Africa's New Path: Paul Kagame Charts a Way Forward

By Zakaria, Fareed | The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs, Autumn 2009 | Go to article overview

Africa's New Path: Paul Kagame Charts a Way Forward


Zakaria, Fareed, The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs


President Obama was right to give his recent address in Ghana, highlighting an African success story rather than casting his speech against the backdrop of poverty and pity. One of the great underreported stories of the last decade has been the rise of this new Africa. In 2007, before the economic crisis hit, 37 countries on the continent were growing at four percent a year or more, and 34 countries there are classified by Freedom House as "free" or "partly free." The OECD reports that, in a first, Africa gets more money from investors than from foreign aid. The continent remains poor, disease-stricken, and often poorly governed. But for the first time in a long time, there is forward momentum.

Nowhere is this more true than in Rwanda. If ever a nation seemed destined to fail, it was Rwanda. A little more than 15 years ago, the country suffered the most brutal genocide since the Holocaust. In 100 days, Hutu mobs slaughtered more than 800,000 Tutsis, one tenth of the population, a literal decimation. Many thought Rwanda would plunge into a death spiral like other "postconflict" countries, such as Somalia.

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In fact, Rwanda has become a model for the African renaissance. It is now stable, well ordered, and being rebuilt every month. Average incomes have increased by 30 percent. The country has a national health-care system, burgeoning countrywide education, and much less corruption than is usual in Africa. It is becoming increasingly attractive to corporations and tourists. In 2007, Fortune published an article titled "Why CEOs Love Rwanda." The heads of Starbucks, Google, and Costco are among the country's supporters.

Ask anyone who has studied Rwanda--African or Westerner--what its secret is and they will say leadership, by which they mean Paul Kagame. Kagame commanded the rebel army that ended the genocide and has been a driving force in Rwandan politics ever since. His guiding philosophy is self-reliance, which means he shares in the critiques of foreign aid, such as the one recently penned by Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo. "The debate about good and bad aid misses the point," he said to me while he visited New York last week. "Aid must do things that wean people off aid--if not, aid is a failure." He acknowledged that foreign aid makes up 50 percent of his own budget but pointed out that the number had been 85 percent, and has been dropping steadily.

Kagame didn't rely on outsiders to build his crucial success, which was political reconciliation. …

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