There are many reasons why western admirers of Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame should be ashamed of themselves.
Over the past 16 years, a small but influential section of the west, has paraded Rwanda under Mr. Kagame as the model for state development in Africa. The praise has mostly had to do with the effectiveness of the Rwandan state in utilizing foreign aid as well as its comparatively low levels of monetary corruption. The concerns over Kagame’s human rights record have most often been brushed aside. While there are many reasons that might explain this behavior, the predominant ones are the genocide guilt, and the optimism, on the part of the international community, that as time elapses, Mr. Kagame would democratize. Sadly, the “time” argument has failed to hold, and as it seems, Rwanda is rapidly descending into organized totalitarianism.
The most hated African dictators are perhaps Mr. Robert Mugabe and his Sudanese cousin, Omar Bashir. Both of these men are defiant against conventional norms in international politics and loathed for it. Both share a penchant for undermining free press, and arbitrarily jailing political dissidents. Omar Bashir is accused of perpetrating a horrific genocide against Darfur residents, while Mr. Mugabe has caused the collapse of a country that was once a success story. Similarly, both men face fierce international pressure. Mr. Mugabe has to operate his now “basket” state under tough internationally-imposed sanctions and, Omar Bashir is facing an indictment from the ICC.
There are many parallels between these two tyrants and Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame. And, of course, one major difference. The respected Economist newspaper, has previously stated that ”Kagame allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe," Like Bashir, Kagame's forces are accused of major war crimes and possible genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). At home, he allows no political dissent, and Rwandan prisons are full of individuals accused with what would be your Orwellian version of “thought crimes”. But, Mr. Paul Kagame unlike the other bewildered couple (Bashir and Mugabe) is a regular visitor to western universities, where he shamelessly and hypocritically gives lectures on topics to do with democracy and good governance.
The double standards are clear. Last year, former US President Bill Clinton awarded Mr. Kagame with the “Global Citizen Award”. The influential Baptist pastor, Rev. Rick warren had bestowed him with ‘the Global Peace Award” the previous year. Universities in the US have conferred to him uncountable honorary doctorates. All of these individuals and groups have ignored the warning voice of those that Kagame oppresses and terrorizes in Rwanda and DRC. Perhaps, it is not too late for Rick Warren and Bill Clinton to reevaluate the relationship they share with Mr. Kagame.
The clearest sign that Mr. Kagame is not ready for political pluralism has to do with his contempt for opposition politics. Yet, many would agree that the Rwandan genocide was a result of a dictatorial state, which imposed its total will on the Rwandan people. The Rwandan people have long been known for their submission to public authorities. As activists such as Paul Rusesabagina have pointed out, it is the dictatorship and the absence of genuine opposition that is likely to recast Rwanda into the genocide pit. One man’s absolute rule is more a recipe for further chaos, than it is a model for African democracy.
Today, the Union for Democratic Front leader, Victoire Ingabire was arrested. Within the last few months, she was already held under house arrest. Another opposition leader, Bernard Ntaganda is still held in unknown location. From reliable sources, I gather that Mr. Ntaganda was rushed to the hospital today and showed visible signs of torture. The vice president of the Green party, a Tutsi, Mr. André Kagwa RWISEREKA was beheaded just a few months shy of the presidential elections. None of these real opposition parties were allowed to contest the elections. In seated, Mr. Kagame created “bridesmaid” parties, which masqueraded as real opposition.
For all the hype about the dominance of women in Rwanda’s parliament, readers should know that there is no functional parliament in Rwanda. Parliament in Rwanda is a Kagame controlled enterprise. Wealthy ethnic Tutsi women may be included as honorable members, but it is still a powerless institution. Away from this building, the vast numbers of women in Rwanda remain the marginalized of the marginalized. There are the most affected by the political violence and are most likely to suffer should Rwanda break into civil war. (Please consider reading this excellent piece by Dr. Susan Thomson on gender politics in Rwanda).
There is urgent need for the rest of the world, especially Britain and the United States, to rethink their policies on Rwanda. The Netherlands and Sweden have already shown willingness to revise their policies. Given that Mr. Kagame has failed to liberalize Rwandan politics, International pressure if well utilized could help prevent another round of unnecessary killings in Rwanda due to civil war.