Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It is no Longer Possible to Justify Kagame's Oppressive Rule in Rwanda

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United State's militarized foreign policy is difficult to justify, but there are instances in which it can, at least, be rationalized.

Such was the case in the cold war, when the fear for a communist take-over was very palpable. The U.S. jealously defended and promoted democracy. Since liberalism has a universalism component, the freedom or lack of it in one country has effects on other countries.

But the various interventions (well intended or not) did not always embody liberal principles. The ideals of democracy were often betrayed as the invasion of one country to another became the political trend. To be fair, several other countries were involved in this macabre exercise--not just the U.S.

The atrocities committed by western backed despots, especially in Latin America are well documented by now. Though seldom acknowledged, it is very likely that much more damage occurred in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Just to mention one example, the horrors of what happened in Indonesia under Suharto (Bill Clinton called him "our kind of guy") are a dark spot in global politics. And so is Rwanda.

However, the cold war is now a matter of history. Communism as a global force is dead and the U.S. is the world's lone super power. Many were told this would usher a period of peace and stability. But much of the world continues to be broken. Why?

Perhaps a more direct question really is why the U.S. continues to support dictators around the globe.  Of what purpose are they serving today?

I admit that dictators are not one homogenic entity. They come in different styles with a wide range of goals. For instance, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is the new challenge for the west. As far as this is concerned, dictators might still be necessary for US's immediate goals.

This brings us to Rwanda. Is it necessary to support a dictatorship, in a poor country where almost everyone is pro-American (except Kagame and his military thugs who ironically benefit the most from US's policies)? Is this the best that the U.S. can offer? The answer is no.

There are many examples in Africa where the U.S. is beginning to aggressively push for democracy. The best regional example is Kenya, where the U.S. is investing heavily in civil society and where the ambassadors are always vocal in support of democracy. This has helped Kenya undergo very crucial reforms, which will probably make it, in a few years, the beacon of hope in the region.

More than every before, this is the decade of democracy triumphalism if there was ever such a thing. Forget Francis Fukuyama and his "End of History". History is unraveling as we watch in the Middle East and North Africa where dictators are being humbled in a way that would have been previously unthinkable.

The African Spring, although very curtailed by the intricate links with the west that the dictators enjoy, is bound to happen. It is bound to be ruthlessly crushed as well.

Rwanda is a fascinating case for various reasons. For the last 17 years, the U.S. has invested heavily into the country, especially its military. The goal was to transform Kagame's army from a gang of rebels to professional fighters. The results are unsettling.The army is much more "professional" in preventing the rise of democracy.

In the past, Kagame was seen as a brilliant military strategist. Some might even argue that there was a place in Rwanda's history for that. But the fighting is now over. A change of how the U.S. handles business with Rwanda is necessary. Otherwise, with the fighting enemies diminished, Kagame may start to target his own people.In deed, the human right situation continues to deteriorate under his rule.

I am trying hard but I really do not see how Kagame's government can be rationally defended. The so called "economic miracle" that Kagame has been praised for is still a pipe dream. 17 years in power, the Rwandan per capita income is a mediocre $540. Since Rwanda has one of the highest gini-coefficient index in Africa, it is safe (but disturbing) to conclude that the poor are not getting that much.

Another grenade attack occurred in Kigali yesterday. The media reports indicate that at least two people died, and twenty injured. It is possible to see these events as a necessary prerequisite for state formation. However, as a friend told me, this contradicts the image of the "new" Rwanda that some sections of people in the west have been trying to market. The lipstick on the pig is wearing off!

I cannot imagine a solution in Rwanda that will not include some form of western involvement. At the very least, the west can begin by slowly isolating Kagame or being frank to him about the realities of Rwanda's present. Yet, foreign pressure cannot be substituted for internal movements. The two have to work hand in hand.

It is a new year. As such, anything could happen. Kagame believes he is very strong. In some ways, he deceives himself by reading too much into his press releases. One of my biggest hope is that Rwandans will be able to live in an environment that is safe for them to express choice. This will come to pass. It is just a question of time.

Still, Kagame is heavily dependent on western aid, meaning that the west has a lot of leverage, which it can and should use to influence democratic reform.

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