traditional wedding was celebrated in the morning hours. The dowry was paid to Solène’s parents. Women were in shining traditional “imishanana” and men wore dark western suits. The DJ played the very popular Araje araje araje, araberewe ni umugeni mwiza mumurangamire…

This is a song by a local artist that accompanies the bride when she comes to greet her husband-to-be. People cheer as Solène comes. But the hawk eyes of some women search the bride’s belly to verify if she is pregnant or not.

To cover the shame of pre-marital pregnancy, Solène is wearing a wedding dress that covers her pregnancy bulge.  As they escort her to the holy altar, her father and mother are grateful that the white bridal veil is covering the bride’s sorrowful eyes.

They smiled, celebrated, drank, ate, prayed and danced.  They rejoiced that the wedding had saved their family from a scandal.

They had gambled on Joe’ wealth to help paying back their credit.  Although the bank loan now weighs heavily on them, they believe that they have done the “right” thing.

Since Solène was born, her parents have never mentioned the “sex topic” in front of her. The only time that they have talked about her body with her, was at the age of 12 when she had her first periods. She learnt more about sex through a biology course back in high school, public plays, and through animated debates with female friends. In these discussions, there was a very thin line between fact and fiction and most of them pretended to be innocent.

Solène remembers that her cousin has accused her to not using contraceptive measures. What that cousin ignored was that she has never needed them before Joe. She followed him blindly and he led her to a pregnancy and marriage that she wasn’t ready for.

Solène’s family could have prevented this unplanned pregnancy by having an open and honest discussion about sex education at an earlier stage of her life. Instead of learning from Solène’s situation and protect her younger sisters, they have covered the smoke while their home was on fire by encouraging her to get married.

Even as her family slept on the job, the government made some small steps towards empowering young women like Solene. Rwanda accomplished what no other country has done: to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate by more than tenfold within a decade, from 4% in 2000 to 45% in 2010.

Last year, 0.24% of the National budget was allocated to gender institutions and now Rwandan women over twenty-one years have access to modern contraceptive including   injectables, male condoms and pills. However, these efforts are not always supported by local churches that preach abstinence. These contradictions are likely to confuse young people and create a feeling of guilty shyness if they had to talk about sex.

It is against this backdrop that women like Solène find themselves exposed to consequences of unprotected sex and early pregnancies.

In the middle of different social and public laws that protect Solène, which one reminds her aunts during the kitchen party to tell her that being a single mother is also her choice? Which law would protect her from judgmental and sadistic stares from her family, colleagues and the entire society?

Who would compassionately tolerate her illegitimate pregnancy? What if it’s the society itself that pushed her to marry Joe while she tenderly loves someone else? Why do the church and her community tolerate her more once they know that she is pregnant but will get married soon?

Solène believes that she has protected her baby by offering him a chance to live in a family set-up. Yet if her marriage fails, her child will have the misfortune of growing in a broken home. Even if she would have the financial security that most women aspire for, she would be tempted to secretly meet the other boyfriends and fall in the vicious circle of unfaithfulness.

Since Solène is a highly educated person with a modest and stable job, she could have chosen to raise her child alone and in so doing shatter societal judgments.

She would have completely agreed with those who preach women empowerment. She would have inspired other girls to say no to early marriage.

She would have been the hero of women who get married just because they are too afraid to be criticized.

She would have defied cultural laws that oblige her to obey her parents no matter what happens.

She would have understood that obeying one’s parents doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing one’s dreams.

She would have lived the experience of a woman who can stand on her own two feet.

She would have known the experience of choosing.

Then she would have invited love to her heart.

And finally, she would have been a fully emancipated Rwandan woman, who chooses what is best for herself.

C’est urgent: Africa needs a new Ibrahim Prize Winner…

Africa my continent. Africa my pride. Africa my hope. This are the words that come from my heart every time I hear someone giving the eternal sinister portrait of Africa. Mo Ibrahim is one of those who share that faith in Africa.  Dr Mohamed “Mo” Ibrahim is a Sudanese-British businessman and anthropologist, a self-made billionaire from mobile communication entrepreneurship. He has chosen to invest in his continent because, he believed in its potential for business prosperity.

Dr Mo Ibrahim ( source: Google images)

Dr Mo Ibrahim ( source: Google images)

In 2006, the Mo Ibrahim foundation was created to promote leadership in Africa. It is the largest prize in History ( higher than the Nobel Prize). The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership offers $500,000 a year for a decade period and an annual $200,000 for life thereafter to former African presidents who have contributed to the development of their country, poverty alleviation as well as achieved sustainability in the country prosperity.

Till now, only 4 African presidents have received the Ibrahim Prize of excellence in African Leadership:

1. In 2007: President Joaquim Alberto Chissano  _ Mozambique

Joacquin Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique ( source: Wikipedia)

Joacquin Alberto Chissano, former President of Mozambique ( source: Wikipedia)

President Chissano was the second President of Mozambique. In 1992, he has ended the Mozambican Civil War by negotiating with Renamo rebels and signing a Peace treaty that agreed on no prosecutions or punishment for former rebels and by sharing 50% of the positions in the Army. He was awarded with the first Mo Ibrahim Prize for his achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to his country following the 16-year civil war which lasted until 1992.

2. In 2008: President Festus Gontebanye Mogae – Botswana

President Festus Mogae  ( source: Google images)

President Festus Mogae ( source: Google images)

He has ruled Botswana for 10 years as the third President. President Mogae was honored by this Prize for his role in maintaining and consolidating the country’s stability and prosperity in the face of an HIV/ AIDS pandemic which threatened the future of Botswana.

3. In 2011: President Pedro De Verona Rodrigues Pires – Cape Verde

President Pedro Pires ( Source: Mo Ibrahim Foundation)

President Pedro Pires ( Source: Mo Ibrahim Foundation)

President Pedro Pires served as the Cape Verde head of state for 10 year and was awarded the Ibrahim Prize for his role in transforming the country into a model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity. Under his presidency, Cape Verde was the second country to graduate from the UN 48 Least developed countries.

4. The Late President Nelson Mandela  (South Africa)was an honorary laureate.

The anti-apartheid revolutionary hero, Nelson Mandela

The anti-apartheid revolutionary hero, Nelson Mandela

From 2011, no other candidate has qualified for this prize. There is an urgent need for a new laureate to keep that hope that Africa is not that dark continent well designed by westerners. There a need to prove that our beautiful Africa give birth to  excellent leaders who can serve as models for sustainable democracy. while waiting for the next candidate, the Mo Ibrahim foundation provides country governance profiles ( Ibrahim Index of African Governance) and Mauritius is currently the best with 81.7/100 while Somalia is at the bottom of the list on the content with only 8.6.The foundation offers also scholarships and fellowships to promote African talent in leadership in Partnership with the African Development Bank, International Trade Center and the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Caroline Numuhire, Butare City, Rwanda

Letters to Future Sisters of the World

Caroline- Letters to Future Sisters Submission Picture
Dear sister,

I grew up in Kigali but I was born in Butare, a University City in southern Rwanda. I grew up during a very challenging period because in my early childhood, Rwanda experienced one of the worst holocausts of our century. I grew up in a society torn by this division which engendered a profound mistrust among its children. But this doesn’t include the fact that I have known the insouciance and innocence of a childhood, children’s plays and oral stories told by the elders.

I grew up in a family of three girls and one boy. My father, though highly educated and very smart, was like the majority of African men who believe that women must play a secondary role in society. He was constantly recalling this. But my mother, a very emancipated woman, always whispered the contrary in our ears. At the same time, whenever something was…

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The day the two worlds met


The day the two worlds met

He once saw her and she saw him

Eyes alight with the careless splendor of curiosity

Moist with hope of countless possibilities

Eyes drooping with pessimism

Moist with fatigue of agony past

He once knew her and she knew him

Excitement and much crammed into an hourglass

In her wake a legion of crushed souls

Melancholy and such jammed into a bitter mass

In his wake a collection of starts false

He once wrote her and she wrote him

Stories of bliss she stressed

Distant from a life his own

A collapsing world he compressed

On paper that crumbled with each frown

Then once he held her and she held him

An embrace so tight with passion

Gratified chuckle muffled in sweaty cotton

In wait a frail tug afraid of possession

Overwhelmed to the brink of retreat

Still once she visited when he twice…

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                                        Enfants gardés par une nurse (Œuvre de Sir Joshua Reynolds. Source : Wikipedia)

Enfants gardés par une nurse (Œuvre de Sir Joshua Reynolds. Source : Wikipedia)

Nous vivons dans un monde où l’avance technologique définit nos vies. Les changements nous obligent à changer. Chaque activité est fonctionnaire du temps et le temps est devenu notre ressource la plus limitée ! Il y a moins de temps pour les maris de s’occuper de leurs femmes, moins de temps pour les femmes de s’occuper de leurs enfants et même moins de temps pour les enfants de jouer et de s’épanouir.

Pour répondre aux exigences professionnelles ; simultanément, les parents travaillent, étudient et élèvent les familles ce qui en soi est très impressionnant ! Mais quelle portion du temps, accordent-ils à chacune de ces tâches très importantes de la vie quotidienne ? Le travail l’emporte. N’est ce pas donc le travail qui paye nos études et nos factures ? En plus, le diplôme nous donne un meilleur boulot. Alors parfois les miettes restants de notre temps, nous le consacrons à la famille. A nos fameuses familles !


Dans nos cultures africaines, la vie familiale est aussi importante que le succès professionnel surtout pour les femmes, ce qui les mène à avoir un dilemme. Que privilégier ? Une loi en physique dit que nul ne peut être à deux endroits en même temps. Le deuxième meilleur choix des parents est d’engager une nurse pour s’occuper des enfants. Mais comment choisir ? Y-a-t il un critère spécifique que les parents s’imposer pour choisir la personne idéale pour s’occuper de leurs tenders bambins? Ou les parents limitent juste leurs choix au genre- une jeune fille qui ne les coûtera pas très cher-. Peu de parents, en tout cas au Rwanda, confient leurs enfants à des crèches. Cependant, ici je dois vous accorder que les crèches coutent honteusement chères.

Mais revenant à nos «chères nurses », elles ont d’indéniables control, influence, suprématie sur nos bébés. Dans la plupart des cas, des liens émotionnels se tissent entre eux. Mais comment les parents contrôlent-ils ce pouvoir que les «nounous »  peuvent avoir sur les enfants ? Surtout qu’il ya les situations où les enfants les considèrent comme leurs mères de remplacement, vu qu’ils voient rarement leurs propres mamans. La garde des enfants, est-ce vraiment une tâche à confier une personne désignée au hasard ?

Je me rappelle, il ya quelques années, un théâtre qui passait souvent à la radio et qui racontait comment un couple de parents était irrespectueux envers leurs domestiques, et ceux-ci se vengeaient en retours sur leurs enfants. L’histoire mettait en scène les cruelles tortures morales et physiques dont l’enfant était sujet une fois ses parents partis au travail. Je crois que nous devrons faire particulièrement attention aux éventuelles conséquences qui peuvent résulter de certains laisser-aller et prévenir les abus mentaux, moraux, physiques ou pire sexuels auquel nos enfants peuvent être exposés. En dépit de nos lourdes responsabilités professionnelles, nous devrons prendre le temps d’être parents, d’être une mère, d’être un père, de faire le suivi.

Pour moi, ceci soulève aussi la question de la complexité d’être une femme, une femme qui travail. Les gens attendent de toi que tu sois, belle comme la rose, gentille comme un cœur, généreuse comme la Sainte Marie, obéissante comme un nourrisson, sage comme une image, propre comme un sou neuf, élégante comme une colonnade et INTELLIGENTE ! Mais parfois un peu moins que les hommes ! Une fois que tu te comportes en égale, il y a les hommes qui se méfient, te rejettent, ce qui peut bafouer ta confiance en soi. C’est tellement difficile d’être une femme et consacre sa vie à une carrière professionnelle sans causer de quelconques dégâts dans sa vie familiale ou vice versa. Jusqu’à maintenant, je ne connais pas l’équilibre optimal entre ces deux dynamismes. Et ceci soulève une autre question que la société rwandaise me pousse à me poser, est-ce que toute femme rwandaise est faite pour être épouse et mère? Culturellement, je pense que oui. Parce que si tu ne l’es pas quelques soient tes accomplissements sans une famille, respect et admiration que tu inspires diminue considérablement.

Mais dans notre monde qui se modernise, y’aura-t-il un jour où une femme pourra exclusivement se consacrer à sa carrière ou à une vie familiale ? Sera –t- elle incomplète ? Et quelle sera la place de l’homme dans sa vie, dans un foyer ?


Why We Must Stop Being A Voice For the Voiceless: Thoughts on Privilege and The Single Story

Here is a very good writer ….

Melissa Otterbein

VoiceForVoiceless-woman Photo:

Throughout my past eight years of engaging in social justice, I’ve been drawn to people who have uncanny ideas. Ideas that peace and unity can exist. Dreams that Heaven can indeed be experienced on this planet. People who are unafraid to raise hell and create peace in every single breath.

But often times, in these circles, a buzz phrase kept coming up: “Being a voice for the voiceless.” This phrase is used in many circles, from large Christian NGOs to CNN. It likely means something different to each person. When it comes from voices in the faith community, it’s often rooted in the words of  the prophet Isaiah: “Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over” -Proverbs 3:18.

While I never believed in being a voice for the voiceless, I’ve had my fair share of ethnocentrism. As I…

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