Monday, October 13, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
October 9, 2008

As Africa and indeed the whole world waits with baited breath the outcome of the American presidential elections, one man in East Africa is causing a quiet revolution. As Africa and indeed the whole of East Africa anxiously waits for the historic moment in the land of opportunities, Paul Kagame in tiny Rwanda is focusing on his country’s future leaders; the young toddlers in primary schools!

Tanzanian newspapers broke the story of Kagame’s revolution. There was no mention of it in Kenyan newspapers, at least the ones I read online as late as Thursday the week I wrote this story. If they ever carried it at all, the online editors might have considered it insignificant for their world wide audience! Yet this is the crux of the matter.

Just listen to this: this week, Paul Kagame took the opportunity of the presence of East African Community legislators in his country to launch a project called OLPC (One Laptop per Child). He has embarked on an ambitious project to provide ever primary school child in Rwanda, irrespective of location with a battery powered laptop. What this means is that by the time Rwandan children will be in grade two in Primary schools, they will all be computer literate. Another thing, if these laptops become part of their school bag contents, it means they will take them home to do to practice with and do their homework from these toy screens. Chances are; the illiterate parents and older members of each household are likely to access this modern day wonder and in the process shed off their current phobia for the magic machine.

I don’t know how many primary school children are in Rwanda at the moment but if my math is not far off, in a population of 10 million whose children below 14 years are 45%, I can deduce that more than half that number, 3 million are in Primary school if we make an allowance for the under 5 year olds. Therefore, if Kagame has dared to spend on each Primary school going child between US Dollars 100 and 150, he will spend between US $ 300Million and $ 450million to equip each school age child with the gadget. In local terms, US $ 300Million is the equivalent of Ks 21 Billion, Ts 360 Billion and Us 480 Billion, a very tidy sum by any standards.

An angry Tanzanian editor lamented that whereas his country’s political leadership squandered the nation’s treasury on all manner of irrelevant activities like campaigning for political posts, countless trips abroad or just ripped off the country through dubious projects, their priority has never been the future of the child that belongs to the common man. The reason the political leadership has never bothered with providing quality education in public schools is because most moneyed politicians ship their children abroad for quality education leaving children of peasant workers to fend for themselves at home.

Paul Kagame is not doing this because Rwanda is the richest country in the Community. He is doing it because he cares for his country and its future. He is doing it because he has the ability to make difficult political decisions between pleasing his political party leadership and caring for the larger Rwanda. He has chosen the latter

In Kenya, the amount of money we lavish on Members of Parliament, Ministers, judges and non-performing KACC and the ECK are enough to equip every Primary school child with a laptop. But we dare not do that. When they feel like it, our legislators would rather blackmail the Treasury to increase their already obscene travel allowances than pass legislation to build and modernize our schools.

When you come to think of it; suppose one day the President of Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda woke up to cut military spending by half, internal security by a third and State House budget by a half, wouldn’t we equip all our schools and hospitals with enough books, medicine, teachers, doctors and nurses? Wouldn’t we get rid of those dirty blankets and broken beds in our hospital wards? Wouldn’t we get rid of those shameful classrooms under trees in our villages? Wouldn’t we replace those uncomfortable stones that have become the desks for our rural children?

Don’t we have sleepless nights or just ordinary guilt when we have so much while our people have so little to share around?