Monday, October 18, 2010

Tony Blair should use his influence in Rwanda to promote democracy

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 Tony Blair is on an official visit to Kigali and as The Kigali New Times reports; this is his sixth visit to Rwanda. Mr. Blair has an excellent relationship with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame and it is fair to say that he enjoys privileged influence over the Rwandan leader. So far, Mr. Blair has focused more on Rwanda’s economic development under the ongoing partnership between his Africa Governance Initiative (AGI) and the Government of Rwanda. In light of Kagame’s increasing autocracy, it is high time for Mr. Blair to encourage his Rwandan ally towards the road of democratic reform.

It is regrettable to say, but the last thing Rwanda needs is another powerful ally that looks on passively while the country continues to repress its citizens. We need not to be reminded of the role that the French played in Rwanda, and that their unconditional support for the late Juvenal Habyarimana regime, facilitated the 1994 genocide. 

It needs to be said that the “economic development” argument often recited by people like Blair when justifying their support for Kagame is nothing new. Rwanda under Habyarimana was a relatively corrupt free country.  Similarly, aid was efficiently utilized and Habyarimana, though oppressive, was a donor darling.

The French might have seen Habyarimana as a model for their colonies.  If their policies are not revised, the British are bound to make the same mistake again. This would be very costly if shameful.
Kagame is able to play the same old “script” though quite more tactfully than his predecessor. He has recently diversified his international support, adding in China his new sources of aid. He speaks a different language to each and every ear.  In the West, he is often he is heard giving lessons on democracy. At home, he is known for his cruelty. Indeed, this ambivalent character has corresponding effects on the Rwandan government. 

Rwanda today has no free press, no functional parliament and the civil society is severely controlled.  Power is extensively consolidated in hands of one man. Elections are so manipulated to the extent that the pro-government electoral commission often has to lower down Kagame’s margin win in order to appropriate some votes to “opposition” candidates. This, and many more tactics, has luckily given his government a façade of democracy.

Tony Blair (and Britain for that matter) would be a better friend of Rwanda, if they use their influence to raise the concerns that worry many Rwandans. It is not difficult for him to do so, after all, Britain is Rwanda’s largest donor. If aid cannot pave the way for democratic reform, then aid ceases to bear meaning. It is hard to find a justification for aid, if the same aid is used to prop up an authoritarian government that terrorizes its citizens. Never should aid be used to advance extremism. Rwanda knows all too well the risks involved.

I am not advocating for a total freeze on British aid. I think what is important here, is that aid is dispensed in a certain way that opens up (future) avenues for dialogue. The indifference we now see is criminal. Donors cannot afford to keep quiet even as the Rwandan state imprisons pro-democracy activists. The silence would never occur in another African country. We fail to understand why this would be deemed acceptable for Rwanda.

Rwandans deserve a response from Tony Blair and other international actors that continue to lend support to this criminal dictatorship. As history has painfully taught us, it is this kind of relationships that make African leaders unaccountable to their people. With foreign money trickling in and a number of high-placed individuals to plead their case, illiberal leaders like Mr. Kagame attach no value in democracy. After all, democracy might mean that they will have to lose power.


The Proxy said...

Your analysis has solid arguments. However, I am suprised no where in your article, the case of Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, which is a typical example of what you are advancing, is mentioned.

Many, including me, think that Victoire has become the icon for struggle for democracy not only in Rwanda but also in the African Great Lakes Region.

That is why Kagame would go extra mile to get rid of her. Read what plan Kagame has to eliminate her:

hategeka said...

To differ from how you think, I support Blair 100%.
The image of Rwanda should not be shaped by a few people who just have their own agenda behind.
I think Rwanda doesn't deserve politicians who have based their politics on tribalism and ethnicity.
The guy you're calling a dictator we well know as common people that on several occasions he has managed to solve problems that could hardly be solved by a leader who serves for his own interests.
Rwandans are now more than 10 million. sincerely speaking more than 9 million are happy with what is taking place only that they can't access this international media where their voice can be heard.
You totally missed it when you compared Habyra with Kagame.
If the former used well the donations he was given ; we wouldn't have seen Rwandans suffering from jiggers, others fleeing their country due to famine.
That he was an example to other french colonies in Africa! Which ones? Togo?Gabon?Burkna?etc; All those countries were far ahead of Rwanda in everything.
By then no country among them had such a big number of refugees like Rwanda had.
By then you couldn't imagine if Kigali was really a capital city.
But today the whole world is admiring what Rwanda has achieved within this short period of time.
I can't say all is well in my country but again all don't come at once.
That Blair you are saying i think he is not the one who brought freedom in his country.
They struggled for it for hundreds of years and they're still in a process because they have not yet reached it 100%.
Freedom is a process, it's not something that you can achieve just in a single day.
Another thing to note is that there is no any poor country that have ever been democratic.
You can't bring democracy in a country where graduates are not yet even 1% with illiteracy still more than 50%.
If you really want to see our country coming out of the problems it's encountering today; you should look on all sides but not just basing on emotions.

Nkunda said...

@ The Proxy,

Yes, it is a major shortcoming for anyone writing about democracy in Rwanda, to fail to recognize the efforts of Mme. Ingabire and others. If you read some of my previous posts, you will find that I do take this issue seriously.

Also, thanks for the link and for blogging about the Rwanda.

Nkunda said...

@ Hategeka,

Thank you for your comment. Although I do not agree with you, I do think that opinions like yours do matter and have to be considered.

But I think we can come to consensus that Paul Kagame does not seem to have any interest in democracy. Of course, this does not mean that he has not contributed anything positive.

Yes, "freedom is a process", but the process has to begin somewhere. Kagame continues to be a stumbling block to the process. And that is why many of us are constantly worried.

We can also agree that, without democracy (and here, I include the protection of minority rights), rwanda's future will remain uncertain. Like a Volcano waiting to erupt!

ColoredOpinions said...

The EU used a similar method to stimulate democratic reform in eastern European countries (former communist republics).

Nkunda said...


what method are you referring to?

Anonymous said...

I guess you will want to place a twitter button to your site. I just bookmarked the article, however I had to do it manually. Just my advice.