Is Rwanda under Paul Kagame a communist state? Our friends at Colored Opinions have reinvented this debate again. The contend that the characteristics of the Rwandan state bears close resemblance to other communist experiments that the world has witnessed elsewhere. Moreover, they demonstrate the links that Kagame shares with the global communist movement--from Museveni's National Resistance Army to South Africa's anti-apartheid movement. I have to say that this is an issue that has long fascinated me as much.
From the onset, it must be said that there is little difference whether procedural or substantive between the present and the past regimes in Rwanda. A comparison between Kagame's regime and that of Habyarimana reveals sticking similarities. Both regimes are western donor darlings; and both attempt to exercise total control over the civilian population. The only major difference is that the actors have changed--that is, a Tutsi elite has replaced a Hutu elite as the protector of the "revolution". Otherwise, the two regimes are largely a copy and paste of each other.
If Habyarimana's rule was communist, then it was never overt. Habyarimana had very little contact with the global Marxist movement. In fact, he tried to flirt with right-wing fascists, and perhaps due to his close ties with Mobutu, he was believed to be sympathetic to rogue elements of the capitalist world such as Jonas Savimbi of Angola. He might have been the only other African president (other than Mobutu) who never bothered to support the Africa National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. While his greatest support came from French's Mitterand who was a socialist, it would be a stretch to call Miterrand a communist. Moreover, ties with China were quite weak under Habyarimana and apart from the occasional scholarships that the Soviet rendered to Rwandan students, the cooperation between Rwanda and the Soviets was very basic.
Theogene Rudasingwa likes to boast his about past Marxist credentials. During an Open Society Forum, he openly claimed that the RPF was a Marxist revolutionary movement. There is some truth to this claim. First, the RPF founder, Fred Rwigema masqueraded as the Rwandan version of Che Guevara. Rumors have it that he fought in Mozambique against the Portuguese. His role in Museveni's National Resistance Army is a public record. Together with Kagame and several other young Tutsis, they fought to lay the foundation for the corrupt dictatorship that owns Uganda to this day. Important to note, Museveni marketed himself as a Marxist during those days.
My impression is that communism is a figment of imagination to the RPF, a tool they can flirt with in order to achieve power. In reality, their only ideology at this point is how to maintain political privileges. During the late 80s, Communism was the only ideology that could mobilize a disenfranchised mass to take up arms against their oppressors. Moreover, it was an easy way for a rebel movement to gain support from communist internationalists and Pan Africanist movements. In retrospect, this worked for the RPF. One of their earliest benefactors, in addition to Uganda, was Cuba. Many of the RPF cadres, including President Kagame were trained in Cuba. Later even the mad-man of Libya, now humbled by an internal revolution in his own country, rendered support to the RPF.
The question that begs asking is whether an unpopular movement can claim Marxist credentials. There is no easy way to answer this. It is true that the RPF was very unpopular particularly among the rural peasantry during the three-year long armed rebellion. It is possible that the RPF blamed this backlash on bourgeoisie's propaganda. After all, the media at the time was an exclusive monopoly of the regime in power. Still, it both aloof and arrogant that one would seek to liberate an individual, not willing or ready to be liberated. We see a repeat of this when the RPF invaded the DRC to "liberate Hutu refugees.
In as much as the RPF used communist ideals to gain power, they use it today to maintain it. To be sure, this is not a unique Rwandan problem. As George Ayittey argues, crocodile liberators and limousine communists are rampant on the continent of Africa. However, in Rwanda, the communist stance takes occupies a very visible place. As such, a lot of the government's programs are totalitarian in nature. For instance, it is a crime in Rwanda to "oppose government programs". Those who criticize the government are shunned as "Rwanda haters". We have indoctrination camps for "re-educating" the masses, some of which are ironically funded by western donors. The communist doctrine is solidified by a highly militarized and fascists political class that aims at inserting total control over speech and thought.
It is no wonder then that most outsiders are amazed by the sophisticated and unnatural level of public order. This is a very programmed country, and we keep a well rehearsed script for outsiders. But the cleanliness comes at a heavy cost. People who look dirty (read: the poor) are banned from entering Kigali. The disabled and the homeless are routinely taken to an island prison where they they get "educated". Never seen or heard from again. At the same time, Kagame is rewarded with numerous prizes around western capitals. However, when the time is right, the international accolades he has accumulated will not save him. Like Gadaffi he might be popular abroad but Rwandans are brewing with a dangerous combination of fear and anger.
My last point is that some people might refuse to accept this characterization, citing what they believe to be Kagame's business friendly stance. Indeed, much of my assessment focuses on the political rather than the economic dispensation. I do not see any contradiction at all. For it is possible for a fascist government to embrace pro-business policies. What matters to Kagame is how to maintain power and privilege and gaining more cash helps him achieve his nebulous agenda. It might well be the case that by embracing pro-business reforms, Kagame is digging his own grave much like Gadaffi did. However, what Kagame is promoting is not free-enterprise but an increase in foreign investment. It is impossible to accomplish the latter without allowing for basic freedoms.