Category Archives: Nigeria

The danger of unchallenged myth: The lie that is Rwandan President Paul Kagame.


1*9mch3Fn5a2fXGPQ7M-Byng@2xThe danger of an unchallenged myth: The lie that is Rwandan President Paul Kagame

When I set about writing this, two poignant quotes kept bouncing around in my head, which describe everything I want to express in this column. The first, by Martin Luther King goes thus: “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The second quote, from a speech by US President John F. Kennedy at Yale University goes thus: “For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

These two quotes perfectly sum up my views on the sudden appearance of Paul Kagame as a kite being flown within Nigerian political and policy circles. Regardless of who is behind the sudden emergence of an East African strongman as a purported example for Nigerian or African leadership, it is very important to question and challenge this dangerous narrative before it takes root and begins to infect national decision making, as is so often the case. The case for Kagame-style leadership as a panacea to African development issues hinges on two major beliefs: that Kagame is a “benevolent dictator” who leads with his country’s interests in mind, and that he is a “competent dictator” who knows how to get things done and achieve results.

Let us briefly interrogate these two notions.

The ‘benevolent dictator’ is fictional

What is most commonly used to sell the myth of Paul Kagame is the idea that he is some sort of patriotic strongman – the father of the modern Rwandan nation who came in like a hero at the country’s darkest hour to steer it away from genocidal division toward the cusp of a 21st century economic breakout. His “example” is typically cited by non-Rwandan Africans as a stark contrast to their incompetent and corrupt (elected) governments. “If only Kagame’s peers across Africa could be like him! Africa would be so developed by now!”

This myth conveniently ignores some very inconvenient facts that tell a completely different story about who Kagame is and what the modern state of Rwanda is actually built on. First of all, Kagame’s portrayal as a hero in the context of the events of 1994 could not be wider of the mark. It often comes as a shock to many who discover upon some cursory reading, that there was a second genocide happening almost concurrently in Rwanda as well as in neighbouring Burundi and Eastern DRC in 1994. This genocide, which was characterised by massacres and rapes of hundreds of thousands of Hutu civilians and refugees between 1990 and 1996, was twice recognised the UN in 1997 and 1998 as a genocide under Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and later on his Rwandan-backed Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDL), were repeatedly implicated in these sordid events, but the sheer ferocity of the 1994 Tutsi genocide perhaps allowed him to fly under the radar as the lesser of two evils. By invoking the memory of April 1994 at every opportunity, Kagame has successfully convinced the world to forget that he was in fact, a tribal warlord fighting an illegitimate war against an elected government, before a series of “convenient” events led him into power in Kigali.

What Kagame really is more than anything else, is an opportunist – the ruthless winner who got to write history and cynically exploit the world’s emotions by presenting a complicated – and by no means concluded – conflict as a 3-month spurt of madness that he heroically ended. Rather than contextualise the Rwandan genocide as part of a wider African Great Lakes regional crisis, and acknowledge the ongoing role of the Kagame regime in destabilising and plundering the Eastern DRC, Africa and the world have falled for his contrived and carefully cultivated leadership myth, allowing him to repeatedly escape difficult questions.

Difficult questions like: “Why do Rwandan opposition members keep going missing?” “How did he get 99 percent of the votes cast in the 2017 Rwandan election?” “Why is Diane Rwigara in prison?” “Why does his government regularly seize, expropriate and auction homes, property and businesses belonging to government critics?” “How come Rwanda has barely any coltan deposits, but is one of the world’s largest coltan exporters, while coincidentally sharing a border with the Eastern DRC which has extensive coltan deposits and an everlasting civil war fueled by armed groups linked to Kigali?” “How many civilian massacres and mass rapes did the RPF under his leadership carry out between 1990 and 1996?”  “Why did he respond to a 2006 report by French magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière, linking him to the assassination of former Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana by breaking off Rwanda’s diplomatic relationship with France?”

In an alternate universe, Paul Kagame would be answering questions about RPF war crimes and his role in the events of 1994 at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. Instead, because of the power of the “benevolent dictator” myth, this charming, narcissistic Mobutu Sese Seko regen with a nice smile and good PR is currently the toast of many within Africa’s ironically-termed intelligentsia.

The ‘competent dictator’ is another myth

When Customs Controller General, Col. Hamid Ali recently made a comment comparing Nigeria’s nonsensical border closure to China’s alleged border closure in the 20th century, it was a sign that Nigeria’s government has moved on from selling myths and inaccurate information to Nigerians, and started formulating real policies with long term consequences based on false information. Why this worried me was that it presented the possibility of a scenario where the Kagame myth will be used as a basis for policy and political moves that will destroy our hard-won democratic freedoms and wreck our economy for nothing.

If an MDA head and his boss in Aso Rock are making policy decisions based on Chinese ‘historical events’ that simply did not happen, they can also make decisions based on a Rwandan success story that is entirely fictional. As of today, for example, Rwanda has roughly one doctor per 15,600 people. To put that in perspective, Nigeria has roughly one doctor per 2,500 people, and it is widely accepted that this figure represents a healthcare emergency. Rwanda’s per capita GDP is also a miserable $850, putting it behind Chad and war-torn Yemen, and just ahead of economic powerhouses like Haiti, Afghanistan and South Sudan. In 25 years since seizing power, Paul Kagame’s regime has managed to pave just 1,000km of the country’s 12,000km of roads – about 8.3 percent of the total road network.

Even in the famously clean and shiny capital city Kigali, only the most important roads are paved, with the majority of streets still brown earthroads. Most tellingly, anything from 30 to 50 percent of Rwanda’s national budget is still funded by foreign aid every year, more than a quarter of a century after Paul Kagame seized power. Behind the shiny, clean streets of Kigali and the PR-savviness of Kagame’s regime, complete with poverty statistics manipulated to look good as discovered recently by the Financial Times, Rwanda remains a dirt poor banana republic populated by impoverished and terrified people.

If there is such a thing as a “competent dictatorship,” Rwanda is not it, and I cannot stress this point enough. The economically illiterate decision to self harm by closing the borders without sorting out any of the underlying issues that make imported goods more competitive, is an example of ruinous national decision decision-making based on myths like “the Chinese closed their borders.”

Hopefully, we won’t have to learn the hard way that the myth of Paul Kagame – no matter how much we want to believe in it – is just a myth.


Kagame lies on corruption issues

Kagame Fed Nigerians A Flattery And A Big Lie In His Speech On Corruption
Open Letter To General Paul Kagame

Dear General, you accomplished two objectives in your speech on corruption delivered at Abuja, Nigeria, on June 11, 2019. First, you flattered Nigerian leaders that they lead a model African nation — wealth side by side with mass poverty notwithstanding. Second, you shamelessly lied to your Nigerian hosts that in Rwanda that you are Mr. Clean while your opponents fled Rwanda because they were corrupt. General Kagame, it’s a truism that politicians bend the truth. But in your case, the question is whether there is an element of truth in what you utter. Case in point is your Abuja speech on corruption.

Kagame flattered his hosts that Nigeria is a great achiever that makes Africa proud

Dear General, here is your flattery to your Nigerian hosts in your own words:

”I wish to start by calling to mind the greatness of this nation. The diversity, creativity, and ambition of Nigerians represent Africa. The achievements of Nigeria’s sons and daughters, here at home and in your global diaspora, make our continent proud. Nigeria has always shown common cause with Africa’s progress and prosperity, and this does not go unnoticed. This country is truly the engine of Africa’s potential. This is how we see Nigeria. I hope you know that.”

General Kagame, if you had said that Nigeria has the potential to be great, that would have been truthful. Your words are above are ill-informed, embarrassing, and clearly opportunistic designed to impress your hosts.

Despite its enormous wealth over half the population of Nigeria lives in poverty.
According to the World Bank, 53.5% of Nigerians are poor — defined as the population living on less than US$1.90 a day. With a population of 200 million, therefore, 107 million Nigerians are poor. Yet, Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and the largest oil and gas producer on the continent .
The reason for enormous wealth side by side with mass poverty, as the eminent son of Nigeria, Chinua Achebe used to explain, is failure of leadership, social injustice, and corruption. Add to this mix the rise of Boko Haram, a jihadist terrorist organization that has caused havoc in northeastern Nigeria and beyond.

General Kagame, instead of uttering sycophantic phrases to your Nigerian hosts, a real African statesman would have encouraged them to lead Africa in fighting corruption since this was the topic being discussed. You could have also congratulated Nigerians in their current efforts to repatriate from foreign banks billions of dollars stolen by previous dictators. Nigeria has recently begun to recover some of the stolen assets — which is highly commendable.

Kagame’s description of corruption in Rwanda was a big lie

General Kagame, this is how you described corruption in Rwanda:

”We tend to focus on the petty corruption of everyday life while turning a blind eye to the more consequential forms, that people only whisper about because the rich and powerful are the main beneficiaries…Corruption does not take decades to eradicate. Huge gains can be made relatively quickly, once we decide to break the habit…Officials who did not live up to the agreed standards were dismissed or brought to justice. Others fled into exile and pretended to be so-called “opposition” or “pro-democracy” groups…Between fighting corruption and being authoritarian, I prefer being authoritarian. Some thought we could not afford to take this zero-tolerance approach, given the fragility of our environment. The truth, however, is that we couldn’t afford not to do it. It is the foundation of the modest progress for which Rwandans continue to work.”

General Kagame, these are pure lies. The people of Rwanda do not turn a blind eye to the more consequential forms of corruption. Rwandans know you are the kingpin of corruption but they dare not say so because you will wipe them out. Rwandans know you are the Chairman of the ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which owns the business empire known as Crystal Ventures Ltd (CVL). This is how The Economist described the Rwandan situation:

“The dominant political party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), does more than help business: it runs its very own conglomerate. Crystal Ventures, the RPF’s holding company, has investments in everything from furniture to finance. It owns the country’s biggest milk processor, its finest coffee shops and some of its priciest real estate. Its contractors are building Kigali’s roads. There are several firms offering security services in Rwanda but the guards from ISCO, part of Crystal Ventures, are the only ones who tote guns. The company is reckoned to have some $500m of assets.”

General Kagame, very simply, you have entrenched corruption and cronyism that would not be tolerated anywhere on the African continent.

Kagame and the history of the big lie

General Kagame, you are a perfect example of politicians who pretty much bend the truth as they please. In your case, the issue is not bending the truth — rather, the question is whether you have ever uttered an element of truth. You belong to the thinking pioneered and mastered by Joseph Goebbels who infamously said that ”if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbels added:

”The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

General Kagame, you are the best pupil of Joseph Goebbels. You get away with the big lie because your regime has used all its might to smash dissent at home and abroad. Because you are fully aware that the truth is the mortal enemy of your big lie, you hounded out of Rwanda anyone who stood in your way. As the cliché goes, “history is written by the victors” — that is how you are able to call your victims who fled Rwanda the corrupt ones instead of you.

Best Regards,
David Himbara