There has been a healthy debate regarding the tradeoff between economic development and democracy.
Rwanda finds itself right in the middle of that debate with its remarkable economic success following the 1994 genocide heralded as a miracle. But the debate about Rwanda’s economic progress overlooks Kagame’s brutal dictatorship. Instead of being chastised, on the contrary Kagame is feted, with people like Fareed Zakaria cheering him on, with Kagame being a common fixture on his show every time he’s in town. While introducing him during one of his shows Zakaria said, “Kagame is a remarkable person who saved his country on its way to collapse. . He waxed lyrical about how Rwanda has made a quick turnaround under Kagame”
The list of Kagame’s choir doesn’t end with Zakaria; Tony Blair is a pro bono advisor to the Rwandan government. What is disconcerting is that anyone who doesn’t buy into the dominant narrative of St Kagame is automatically branded an enemy of the people of Rwanda.
The genesis of the current policy of paralysis
How did Kagame handed a blank check and, either toe the Saint Kagame’s line or be damned?
Well, the story begins with Somalia. After the Cold War ended and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States had no global peer in terms of military superiority. This was clearly demonstrated in the 1st Gulf War when the United States in a matter of hours defeated Saddam Hussein. After the end of the war, the United States was looking for another global mission befitting its power and status in the world.
In 1991, the government of Siad Barre in Somalia collapsed, which provided the United States with the opportunity to project its power in a far flunked region. And the country degenerated into small war lord fiefdom, with ach war lord establishing their sphere of influence. For a super power, this was sight unbecoming.
The then Clinton administration launched a military intervention code named “Operation Restore Hope”. Regardless of their intention this mission was flawed from the outset, because it was undertaken without requisite reconnaissance. They just assumed that their good intention was enough and they can reintroduce law and order. Additionally, the mission was anchored in force instead of winning the hearts and the minds. This led the mission to run into troubles
Because of limited knowledge about the people and the terrain the United States army began taking some losses. Instead of cutting their losses the Army stayed put, however, the sight of a killed marine being dragged on the streets in the full glare of the international news camera was too much for the administration to bear, and as such they withdrew.
At the same time when the US intervention in Somalia was going awry, another crisis was brewing in Rwanda. And within 100 days nearly one million people were slaughtered with crude weapons like axes and machetes, which pricked the collective global conscious. But the United States fresh from the Somalia debacle was not ready to intervene. For its inertia the United States was roundly condemned, as was Kofi Annan who was the head of Peace Keeping Unit at the UN at that time. The lesson from Somalia was do not be involved in a far flunked conflict that you know little about. This was commonly referred to us the Somalia syndrome.
Because the Western world, the international institutions as well as African countries, stood by when Rwandese killed each other, Rwandan president has taken upon himself to remind all and sundry that since you abandoned us during our time of need, you have no business to poke your nose in our affairs.
Rwanda’s economic miracle or mirage
A lot of what is deemed economic success story about Rwanda is all but numbers. Which is fair enough because what can economics be without talking numbers. But numbers without context is not helpful. If the standard of measuring Rwanda’s success is by comparing it with the level at which it was during the 1994 Genocide, then that standard is obviously too low. This is akin to comparing Museveni to Idi Amin and claiming that comparatively, Uganda has made great strides under Museveni. Compared to Idi Amin, anyone will pass with flying colors .
GDP Growth Constant Prices, National Currency of Rwanda for the year 2009 was 4.142%, this is nothing stellar by any imagination. GDP (PPP), US dollars for the year 2009 was $ 11.26 billion, isn’t anything spectacular, but still people roll over themselves in saying that Rwanda is an example of one of the great success stories of Africa in recent years.
Another issue that is constantly mentioned with regard to Rwanda is the ease and speed with which one can acquire license and do business in Rwanda. Than most Africa countries, in this regard Rwanda scores high. “Rwanda jumped an impressive 76 places – from 143 to 67 – on the World Bank’s Doing Business 2010 report, becoming the first African country to top the list as the world’s biggest
Any visitor to Rwanda will be amazed clean the city is. And no effort is spared in making the city look speck and span. This is unlike other African countries where plastic bag have become an environmental hazard. Two years ago, on my way to Nairobi, I passed through Brussels. I was surprised when I saw a notice at the Immigration desk that mentioned that one is not allowed to bring plastic bags in Rwanda. I thought this was an wonderful way of keeping the country clean from the point of entry. Good economic indicators and clean and paved roads alone cannot qualify a country as a success story.
Media and democracy
the supposed economic miracle has distracted from having an honest discussion about what is going in Rwanda. This has become a perfect foil for Kagame.
At a personal level, a few months ago, I was chatting with a friend on Facebook, and as news junky we always exchanged views about politics, but before I went ahead he said please, all my communications are monitored; do not say anything against the regime here. I was taken aback. True to his words he was under surveillance from the regime for critical reporting. Within weeks he was declared persona non granta in Rwanda. This story is a daily struggle for the Rwandese journalist and anyone perceived to be the “enemy” of the regime.
We all appreciate the role the media played in the 1994 Genocide, but muzzling the media is not the way of nurturing a democratic culture. In order to foster a true democratic institution, the media is an indispensable ally. The ability to set the agenda and give a platform to a variety of ideas creates a market place of ideas upon which an informed citizenry is built.
The excuse of suppression of freedom of press in Rwanda has been that Rwanda has made exceptional economic progress; they don’t need freedom of expression. But why shouldn’t economic progress go hand in hand with democratic governance? We should remember that the current economic growth in Rwanda is a function of donor infusion of “guilt money”, and cannot be sustained.
Although not receiving wide traction, Botswana is the real Africa’s success story. And it has achieved that by combining commitment to democratic ideals and robust economic development.
Among the many classic trademarks of an authoritarian regime is the suppression of contrary opinion, and Kagame is adept at that. Many people who opposed him have either left the country or if they chose to stay, they have paid for it with their lives. The Kagame dragnet has not escaped even those who run away with some of them killed in foreign soils.
His stock- In -trade is invoking the ghost of 1994 Genocide. By using the “never again” mantra, he has practically branded anyone who opposes him as a supporter of the Genocide, intent on destabilizing Rwanda. This is a Machiavellian scarecrow tactic. While that has been convenient, the Rwanda Army has committed crimes that can classify as crimes against humanity. This is well documented including the recently leaked UN report.
Kagame denied the report’s finding in the best way he knows, blackmail, he threatened the UN if they go ahead and publishes the report, and the Rwandese peace keeping force in Darfur will be withdrawn. Understandably, while the initial incursion into DRC was to pursue the Hutu genocidaire element of the previous governmen, how can one justify the accompanying looting and plunder of DRC resources. Without mentioning the indiscriminate killings.
various institutions, governments, organizations and individuals who would have ideally stood up to Kagame have failed to do so on account of their credibility crisis because they stood by during the 1994 genocide. As such they lack the moral authority to criticize him. As a result they have either resorted to praising him like Blair and Clinton, or they have completely stopped saying anything at all, which has provided Kagame with carte blanche to do as he pleases.
Except France that helped the genocadairre government, while other countries stood by idly during the 1994 Genocide, Thus while the US and the UK heap praise on Kagame, France, has resorted to criticizing every one of Kagame’s moves. France’s criticism of Kagame stems from Kagame’s withdrawal of Rwanda from the Francophone countries and joining the Commonwealth. Little wonder the report about Rwandan Army atrocities was first reported by Le Monde.
At the regional level, either within the East African Community or the AU, there are few leaders who have the gravitas to tame Kagame. But people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu need to speak against Kagame, failure to do that, the world will fail the Rwandese for the second time.