IN MANY ways Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president, is one of the most successful leaders in modern African history. He led an ethnic-Tutsi militia that in 1994 ended a genocide perpetrated by the Hutu majority. The guilty were punished in courts under a democratic government which he established, mostly without creating new injustices. Rwandans are healthier and better educated than ever. Business is booming, corruption minimal and foreign investors flock to the country.
Rwanda’s success is not just down to Mr Kagame but it is hard to imagine it without his disciplined and strategic presence. He has embraced modern management techniques (his generals and ministers are on a corporate retreat this week). So familiar is he with cutting-edge communications that he is likely to respond to this article from his Twitter account, as he has done many times before. Even his worst enemies would not suggest that Mr Kagame is seeking glory or riches.
And yet in one important respect he has failed. In history’s judgment, leaders are only as good as the successors they groom. Mr Kagame has sacked or chased away just about everyone around him who could take over. Some have fled the country and a few have died in mysterious circumstances; others went to prison. In Rwanda it feels inconceivable that anyone could replace Mr Kagame, who last year said that dissidents plotting against the government would “pay the price wherever they are.”
Such talk is symptomatic of a wider failure. The nation, and in particular the Tutsi minority, has yet to uncurl from the defensive crouch that was understandably assumed during the genocide. Ideas like political competition and free speech are distrusted, on grounds that they could open the back door to the génocidaires who fled abroad and have yet to repent. Mr Kagame “won” the last election with 93% of the vote and does not face another one until 2017. According to the constitution, drafted under his tutelage, he is not currently eligible to stand. But his minions are already seeding the ground for the removal of term limits. Almost daily articles in the media call on him to remain in office.
Yet what Rwanda needs is fresh blood at the top. Unitary rule breeds resentment, and there is a limit to how long one brilliant man can protect his people from renewed genocide. Independent institutions are the only thing that can keep the peace, and Mr Kagame has not done nearly enough to foster them.
Rwanda’s success has encouraged other violence-plagued nations to view it as a lodestar. Mr Kagame’s lesson is that tight political control is a key ingredient of development. At best that idea is open to abuse in the hands of less capable leaders. At worst it can lead people straight back to where they came from.
Source: The Economist, March 28, 2015.