Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, has been a darling of the West ever since he led his country out of the terrible 1994 genocide that left up to one million people dead.
After the genocide, Kagame brought economic and social progress to Rwanda by effectively using the foreign aid flowing in from the international community. These funds make up nearly half of the country’s budget.
But now, the country’s economic lifeline is in jeopardy since the United Nations accused Rwanda of backing rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The U.N. says the country has helped to create and militarily support the “M23” rebel group that wants to overthrow the democratically-elected government of President Joseph Kabila.
The White House says that President Obama called Kagame to emphasize “the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC.” Kagame denies backing the M23 rebels.
“It’s a big ‘no’ on the issue of saying that I am accepting this kind of responsibility,” Kagame told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview Friday. “The solution is for us to come together as two countries, as a region and be forward looking and find solutions. Rwanda is very active in this and we want a positive solution out of that.”
Despite Kagame’s denial, some of its major donors are already withholding money and financing for projects. As a result, the country’s finance minister has lowered the projected economic growth for 2013.
“I think we already have a problem,” Kagame said – acknowledging the situation in DRC is costing his country, regardless of whether or not the accusations are true.
“It has led to a problem where there is this discomfort we found ourselves in, that affects the progress of my country and also, of course, creates other problems within the region,” he said.
In addition to these accusations, Kagame finds himself increasingly criticized for a growing authoritarian streak at home.
However, Kagame does not appear worried about his legacy being tarnished – pointing to many of his achievements: “We have registered economic growth 8% year in, year out for almost last ten years. We have seen women empowered like nowhere else,” he said. “I don’t know what is being talked about.”
Will Kagame step down in 2017?
Africa has been plagued by leaders who refuse to hand over the reins of power.
The Rwandan constitution says Kagame must step down in 2017. By that time he will have served as president for 17 years.
“Don’t worry about that,” Kagame told Amanpour when asked if he would hand over power by that time. “We have the constitution in place. We have always tried to do our best to satisfy the needs of our people and expectations of our people.”
Amanpour asked if that meant “yes,” he would step down.
By Samuel Burke, Claire Calzonetti & Juliet Fuisz, CNN