Tag Archives: Paul Kagame

Paul Kagame, the bullet proof politician, goes 4th

In a result that surprised absolutely nobody (except the Rwandan election board, who had been expecting the results somewhat earlier), Paul Kagame yesterday won a second 7-year term as president of Rwanda. The votes have yet to be counted, but initial estimates indicate upwards of 90% of the vote for Kagame and the RPF. A wildly popular figure with a firm grip on power, one would suspect.

Or maybe not. Events of the last few months have belied Kagame’s reputation as a modern, visionary leader, with his own plan for Rwanda’s development. Opposition figures and journalists shot, political parties denied entry into the election, media outlets shut. It sounds all too familiar. We’ve been down this road before – with Meles Zenawi, with Hamid Karzai, with Robert Mugabe.

Kagame, however, is not phased. Remember the genocide, he says; look what a free press did then, look what a free opposition stirred up then. This is his constant refrain. I have seen him speak twice, and read innumerable other interviews, and he always says the same thing, in different words: “Remember the genocide. Whatever I do, I’m not going to let it happen again. Unlike you, in the West, who let it happen the first time.”

It is an impregnable argument, (also, incidentally, employed by Israeli leaders) that lets Kagame avoid any serious questions about his leadership. But it’s time these questions are asked. As an extremely media- and technology-savvy individual, he will know exactly what the implications of the events of the past few months mean. If he didn’t, then Tony Blair’s governance advisory team, who have an office in the presidency, would have told him. This means one of two things. Either, he has lost control of the forces within his party, who are short-sightedly securing power for themselves within a Kagame government by securing Kagame, regardless of the consequences; or he faces genuine, substantive opposition from within the RPF. From a distance, it seems like the latter is most plausible – this article in the Independent provides the most interesting analysis of what might be going on. See also Rwanda – Democracy Watch.

Either way, I can’t help but think that whatever is going on, Kagame is still the right person to lead Rwanda out of the genocide and into modernity. Kigali under his stewardship has become one of the most promising cities in Africa – clean, prosperous and exceptionally safe. The economy is doing fantastic things, so much so that all the international institutions are more than happy to turn a blind eye to the less savoury elements of Kagame’s rule. Perhaps it is misty-eyed optimism, but Rwanda seems to be doing now what Singapore did 30 years ago. Sometimes, democracy is not the answer, and you need to be pushy to get things done. Is now, in Rwanda, one of those times? I can only hope so.


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The World’s Worst Dictators go 4th

Dictators, like all of us, suffer from insecurities. It’s hard to know if you’re really very good at being a dictator – there are no books that tell you exactly how to crush freedoms and sideline opposition; and there’s rarely any positive affirmation, someone telling you what a good job you’re making of this authoritarianism business. Which is why dictators all over the world – and there are a lot of them – would have been waiting in nervous anticipation for the release of Foreign Policy magazine’s list of the World’s Worst Dictators, basically the Oscars for autocrats.

Kim Jong-Il did very well, as always, stamping his authority all over the top spot in the same way he stamps his authority over renegade elements at home. His mix of repression, secrecy and potential nuclear threat proved simply too good, as it has done for decades now. The good news will come as a relief to the country after their football team’s 7-0 humiliation by Portugal at the World Cup. No Portuguese figures make it onto this list, a fact likely to be emphasised by North Korean media.

Robert Mugabe too will be pleased. A silver medal is nothing to be sniffed at, especially when you consider that he’s had to invite his main opponent into government with him. To be the world’s second best dictator in a government of national unity takes some skill, but no one is surprised –Robert is a consummate professional, indeed a role model for some of the younger names on this list, such as Bashar Al-Assad and Hugo Chavez.

Than Shwe will accept his bronze medal, but might quibble the definition, and will need to make sure that the glory is shared around a little; after all, Burma’s meant to be more of a junta than a dictatorship, and there will be a few displeased generals to placate.

There are also a few figures which will be deeply troubled by the list. Most notable of course is Raul Castro, ranked only 21st; this is hardly a continuation of Fidel’s far more impressive dictatorial legacy. Also unhappy is Muammar Al-Gaddafi, out of the top 10, although he must have seen it coming. In February, Gaddafi launched an audacious bid to stop the rotation of the African Union’s rotating presidency, and make himself African Union president for an unprecedented second time. If the move had succeeded, he would have been dictator of an entire continent; as it was, he failed, and lost some of his dictatorial capital in the process.

The likes of Gaddafi, Kim Jong-Il, Hosni Mubarak, Islam Karimov, etc., will also be unhappy with the inclusion of a few controversial names. They are proper, old-school dictators; cult of the personality, individual control, and absolute power. Hu Jintao surely doesn’t fall into this category. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad certainly doesn’t; in fact, some would argue he is more of a flawed democrat than a real dictator. Paul Kagame too would be unlikely to describe himself as a dictator, and the World Bank and IMF will not be happy with the inclusion of their golden boy on this year’s list.

Nonetheless, congratulations to Kim Jong-Il, who looks like he’s got a secure hold on the title for many years to come. That’s not to say that other dictators of the world should give up – being a dictator is a somewhat precarious position at the best of times, so Jong-Il might pop off (or be popped off) at any time. And if this doesn’t happen, one can always hold out for a lifetime achievement award.

Here are the complete rankings (note that pretensions of royalty seem to be an immediate dis-qualifier):

  1. Kim Jong-Il (North Korea)
  2. Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe)
  3. Than Shwe (Burma/Myanmar)
  4. Omar Al-Bashir (Sudan)
  5. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan)
  6. Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea)
  7. Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan)
  8. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Iran)
  9. Meles Zenawi (Ethiopia)
  10. Hu Jintao (China)
  11. Muammar Al-Gaddafi (Libya)
  12. Bashar Al-Assad (Syria)
  13. Idriss Deby (Chad)
  14. Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea)
  15. Hosni Mubarak (Egypt)
  16. Yahya Jammeh (Gambia)
  17. Hugo Chavez (Venezuela)
  18. Blaise Compaore (Burkina Faso)
  19. Yoweri Museveni (Uganda)
  20. Paul Kagame (Rwanda)
  21. Raul Castro (Cuba)
  22. Alesandr Lukashenko (Belarus)
  23. Paul Biya (Cameroon)


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