Critics of Kagame's rule ignore his momentous achievements

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame.
Image: Ludovic MARIN / AFP

It was the revolutionary pan-Africanist independence leader and political theoretician Amilcar Cabral who warned our generation to "always remember that people fight and accept the sacrifices in order to gain material advantages, to live better and in peace... to benefit from progress and for the better future of their children.

"The construction of independence, peace and progress are hollow words devoid of any significance unless they can be translated into a real improvement of living conditions".

He could have easily been talking of the Rwandan revolution today and its developmental trajectory after surviving a vicious genocide that left more than a million Rwandans dead within three months.

As the country remember the 1994 genocide this month, African fault-finders, intellectual purists and ideological fundamentalists continue to express misgivings about president Paul Kagame's rule, dismissing him as an unforgiving, repressive dictator even after having made enormous strides to reinvent a brutalised nation around a shared, cohesive national identity.

At the root of his detractors' discontentment are allegations of tendencies to jail and punish dissenting voices, downplaying the functional state of his almost 20-year rule that has given Rwandans dignity, national pride and a shot at a better future.

As a former guerrilla rebel leader, Kagame has claimed no sainthood, especially after his violated, scarred nation was abandoned by the world.

"I don't think anyone out there in the media, UN, human rights organisations, has a moral right whatsoever to level any accusation against me or Rwanda because when it came to the problems facing Rwanda and Congo, they were all useless," he once said.

Described by Stephen Kinzer, author of A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirthand The Man WhoDreamt It as a personable, tough-minded, extraordinarily disciplined realist, Kagame has succeeded where angels failed by travestying that impossible transition from rebel leader to a respectable statesman.

Helping the country to take a giant leap forward, with an annual GDP rate of 6% to 8% since the early 2000s, Kagame is expanding technology colleges and sophisticated health facilities in rural areas powered by renewable energy and the latest science methods, while attracting foreign investment in various economic sectors.

Through his Vision 2020, Kagame's administration has improved literacy levels from 64% to 71% while reducing the unemployment rate from 57% to 45%.

Poverty, just like war, is dehumanising, thus his greatest leadership legacy may not be the modernisation and industrialisation of Rwanda, but his reversal of devastatingly violent colonial effects on Rwandans left by former colonisers Belgium and Germany.

Importantly, two instructive social programmes, Umuganda (mandatory community cleaning services) and Gacaca have cemented Kagame as an exceptional African leader.

Through its 1,200 community-based Gacaca courts, Rwanda resolved a record 1.2 million genocide cases by 2012, which could have taken the Western justice system 200 years to conclude.

Through the two programmes, Kagame has assumed a primary leadership role to prevent Rwanda from falling back into the 1994 genocidal chaos.

In the end, Kagame's rule proves that a progressive African dictatorship with endless opportunities is better than democracy on an empty stomach.

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