Rwanda: Kagame “Elected” Dictator-for-Life
by Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa
This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.
“Kagame’s regime has acquired the shameful role previously played by dictators like President Mobutu of former Zaire during the Cold War.”
On 4 August 2017 President Paul Kagame had himself “elected” a life-president through the so-called elections in which he scored a perfect vote of 99%, earning himself a permanent place alongside Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un and many other dictators, dead or alive. The costly and sham elections were preceded by the so-called referendum to change the constitution, allowing him to be president until 2034.
The results of the just concluded costly electoral exercise have not come as a surprise to Paul Kagame, Rwandans and other interested observers of Rwandan politics. On 14 July 2017, President Kagame publicly declared that everyone knows the outcome of the elections. Nevertheless, he imposed useless elections that cost impoverished Rwandan taxpayers five billion Rwanda Francs.
To justify his one-man-as-the-sole-hero status of contemporary Rwanda, he has amassed as many false arguments as his swelling numbers of victims: he is the Pan-Africanist who stopped Tutsi genocide, empowered women, rolled back malaria and HIV/AIDS, built hotels and conference centers, sent peacekeepers to represent American interests in Africa’s hot spots, became a shining example of Africa-led development model, and now, as evidenced by his perfect vote, built a perfect democracy in Rwanda.
“The United States and the United Kingdom have amplified Kagame’s selective amnesia, deadly outlook, and actions.”
Kagame has conveniently forgotten that the civil wars of 1959 and 1990s, and the mass atrocities that followed them, were never about economic development but rather the exclusion of whole ethnic groups from power structures of the day. His benefactors and cheerleaders, chiefly the United States and the United Kingdom, have out of their seemingly perpetual guilt and geo-strategic selfishness amplified Kagame’s selective amnesia, deadly outlook, and actions. Emboldened by having powerful allies, Kagame rules with reckless intransigence and impunity.
There are several reasons why Paul Kagame seeks to remain in power indefinitely. One of them is to prevent accountability for the crimes that he and those under his command have committed against Rwandan Hutu, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The silence and complicity of the international community reinforces Paul Kagame to rule with impunity. Coupled with pervasive fear that stems from rule by cliques, international indifference, as well as interference, these have been the key factors in Rwanda’s cyclical and sectarian bloodshed. Regime changes in Rwanda, often citing legitimate grievances among Rwandans, and in recent history backed by foreign powers, have never redressed the structures of power from Rwanda’s founding as a nation until now.
“The silence and complicity of the international community reinforces Paul Kagame to rule with impunity.”
Nor have Rwanda’s neighbors been spared the destabilizing effects of spillovers from its internal crises. Paul Kagame’s regime has now become the principal destabilizing force in the Great Lakes region of Africa, notably the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Acting on its own appetite for natural resources from neighboring countries, and championing foreign commercial and geostrategic interests, Kagame’s RPF/DMI regime has acquired the shameful role previously played by dictators like President Mobutu of former Zaire during the Cold War.
At each turning point, as Rwanda witnessed cataclysmic upheaval characterized by extensive death and destruction, the international community abandoned defenseless people at the hands of violent cliques.
Two political organizations -- MRND (Hutu clique) and RPF (Tutsi clique) that succeeded it in 1994 -- have inflicted unparalleled damage to Rwandan society in its centuries-old history as a nation. In 1994, as the MRND establishment unleashed its security forces and militia against Tutsi in the fastest genocide ever recorded in human history, the international community abandoned Rwandans. Before, and in the aftermath of the Tutsi genocide, the new RPF establishment in power, through the notorious Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) and Tutsi officers directly under Paul Kagame’s command descended on the Hutu population in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, executing with ruthless efficiency what is now a well-documented and yet unrecognized genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The International community abandoned Rwandans by deliberately shielding and failing to bring Kagame’s RPF/DMI regime to account for these atrocities.
The international community has once again abandoned Rwandans. The overt and covert support that Kagame’s regime receives from the United States and United Kingdom, coupled with failures of the past, has led the majority of Rwandans to lose trust in the international community as a reliable partner in Rwanda’s social, economic and political development.
“Kagame’s life presidency imperils Rwanda, the Great Lakes region, Africa and the international community.”
The road to freedom, fundamental human rights, justice, democracy and the rule of law is long and particularly a dangerous one in Rwanda. Kagame’s life presidency imperils Rwanda, the Great Lakes region, Africa and the international community.
There is no quick and cheap fix for tyranny. Dreadful as this reality is, it becomes crystal clear, urgent, and important, for Rwandans to seek Rwandan solutions for Rwandan problems in a self-reliant manner. The long term consequences of Kagame’s role as Africa’s leading destabilizer, looter, war-maker, and tyrant can be ignored by his foreign supporters for some time but are nevertheless grave and real.
For now, freedom and peace may seem distant dreams for the majority of Rwandans. Evidently, the price of uprooting the evil and entrenched roots of tyranny in Rwanda is likely to be high, and a product of united action to be executed in the short, medium and long term.
Dr. Theogene Rudasingwa is from the Tutsi ethnic group and served in various capacities as the Secretary General of the Rwandese Patriotic Front (1993-1996), Rwanda’s Ambassador to the United States (1996-1999) and President Paul Kagame’s Chief of Staff (2000-2004). In 2011 President Paul Kagame tried him in absentia, and sentenced him to 24 years in jail for criticizing the regime’s state of governance. He lives in exile in the United States.