Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Darling Dictator of the Day

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

The Darling Dictator of the Day

Article excerpt

Paul Kagame is feted in capitals and on campuses, but his harsh regime does not merit the accolades.

Rwanda's Paul Kagame is accustomed to accolades. On May 12, he received yet another honorary degree, this time from William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Celebrating Kagame is in vogue because he is credited with leading a remarkable recovery from war and genocide in the heart of Africa.

There certainly have been achievements in Kagame's Rwanda. Economic growth has been climbing (G.D.P. growth for 2011 was more than 8 percent) and private investment is a featured component of that growth (Costco and Starbucks now buy about a quarter of Rwanda's premium coffee crop).

In fact, the World Bank ranks Rwanda as the eighth easiest place to start a new business. The government is renowned for reducing corruption, expanding security, addressing genocidal crimes and increasing women's rights.

Yet while Kagame is no Idi Amin or Charles G. Taylor, he does not merit his reputation as a visionary modernizer. The reason is simple: his state is all about force.

There's no question who's in charge in Rwanda. The government's commanding presence in Rwandan lives is aggressively maintained by Kagame and a clique of other former Tutsi refugees from Uganda. Indeed, according to the U.C.L.A. sociologist Andreas Wimmer, Rwanda has the third-highest level of political exclusion in the world (behind Sudan and Syria).

Kagame's government asserted its power in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections, when authorities barred most opposition political parties from registering for elections, closed down many independent newspapers, and witnessed the flight into exile of several prominent government officials who said they "feared for their lives."

There were also three suspicious pre-election shootings. One of the exiled officials, Kagame's former chief of staff, Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, was shot in the stomach in South Africa after openly criticizing the Rwandan government. A Rwandan journalist, Jean Leonard Rugambage, was killed shortly after his article, which pointed to government complicity, was published. The deputy leader of the Green Party, which was among those unable to register, was found not only dead but with his head partly severed.

Kagame garnered 93 percent of the vote. Soon after the election, an exhaustively researched United Nations "mapping exercise" report led the veteran Rwanda expert Filip Reyntjens to state that "there is overwhelming evidence of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity" against Kagame. A foreign expert (whoasked not to be named) also reported the disappearance of "a large number" of Rwandan civil society members in 2007.

Nowhere is the heavy-handed and destructive nature of Kagame's government more apparent than in its approach to youth. …

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