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Safe from COVID and ready for business!

I own a restaurant in Rwanda. COVID has not been good for restaurants, to put it lightly.

But believe it or not, my business is actually up during COVID, with last month’s sales 33% higher than in the month before the pandemic hit.

I wish small business owners in America could say the same thing. But I bet there aren’t many who can, especially in the hospitality business. And I feel for you. Believe me, I was there too.

Running a small business is hard enough in normal times. You work hard, sweat over the numbers, pay bills, pay taxes, and at the end of the day, maybe you’re left with something. …


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Above: President Museveni of Uganda hands out sacks of cash to potential voters. Below: President Trump ensures his name is on stimulus checks to potential voters

I’ve lived in East Africa for nine years and witnessed two presidential elections in two different countries (Uganda and Rwanda). People here are genuinely fascinated by America and how we do elections. When I ask my African friends what they think of the United States, their reaction is often one of astonished admiration, along the lines of, “How did you do it? Our politicians in Africa are so corrupt. They steal money, they steal elections, they stay in power even when they lose. But in the US you can trust your elections, and your presidents don’t cling to power. How did you manage it? …


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As a Christian and an American, I’ve always wondered what a conversation between President Trump and Jesus Christ would be like. If Trump says “America first,” and Jesus says “the first shall be last,” where does that leave America?

I grew up in a conservative Baptist church in Oklahoma. My dad was a pastor. I pray — not daily, but probably weekly. Although I don’t like mixing religion and politics, it’s hard to separate my values from my vote completely. But nothing could have prepared me for the past four years.

We Christians have a decision to make in 2020. And for many evangelicals, it’s not as easy as those on the left or right would make it out to be. …


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Which signature is authentic?

Before 2020, I thought unnecessary paperwork was universally hated by all humans. Certainly it’s the bane of my existence: nothing enrages me like being asked to fill out some arcane form that serves no purpose, or being grilled by an official over some uncrossed “t” or un-dotted “i” because “that’s what the policy says”. I’ve been rejected over a mismatched signature that was obviously me, due to a bank’s insistence on protecting me from myself — more on that later. And does any of this do anything to prevent fraud? Probably not.

And until 2020, I thought Rwanda was the king of paperwork. …


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Absentee Ballots!

I voted from Rwanda! The other day I printed, signed, scanned, and emailed my ballot in via the Federal Voter Assistance Program (FVAP), tracking my ballot’s progress every day via Oklahoma’s online voter portal. Finally, nearly a week after sending the email, I received an email back from FVAP confirming they had printed the ballot and forwarded it on to Oklahoma via fax, and confirmed in Oklahoma’s online voter portal that it had been received. I could breathe a sigh of relief.

But my experience voting from abroad shows that all is not well in American democracy.

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Tracking my ballot through Oklahoma’s online voter portal

For starters, relief is not an emotion one should feel after casting one’s ballot. I’ve worked overseas for the last nine years. This is my fourth time voting using FVAP, but the first where I’ve had doubts over whether my ballot would be counted. For over a week I dithered over whether to use FVAP or physically mail my ballot from the embassy, due to lingering fears that my faxed-in ballot might not be counted — that Trump might have hijacked FVAP, that Oklahoma could have secretly changed its laws at the last minute to disallow ballots sent via FVAP, or that a Trump sympathizer in the county election office might transfer my ballot from the fax machine to the trash. …


In the world of Game of Thrones, words are wind, and power is power. But in a democracy, words matter.

Why do people follow laws, and not whatever they want, or whatever the local “big man” tells them? Why, in the United States, can a powerful Senator not order their staff to cut a rival’s throat (or, for that matter, to “stop, I’ve changed my mind, step back three paces, turn around, close your eyes”) and have them obey?

Because in a democracy, we believe in the idea that people do not owe their allegiance to the master they serve. We do not swear oaths of fealty to a lord or lady or party, but swear only to abide by the laws that we as a nation have agreed to live by. …


Why do we send text messages (via Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, etc) to the people who are sitting directly across from us at work (or at least we did before the pandemic)? Or when we have a quick but urgent question (i.e. we’re at the grocery store and need to ask someone what to buy) — why do we still send that message instead of just calling, when we know the person we’re asking may not see the message before we need to make a decision?

Have you ever noticed how sometimes a work conversation that would take 10 minutes in-person can drag on for hours on a messaging app or comments thread — and in the meantime, you didn’t get anything else done on the things you meant to be working on because you were constantly going back and forth between your messages and that other work? …


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Now Now Rolex in Kigali, Rwanda (pre-Covid-19)

Two and a half years ago I opened a street food restaurant and pub in Kigali, Rwanda. As any small business owner knows, it hasn’t been easy. I’ve invested my own money, and every time it has seemed profitability was just around the corner, a new obstacle has popped up requiring further investment, adaptation, and risk. But finally, after two years of struggle, in February 2020 we achieved our first monthly profit. March was poised to be even better. It seemed time to celebrate!

Then COVID-19 happened.

On March 14 Rwanda reported its first case of the virus. Then cases started to grow: 4 more, then 2 more, then another 4. …


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“On the savanna, the lion may fear being gored by the buffalo, but she cannot stay home forever — eventually she must hunt, or the pride will starve. The buffalo may fear the crocodile, but he cannot stay away from the river forever — eventually, he must drink.”

That’s an old African proverb that’s neither old nor African — I made it up just now. …


I’m a white man. My great-grandmother’s grandfather fought for the Confederacy (so my great-great-great-grandfather). Apparently, we used to have some pretty cool heirlooms like his battle sword and uniform, but my great-grandmother’s sister inexplicably sold the sword in a garage sale and burned the uniform to clear room in the house. Hell, my middle name — which has been in the family for generations — is Lee. I wasn’t named for Robert E. Lee, but I’m sure someone in my family back in the day was. The Confederacy is part of my heritage.

Let me rephrase that last sentence. Unfortunately, the Confederacy is part of my heritage. I would love to say that my ancestors fought on the right side of history, that they fought for truth and justice and the end of slavery in the United States. Unfortunately, they didn’t: my ancestors fought for the bad guys. …

About

Andrew Kent

Born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, working on solar energy and rural electrification in Africa, BA in Social Studies from Harvard

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