Portrait of a Tainted Leader
When the 54-year-old bespectacled and rake-thin rebel leader marched into Kigali in 1994, his country was laid to waste by Africa’s worst modern-day horror.
Kagame was hailed as the man who had stopped genocide in Rwanda, but by then the defeated Hutu extremists had left a million corpses in their wake.
First minister of defence, then vice-president and finally president of one of Africa’s smallest states, he was labelled as having assumed the continent’s worst job.
On the surface, Kagame has done a splendid job, presiding over Rwanda as it claws its way back from social and economic ruin.
Critics, however, point out that half of all children are still malnourished and that 60 percent of the population still lives below the poverty line. Politicians are in jail, independent newspapers have been banned and critics of the president have mysteriously died.
All lies, the president has said, including on Twitter – anybody can tweet him.
Tony Blair described him as a ‘visionary leader’ as the voices of criticism from the West remain muted.
Even while opponents were slain and journalists harassed, donors and the West pointed to a country where the charismatic and soft-spoken Kagame clamped down on corruption, saved the endangered mountain gorillas and championed women’s rights.
And yet, Rwanda’s finest female journalist, Agnes Uwimana, is languishing in Kigali’s Central Prison, serving a 17-year sentence for publishing critical articles in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections.
And so is 2010 presidential candidate and leader of the United Democratic Forces, Victoire Ingabire, who has been incarcerated for almost 250 days. She has been charged with denying the genocide for saying that Hutu victims of the mass slaughter should not be forgotten.
Amnesty International has accused the Rwandan government of abusing the law on ‘genocide ideology’ to silence critics and dissenters.
Human Rights Watch branded Kagame as ‘ruthless, repressive and intolerant of criticism’.
It has, in fact, become deadly – some will say almost suicidal – to oppose Kagame’s regime.
Inside Rwanda, there has never been a word published about how he became one of Africa’s richest head of states who owns jets and foreign bank accounts. He even owns, according to foreign newspapers, the Rwandan embassy in London.
A recent United Nations report accussed Kagame and his Rwandan Patriotic Army of committing horrific atrocities in neighbouring Congo in the nineties.
These killings of Hutu civilians, said the UN, ‘may be genocide’.
Former members of his inner circle – men who know more than any others about him – have abandoned him and are now hanging out his dirty washing around the world.
In exile they’ve set up a new opposition movement – the Rwandan Democratic Front – against Kagame and have vowed to dethrone him and replace his regime with a true democracy.
Kagame has hit back and a Rwandan court has convicted four key figures in absentia to sentences of up to 24 years’ imprisonment.
Former army chief Kayumba Nyamwasa and ex-chief of staff Theogene Rudasingwa were sentenced to 24 years each. Former attorney general Gerald Gahima and intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya were handed 20-year sentences.
In a recent speech, Kagame called his four former allies “useless characters” and had a warning for nations that lend them support: “If you live in a grass-thatched house, you should avoid playing with fire because your own house may catch fire.”
Nyamwasa and Karegeya are in exile in South Africa, while the other two men have sought refuge in the United States.
Nyamwase is witness to and co-conspirator of Kagame’s darkest military secrets, especially the Congo, while Karegeya was, as director of external military intelligence, responsible for deploying the regime’s revenge against its opponents in Africa and Europe.
Nymawasa, now under witness protection, has already survived two attempts on his life.
Kagame has accused the Democratic Front of being in cahoots with perpetrators of genocide and terrorists.
After the assassination of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Rwandan government newspaper, The New Times had ominous advice for Nyamwasa, Gahima, Rudasingwa and Karegeya:
‘But there will always be idiots for whom history has no lessons. They can run and hide, but will run out of options and then their actions will catch up with them. If Osama bin Laden could speak now, he would tell them that.’