Paul Kagame: Rwanda's redeemer or ruthless dictator?

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11 Δεκ 2013 (πριν από 3 χρόνια και 4 μήνες)

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Paul Kagame: Rwanda's redeemer or ruthless dictator?

President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan hero who united a country torn by
genocide, defends his uncompromising approach to democracy

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda


Richard Grant

9:00AM BST 22 Jul 2010

The presidential chair, lean and
backed, awaits its occupant
in a big, hushed room with long,
beige curtains drawn against the
African sun. After some delay, His
Excellency is announced and Paul
Kagame enters the room with a
brisk loping stride

a tall, thin,
gangly man with small steel
spectacles, a narrow moustache and a blue suit hanging off his bony shoulders.

His eyes have a keen, piercing intelligence, and he radiates a quality of intense
seriousness that is both impressive and inti
midating. Kagame, the president of Rwanda,
is widely considered to be the most dynamic and effective leader in Africa today, and
also ruthless, repressive and intolerant of criticism.

Like any African strongman who depends on aid from Western democracies

Britain is
the single largest donor to his regime, giving £70 million last year

it is necessary for
Kagame to cry foul when he’s accused of abusing human rights, but his self
model for Rwanda is Singapore: a small, tightly controlled authorit
arian state that has
achieved a vibrant prosperity based on trade, banking and communications.

The interview begins with Kagame asking the questions. 'Tell me your impressions of
Rwanda,’ he says, 'a) before you came here, and b) now that you are here.’ L
ike most
foreign visitors, I have been impressed by the cleanliness, order and efficiency of the
country. Sixteen years after the genocide in which Hutu fanatics orchestrated the
slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, leaving the country

nightmarish ruin, with the treasury looted and corpses stuffed down the wells, Rwanda is
now the safest, cleanest country in Africa, with no slums and virtually no begging or
street crime. It has one of the highest sustained rates of economic growth on
continent, the least amount of corruption and red tape, and it is the only country in the
world to have a majority of women in its parliament.

Plastic bags are outlawed for environmental reasons, and in Kigali, the capital city,
skyscrapers are rising
, and the streets are swept clean every morning. The death penalty
has been abolished, and English adopted as the official language. There is a national
health system, 19 out of 20 children are now in school, and rural Rwanda, while still in
severe poverty
, has better internet service than rural Britain, and a good network of
immaculately paved roads.

Meanwhile the survivors of the genocide are doing something almost unimaginable: co
existing with the men who hacked their family members to death, and so oft
en tortured

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and raped them. In many cases survivors and killers are now living as neighbours again
in the same villages, and while this is a tense arrangement to say the least, there has
been remarkably little violence, and some inspiring examples of forgi
veness and

'These achievements are extraordinary but they seem fragile,’ I say. 'The country still
feels so traumatised and volatile. I have been asking Rwandans what they would like to
ask you, and two questions keep coming up: how can we

heal the ethnic division in our
hearts? And what happens if Kagame drops dead tomorrow? Many think there would be
another genocide.’ These remarks hang impertinently in the air for a few moments. Then
Kagame, who is Tutsi and runs a Tutsi
dominated govern
ment, nods slowly and
composes his reply. 'For me, this fragility is to be expected. Sixteen years is a very short
time, and the trauma runs much deeper than people from outside, however well
meaning, will ever understand. Sometimes our partners from other

countries ask us why
we have not got further with our reconciliation, as if we possess a magic to just get rid of
this tragic history of ours. No, we have to find a way to live with it and also to build a
new nation. The first phase was to achieve peace a
nd stability, and now we are moving
forward with development. And if Kagame, for one reason or other, is no longer there,
people can look back at everything that has been done in 16 years, and they can feel a
part of it, and be reassured that this stabilit
y will continue.’

Rwanda’s curse has been ethnic hatred expressed as ethnic politics, so Kagame’s
government, in typically bold, authoritarian style, has made it illegal. Any politician or
citizen who makes a statement encouraging ethnic animosity, or expr
essing ethnic
solidarity, risks a lengthy imprisonment for the crime of 'divisionism’. The very words
Hutu and Tutsi are now fraught and taboo, and if you ask someone which group they
belong to, they will usually look uncomfortable and reply as the governm
ent has
dictated: 'We are all Rwandans now.’

To Kagame’s

critics, this is simply a strategy to keep the Hutus, who make up 85 per
cent of the population, from organising politically against his small Tutsi elite now
controlling the country. There are Hutu members and ministers in Kagame’s ruling party,
the Rwan
dan Patriotic Front (RPF), but the inner circle is all Tutsi. And in the past,
whenever Hutu politicians have started to gather power or criticise the government, it
has usually meant their imprisonment, exile, disappearance or, in the case of Seth
onga and a few others, unsolved assassination.

According to Human Rights Watch, one of Kagame’s most persistent critics, by denying
Hutus a political voice and access to power he is building resentment and bottling
tensions. Kagame bristles fiercely at the
se criticisms. 'There are people who think we will
never get out of this, that in Rwanda either these ones will do the killing, or these ones
will,’ he says. 'I do not accept this. I cannot accept that there is something wrong with
us in this way. It will
be a long, difficult process

we are under no illusions

development is really the key. We must create economic opportunity, build a culture of
entrepreneurship, get people to take responsibility for improving their lives, rather than
putting them in

a position where they sit back in their poverty and blame others for it.’

To Kagame’s fans, who include Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates and the CEOs of Google
and Starbucks, the tinderbox nature of post
genocide Rwanda, and the results he has
ed so far, justify his strong hand and poor human rights record. The fact that
Rwanda is ranked 183 out of 195 countries for freedom of the press, for example, is
outweighed by the fact that the per
capita GDP has tripled. Also, the West lives with the

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lty knowledge that it was Kagame and his rebel army who stopped the genocide,
while we dithered and blundered, and Kagame has been skilful and relentless at using
this guilt to his advantage. Like so many rebel generals who have made the switch to

leadership, Kagame places a high premium on loyalty and discipline, likes to
operate in secrecy, is comfortable using violence and threats of violence against his
enemies, and tends to equate criticism with treason. Unusually, he doesn’t appear
by wealth or luxury, either for himself or his relations. One of his sisters runs
a small dairy. Another operates a souvenir stand at the airport.

When I ask Kagame to sum up his political philosophy, he says, 'Pragmatic, doing what
is doable,’ and adds t
hat fighting war is more to his liking. 'Even with all the hardships
and hunger, war is straightforward and clear
cut,’ he explains. 'But building a nation
from nothing? A nation that has just experienced genocide? There is no strategy manual
for this. The
re is nothing that is not a priority, and the priorities are always conflicting. I
try to look at problems very clearly and think, “How do we get out of this? What will
work? What will be the consequences for the people involved?”’ Kagame has very little
ormal schooling, so his ideas and solutions are formed by his life experiences, which
have been harsher than most of us can imagine, and his voracious reading. Having put
in a 12
hour day dealing with affairs of state, taken his exercise (gym or tennis), s
time with his wife and four children and said goodnight to them, he then stays up
reading for three or four hours a night. 'Mainly it is books about economics, business
management, development issues, politics, international affairs,’ he says. 'I get
newspapers from Britain and other countries twice a week, and read them almost page
to page. Sometimes I find I’m reading things I don’t even need to read, because my
mind is still hungry. I don’t need much sleep. Four hours is enough.’

Paul Kagame was bo
rn in 1957 into an aristocratic Tutsi family that fled Rwanda when he
was a small boy. His earliest memories are of houses burning on a hill, shouting and
commotion, his desperate mother, the family scrambling into a car as a Hutu death
squad came running
down the hill towards them. This was in 1959 and again in 1960,
during the first of the Hutu pogroms against the Tutsi that some historians now interpret
as 'warm
up genocides’. The Kagames were among tens of thousands of Rwandan Tutsis
who ended up living

in refugee camps across the border in Uganda. 'You will always hear
me talking about the importance of dignity,’ Kagame says. 'It is really the key to
people’s lives, and obviously for me it relates back to the refugee camp, the lining up for
food every d
ay, the rationing. When we started primary school, we used to study under
a tree. We used to write on our thighs with a piece of dry, hard grass, and the teacher
would come over and look at your thigh, and write his mark with another piece of dry
grass. Yo
u develop some sense of questioning, some sense of justice, saying, “Why do I
live like this? Why should anybody live like this?” There was also a hardening that is still
there in the way I approach many things. You can’t shock me, because what can be
e than what I have seen and lived through?’

As a young man he joined the leftist Ugandan rebel army led by Yoweri Museveni, the
current president of Uganda, and spent five years as a guerrilla fighter in the bush.
Intelligence was Kagame’s speciality, gat
hering information about the terrain, the
enemy, the villagers. It suited his observant, analytical, conspiratorial mind. When
Museveni took power in 1986, he sent Kagame to Cuba for training with 67 intelligence
officers under his command.


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On his return,
Kagame and his closest boyhood friend from the refugee camp, Fred
Rwigyema, started building a clandestine army of Rwandan exiles within the Ugandan
national army, with the aim of invading Rwanda and overthrowing the Hutu regime. It
was one of the most aud
acious covert operations in military history, involving thousands
of people, and it was how the Rwandan Patriotic Front began. In 1989, through relations
in the Rwandan Tutsi diaspora, Kagame met and married his wife, Jeanette, then living
in Nairobi. Soon

afterwards the newlyweds went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where
Museveni had arranged training for Kagame at the prestigious US Army Command and
Staff College, to complement what he had learnt in Cuba. Kagame and Rwigyema
continued to plot their invasion

by telephone, as the Ugandan military became
increasingly suspicious of the Rwandans in their midst.

In October 1990, with Kagame still in Kansas tidying up his affairs, the RPF detached
itself from the Ugandan army, ripped the insignias off its uniform
s, and crossed the
border into Rwanda. By the time Kagame got there Rwigyema had been killed, and the
RPF had been routed. Kagame took command of the remnants and led them to the
remote Virunga mountains. There he rebuilt his army in secret, and began a fo
guerrilla war against the Hutu government headed by President Juvénal Habyarimana
and backed by the French. It was Hutu Power extremists in the ruling elite who
conceived of genocide against Tutsis, imported the machetes from China, trained the
erahamwe death squads, and then used the radio to whip up hatred and paranoia
among the Hutu population, and coordinate the killing district by district. As the horror
began, Kagame was in close contact with the UN commander on the ground, Romeo
whose superiors in New York ordered him to stay neutral and not get involved.
Kagame was also in contact with the Clinton administration, which justified its inaction
by claiming that 'acts of genocide’ were taking place, but not genocide itself. Furious a
disgusted by the international response, Kagame and the RPF took matters into their
own hands and marched on Kigali. The night before the RPF reached the city, the
genocidaires fled, leaving the streets heaped with corpses, government buildings

down to the wiring, the treasury and banks emptied. Moving into the
countryside beyond Kigali, the RPF found more horror, stench and eerie silence. It
seemed impossible that so many people had been killed with machetes and clubs in such
a short time, and
indeed the Rwandan genocide, with 800,000 dead in 100 days, was
the fastest genocide in history.

When the self
styled 'international community’ did finally intervene, it did nothing for the
survivors, and chose instead to help the perpetrators of the genocide. The French landed
3,000 soldiers and created a protected zone for the fleeing government arm
y, death
squads and general Hutu population, which included many genocidal killers. From there,
a great exodus of Hutus crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Zaire as it
was then, and a massive international aid campaign was launched to feed th
em, shelter
them in refugee camps, and bring them medical supplies. Neither the television coverage
nor the televised appeals for money by the aid organisations made it clear that these
people had just committed genocide. In accordance with the principles
of humanitarian
neutrality, they were described as 'refugees from the genocide in Rwanda’, and most
viewers naturally assumed they were innocent survivors.

Kagame’s blood starts to boil when he remembers this time. 'They had armoured
personnel carriers, an
aircraft, armouries and ammunition in the camps, and the
human rights people, and the humanitarian people, were feeding them, and telling us
they were feeding refugees. And, as they very well knew, these so
called refugees were

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selling most of what they

were given so they could maintain their military machine,
because they wanted to come back and overthrow us.’

There were two important long
term consequences. One was that Kagame developed a
deep contempt for the international community and its claims to
moral authority. The
second was that his army invaded Zaire/Congo (while he strenuously denied that an
invasion was taking place). Fighting alongside a Congolese rebel army, it scattered but
did not defeat the Hutu war machine, committed a series of brutal

massacres against
fleeing, unarmed Hutus (also denied, even when the mass graves were discovered),
deposed the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and set in motion a horrific cycle of violence,
upheaval and pillage in Congo that has been dubbed Africa’s World War
. Depending on
whose figures you believe, it has caused three million, five million or seven million
deaths, mostly from war
related disease and privation.

The gravest charges against Kagame’s regime relate to the actions of his army. There is
clear evide
nce that the RPF committed systematic massacres of Hutus both in Rwanda
when they took power, and then in Congo. According to UN reports, the Rwandan
military has also plundered some $100 million worth of gold, diamonds, tin, coltan and
other minerals from

ravaged eastern Congo. It is not a defence of Rwanda but a
point of context to mention that eight other African nations, and a dizzying cast of
Congolese warlords, have also been fighting over the vast mineral wealth in this region.
Kagame has only th
is to say on the subject of Congo: 'The problems there are so
enormous and many decades old, so I think it is a mistake to say that the problem starts
with Rwanda’s hand in it, and this is where it ends. Even if we were to take Rwanda
away, and put it some
place else, Congo still has a lot of problems to contend with

corruption, bad governance, lack of effective institutions, and so on. But at least for
those problems related to us we are gradually overcoming them, and are doing so by
working very well wit
h the Congolese.’

Regarding the RPF massacres of Hutus in Rwanda, he offers a more spirited defence,
saying that it was extremely difficult to restrain his troops, especially the new recruits
who had just seen their family members raped and butchered. 'Yo
u can imagine trying to
stand between people who are so seriously aggrieved, and having the desire to settle it
because there was no justice infrastructure at that time. Then you have the ones being
accused, and some felt justified and thought they did rig
ht in killing, and others said no,
we weren’t a part of it, even if they were involved, and trying to sort all this out was
probably the most difficult thing of all.’

There were still thousands of unburied bodies when human rights activists made their
t calls for free and fair democratic elections in Rwanda. There were millions of
displaced people, and a genocidal war machine reassembling itself just across the
border. There was no currency in circulation, and the trauma of the survivors was still in
e first stage of shock. 'You would look in their eyes and see a blankness,’ Kagame
says. 'They were just wondering how it was possible to cope with everything they had

Some 200 humanitarian NGOs (non
governmental organisations) arrived in Rwanda to

help rebuild it, and while Kagame was grateful for the goodwill, the money and the
services they could provide, he rankled at the mixture of naivety and entitlement that
came along in their cultural baggage, and threw 80 of them out because they refused t
register. 'Of the rest, you would be lucky to find five in 100 that are doing it
altruistically. The others will choose for you where you should put their money, and try

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to control what you do in other areas. They come here knowing almost nothing,
tanding almost nothing, and they judge and criticise and tell you what you should
do. A big part of the misunderstanding is that they expect us to be a normal country, like
the ones where they are from. They do not understand that we are operating in a ver
different context.’ In the Great Lakes region of Africa

Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda

it is normal for presidents to seize power at the head of rebel armies. Ethnic violence
and ethnic patronage are basic tools of politics, and if you lose power the
re is a serious
risk of death, imprisonment or exile, and perhaps a wave of ethnic cleansing or genocide
against your people. In Kagame’s case, his electorate is 85 per cent Hutu. Many of them
were involved in the most committed attempt at genocide that Af
rica has ever seen. It is
not hard to understand why his government lacks enthusiasm for genuinely free and fair
elections, or why it clamps down so hard on the slightest suggestion of ethnic politics.
Nor does it ever admit mistakes, apologise or show any

other sign of weakness.

Another basic requirement for politicians in the region is to present a facade of
democracy to keep the donors happy and the aid money flowing. In this spirit, the RPF
wrote a parliamentary constitution for Rwanda after it took po
wer. To show Rwandans
and the West that they were not a military dictatorship of Tutsi exiles, they appointed a
Hutu president, Pasteur Bizimungu, and a Hutu prime minister. Kagame was vice
president, minister of defence, general of the army, and the one w
ho took important
meetings with foreign heads of state. Bizimungu proved obstinate, greedy and
ambitious. In 2000, having resigned while drunk in public, he was then arrested and
sentenced to 15 years for divisionism. The crime was committed in a magazine
interview, in which Bizimungu predicted Hutu violence and civil war unless the RPF
started sharing power in a genuine way. Kagame assumed the presidency. He started
devouring books about Singapore, South Korea, China and the other 'Asian Tigers’,
which had

managed to leap out of poverty in less than a generation by means of
disciplined, authoritarian leadership and entrepreneurial capitalism. Rwanda is a small,
landlocked, overpopulated country with few natural resources, and long, expensive trade
routes. H
ow was it going to develop? Kagame announced an ambitious plan to turn
Rwanda into the high
tech commercial, banking and communications hub of east and
central Africa by 2020.

The region is rich in resources, especially Congo, but it has been crippled by c
inefficiency, political instability, poverty, disease and ignorance. Kagame’s government
began tackling these problems with a harsh, bullying, unwavering determination entirely
new to the region. Government employees were required to be at their

desks by 7am,
and quickly fired if they didn’t produce results. The anti
corruption tsar was given real
power, and used it zealously. The rebuilding of Rwanda’s infrastructure and institutions,
especially in health and education, has been largely financed

by foreign aid, which
provided 100 per cent of the government’s budget in the immediate aftermath of the
genocide, and is now at 42 per cent. Kagame wants to reduce Rwanda’s dependency on
aid, regarding it as a trap that stifles entrepreneurship and digni
ty, but it has been
integral to his progress so far, and for the donors Rwanda has been a rare success story.
Here at last is an African government that doesn’t embezzle or squander the money, but
uses it efficiently and gets results.

The government has also been effective at courting influential friends abroad (Clinton,
Blair et al), and bringing in foreign investment, mainly from America and China. The
World Bank has named Rwanda the top business reformer in the world, and the region’
most business
friendly country. The coffee business is booming, thanks in no small part

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to Starbucks, and tourism, unimaginable after the genocide, has grown into a $200
million a year industry. Another important part of the Rwandan economic miracle, but

hard to measure, has been the secret flow of illegal minerals from Congo. The other
African countries involved have plundered minerals for the personal enrichment of a few
individuals, with the profits banked in Switzerland or London. In Rwanda’s case, th
mineral wealth appears to have been funnelled through government channels, with most
of it spent on the military, and the rest of it helping to finance Kagame’s vision of an
African Singapore.

The dream is still a long way from coming true. In Kigali th
ere is a prosperous elite,
most of them Tutsis returned from the diaspora, and an emerging middle class, but nine
out of 10 Rwandans are still subsistence farmers. Hope rests on the generation currently
in school, who are growing up with laptops and the in
ternet, speaking English, and
moving towards the universities and the new technical colleges. Rwandese society has
always encouraged obedience to power (this is one reason why so many Hutus followed
their orders to kill Tutsis), and younger Rwandans are be
ing pounded with exhortations
to study hard, work hard, take responsibility, be entrepreneurs.

No one is watching the Rwanda experiment more closely than other Africans. Kagame is
widely admired and respected on the continent, and considered a shoo
in for
presidency of the African Union if he ever wants the job. But the Rwanda model is not
easily replicated. It requires a Kagame, and men like Kagame do not come along often.
There has never been a shortage of autocrats in Africa, but very few of them hav
e been
so driven and determined to better their countries, and most have concentrated on
enriching themselves and shoring up their power with patronage. Kagame has shown
Africa that strong leadership can turn a country around, and that a strong leader show
no quarter to his opponents.

He faced his first presidential election in 2003. Opposition candidates proved hard to find
because the likeliest were either in prison, dead or had fled the country. Finally the
former prime minister, a Hutu named Faustin T
wagiramungu, returned from exile,
announced his candidacy and made a speech accusing Kagame of running a dictatorship.
The majority
female parliament promptly voted to ban his political party. Twagiramungu
persevered, even after two of his most prominent s
upporters disappeared without trace,
and Kagame won 95 per cent of the vote. He insists it was a free and fair election,
saying, 'You cannot blame me for the weakness of the opposition.’ Now he has another
election on August 9. The government has closed do
wn two critical news
papers, and
arrested a journalist for defamation (he compared Kagame with Hitler) and divisionism.
A dissident general has survived an assassination attempt in South Africa, and a
newspaper editor who linked it to the Rwandan governmen
t was murdered in Kigali. Two
opposition parties have been prevented from registering, and the vice
president of one,
Andre Kagwa Rwisereka of the Democratic Greens, has turned up dead from machete
wounds. Political rallies have been been broken up violent
ly by the police, and two Hutu
opposition candidates have been arrested, one for divisionism, the other, Victoire
Ingabire, for the Orwellian crime of 'genocide ideology’.

Ingabire had been living in Belgium. On returning to Rwanda to announce her candida
she went straight to the genocide memorial in Kigali and asked why there was no
memorial for the moderate Hutus who were killed

her brother was one of them. She
was announcing herself, in RPF eyes, as a Hutu candidate, and challenging the
version of the genocide, which is a strict morality play involving Hutu

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villains, Tutsi victims and RPF heroes. To raise questions about the RPF atrocities against
Hutus, or draw attention to the moderate Hutus who were killed, is equated under the
law wit
h denying or diminishing the genocide. All in all, it seems a foregone conclusion
that Kagame will win re
election and remain in power for at least another seven years.
Then comes the big question. Will he abide by the Rwandan constitution, which limits
esidents to two terms? Or will he devise a reason to hold on to power for longer?
Kagame insists he will step down, and says that if there is no peaceful democratic
transfer of power in 2017, his presidency will have been a failure. He insists that Rwanda
will become an increasingly open and democratic society, but not to impress the
international community, or because meddlesome foreigners are demanding it. 'No,’ he
says, 'we must do it because fundamentally we believe in it, because these values are
rsal and we share them, and because it is good for us.’

Is this deceitful rhetoric, or does he really intend to open up political space once
development has got further, as the donors and many Rwandans would like to believe?
Is Kagame a benevolent dictator
, the strong hand needed to pull Rwanda forward into a
better future, or is he an incurable despot? If you hold him up to the light in the right
way, you can see both facets glinting at once.