In a letter to the Wall Street Journal of May 19, 2013, written for him probably by his spin doctor, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Paul Kagame states:
“This has been our approach in Rwanda. We have decentralized the state, reformed our business sector and strengthened our institutions. But we have also invested in health care, agriculture and education. As a result, the World Bank this year ranked Rwanda as the eighth easiest place in the world to start a business. A recent index in Foreign Policy magazine named the country the fifth best investment destination world-wide.”
There are several flaws in President Kagame’s argument but let me cite three most important ones.
First, Rwanda has gone through repeated cycles of death and destruction despite economic gains that previous regimes and the current one were able to achieve. Governance is the fundamental problem in Rwanda, long polarized on ethnic and regional lines. Kagame’s record on governance is the worst in Africa. In Rwanda, political parties are banned; opposition leaders, human rights activists and journalists jailed, killed or forced into exile.
According to the U.S. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2012, “the most important human rights problems in Rwanda were lack of respect for the integrity of the person, particularly illegal detention, torture, and disappearance of persons detained by State Security Forces; unwarranted restrictions on the freedoms of speech and press, particularly harassment, violence, and arrest of journalists, political dissidents, and human rights advocates….Other major human rights problems included allegations of attempted assassinations of government opponents, both within the country and abroad.”
On a visit to Rwanda in 2011, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, a well-known defender of President Kagame, remarked that
Amnesty International Rwanda Report, 2012, documented “severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and enforced disappearances”. Human Rights Watch World Report, 2012, cites that in Rwanda “freedom of expression and political space are still severely restricted. Members of opposition parties, journalists, and other perceived critics of the government were arrested, detained, and tried, some solely for expressing their views.” The United Nations Human Rights Commission Mapping Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2010, documented war crimes, crimes against humanity and apparent systematic and widespread attacks against Hutu in the Democratic Republic of Congo that could be characterized as “crimes of genocide”. The European Parliament on May 23, 2013, passed a resolution calling upon Rwanda to end political persecution and torture, guarantee fundamental freedoms and independence of the judiciary.
President Paul Kagame’s catalogue of gross human rights abuses in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo clearly show a pattern of impunity without accountability.
Second, President Kagame’s belligerent policies in the Democratic Republic of Congo have a regional destabilizing and humanitarian effect, by undermining efforts towards peace, security, and economic development. President Kagame’s regime is isolated in the region. Tanzania and South Africa, key African players in the regional dynamics, are increasingly unhappy about President Kagame’s aggressive policies and actions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Third, his latest venture into Congo through M23 proxies left most of the funding to Rwanda’s so-called economic miracle delayed or cut off. The U.N. Group of Experts Report, 2012, documented Rwanda’s support to the M23 rebel group, leading to unanimous international outcry and condemnation, even from his long term allies, the United States and the United Kingdom. Late last year President Obama called President Kagame to cease and desist from his actions in Congo. Now, on his upcoming visit to Africa next month, President Obama has excluded Rwanda from his itinerary. President Kagame, too used to a cozy relationship with President Clinton and President Bush, will not be amused by this dramatic reversal of fortunes.
Isolated from his own people, Africans and, increasingly, his own allies, it is mere wishful thinking and an empty dream that small and impoverished Rwanda will ever become the lion of Africa. Violent coercion, flattery and appeasement by some in the West do not place Rwanda on a sustainable trajectory for peace and prosperity. There is no short-cut to accountable government, genuine regional co-operation as a more durable anchor for peace and security, and international support that places people, not repressive dictators, as the center-piece of human development.
Rwanda’s history repeatedly shows that stakes are extremely high for Rwanda, the Great Lakes region and the international community. It is time for Rwandans, Rwanda’s neighbors and the international community to work together to avert the next bloodbath that will inevitably follow President Kagame’s policies and actions if they are not stopped and reversed as soon as possible.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
The writer was President Paul Kagame’s Chief of Staff, Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States, and Secretary General of Rwanda’s ruling party, RPF. He is currently the Coordinator of Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the author of Healing A Nation: A Testimony: Waging and Winning A Peaceful Revolution to Unite and Heal A Broken Rwanda .