A bad man (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
“It is high time for a fundamental rethinking of U.S. relations with Rwanda’s leader. Military and diplomatic collaboration should halt. Kagame should be banned from entering the United States or participating in international fora. Humanitarian aid should continue, but other assistance should be curtailed now until he leaves office”.
Maybe we shouldn’t care that Rwanda’s recently reelected president is a mass murderer.
After all, he has become a reliable partner, who welcomes U.S. investors, improves public health, and sends peacekeeping forces to hellholes where we won’t, like Darfur.
Admittedly, he jails or kills his political opponents, but that eliminates the destabilizing uncertainty of elections.
Yes, he modified his country’s constitution to allow him to rule for up to 40 years, until 2034, but who expects true democracy in that part of the world anyway?
Of course, it’s unfortunate that his ethnic Tutsi minority holds all key positions in Rwanda, repressing the overwhelming majority ethnic Hutu in a black-on-black version of apartheid, but some Hutu committed genocide in 1994, and so their children and grandchildren must be denied basic rights.
Call me a grudge-holder, but I just can’t forgive and forget that Paul Kagame ordered the killing of approximately 350,000 ethnic Hutu, in Rwanda and Congo, in the 1990s. This puts him in the pantheon of post-WWII murderers, alongside Pol Pot and Idi Amin.
Is there a statute of limitation for genocide? Should subsequent good deeds be exculpatory? By treating him as a valued ally, do we dishonor his victims? Do we violate the Genocide Convention? Do we encourage repetition of such crimes?
For the uninitiated, here’s Kagame’s abridged rap sheet. Starting in 1990, he led a Tutsi invasion of Rwanda that displaced a million civilians and knowingly provoked the retaliatory carnage for which Rwanda is most famous.
In 1994, as his forces seized control of Rwanda, they slaughtered an estimated 100,000 Hutu civilians. After many surviving Hutu fled to Congo, he pursued them in 1996, murdering another 200,000. When remaining domestic Hutu resisted his ethnic dictatorship in 1998, he ordered a brutal counterinsurgency that killed 50,000 more.
The only thing more despicable than the magnitude of this killing was its tactics. Kagame typically started by chasing Hutu civilians into harsh territory. As his victims confronted starvation and hunger, his officials would come forward with offers of humanitarian aid.
Gradually, the displaced would trickle in for food and water. When the desperate Hutu had fully assembled, his troops opened fire and killed them all. For more gruesome details, see authoritative reports by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.
Why do we treat war criminals so disparately? In Libya, Muammar Khaddafy’s forces killed barely 1,000 people in February 2011, including armed opponents, according to judicial investigations. This equates to approximately one-third of one percent of Kagame’s victims.
Yet in response, the International Criminal Court indicted Khaddafy for war crimes, and NATO led an intervention that bombed his forces and assisted his rebel opponents until they captured, sodomized, and executed him. By contrast, Kagame is rewarded with honorary degrees and hundreds of millions in annual foreign aid.
I am not a naïf. I accept that world politics sometimes requires deals with the devil as the lesser evil. Perhaps it is understandable that Washington embraced Kagame in 1994 despite his crimes, in hopes of stabilizing a post-genocide situation.
But such exigency disappeared long ago. Kagame has proved anything but a force for stability. He invaded Congo twice, spurring wars that resulted in an estimated 5 million fatalities. He continues to undermine democracy by hunting opponents and overriding term limits. Most perilously, he marginalizes Rwanda’s Hutu majority, brewing the next eruption of ethnic violence.
It is high time for a fundamental rethinking of U.S. relations with Rwanda’s leader. Military and diplomatic collaboration should halt. Kagame should be banned from entering the United States or participating in international fora. Humanitarian aid should continue, but other assistance should be curtailed now until he leaves office.
A hardline stance would also send a salutary message to the region’s other aspiring presidents-for-life: Our indulgence has limits.
Isolating Kagame will not by itself resolve the problems of Rwanda or its neighbors. But there can be little hope for peace or justice in central Africa so long as we embrace its worst war criminal.
Kuperman is associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin.
Source: New York Daily News