To Paul Kagame’s credit, Rwanda has been among the first countries south of Sahara to recognize the Libyan rebels as the legitimate representative of the state. This is a courageous decision that deserves a good amount of applause. However, it is hardly a surprising one.
Having been a rebel for most of his life, Kagame knows that gaining legitimacy is an important prerequisite for war-torn countries to gain a sense of normalcy. Moreover, being the blue-eyed favorite of the West whose coveted status lies in projecting himself as different from his African colleagues, it is in his best interest to sing the same tune.
Indeed, the African Union has refused to side with the rebels. Instead, the party of dictators-in-chief is calling for elections in Libya. A curious question is, why did they wait this long? For 42 years, the African Union never dared to question Al-Gadaffi’s record on human rights. An insult to the Libyan people, they accepted his lumps of money and swelled his ego by implicitly crowning him the king of Africa, or “king of kings” as he often referred to himself. A mad-dog gone astray, no doubt.
Kagame is no different though. And unknown to many, he too has benefited from Gadaffi’s loot.
Writing for Uganda’s Daily Monitor, veteran journalist Timothy Kalyegira narrates how both Museveni and Kagame benefited from Libya’s support during their days as cash-starved guerrilla fighters. Museveni’s young rebels were trained in Libya. The mad man also supplied ammunition for Kagame’s Rwandan patriotic Front through his Ugandan rear-base. Could the missiles that gunned Habyarimana’s plane and set the flames for the 1994 genocide, have originated from Libya? There is reason to suspect.
Gadaffi has massively invested in Rwanda. He owned Rwandatel and a majority shares in Umubano hotel. Before the protestors took to the streets, his latest plan was to construct a “green village” which was to comprise of 400 housing units in Kagarama, Kicukiro sector. All together he was projected to cast $97.4 million dollars into the Rwandan economy this year. An ambitious dream now shattered.
The only difference is that, for Kagame, a true student of Machiavelli, loyalty is not worth much.
Gadaffi is a sinking ship, and as the strategic states man that Kagame is, he must abandon him. A smart move no doubt.
I am one of those who have refused to be convinced that all that Africa (and indeed Rwanda) needs is economic development. Yet this has often been the favorite song for the marching band of Kagame’s supporters. From Tony Blair to Mega-evangelist Rick Warren, they try to persuade us that human rights should take the backseat in Rwanda. In Kagame's own words, "Democracy is good music but you need somebody with ears to listen to that music". And the ears come with either food on the table, the use of force, or both.
In light of Gadaffi’s fall, the "development leads to democracy position" is once again being hollowed.
If economic development was all that is needed, Libya would have long democratized. Libyans had some of the best and highly coveted living standards in Africa. Tens of thousands of African migrated to the country to work manual jobs deemed unattractive for Libyans.
Yet, for all the signs of economic prosperity, democracy seemed very distant. There was effectively no free media and opposition parties were virtually unheard of. We now know that thousands of political prisoners were either facing lengthy jail terms or scattered in exile. Again, this is an uncanny if not ominous similarity with Rwanda. Both regimes display a deep contempt for democracy and notoriously leave no room for dissent.
If democracy were all that mattered, Libya would be a game-changer in global politics. Sadly this is not the case. Whether in Rwanda, Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso or Cameroon, the rest of Africa urgently needs their own versions of the valiant Libyan protestors. And of course, some good-will from the West. This combination, although necessary, is hard to come by for much of Africa.