Kagame’s Once-Mighty Bromance with United States Elites Is Officially Dead

By David Himbara

The chief architect of General Paul Kagame’s once-mighty bromance was former President Bill Clinton. The second in command was Clinton’s former Assistant Secretary for Africa, Susan Rice, who became the US Ambassador to the UN before serving as the National Security Adviser in the Barack Obama Administration. Clinton championed Kagame as a new-breed African leader committed to democracy and free markets. Thereafter, Rwanda became Africa’s largest aid recipient largely funded by the US and US-funded institutions such as the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). Things fell apart when President Joe Biden took office in 2021. Kagame stood for the extreme opposite of Biden’s agenda of supporting democratic reformers. By 2023, the US had slashed its aid to Rwanda by nearly 50 percent, while IDA cut its aid to Rwanda by 33.5 percent. Kagame’s once-mighty bromance with American elites is officially dead.

General Paul Kagame with the architects of the US-Kagame bromance Bill Clinton (top) and Susan Rice (bottom)

President Joe Biden’s 2021 Summit for Democracy signalled the beginning of the end of the Kagame-US bromance.

Predictably, Kagame was not invited to the Summit for Democracy because the Summit was about fighting tyrannical rulers like him. As President Bidenstated in his opening remarks, “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident. We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it.” The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, skipped Rwanda on his first visit to African countries to discuss a renewed partnership. Then, the USAID Administrator, Samantha Power, singled out Rwanda as an authoritarian state in which governance, rule of law, democracy, and human rights are non-existent. As she put it, Rwanda does not have

“an environment on the ground that allows criticism, or that there’s pluralistic party development or the criteria that you would have in any textbook for a liberal democracy.”

In May 2023, Power added her voice to senior US government officials calling upon the Kagame regime to withdraw its troops from DR Congo. “It is imperative that the Government of Rwanda cease its support to M23 and withdraw its troops from the DRC,” stated power.

Things fell apart – the US and US-funded donor agencies slashed foreign aid to the Kagame regime

Sources: World Bank, “Rwanda: Commitments by Fiscal Year,” https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/rwanda/overview (top); USAID Data Services, “U.S. Foreign Assistance By Country,” https://www.foreignassistance.gov/cd/rwanda/2019/disbursements/0

Things fell apart in 2023. The World Bank’s IDA, Rwanda’s top multilateral donor gutted its aid to Rwanda. IDA’s assistance to Rwanda fell from US$707 million in 2022 to US$470 million in 2023, a plunge of US$237 million or 33.52%. The US is by far the largest IDA funder with total cumulative resources of US$56.2 billion, and no doubt played a key role in the deep cut. Meanwhile, between 2019 to 2023, the US government, Rwanda’s largest bilateral donor, slashed its aid to Rwanda by US$108 million or nearly 50 percent.

The US’s U-turn on the America–Kagame bromance was largely due to the exit of former President Bill Clinton and his former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Susan Rice

The bromance was born when Clinton waxed lyrical about “the new breed of African leaders” supposedly committed to democracy and free markets. Clinton further proclaimed Kagame a model for Africa and the rest of the world by leading Rwanda “through an unparalleled transformation.” But Clinton’s two decades in which he was the dominant figure in US politics and in global philanthropy dwindled with the passage of time. Niall Stanage aptly described him as “The incredible shrinking Bill Clinton.”

Rice’s association with Kagame turned into a kiss of death. She began championing the Kagame-US bromance when she was serving as the Assistant Secretary of State in Clinton’s Administration. During the Barack Obama Administration, she was appointed as the US Ambassador to the UN, after which she served as the National Security Advisor. But as she was about to be nominated as Obama’s Secretary of State, Rice withdrew herself from being considered. Two revelations ruined her career. It turned out that she had consulted for Kagame before her posting to the UN. Shockingly, when she became ambassador, she gave Kagame diplomatic cover when Rwanda was being sanctioned for its support of the M23. These revelations were among of the factors that sunk her candidacy for Secretary of State.

Rice suffered the same fate when being as Biden’s running mate. Rice’s unbecoming relationship with the Rwandan Ironman stood in the way. She was instead appointed as the Domestic Policy Adviser to President Biden, from which she resigned after two years. There is no one left to champion the Rwandan Ironman in the corridors of power in Washington, DC. Stay tuned.