Sunday, April 19, 2015

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Kagame - A Benign Dictator?

Are Kagame's human rights abuses justified?
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Paul Kagame is an intriguing figure. Funded by international aid, yet dismissive of it; an advocator of democracy, yet serial violator of human rights; and an internationally acclaimed ‘peace-builder’, yet with his political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) accused of war crimes. There are few figures more divisive on the continent today.

However, the uniqueness of Paul Kagame mirrors the uniqueness of the country over which he presides. Rwanda’s tiny size is inversely proportional to its international reputation. The word ‘genocide’ has, in the last 15 years, been synonymous with Rwanda, and justifiably so. In 1994, Hutu militias wiped out 800,000 of their Tutsi countrymen in little over 100 days. It left the population economically, politically and psychologically crippled, leaving a deep and permanent scar in the Rwandan psyche. Kagame took to the helm in the choppiest of seas and has spent the last 17 years sailing through previously unmapped political, economic and social waters. Kagame remarks: "A nation that has just experienced genocide? There is no instruction manual for this."

Kagame has set out in his own direction, and while his economic achievements have been recognised and applauded by the West and the international donor community, he has received equally high levels of criticism for what is, essentially, a despotic and dictatorial regime. In response to criticism, he states: "They expect us to be a normal country, like the ones where they are from. They do not understand that we are operating in a very different context." Kagame asks for political licence to rule in the ways most practical and effective for the unique circumstances of Rwanda. But does this justify his human rights abuses?

Human rights criticisms

The Economist has argued that Kagame "allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe". Political dissidence is overtly and brutally silenced through arrests, assassinations and sackings. In the lead-up to the 2010 election the acting editor of the Umuvugizi newspaper was shot after printing stories criticising the Kagame regime. Further, Kagame's main opponent, Victoire Ingabire and her American lawyer, Peter Erlinder, were arrested and locked up. Such actions are not uncommon at election time in Rwanda and place Kagame’s Western fans in somewhat of a dilemma.

However, analysts, notably Phil Clark, argue that the quashing of political dissidents is aimed primarily at disciplining Kagame’s RPF, not the political oppostion. The party suffers from severe divisions between moderates and extremists, making the government coalition, in which it dominates, inherently fractious. The disintegration of the RPF, or the rise of the extremist faction, would see the end of this coalition and this in turn would probably rip open Rwanda’s social wounds, potentially stirring up the simmering ethnic animosity.

Rwanda’s Hutus, who comprise around 85% of the population, see Kagame, not the RPF, as a vote for stability. The whole stability of the country therefore depends on Kagame maintaining his status and so repressive political acts can be an integral part of Rwandan progress. These human rights violations, however, are only justified if Rwanda is progressing for the benefit of the whole population.

Economic achievements

Even Kagame’s fiercest critics cannot deny that his handling of the economy is proving a runaway success. In the immediate aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda was on its knees with international aid constituting 100% of the national budget. In 2010 this percentage was down to 50%, and a civil society is emerging with a staunch Rwandan national identity proud of a country which has the highest proportion of female parliamentarians, low crime rates, and a green agenda which is setting an international standard – for example a national ban on plastic bags.

Rwanda’s economic growth has averaged 7-8% annually since 2003 and the government has invested heavily in a national health system and an education system which now teaches 19 in 20 Rwandan children.

Kagame has not only established economic stability, he is working towards a complete economic vision for Rwanda. Despite limited formal education in his youth, Kagame is a keen scholar; he spends 3-4 hours a night reading "books about economics, business management, development issues, politics, international affairs". He plans to turn Rwanda into an African version of Singapore, replicating the success of this and other "Asian Tigers", who rapidly escaped poverty in the 1970s and 80s.

Agricultural output reached levels adequate for national subsistence last year, and in the industrial economy, Kagame hopes to turn Rwanda into the regional centre for information and communication technologies. Incredibly, rural Rwanda now has better internet access than rural Britain, thanks to a network of fibre-optic cables. In 2010 growth rate for industrial production reached 7%. Further following the Asian model, Kagame has turned Kigali into a special economic zone (SEZ) to attract international investment and nurture rapid industrial growth. A recent World Bank report highlighted Rwanda as the best place to do business in East Africa.

Kagame's compromise?

Kagame rules Rwanda with a strong centralised government, uncompromising in its management of the economy and willing to violate human rights. These are all characteristics of past African despots – the Amins of this world, who used and abused governmental structures to make themselves and their inner circles infinitely rich and powerful. Though Kagame’s methods are strikingly similar, Kagame does not seem a man motivated by the selfish desires of previous African leaders. Rather he presents a vision for a future Rwanda, inspired by the Asian Tigers and by the collective pride that is fostered by a flourishing nation. He has proven his strengths and the West has tacitly acknowledged his legitimacy with the levels of aid they have gifted to the Rwandan government directly. Human rights violations are a small price to pay for Rwanda’s remarkable progress.

Kagame is a dictator. But as long as he maintains stability and delivers reasonably equitable development, he is the sort of dictator Rwanda needs.

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Surely to say that the whole population benefits from the way Rwanda is progress you need to look more closely at who is actually benefitting from the admittedly impressive economic growth? Especially given how many Rwandans live below the poverty line, fast internet may not be a current priority.

"Human rights violations are the unfortunately necessary price to pay for Rwanda’s remarkable progress"

A lot of Rwandans don't want to pay that price. Is it really the place of Westerners to decide that Africans need dictators?

"Kagame is a dictator. But as long as he maintains stability and delivers reasonably equitable development, he is the sort of dictator Rwanda needs."

very controversial stance which I completely disagree with, and find quite patronising, if not potentially dangerous... But a well-argued case regardless.

1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights - all Human Rights are INDIVISIBLE AND INTERCONNECTED. Is it worth sacrificing civil and political rights for the sake of (uneven) economic growth? NO.

If I communicated I could thank you egnouh for this, I'd be lying.

Perhaps democracy and economic growth could compliment each other. Does the pursuit of development really need to result in human rights violations or is this yet another case of Westerners choosing to make condemning human rights a priority only when it suits them? This article upholds basic assumptions that African development has to have political sacrifices, this is hard to justify.

Whether or not everyone benefits from Kagame’s reforms and advances is not the right question – in no country does everyone ever benefit. It is a legitimate and thought-provoking proposal that perhaps, in order to reach certain advances, human rights have to be compromised. Of course it is a slippery slope, and human lives are endangered. But it is the ‘West’ that demands both adherence to human rights and democratic principles as well as political, economic etc. improvements in African countries – a demand that is perhaps almost impossible to meet. Political reality is never such that improvements can be made without compromise, or without creating some degree of inequality (of who benefits and who doesn’t). Sticking to human rights and democratic principles at the cost of economic, educational and medical improvements would uphold the integrity of a government but not change the reality of the lives of Rwandans.

Kagame has worked hard as a leader, the majority of his "human rights violations" can be justified under the laws that were adopted to prevent further genocides. Have any of you thought that he is protecting people more than the alternative? The article is right that Africa needs more dictators like him, maybe the continent as a whole would be much better off if everyone recognised long term economic goals as the major priority.

So is the measure of development purely in fast internet and economic growth? The article does not articulate clearly the definition of development and progress it is referring to-
"These human rights violations, however, are only justified if Rwanda is progressing for the benefit of the whole population."
But this progress for the benefit of the whole population is only clear in economic terms, what about political and social development? If Rwanda continues to grow in the economic sphere but curtails human rights and doesn't foster the environment for democratic debate and criticism then how will it have developed for the whole population in political terms?
This article is far too general in implying that progress to benefit "the whole population" is only relevant if it is economic progress. What about the journalists who are silenced?
And the final line- "But as long as he maintains stability and delivers reasonably equitable development, he is the sort of dictator Rwanda needs." - again, seems only to attribute stability and development to the pursuit of a thriving economy, but what about the people of Rwanda?
This article is disgraceful in its generalisation and bias towards economic and technological prosperity as the sole measures of development and "progress".

Completely agree with your point of view Reiner. Lock up these journalists and plastic bags users and let the good people enjoy their great internet coverage...that's progress?!

You admit that PK's a dictator
But say freedom for Rwandans comes later.
But why must they wait
For an equitable state
Just because they are near the equator?

How much of Rwanda's "prosperity" is due to the looting of the Congo's resources?

The interesting thing about the authors and journalists who praise Rwanda today, they did not know Rwanda yesterday. They are anglo-saxon, who don't have any clue of what Rwanda looked like before the genocide. For your information, consult World bank index and look at reports on economic development of Rwanda before the Genocide. The best country in the region and Africa. Kagame's economic development is only cleaning the streets (only in the capital city) to distract blind foreigners, he did not add any road that was not built before the genocide. You (authors) should be analyzing how sustainable the self-made Kagame's economic development will be with these human rights violations? Economic development did not matter, rwandans went on and killed each other! Do you think it's because they were not economically developed? Come on people!!!! Don't insult Rwandans!!!

Rwanda's Gini co-efficient has been increasing since 2000 and there is much to suggest that the population as a whole is not gaining (or at least not gaining as much) from the impressive GDP growth. Furthermore, Rwanda is somewhat unique in that the ruling party controls an ultimately unknown number of "private" companies that do at least some (and possibly a great deal) of the development work in the country - companies such as Horizon Construction, Tri-Star Investments. The RPF elites may well have cornered the market, so to speak, on benefits of their country's GDP growth. If dictatorship can be justified by the benefits its bestows on the poor, Kagame may not be the right kind of dictator.

So perhaps a better job could be done of distributing the economic gains Rwanda has made. How could poor Rwandans go about demanding this? They could elect a president and parliamentarians who better listened to their demands for economic equality. But that is a very difficult task in what the author admits is a de facto dictatorship in Rwanda. A European or American style democracy may be unfit for Rwanda but some form of democracy surely is. The alternative is taking power by force, no? How do you institutionalize the "right" kind of dictatorship and ensure that it's immense power doesn't fall into the wrong hands? My suggesting is giving people enough power to criticize their rulers and the power to kick the bums out once in awhile. What else is there?

Furthermore, the article suggests that Kagame is protecting Rwandans from hardliners in his own party yet Kagame is generally considered to be one of those hardliners. Where is the indication he has allied himself with the more liberal members of the RPF. If he had, the treatment of the press, among other things, would be different.

Finally, while Rwanda has made its economic gains without becoming a more liberal society, where is the argument that those gains were impossible without dictatorship? At least some of Kagame's authoritarianism has been subjected at relatively benign forms of activity - like talking about RPF war crimes during and after the genocide (crimes which in no way equate with what the genocidaires did to Rwanda) or criticizing government policies which have nothing to do with the genocide directly. How has that been necessary?

I think the author have found and said something that most of us are thinking, but not saying. Looking at the situation of Rwanda after the genocide (by the way, I was there) and the current situation, you might say that, Kagame is the leader rwanda needed, and Otherwire, Rwanda would have turned into another Somalia. promoting the economic developement and at the same time, limiting the freedom og expression, is somehow approprate becuase of to reasons, the government is working for the people and results are there, even for the poor people, national health insurance, free basic school, one cow pr family, investment in agruculture and so on. the second reason, is that after the genocide, most of the Rwanda people are tired of politics, and more interesting in improving their lives, and the development is doing a good job (buy the way, according to gallup poll, close to 70% of Rwandan supports the governemnt actions).Somehow it's prooving to be a good balance now. But soon or later, people will start to be interested in politics, after they realise the accoplished a strong enough stability, so on... Actually democracy is more implemented at the lower level og administration that the top ( was there during the lower administration election, and it was interesting to se people hold accontable their (lower) leader on their previous promises and a kind of dialog taking place. Maybe this show a start of democracy.
in my opinion, Rwandans are not yet ready for western democracy, nor the media, and as long as rwandan don't understand what democracy really is and means, the will always be some people to take advantage of that and the risk of instability will suddenly become greater.
Democracy srats always from the bottom and takes time to be implemented.

One of the most important quotations that Americans are proud of and that is attributed to one of their own (Patrick Henry, 1775) is "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"
Now, insinuating that people in the West are the only ones who deserve freedom is preposterous. The above quotation is good for Africans, too! They are happy running the streets naked and poor but in liberty and freedom. Nobody should trade liberty with cleaner streets. Kagame is a mercenary hired by the West to serve their needs. Everybody knows that Rwanda doesn't have any raw materials for true wealth; all the progress is paid for by western taxpayers. As a western taxpayer myself, I am ashamed that my money is sustaining such a blood-hungry dictator and causing a majority of the Rwandan people to live in fear and tyranny.

Yes but using the US as an example is problematic because the US's very strong stance on individual liberty is so unique. And let's not forget that 'give me liberty' ironically was said by someone who owned numerous slaves, and opposed the Constitution of the US because it could allow Northerners to pressure the South to free their slaves. And since then, this rhetoric of liberty has existed with so many contradictions - censorship, staunch social conservatism, and of course racial discrimination.

Plus people tend to forget that for most countries, econ growth came before the idea of individual rights and liberties really took hold. Most govts (and I'm sure many citizens) across the globe will prioritise econ growth over civil rights. If the econ growth under Kagame is properly redistributed among the population (I don't know if it is, though), then this could make a strong argument in favour of him. The problem is knowing where to draw the line between econ improvement and oppression, and it's hard not to be quite wary of means-justifies-the-end methods. Would be great to find out what ordinary Rwandans, living there, think about it.

Thanks for the history lesson... However, my focus was not on who was the person who uttered those words, but rather on the meaning that those words have in the minds of many Americans. Many would not support a system where a person has to live with his mind and mouth shut. Social conservatism, censorship, slavery, etc, they all failed because, even though they can be very loud at times, the spirit of liberty and respect for human dignity always triumph. And again America is not a perfect example, but no matter what the bad apples in it have been able to advance, the good ones have most of the times prevailed and that is why the system still holds.
Now, I don't agree with your statement that econ growth comes from indiv liberty. Recent history will tell you that growth built around oppression is usually unstable: Look at Egypt, Libya, Syria,... People are taking to the streets and destroying expensive and hard-earned infracture just because it was not a result of people laboring together in harmony and freedom. Actually, even though it is not largely reported, the regime that Kagame ousted had also a good record of prosperity. In the 80s, Rwanda enjoyed a good period of growth. However, when people were given an opportunity at democracy, they started destroying and rewinding that growth because it had been achieved on the back of a part of the population.
Since you follow history, you also will remember that Hitler steered his country to strong econ growth. However, I don't think that that "Hitler" growth is something Germany is proud of.
Germany could have still developped had it had other leaders who did not oppress people and this goes with Kagame.
Kagame has killed people in the tens of thousands (Kibeho massacre, Congo fleeing refugees massacres/genocide, thousands massacred in prisons, etc). The only praise that he should receive from the international community is one of good behavior when he comes before the ICC judges.
Lastly, you mentioned that one should about "Rwandans living there". Did you first inquire about these prevailing two laws and how they are enforced by Kagame judges:
1. Denying and negating genocide.
2. Propagating rumors that can jeopardize the security of the Rwandese people.
Any statement criticizing the current regime, whether it is made to opinion measurers (Gallup, etc), thru writings (Ex: Peter Erlinder), family private conversations, etc and that leads people to "question" the regime or "doubt" its actions, is either interpreted as denying or negating genocide (this is the regime that "stopped" genocide and always plays the "g" card when seeking international aid) or because questioning Kagame and his people can lead to chaos, thus the second law. Bottom line: Nobody would tell you the truth in an official manner under the current regime.

Yes, all of your points are valid (though I still disagree sharply about the US, but let's put that aside as it's not our focus) and I'm not disagreeing with your general argument at all, I'm merely saying that if (and it's a big if) econ growth benefits all or most, then it could (not should) be seen as a positive.

When I mentioned that econ growth has often come before individual rights, I was trying to highlight that it's not the other way round, as many people would like to believe (histories of most countries with western-style democracy today demonstrate this). Of course, the two types of 'progress' are not in conflict with each other, and theoretically, there's no reason why the two can't simultaneously grow together. But our interpretations of recent history differ. In Egypt, the major problems were the massive rich-poor gap and inflation, people simply not being able to feed themselves properly while a few networks of family ties enjoy many billions - it's economic and social inequality that often leads to unrest. In Syria, it's a lot more complicated than the way western media has portrayed it, as a sudden 'wakening' and yearning for democracy - the sunni-shi'a split is of pivotal importance, not to mention mid-east balance of power politics.

But I really feel we're debating over details: I do share your concern about Kagame's rights record, espec if the majority of the population isn't sharing in Rwanda's on-paper success. I just don't think it's as clear-cut as right vs wrong; there's a complex grey area between the two moral poles that's worthy of discussion.

And also believe me when I say that I get your points and agree with them as long as they are not in the Rwandan context (the one ruled by Kagame).
If you say that Egypt's problems were caused in some way by the rich-poor huge gap, then you got yourself a winner in Rwanda. As two professors recently published ( pdf), the growth in Rwanda only benefits a tiny portion of the population while the large majority actually sinks deeper in poverty. The westerners are amazed by how the Rwandan capital looks, but they don't dig deeper into the rural areas and realize what pitiful state they are in.
And then you talk about the hunger for democracy in Syria... So what will the reporters be saying when the oppressed majority in Rwanda finally wakes up? Remember: Kagame's ruling tribe is only less than 15% of the population and they manage to stay in power over the other 85% because of all those terrorizing laws that I mentioned before.

Heck yeah this is eaxtcly what I needed.

Of course non of this "human rights" talk has anything to do with China. Of course not.

Ah yes, nicely put, evreynoe.

The West has been sponsoring the murderous regime of Kagame saying he wants to stop the genocide and bring democracy in Rwanda. Once he is on power he continues to run massacres in Rwandan and you tell to Rwandan people that murder, rape, kidnapping, torture and genocidial actions are a "small" price to be paid by rwandan to reach progress. Yet there is actually no effective progress in Rwanda. What you call progress is just some high buildings in Kigali while the majority of Rwandan are staving and more and more homeless. Is it what you call progress? If Rwandans have to die or to be jailed to bring progress who will finally enjoy that progress? Is it Western people and Kgame's family or the dead Rwandan?
There something illogical with the view Of Mr Chapman!!

Thankyou all for your comments and I welcome your criticisms, including Carina Tertsakian's article from Human RIghts Watch. Some important points have been raised- in particular about the RPF's private ownership of companies. I was unaware of this.

To be clear, I in no way condone Kagame's human rights record- of course it should be loudly condemned but it should not be the sole yardstick against which Kagame's rule should be measured and shouldn't be taken out of the context of Rwanda's wider political situation.

I maintain that despite these (admittedly awful) abuses, Kagame's position is justified because his ecnomic vision is seeing Rwanda as a nation develop (admitedly at different rates for different social strata) out of an extremely unique and devastating set of circumstances - a set of circumstances which did not make the subsequent progress a likely possibility.

I also maintain that healthy parliamentary democracy, as enjoyed in the west, with its essential components of press freedom, protection of human rights and full political accountability, takes years to nurture and requires the commitment of a politically conscious population, commited to the democratic process, and, as is what happened in the West, comes only on the back of economic growth, as seen in America and the industrial revolutions in Europe.

I do not think it's realistic to argue that Rwanda, without Kagame, would now be a fully functional Western style democracy, devoid of political affiliation based on ethnicity and with a judiciary strong enough to protect human rights (It wasn't this prior to the genocide and would unlikely slip into this after the genocide.) This is no criticism of Rwandans, but an observation of the social processes that preceded democracy in the West, and facilitated the luxuries of liberty and individual freedom. (I say luxuries because the constitutional protection of human rights is unique to modernity so this is a pragmatic not a moralistic use of the word.)

Finally, neo-liberal economics which Kagame subscribes to does see the monopolisation of proffits in the hands of a few at first, but it none the less brings capital into the country, which then gets spent on state health care and education (not reflected in statistics on per household income.)

Considering the realistic alternatives that could have happened in Rwanda after the pain of the genocide (of which fair Western stlye democracy is not one) and on condition that more economic stability is coupled with the development of a human rights agenda, I maintain that the balanced repsonse to the Kagame regime is to apply pressure to further enshrine human rights in Rwanda; it is not to call for the removal of Kagame as President.

Again, I conclude with my support for Kagame being conditional on his rule benefitting the whole population and on the progressive development of a human rights agenda and I concede that if these conditions are not being met, then the parameters of the debate change drastically.

I do think that you Mr Chapman missed a big chapter of the Rwandan history or you are fullfilled with the Kagame's RPF propagandas.
To take the Genocide as an excuse to opress once again the Rwandans is an insult to them! The so called economic and social agenda is not effecient as on the ground in Rwanda the countryside is full of the very poor people and believe me their poorness is the result of the Kagame's policies, where the murder and fake justice are used to control the properties of the poor citizens and where the main economic domains are controled by the induviduals of the RPF regime and thus if you are not one of them you get no right to succeed in business.
Most foreign people don't understand the case of Rwanda! What the Rwandans need firstly and before all the materialistic condirations is to be healed of their historical pain ( war, genocide ethnicity).
And the question is , how can the Rwandans heal their pain with a leader as Kagame who is actually one of the principle responsibles of their suffering? How can the Rwandans make a progress while they are afraid of their life everyday and can't express their view? Rwandan people need a break but the world and especially the West is denying them that right!