11 Aug Ruth Wedgwood on Rwanda’s Faux Democracy
Hell must have had central air conditioning installed, because I find myself in complete agreement with Ruth Wedgwood’s recent post at EJIL: Talk! on Paul Kagame’s rapid descent into authoritarianism. Here is a snippet:
The West’s failure to address Tutsi violations of the laws of war has allowed Kagame to conclude, justifiably, that he can do nearly anything with impunity. He certainly hasn’t been intimidated by the observation of the U.N. Human Rights Committee in May 2009 that it was “concerned at the large number of persons, including women and children, reported to have been killed from 1994 onwards in the course of operations by the Rwanda Patriotic Army, and at the limited number of cases reported to have resulted in prosecution and punishment by the Rwandan courts.”
Nor has there been any penalty for Kagame’s destructive expedition into the Eastern Congo. The cross-border intervention gave the regime access to minerals ripe for extraction and valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Millions of civilians have been killed in the Eastern Congo conflict, and while Kagame was not the only culprit, his troops hardly quelled the violence.
At the same time, Kagame’s domestic critics have met with unfortunate fates. An outspoken political rival was recently shot and wounded in South Africa. A prominent newspaper editor was gunned down at the end of June, and the deputy president of the Democratic Green party was decapitated in July. Public meetings of rival parties have been banned. Kagame felt audacious enough to jail and threaten a 10-20 year sentence against an American lawyer and law professor—who hails from former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s alma mater in Minnesota—when he went to Rwanda to consult with one of Kagame’s political rivals.
Wedgwood’s post was written before the recent elections. As she predicted, Kagame was elected by a majority — 93% — that “will impress even the modern grand viziers of Central Asia.” (Side note: I love modern journalism, in which even the most obvious truths have to be qualified by attributing them to one side or another. The Reuters article linked to above contains the following delicious quote: “Critics said the campaign playing field was uneven, with three would-be opposition candidates prevented from registering to contest the ballot.” Critics said? Does anyone other than Kagame believe that a campaign playing field can be even when opposition candidates are not allowed to participate in the process?)
Wedgwood discusses numerous other aspects of Kagame’s despotic reign, such as his invasions of the Congo, the murder of political opponents, the imprisonment of Peter Erlinder on charges of genocide denial (defined as representing a defendant accused by the ICTR of committing genocide), the sham that is gacaca, and the appointment of an indicted war criminal to Rwanda’s peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Wedgwood concludes by arguing that “the Obama team ought to take a close and critical look at its erstwhile friend in Africa,” because “[h]e is not what he seems.” No, he isn’t.