23 Mar A Dissenting View on Paul Kagame
I have been reading Roger’s fascinating missives from Rwanda with great interest and agree with much of what he has to say. But I have to demur from the claim that “Kagame is personally invested in making Rwanda a country that is committed to reconciliation, human rights and self-sufficiency.” Self-sufficiency, perhaps — there is no question that Rwanda has experienced significant economic growth over the past decade, although it is important to emphasize that, according to USAID, “[a] majority of the population lives on less than $1 per day and nearly nine in ten live on less than $2 per day.”
As for Kagame’s investment in reconciliation and human rights? Here is the summary paragraph from the State Department’s 2008 Country Report on Rwanda — which was one of its better years:
Significant human rights abuses occurred, although there were improvements in some areas. Citizens’ right to change their government was restricted, and local defense forces (LDF) personnel were responsible for four killings during the year. Violence against genocide survivors and witnesses by unknown assailants claimed at least 16 lives. There were reports of torture and abuse of suspects, although significantly fewer than in previous years. Prison and detention center conditions remained harsh. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Prolonged pretrial detention was a problem, and government officials attempted to influence judicial outcomes, mostly regarding the community-based justice system known as gacaca. There continued to be limits on freedom of speech and of association, and restrictions on the press increased. The government limited religious freedom, and official corruption was a problem. Restrictions on civil society, societal violence and discrimination against women, recruitment of child soldiers by representatives of a Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)-based armed group, trafficking in persons, child labor, and restrictions on labor rights occurred.
As for democracy, if Rwanda gets good marks, it’s only because the bar is set so low in the region. Here is the State Department again:
National Electoral Commission (NEC) rulings restricted the ability of the PSD and the PL to effectively spread their message, allowing the RPF to dominate the 22-day electoral campaign. The media devoted the bulk of its coverage to the RPF. There were credible reports of local government interference with PL and PSD rallies and meetings, and security forces briefly detained several campaign workers.
According to observers many voting stations opened early, did not make proper use of forms, and did not initially seal ballot boxes. Observers were often prevented by NEC and other government officials from monitoring the ballot counting above the polling station and polling center level (the first two levels). The Civil Society Election Observation Mission observed in its Statement of Preliminary Findings that “in a significant proportion of cases, it was not possible to confirm the accuracy of consolidated results at any stage beyond polling center consolidation.”
In 2003 President Paul Kagame won a landslide victory against two independent presidential candidates, receiving 95 percent of the vote in a largely peaceful but seriously marred election.
The constitution provides for a multiparty system but offers few rights for parties and their candidates. According to the 2006 African Peer Review Mechanism report, released by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, a mandated initiative of the African Union, the country had made significant progress toward political pluralism, but parties were still “not able to operate freely” and faced legal sanctions if accused of engaging in divisive acts. The government’s continuing campaign against divisionism discouraged debate or criticism of the government and resulted in brief detentions and the holding of one political prisoner, former minister Ntakarutinka.
All political organizations were constitutionally required to join the Forum for Political Organizations, which continued to limit competitive political pluralism, according to the 2006 APRM report. Despite a June 2007 law allowing political parties to open offices at every administrative level, local officials on occasion reportedly prevented opposition meetings preceding the September parliamentary elections, citing improper paperwork or venue booking conflicts. During the year there were no reported efforts to form any new parties or efforts by the government to deny registration to any party.
And, of course, we cannot forget Kagame’s multiple invasions of the Congo, using the need to hunt down the FDLR as a pretext for illegally exploiting Congo’s natural resources — leading the UN to describe Kagame as one of the “godfathers” of such exploitation — and his unwavering support for Congolese rebel groups such as the RCD and Nkunda’s CNDP, which has led to suffering on a scale not seen since WW II.