Which Candidate Might Condone The Rwandan Dictatorship?

Rwandans are engaged in an intense debate on the US elections. Of the two presidential candidates in American elections due in November 2016, who is better or worse with regards to US policy towards the Rwandan dictatorship? Most people seem to be saying a Hillary Clinton presidency will be a disaster because her husband is pro-Kagame.

I would argue that this is too simplistic, based on a misunderstanding of how the United States government works.

Before developing this argument, however, we must agree that the US looms large in sustaining the Kagame regime — regardless of which party is in control of the White House. There can be no doubt, however, that generally, the most important life-line for Kagame’s dictatorship is the United States. One only needs to look at the following four factors:

  1. The US in the biggest bilateral aid donor to Rwanda — in 2014, US aid to Rwanda was US$158 million; the second largest bilateral aid giver to Rwanda was Britain at US$120 million;
  2. The US is a major contributor to the World Bank — the latter being the biggest multilateral financier to Rwanda; the World Bank’s grants and loans to Rwanda in 2014 was US$180 million;
  3. The US has supported the spread of Kagame’s influence in Africa as shown in my book, Kagame’s Economic Mirage; this is because, among other things, Rwanda provides peacekeeping forces, a factor that enables the US to support the process without putting its own soldiers in African wars and conflict zones;
  4. The US is home to powerful American interest groups and individuals who have invested heavily in Kagame and support him no matter what — these include from former president Bill Clinton, Preacher Rick Warren, Senator Jim Inhofe, and Businessman Howard Buffett.

And these are the factors that are worrying most Rwandans who chat to me. They ask: “If Mrs Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States, won’t the American foreign policy towards Rwanda happily endorse Kagame more than even before, especially since her husband, Bill Clinton, is Kagame’s number 1 supporter in the United States?”

Not necessarily — I respond. My advice to fellow Rwandan activists is learn how the United States government works, and prepare to influence it by aggressively shedding more light on the nature of the Rwandan regime — regardless of who becomes the president of the United States.

The US is not a dictatorship. An American president has to work with the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. In fact, when America cut military aid to Rwanda and almost all donors followed during the Kagame-M23 crisis in 2012, guess who was the Secretary of States! It was no other than Hillary Clinton. Her husband’s love for Rwanda’s dictatorship was evidently overridden. Further, the decision to punish the Kagame regime may or may not have been initiated by Hillary herself or her boss, President Barack Obama. The cutting of military aid that mushroomed into global aid suspension to Kagame may have been provoked by the House or Senate. Budgetary processes that lead to budget laws reside in the United States Congress.

So fellow Rwandans, I say to you — let the American people chose their own president, which hardly affects our own challenges of a totalitarian dictatorship scheming to consolidate its hold power until 2034 and beyond. Only Rwandans can end dictatorship in Rwanda. We can in the meantime take comfort in the famous and insightful statement by Churchill that I am fond of quoting: “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry.” Kagame cannot dismount the tiger. He is too scared of his own history in Rwanda, DRC, and elsewhere. The question is — are the Rwandan tigers getting hungrier enough to get the dictatorship off our backs? Neither Hillary nor the Donald can help.

David Himbara