The dramatic collapse of Paul Kagame's image

Published on by KANYARWANDA

 
 
President Paul Kagame, pictured on July 28, 2010.
 
The Rwandan government has announced its intention to withdraw its troops from the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

The warning came after it appeared that the UN will go ahead and publishes a leaked report on the events in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1993 and 2003.

The report details grizzly massacres allegedly by the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan army, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), later re-named the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF).

This report, leaked last week, goes even further: it starts to ask fundamental questions about the whole narrative of Rwandan history between 1993 and 2003 that the world has come to believe.

"The forthcoming UN report, which according to [the French newspaper] Le Monde will accuse Rwandese Patriotic Front forces of committing genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1996 and 1998, has been strongly refuted by the authorities in Kigali. Not surprising – the legitimacy of the RPF government derives from their role in stopping the genocide in their own country in 1994. Any suggestion that they might be 'just as bad' as the forces which carried out mass murder of the Tutsis dents their image as the saviours of Rwanda," commented the international editor of Britain's Channel 4 news channel on Aug. 27, 2010.

In an SMS exchange in July with Andrew Mwenda, Managing Editor of Kampala's Independent magazine and a close watcher and ardent supporter of Rwanda's RPF government, I mentioned the fact that we were now entering new territory for President Kagame.

Since the English-speaking, Uganda-based RPF invaded Uganda in 1990, it had received continuous positive coverage by the English-speaking western media, at that time still viewing Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni as a new model African soldier-statesman.

And so Museveni's protégées, the RPF, were assumed to be shaped by the same enlightened NRA-Museveni outlook and would in turn bring the civilized Anglo-Saxon democratic and humane values to the French-speaking Central Africa Great Lakes region.

With the 1994 Rwanda genocide, what was once steady support and positive Anglo-western media coverage turned into gushing praise and guilt-tinged support and uncritical backing for the RPF.

The Tutsi were portrayed almost as the Jews of Africa abandoned by an indifferent West in their hour of grave danger, with the result of a genocide, and so "never again" became the political, diplomatic, and military rallying cry in the Anglo-western capitals and the United Nations Security Council.

This favourable media and academic reporting given to Kagame and the RPF and the vital diplomatic, military and financial cover and support given the RPF government is part of what gave Kagame the luxury of being able to concentrate on small, mundane details like street lights, flower beds, and cleaning up of the Rwandan capital Kigali after he became president in 2000.

Whatever view one takes, it is now clear that the romance between the English-speaking West and the RPF and Kagame has finally come to an end in 2010.

The French, Spanish, German and Belgian media in Europe and the French-speaking media in Canada had always been critical and suspicious of Kagame and the RPF but their skepticism was neutralized by the more dominant English-speaking western media, political, academic and human rights establishment.

Now that both the French-speaking and English-speaking western media, governments, academia and human rights establishments are seriously questioning Kagame's legitimacy, a real crisis is at hand for Rwanda.

Kagame is known to be a determined, somewhat hot-tempered man and rules by a certain disciplinarian bend. From his guerrilla days at the helm of the RPF in 1990 to 2010, we have never yet seen Kagame under sustained pressure, mounting criticism, scrutiny and negative reviews.

Therefore, as I mentioned to Mwenda, we do not know how he will take or respond to this unfamiliar and painful criticism and negative portrayal.

However, there are hints to how Kagame reacts to international pressure or what he regards as annoyance.

When the then Daily Monitor correspondent Robert Mukombozi wrote an article unfavourable to Rwanda, the RPF government declared him a persona non grata and cancelled its advertising contract with the newspaper.

When the Red Pepper tabloid displeased Kagame, it was barred from ever entering Rwandan territory.

When the French anti-terrorism Judge Louis Brugire issued arrest warrants for nine senior RPF military officers and government officials for their alleged involvement in the downing of the Rwandan presidential jet in 1994, Kagame ordered diplomatic relations with France severed.

Now that the leaked UN report has become news, in similar style the RPF government has threatened to pull out all its peacekeeping troops from the western Sudanese region of Darfur.

This is classic, erratic Kagame.

This is the Kagame I observed to Andrew Mwenda we would see once he came under a degree of pressure and hurtful rejection that he was not used to.

In other words, pro-Kagame and pro-RPF Ugandan commentators like Andrew  Mwenda, Charles Onyango-Obbo and Frederick Golooba-Mutebi --- as well as a host of analysts and government officials in western English-speaking countries --- had placed their hopes and based their optimistic forecasts on the personality of Kagame and the political and administrative system that he thoroughly dominates.

But this erratic, inflexible side to Kagame is one that none of these optimistic analysts, in their favourable reports on the Rwandan president, could understand or if some understood it, could control or moderate through advice given to him.

So suddenly, Kagame is faced with his most serious credibility crisis to date.

Even the recent general election --- with its 93 percent victory margin and which was supposed to vindicate him and send a message to the world that his contribution is appreciated by the people who matter the most to him, the Rwandans --- was dismissed even in that most pro-RPF capital, Washington DC.

The San Francisco Bay View newspaper in the United States reported on Aug. 25, 2010:

"On Friday, Aug. 13, a White House spokesperson, the National Security Council's Mike Hammer, expressed the Obama administration's unhappiness about events in Rwanda. Hammer focused his ire on the repressive circumstances and the less-than-credible results of Rwanda's presidential elections on Aug. 9. The NSC statement made clear the White House view that today's Rwanda is not a democracy and then went further to dismiss the "development first, democracy later" argument often used to excuse Mr. Kagame's iron-fisted rule."

That Kagame is fast running out of options is fairly clear by now. The end of the myth and high status and international prestige he had enjoyed for the last 20 years has come.

How, in this new hostile and critical atmosphere he will act, think and react, nobody knows.

Will he have the time and focus to think about flower beds and zebra crossings, when day in day out he is fighting off the avalanche of negative, damaging media and governmental coverage he is increasingly getting from both Europe and North America?

Whom does he turn to now for a sympathetic ear?

All these plans we read about in Rwanda, from its goal of attaining middle-income economic status to laying fibre optic data cables all over the country, equipping every home with a laptop computer and so on, have been designed at a time of maximum international and western approval and support.

The Rwanda that has impressed many --- some would argue, naïve --- observers, tourists, and investors --- is the Rwanda we have seen at its best after 1994, operating under optimal conditions of full English-speaking western support, aid, and diplomatic cover.

We have not yet seen one year of a beleagured, irritable, angry Kagame or government ministers and spokesmen drained and weighed down by a daily routine of having to explain away and wade off a torrent of criticism and what this could do to their ability to concentrate on small day-to-day administrative detail and policy.

RPF Rwanda is entering territory that is unknown to the world.

END
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