By Chris Zumani Zimba
Today, Kagame’s Kigali is seen as a spotless African capital city with no plastic bags and papers, low crime, orderly traffic, motorcyclists wearing helmets and no street venders, hawkers, beggars or prostitutes anywhere to be seen. Since 2000, Rwanda has notched up growth rates of 8% a year, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world hence nicknamed a “Rwandan miracle” model of development. His supporters argue that Mr Kagame wants Rwanda to be the “Singapore of Africa”, where multinationals set up regional headquarters and hold conferences—and where visitors pay big bucks to watch gorillas with a $300m new convention centre lighting up over Kigali as the sun sets (The Economist, 2018:1). But the fact is Paul Kagame is certainly killing democracy, good governance and seriously violating human rights in the name of developing and modernizing Rwanda.
The empirical face of Authoritarianism in Rwanda
His critics say Rwanda is calm and orderly because Rwandans are terrified and fear Mr Kagame which makes them unhappy and unfree, a terrible weakness to the durability of peace. For example, David Himbara, a former aide now in exile, see President Kagame as “the creator of a repressive totalitarian apparatus that controls almost all aspects of national life” (Ibid). But from our end, we see Kagame as an elected authoritarian. Unlike democrats, scholars agree that authoritarians demand obedience to authority by the citizens, power is in the hands of the leader or small elites therefore not held accountable to the citizens for their actions (Bedeski, 1994:1). And despite being periodically ‘elected’ by the masses in the name of democracy, Kagame is a power hungry and selfish authoritarian who opposes the autonomy of politically active Rwandans as a way of sustaining power and forced authority on his people and thereby sending democracy, human rights and good governance to hell. Below are factual justifications for this hypothetical exposition:
Violation of human rights and suppression of citizens
Common to all authoritarian states is the culture of restricting or denying of principle human rights and fundamental freedoms one expect to enjoy in any democracy. In January 2013, Kenneth Roth, affirmed that President Paul Kagame was among the top eight (8) world human right violators and political leaders Barrack Obama needed to dump as close association with them contradicted America’s values, interest and foreign policy of ‘standing up for human rights’. He justified that “the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which became the national army, itself murdered tens of thousands of civilians in the 1990s; the government uses detention and violence to shut down political opposition; and the military, despite persistent government denials, has actively supported a succession of rebel groups in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo” (Roth. K, 2013:1). A report by the United Nations secretary-general, released in September 2018, identified Rwanda as one of 29 countries where human rights defenders face reprisals for cooperating with the UN on human rights.
No mass bloodshed and murder but serious human right violations and killings exist
Authoritarianism is simply not totalitarianism where mass bloodshed and murder of the state enemies, critics and rivals is acceptable way of rulership. But authoritarians still kill their citizens in moderate numbers but may not show it widely to the masses because they want to be seen as ‘good political fathers’. Following the end of the 1994 ethnic genocide, many people are mistake to think that Paul Kagame’s government has repented from shedding human blood which they did as a rebel movement before taking over power. But up to now, his government does not respect human lives in many aspects and instances.
Between April 2016 and March 2017, Rwanda state security forces summarily killed at least 37 suspected offenders and forcibly disappeared 4 others in Western Province with most victims being accused of petty crimes such as stealing bananas, a cow, a motorcycle or suspected of smuggling marijuana, illegally crossing the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as using illegal fishing nets. It is reported that the Rwandan authorities used the extrajudicial executions to serve as a warning to the public. In October 2018, the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture, which oversees enforcement of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), ratified by Rwanda in 2015, conducted a state visit to Rwanda but had to suspend their visit and leave sooner than planned citing obstruction by Paul Kagame’s government.
strict censorship of the media, opposition political parties and civil society outfits
In all authoritarian states, political competition is openly hated and/or tactfully discouraged. Since he was constitutionally barred from standing again in 2018, in 2015 the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), organised a ‘rapid petition’ in order to allow him stay on and a constitutional amendment was passed in parliament with 98% of the vote. Since in power from 1994, Mr Kagame can now remain president until 2034 when he will be 77. On August 4th 2018, Rwandans voted to give Mr Kagame another seven-year term with over 98% victory. He captured 95% of the vote in 2003 and 93% in 2010.
Generally, there are no meaningful, fair and credible elections in Rwanda. Like most modern African authoritarians who usually come into power by and through democracy but indeed not necessarily with democratic values and for democratic rule, it is true to stress that the leader of the “the Singapore of Africa” has overtly managed to send democracy, good governance and human rights to hell. From the figures of his presidential electoral victory in 2003, 2010 and 2018, it is common sense to conclude that Kagame has pragmatically mastered the art of killing real and functional opposition politics in Rwanda as his government either consistently intimidates, arrests, restricts, tortures or disallows his key political rivals from competing with him.
In a special interview with CNN on 9th October, 2018, Diane Rwigara, one of the lead opposition figures who has been arrested and tortured many times in Kigali voiced that, “anybody who dares to challenge the government is viciously attacked – whether you’re a man or a woman”…“I know the Rwandan government is scared of the movement – it’s scared because they know I’m speaking the truth and they do not want to be exposed. That is the main fear that they have – the fear of being exposed”…“The only women or men who are welcome are those who speak the language of the RPF (Kagame’s ruling party)… “Jail has not squashed my political ambitions at all. On the contrary, it has given me more determination because I just don’t see myself and everyone else I know keeping on living in fear”, she explained (The Rwandan, 2018:1).
Western human rights observers argue that “before and after the August 2018 election, the Rwandan government continued to limit the ability of civil society groups, the media, international human rights organizations, and political opponents to function freely and independently or to criticize the government’s policies and practices”…. “Civil society in Rwanda is very weak, due to many years of state intimidation and interference, leaving Rwandan human rights organizations largely unable to publicly document violations by state agents. While some private radio stations occasionally broadcast programs on politically sensitive issues, such as proposed changes to the penal code in relation to defamation, official government views dominated the domestic media and almost all election coverage” (HRW-World Report, 2018:1). Kagame’s government run and control the public or state media houses in his political interest and deny other political actors especially rivals to enjoy the same privileges and rights.
Kagame, a visionary man who does not impose mass mandatory utopia ideologies
Authoritarians mainly claim to be unifying political fathers who remain either unchallenged or manipulate the state machinery to perpetuate their ruler-ship but do not impose an integrated official ideology over the masses. This is what Kagame has done. Consequently, his supporters and followers now take the view that a strongman with a long-term plan is better for development than lots of squabbling political factions which is the case most parts of Africa where multiparty politics has degenerated into tribal feuding. For them, having Kagame perpetually in power and winning every ‘election’ Rwanda is safer and better than risk regime and leadership changes (The Economist, 2018:1). Practically, this political belief and reality is what crowns Kagame is the killer of real democracy and violator of human rights in Rwanda.
Personal beliefs and private life for Rwandan citizens generally remain untouched
As long as the authoritarians strongly believe that they are in control and their power is not threatened, they do not attempt to transform human nature and society through dogmatic mandatory ideologies or mass uniform beliefs and behavior. Although his government now firmly censors the registration and operations of religious outfits, Kagame has allowed ‘his people’ to believe in diverse social, religious and cultural ideologies of their choice. In April, 2018, around 6,000 churches and 100 mosques were closed with Kagame’s government citing safety concerns for the closures while the new legislation now require pastors to have theology degrees; a move which has been criticized by human rights defenders as a clump down on the freedom of expression and worship (ABC, 2018:1).
Kagame-‘Free’ from rampart corruption and increase in abuse of public resources
Unlike countries like Zambia, Uganda, DR Congo, Egypt, Togo, Equatorial Guinea, Angola or Kenya that have a Jacob Zuma type of ‘corrupt leaderships’, Kagame is praised to be a disciplined man of political integrity and Rwanda does not have the ‘Gupta families’ at the center of looting and plundering public resources through the presidency. He practices the opposite of authoritarian regimes who rule in their self-interest and places their self-interest above the interests of the people. Some tourists and foreign investors have described Rwanda as “the best-run country in Africa,”…“a shining star” while others say “the professionalism in government is excellent as no one asks for a bribe in comparison to everywhere else in Africa where you feel corruption from the traffic cop to the top” (The Economist, 2018:1). Thus, it can be said that his systematic political oppression of the masses is ‘compensated’ by his personal behavior to seem acting and ruling in ‘their best interest’ by not stealing or abusing public resources.
In conclusion, the case of Kagame in Rwanda mirrors many similar examples across Africa where elected leaders aim to stay or die in power by simply steering economic modernization through massive infrastructure developments and foreign investments while they close up the spaces for democracy, human rights and good governance. It is a typical Chinese communist model of governance schemed by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s and now being piloted by Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, Uhuru Kenyata in Kenya, Joseph Kabila in DR Congo, Paul Biya in Cameroon, Al-Sisi in Egypt, Al-Bashir in Sudan, Pierre Nkrunziza in Burundi, Sar Vakir in South Sudan or Boutaflika in Algeria.
Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher and Consultant. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles.
ABC (2018), “Rwanda closes thousands of churches and dozens of mosques in bid for more control” , accessed from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-04/rwanda-closes-thousands-of-churches-in-bid-for-more-control/9619730
Human Rights Watch-HRW, (2018), “World Report, Rwanda Events of 2017”, accessed from https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/rwanda retrieved 10/11/2018
Kenneth Roth, (2013), “Barack Obama: Dump These 8 Unsavory Allies”, accessed from https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/02/barack-obama-dump-these-8-unsavory-allies , Retrieved 14-11-2018
The Economist (2018) “Rwanda and its president: Paul Kagame, feted and feared”, accessed from https://www.economist.com/briefing/2017/07/15/paul-kagame-feted-and-feared
The Rwandan (2018:1), “Rwandan Opposition Leader Diane Rwigara Will Not Be Silenced”, accessed from http://www.therwandan.com/rwandan-opposition-leader-diane-rwigara-will-not-be-silenced/