Absolute Power at any Price: The End-game Strategies of President Paul Kagame and the Rwandese Patriotic Front

Thank you Mr. President for inviting me to speak at this event.

I thank the organizers for their generosity and hospitality.

Let me also take this opportunity to thank the distinguished speakers and participants, gathered today to discuss a timely and yet very challenging subject: the Rwandan drama, and truth, as narrated by actors in this drama.

As we begin our deliberations we are painfully reminded of the timing of this event. For all of us Rwandans, April is always a very difficult month. We both want to remember and forget it, for the pain it evokes is enduring and defining.

Twenty years later we still remember the horror, when Rwandans killed Rwandans.

So let us keep silent for one minute to remember all those who perished during the genocide and massacres of 1994.

As you all know Rwanda is a centuries old nation, famously known for its two ethnic groups, the Hutu and Tutsi. There is a third, Twa, always conveniently ignored by Rwandans and non-Rwandans because it has not been actively part of the recent Rwandan drama.

To understand how President Kagame and the ruling party, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), exercise absolute power, I would like to briefly mention three pivotal moments in Rwanda’s history in the last 100 years, each of which bore the seeds that produced the succeeding series of events:

• Monarchical rule comes under German colonization at the end of the 19th century, succeeded by Belgian colonization until 1962.
• Rwanda becomes a Republic after the 1959 ( Hutu) Revolution
• The Rwandese Patriotic Front ( Tutsi) invasion of 1990 and its capture of state power in 1994

The pre-1959 period saw the rise of a marginalized Hutu population led by a Hutu elite that challenged the monarchist status quo. The birth of the Rwandan Republic, and the end of the Belgian colonialism, was a violent phenomenon. While bringing social, economic and political benefits to the previously marginalized Hutu community, the 1959 revolution ended up marginalizing the Tutsi community.

Many Tutsi were massacred, and hundreds of thousands fled into exile. The revolution produced Tutsi refugees, followed by waves of insurgency (INYENZI) that ended in the 1960s.

Within Rwanda, the short lived multiparty politics abruptly came to an end, as the political space was closed and the country became a one-party state, under MDR PARMEHUTU party. Power also became over-centralized in the hands of President Gregoire Kayibanda, who with time, relied more and more on Hutu from his community in Gitarama, in southern Rwanda.

In 1973, there was a palace coup within the revolution, and General Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu from the north, came to power, subsequently forming his own party, MRND.

The regime remained a Hutu one, and increasingly biased in favor of the north. Rwanda was still a one-party state. Like the previous monarchy before 1959, and Kayibanda’s regime till 1973, power became over-centralized in the hands of President Habyarimana.

Tutsi remained in exile, and marginalized within the country. Towards the end of the 1980s and beginning with 1990, President Habyarimana’s regime had lost momentum and was under attack internally from political parties (mainly of Hutu from the south) and from an invasion by Tutsi refugees (RPF) from Uganda.

Under political, economic, military and diplomatic pressure, President Habyarimana reluctantly negotiated the Arusha Peace Agreement with RPF. The peace agreement provided a vision for democratization and the rule of law, power sharing among MRND, RPF and other opposition political parties, establishment of new security institutions ( Army and Gendarmerie), and the return of the 1959 refugees.

For a brief moment Rwandans were hopeful that peace, reconciliation, democracy and the rule of law were coming to Rwanda at last.

Then General Kagame struck, ordering the shooting down of the plane in which President Habyarimana, the President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira, French citizens, and all others on board were killed. This assassination triggered genocide and massacres. RPF finally captured state power in July, 1994, by winning the civil war, and ending the Arusha Peace Agreement as we know it.

As Rwanda commemorates 20 years of President Paul Kagame’s reign of terror, it is important to identify the fundamental aspects of his strategy to keep himself and RPF in absolute, violent power.

First; because it was power obtained through violent means, by a minority, it has had to seek legitimacy through the construction of a narrative, a story line so to speak, that begins with genocide, continues with genocide, defines the raison d’etre of the regime and is projected into the future.
According to this narrative, Hutu extremists shot down President Habyarimana’s plane to find cause to start genocide. Belgian colonization is the ideological parent of the ethnic divisions and genocidal ideology. The French helped the Hutu in committing genocide, and the international community abandoned Rwanda. Rwanda’s recovery is phenomenal, and Rwandans owe it to RPF and its sole hero, President Paul Kagame. The RPF regime has even banned French as a language of instruction in Rwanda as part of this new narrative.

Every change must have its narrative and its disciples. And it must have friends to champion and protect it, and enemies against whom it must mobilize and organize. France and the Hutu were initially the only enemies.
The United States and the United Kingdom emerged as the new friends, while Tony Blair and President Clinton became the passionate champions of the new gospel. Anyone who does not agree with this narrative is considered a divisive revisionist and genocidaire. Death, jail, exile or silence are the fate of such critics.

Second; since coming to power in 1994, Kagame’s RPF regime has used organized violence and war as instruments of domestic and foreign policy within and outside Rwanda: the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane which triggered genocide; the murder of Rwandan bishops and priests (1994); the Robert Gersony Report that documented widespread massacres by RPF ( 1994); the Kibeho massacres (1995); the UN Mapping Report of 2010 that documented war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even possible acts of genocide against Hutu; assassinations of opponents in Rwanda and abroad, just to mention a few.

In 1994 it assassinated the President of Burundi, Cyprien Ntaryamira.

In 2001, it assassinated the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Laurent Kabila, having invaded that country twice and still maintaining its presence through proxies like M23. Close to 6 million Congolese people have perished due to Kagame’s policies and actions in DRC.

Kagame’s troops fought Ugandan troops in the DRC in 2000. He has picked fights with Tanzania and now South Africa. He has fought Zimbabwe, Angola and Namibia in the DRC.

Third; within the military and security institutions, he has created an army within an army (Republican Guard and Special Forces), competing intelligence services and informal networks, while retrenching or otherwise marginalizing any real or perceived competitors.

The military are the backbone of the Rwanda government. President Kagame discusses major policies and decisions with senior military commanders before discussing them with civilian assistants. Selected military commanders are the real government; the civilians in government are the technocratic servants of the military. The Rwanda Defense Forces are, in essence, not a national army. They owe allegiance not to the state, or its people, but to one political organization, the Rwandese Patriotic Front, and to its supreme leader, President Kagame. No wonder he calls RDF, “my army”, and its officers, “my officers”.

The RDF is spread throughout the country, and its officers deployed across the world in embassies and as agents in a vast global network. They perform many political functions on behalf of the RPF. The military are responsible for mobilization for the party.

They convince or coerce opinion leaders to join and serve the RPF.

Military officers are responsible for the supervision of the local government officials that the RPF appoints.

RDF is responsible for the rigging of elections in favor of the RPF, and military officers are responsible for ensuring that opponents of the regime everywhere are identified and destroyed.

RDF officers are almost 100% Tutsi!

Fourth; within the Rwandese Patriotic Front, his strategy is to marginalize or eliminate real or perceived enemies, and transform the party into a rubber stamp to enforce the will of the President. The Rwandese Patriotic Front is unofficially the sole party that is allowed to practice politics in Rwanda.
The party is President’s Kagame’s tool for controlling every aspect of life in Rwanda. The party controls the country through the officials that it appoints to public office at all levels. Its members constitute the overwhelming majority of all institutions.

The party maintains strict control of all these officials by requiring them to take an oath and through disciplinary procedures that are a violation of the laws that require certain public officials to be independent.

The party secretariat functions as a parallel office of the Prime Minister. The RPF Secretariat is responsible for the appointment of all civilian public officials, including ministers, judges, and legislators; draws recommendations for Kagame to approve, if he has made his decision before hand.
It is responsible for discussing and approving all policy development, including all policy proposals and major decisions to be discussed by Parliament; disciplining all civilian public officials who are members of the party, including ministers, judges, and legislators, who by law should be independent. The party is a vast network of informal government mechanisms that operate at all levels of the organization of state administration.

Fifth; formal Government institutions (Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive) are situated very far down the ladder in the power structure of Rwanda. Hutu who are accommodated by the system are mainly found in the formal government. Members of the formal government are merely technocrats implementing the policies of others and are not influential unless they happen to have strong connections in the party, the military, or with the President and his wife.

In fact, the RPF ensures that the most important government departments are entrusted to very trusted Tutsi members.

The institutions that are most critical to President Kagame’s strategies for maintaining absolute power are all controlled by Tutsi (Central Bank, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Health, Rwanda Revenue Authority, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Sixth; with regard to political parties, the strategy is to co-opt, corrupt, marginalize or destroy them. Since the short lived experience of working with other political parties in 1995, RPF under President Paul Kagame has completely closed political space for political parties. The only political parties that are allowed to legally exist and function in Rwanda are those that are allied to RPF. Opposition leaders who have dared to exercise the right to participate in Rwandan politics independently are jailed ( former President Pasteur Bizimungu, Charles Ntakirutinka, Victoire Ingabire, Bernard Ntaganda, Deo Mushaidi, and others ), killed, or end up in exile.

Seventh; close space for independent media, civil society and free intellectual expression. Rwandan journalists, human rights activists and NGO leaders have been jailed, killed in and outside Rwanda, and independent newspapers banned.

Eighth; manipulate relationship with foreigners, using guilt and intimidation. President Kagame and RPF have cultivated an elaborate network of foreigners (and a few Rwandans) who have to sell President Kagame’s image and narrative as the sole hero and savior of Rwanda.

Because Rwanda is heavily dependent on aid, and his reputation as the western-celebrated leader of the “emerging Singapore of Africa” is crucial to the continuous flow of aid, this group of people is crucial in facilitating him. Through what he calls the Presidential Advisory Council (PAC), he is able to promote a soft and deceptive image abroad, especially where it matters most, in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Through lobbying, public relations, and access to the media, these facilitators help President Kagame’s self-promotion abroad, and shield him from accountability for the crimes he commits on Rwanda, DRC and abroad.

The loudest and most powerful in the whole group are Tony Blair, President Bill Clinton, and the American evangelist, Rick Warren. They market President Paul Kagame as one of the most visionary leaders in the world.

Ninth; through his personal and absolute control of money matters, President Kagame finances a three-pronged strategy for sustaining his control of power in Rwanda:

(a) Establishing intelligence systems that are able to identify and neutralize all real or perceived threats;
(b) Maintaining a strong military that is able both to protect the regime and to project his power abroad; and,
(c) Securing the resources to finance the activities of the military and security institutions that keep him in power.

For these resources, President Kagame draws both on public resources and the business activities of the RPF. The men and women who are responsible for generating, managing and delivering these resources are very influential.
Crystal Ventures ( formerly Tri-Star Investments) and the Horizon Group, the business enterprises that President Kagame owns, ostensibly belong to the RPF and the Defense Department, but are practically his personal businesses. He alone controls this business empire. The accounts of the businesses are secret and never audited independently. The managers of the businesses are answerable to Kagame alone. Kagame does not account to any organ of the RPF on these business and finance matters.

Tenth; the central and decisive piece in the contemporary Rwandan drama is President Kagame himself. I am often asked, what motivates Paul Kagame? How has his character, shaped by being a refugee at a tender age, his involvement in violent wars in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC affected his outlook on life?

Since the 1980s, Paul Kagame has been at the center of violent conflicts spanning the territories of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In these conflicts, there has been widespread destruction of life and other horrendous human rights abuses. Kagame bears personal as well as command responsibility for a lot of these crimes, including assassinations and other serious human rights abuses.

After a lifetime of unimaginable violence, Kagame is a serial killer and mass murderer, a person with no regrets or remorse for the acts of violence that he or others acting on his instructions commit. He is not apologetic about this. On the contrary, he makes it a point in public and private conversations that indeed his opponents must die.

About his recent victim, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, assassinated in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Kagame coldly said, “ Rwanda did not kill this person…I wish Rwanda did it..I really wish it”.

Asked about the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s plane, he was quoted as saying, “ I don’t give a damn”.

And he is relentless, and always takes bigger risks, far beyond rational behavior. A few weeks after assassinating Col Karegeya, Rwandan agents tried to assassinate General Kayumba Nyamwasa for the third time, triggering a diplomatic crisis between South Africa and Rwanda.

Probably a result of his past crimes, President Kagame is very paranoid about plots to remove him from power and about his security in general.

Kagame’s actions are influenced in large measure by a reckoning with his past. Kagame believes that a person’s name or reputation is his or her most precious possession. He has established a false reputation of frugality, incorruptibility, accountability in government, and military hero who stopped the genocide. Preserving this false image is critical to the preservation of Kagame’s monopoly of power in Rwanda. Kagame’s greatest concern is that of the people who have information (including corruption and responsibility for assassinations, war crimes and crimes against humanity, in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC which may tarnish the public image that he has crafted.
Kagame’s criminal background, and the need to avoid being held accountable, explains why he is bent on staying in power at all costs, including the assassination of political opponents, especially those who know him very well.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me summarize the salient features of President Paul Kagame’s and RPF’s 20 year reign of terror: a distorted and deceptive narrative that criminalizes Hutu in particular and all his opponents in general; over- reliance on violence and war-making nationally and regionally; “Tutsi-fication” of the leadership of the military while eliminating real and potential competitors; transformation of the ruling RPF into a rubber stamp to enforce his will while eliminating real or perceived contenders to power; usurping and over-centralization of legislative, executive and judiciary powers; closure of political space for political parties, civil society, independent media and intellectual activity; personal control of a financial empire that is spread across public and private sectors; and, a mindset of a serial killer and mass murderer who relentlessly acts with impunity.

It is this state of affairs that led some of us former members of RPF and partners of President Paul Kagame to break ranks and, with others Rwandans across the ethnic divide, establish the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), with the following objectives:

• Stop and prevent violent conflict, including genocide and grave human rights violations that Rwanda’s people have periodically suffered and that have historically extended to citizens – men, women, and children – of neighboring states;
• Eradicate a culture of impunity for human rights violations;
• Create a conducive and progressive environment for inclusive social and economic development for all the people of Rwanda;
• Establish, nurture and institutionalize democratic governance, particularly the rule of law in all its aspects;
• Establish independent, non-partisan, professional civil service and security institutions;
• Build a stable society that promotes and protects equality, embraces and celebrates diversity, and fosters inclusion in all aspects of national life;
• Promote individual, community and national reconciliation and healing;
• Promote harmonious relations, reconciliation and mutually- beneficial collaboration with the peoples and governments of neighboring states;
• Resolve the chronic problem of Rwandan refugees; and,
• Nurture a culture of tolerance to diverse ideas, freedom of discussion, and debate of critical issues.

At the heart of our program, widely shared with the majority of Rwandans and in the political platform our organization belongs to with FDU-Inkingi and AMAHORO Peoples Party, is the triple challenge to a) build an army and security institutions that are national instead of being hostage to ethnic-based cliques; b) ensuring fundamental freedoms and democracy with guarantees for minorities; and, c) pursuing truth, reconciliation and justice for all as indispensable conditions for sustainable peace in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.

We have preached this and dialogue as the pathway to peaceful change but President Paul Kagame has responded consistently with violence, resolutely stating and acting to exclude any possibility for peaceful reforms in Rwanda.

Now Rwanda, as in 1959 and 1994, is at crossroads again, bending towards civil war and more bloodshed.

President Paul Kagame and his RPF are armed and dangerous, and have taken 11 million Rwandans hostage, and threaten, once again, to put the whole Great Lakes region on fire.

Another civil war and genocide are not inevitable but preventable. However, the window of opportunity is closing fast.

The international community has an obligation to help Rwandans resist, contain, stop and reverse President Paul Kagame’s reign of terror. Twenty years of appeasement have simply made his regime more intransigent and ever ready to act with impunity.

The first step in this process is to get the narrative on Rwanda right. I am glad this conference seeks to do that.

The second step is to overcome fear and guilt and speak out. History shows that fear and silence are very powerful weapons in the hands of dictatorial regimes.

The third step is to do no harm. If you cannot help Rwandan people, at least do not help those who are killing them. To those in alliance with him in London and Washington DC, we say to you: enough is enough, stop aiding and rewarding President Kagame’s criminal behavior.

Lastly, let us connect and network. Dictatorial regimes love to face the oppressed in isolation, and to vanquish them one by one.

If we can pool our minds and actions together, we will make France’s motto, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity”, itself a universal human aspiration, relevant and possible for Rwanda’s future as it has been for the French for centuries now.

Thank you!