Paul Kagame’s Open Animosity Toward Donald Kaberuka: What’s Behind?

Donald Kaberuka is one fine Rwandan who has full credentials to lead the country. Paul Kagame does not want to hear that, even though his second and last constitutionally permitted term ends in 2017.

Kagame’s propaganda machine is hard at work telling the population that he’s the almighty, the only person who can rule Rwanda regardless of what the constitution says. To achieve his goals, Kagame holds down anyone whose name come up as a potentially credible candidate to take over in 2017. This very animosity is what triggered the rift between Kagame and Paul Paul Rusesabagina, the living hero portrayed in the infamous film Hotel Rwanda. Kagame does not want any Rwandan – other than Kagame – referred to as a hero in the international arena. Even inside Rwanda, it is widely believed Kagame fired Joe Habineza from the cabinet because Joe was gaining overwhelming popularity. Joe was so popular that he was the only person who received a standing ovation at soccer stadiums and other public events. It is out of love that the population gave a standing ovation to Joe, it is by order that Paul Kagame received a standing ovation. Kayumba Nyamwasa is as also often cited as one who fell out of Kagame’s favor because he was gaining too much popularity among Rwanda’s military personnel.

Donald Kaberuka is popular both inside the country where he was minister of Finance for several years, and in the international community based on his work as president of African Development Bank. Donald Kaberuka is respected as a well achieved economist who has worked hard to build the economic development of Rwanda and that of Africa.

This year, Donald Kaberuka is ending his 10-year tenure at the African Bank. For this occasion, many African leaders gathered in Washington, DC, on April 16, 2015, in a ceremony to award Donald for his many achievements at the bank. [Details at]. But what was the elephant in the room? The absence of Paul Kagame or any government official from Donald’s home country, Rwanda, was remarkable. Even Rwanda’s ambassador to DC found a reason to be out of town that day. If this was not bad enough Rwanda government media pretended as if nothing had happened that day, there was no coverage of the event whatsoever.

Clearly, the timing is very inconvenient for Paul Kagame who is trying everything he can to change Rwanda’s constitution so he can run for a third term. Donald Kaberuka ending his service at the African Development this year means that he has at least a full year ahead of him to truly refocus on Rwanda politics and to build a strong election campaign team. Kagame may be planning to either fabricate false accusations against Donald in order to tarnish his image, or to appoint him to an ambassadorial role outside Rwanda so he does not have time to efficiently concentrate on preparing his presidential candidacy.

In addition to his unquestionable intellect, leadership experience, and international fame, Donald Kaberuka can hardly be perceived as a polarizing figure among Rwandan society. Although Kaberuka is a Tutsi and lived outside Rwanda as a refugee at the same time as many RPF cadres and has even supported the RPF since its inception, Donald Kaberuka has not been outspoken against the human rights abuses that resulted from RPF invasion of Rwanda and have been haunting this Africa’s landlocked nation to this day. One of the reasons for this prolonged and unfortunate indifference could be that Donald Kaberuka’s jobs since mid-1990s – as Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and as President of AFDB – were a result of political appointment. In both instances, Donald Kaberuka was appointed by Paul Kagame. Donald could therefore not afford to be seen critiquing the human rights abuse record of his de facto boss, for fear of losing his job in a heartbeat.

Now that he’s catching his breath at last and has hopefully made enough savings, the moment may be right for Donald to come out of his closet and reveal his plan to help bring about a meaningful reconciliation of the Rwandan society, a society that has been severely broken by a decades-long legacy of violence. This is where Kagame has failed miserably to this point, and this is where the next presidential candidates needs to prove they can make a meaningful difference.

Bosco Mutarambirwa