Among Paul Kagame’s admirers, few of them have been as unreserved and uncritical in their support of him as much as Stephen Kinzer has.
The love affair between the two men may have started when Kinzer was working on Kagame’s biography, A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed it. Released in 2008, the book paints Mr. Kagame as an angelic figure, without whom, Rwanda would be a classic purgatory state.
Since then, Kinzer has been an incessant advocate for the Kigali regime often at the expense of ignoring, even attacking, human rights activists; who increasingly worry that the country is looming on a downward spiral.
Just less than a month ago, Kinzer wrote an op-ed in the London’s Guardian in which he stated that, “this [Kagame’s] authoritarian regime is the best thing that has happened to Rwanda since colonialists arrived a century ago”. Needless to say, the piece was heavily criticized, and for good reasons.
In fact, I was among those who shot back, wondering whether it was ethical for Kinzer, an American journalist, “to praise an authoritarian regime that is killings its own people.”
The good news is that, Kinzer might be listening, and perhaps even better, is willing to redeem his conscious.
Given that very few individuals dare to criticize Mr. Kagame, Kinzer’s redemption will definitely come at a cost. However, one may very well argue that it is never too late to speak truth. People often err in analysis, what is important (and honestly difficult) is to admit fault.
Kinzer has not admitted fault, but his new op-ed, published by the London’s Guardian today reflects a much needed change of opinion. In it, Kinzer argues that, “Kagame’s authoritarian turn risks Rwanda’s future”. I should be clear that, what surprised many (me included) is neither the article’s content nor headline. Rather, many asked themselves the impetus behind Kinzer’s sudden about face.
It is possible that Kinzer, like many others feel duped or betrayed by the Kigali’s regime. In a recent paper, Belgian academic, Filip Reyntjens, discussed how the government of Rwanda has managed to silence the international community, mostly through manipulation. But it is also possible that Kinzer, again like many others, understands that it is time for the country to make the transition, to borrow his words, “from one-man rule toward democracy.”
Kinzer is particularly worried that the Rwandan leader has become a dictator who refuses to tolerate opposing views. He writes, “Guerilla leaders win wars by being paranoid and ruthless. Once they take power, they are expected to abandon those qualities and embrace opposite ones: tolerance, compromise and humility. Almost none manages to do so”. Furthermore, he is concerned by the infractions within the Tutsi elite circles which saw four individuals: Gerald Gahima, Patrick Karegeya, Kayumba Nyamwasa and Theogene Rudasingwa, all members of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, flee into exile for their lives. The four individuals launched attacks against Kagame, describing him as “a callous and reckless leader”.
The aspiration for a more democratic Rwanda would make Kinzer not so different from Ingabire Victoire, the incarcerated leader of the United Forces of Democracy (FDU-Ikingi). Last year, the 42 years old activist and mother, returned from her exile in the Netherlands to campaign for democratic reform in Rwanda. From the onset, she faced constant attacks from the government which eventually imprisoned and barred her from participating in the August presidential elections.
Ingabire is paying a heavy price for opposing an autocratic regime. But even in her tribulations, believing in the power of freedom, she is brave enough to challenge Kagame from inside the country. Yet, the likes of Kinzer still refuse to acknowledge her significance mainly because she is Hutu. Ironically, he seems to be willing to accept the opinion by the leader of the four individuals, christened the “gang of four” by Rwandn government’s media, that, “The Tutsi minority cannot hope to impose their will on the Hutu majority forever”. These are the words that will potentially land Ingabire decades in jail.
In the eyes of the Rwandan people, the majority being Hutu, Kinzer will need to change his attitude towards them. To assume that all Hutu are genocidaires, is to assume that democracy cannot function in Rwanda. Sadly, this is what Kagame wants the rest of the world to believe; for such rhetoric further bolsters his dictatorship. It is important for the international community to know that, with the exception of bad leaders, Rwandans are a peaceful people that deserve the right to pursue a democratic dream.