The formula of ‘bread today, freedom tomorrow’ is one that has led many a leader, and many a country, to ruin
It is hard now to recall how high were the hopes invested in what was called “the new generation” of African leaders. Men like Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, Isaias Afewerki in Eritrea, and Paul Kagame in Rwanda were seen as ushering in a harmonious era of democracy, clean government, and peaceful inter-state relations in sub-Saharan Africa. The US and Britain in particular were enthusiastic supporters of the new men, not least because they saw their governments as reliably pro-western.
Nearly 20 years later all those leaders have disappointed, and some have disappointed mightily. Paul Kagame has until recently been the exception. Criticism of his government’s tight control domestically and of its continuing interventions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been muted, and there has been, by African standards, a very generous flow of aid.
The recent UN report on Rwandan support for insurgents in eastern Congo has changed the picture. The US has suspended military aid and an American official has even suggested that Kagame and other members of the government could find themselves facing prosecution at the international criminal court. The military aid programme is small, and the ICC suggestion verges on the fantastical. But these kinds of decisions and these sorts of remarks do indicate a shift in attitude toward the Kigali government.
This should be welcomed if it means that there will be more conditionality, preferably of the informal kind, in relations between Rwanda and western governments, and more readiness to speak out in the future. But it is important to put Rwanda in context. The government has been called “a minority within a minority” in the sense that it is not even sure of the full allegiance of all Tutsis, let alone the majority Hutus. Nor is it a monolith, but rather a coalition of groups and individuals which Kagame has to assuage, even if this is not usually visible. Kagame’s controlling personality is another factor.
The best gloss on the regime’s domestic policies is that it is intent on establishing a flourishing economy and nurturing social changes before bringing about a wider political opening. The best gloss on its foreign policies is that Kagame reckons the country must remain a player in the Congo to forestall developments that could threaten the stability of Rwanda itself. The worst gloss on both is that the formula of “bread today, freedom tomorrow” is one that has led many a leader, and many a country, to ruin. Paul Kagame is an impressive man who almost certainly knows that he should slacken his too-tight grip. The problem is that knowing something and doing it are two different things.
Source: The guardian