Rwandan President: the Darling Tyrant?

Iris C. Maxfield: Kagame’s recent landslide election wins and high approval ratings have come hand in hand with silencing opponents, police brutality, and concealing the murder of dissidents.

In the Global North, it is unfortunate that if you know anything about Rwanda, it is often that in 1994 a genocide occurred in the country where, in just over 100 days, 800,000 people were slaughtered. This was all I had associated with Rwanda until a few months ago, when I began to learn more about the African nation. Now the 17th fastest growing economy, many Rwandans thank their current president Paul Kagame for their booming economic development and reduction in youth employment. President since 2000, Kagame is now standing for re-election which could see him president of Rwanda for a third term, after a constitutional amendment allowed him to run again for another five-year term.

In September of 2015, in a move criticised by some in the international community, it was decided in Rwanda that Kagame and any future leaders to follow could stand for up to five terms as president. If Kagame were to fulfil this, Rwanda could see him in power until 2034. Described as the “the darling tyrant,” his recent landslide election wins and high approval ratings have come hand in hand with silencing opponents, police brutality and concealing the murder of dissidents. The mysterious circumstances in which a half dozen well known investigators and journalists have been found dead should not be forgotten.

Despite criticism from some like Human Rights Watch, Kagame has been equally praised by other prominent members of the international community. A strong ally of Israel, in March of this year Kagame became the first African leader to speak at the annual conference of the AIPAC, an influential pro-Israeli lobby with strong ties to the US government. While the 2016 constitutional amendment in Rwanda, enabling Kagame to possibly remain president until 2034, was heavily criticised by the EU and USA, his work in Rwanda after the genocide is still heralded by just those people. Former President Clinton has declared him as one of “the greatest leaders of our time” which seem to be strange words coming from a former ‘leader of the free world’.

The paradoxical nature of Kagame– as the phrase “darling tyrant” suggests—permeates into the perceptions of Rwanda held by the Global North. Little is known by most about Rwanda; it does not make front page news, and even in its darkest days during 1994, it was still not in the spotlight for most. This needs to change. Rwanda is much more complex than its tragic genocide of 1994, and now more than ever we should be striving to understand its multifaceted political context. This summer, on the 4th August 2017, the Rwandan elections will be taking place and Kagame is set to secure another five years in power. Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, hopes “many African nations will emulate what Rwanda is doing.” While their economic success and declining poverty is outstanding and should be celebrated, we need to ask at what cost this has come.

This post was written by Iris C. Maxfield, who is studying Politics at the University of Bristol and is the STAND UK Correspondent for Australasia and Africa.

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