Tag Archives: Rwanda

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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First Skirmish in the Water Wars – Egypt’s supply goes 4th

The Nile's inconvenient length poses geopolitical problems (pic: WWF)

The pharaohs of Ancient Egypt recognised the Nile as the source of life; it watered crops, it watered people, and it was the only efficient means of transportation for a people yet to discover the wheel. In the thousands of years since, its function has changed little; it’s a little dirtier, perhaps, but it is still the lifeblood upon which Egypt relies, providing all the country’s irrigation and most of its energy.

The problem is this: the Nile is not Egypt’s alone. Indeed, the river fulfils much the same function for Sudan, and provides livelihoods to millions in the other eight African countries through which it passes. But Sudan and Egypt are the only countries among the ten Nile nations who are permitted, under international law, to make proper use of the water. Under a colonial-era treaty, Sudan and Egypt are guaranteed 90% of the water flow, and Egypt has an absolute veto on all project proposals from the upstream countries. In effect, this means that Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi are unable to build dams and generate electricity from the flow of the Nile.

This is not as crazy as it sounds – being downstream, and being primarily desert countries, Egypt and Sudan rely on the Nile to a degree that the other countries do not. Also, they may as well dam the waters of the Nile by the time it gets to them because otherwise it will just flow uselessly into the seas. But profits generated by Nile projects in Egypt and Sudan are certainly not shared, and so it is an inherently unequal state of affairs.

This cosy arrangement – cosy for the North Africans – has recently been threatened in what is potentially the most dangerous political development of this year, anywhere. Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and now Kenya have signed a unilateral treaty which states, basically, that they will do whatever they like with the Nile water. The treaty seeks to ensure equitable use of the water, and was spearheaded by Ethiopia. Apparently, one Ethiopian government official was quoted as saying “If those Arabs can sell their oil, then we can sell our water”. He makes a good point. Water is a valuable commodity now, and it is only becoming more precious. There is certainly money to be made.

But I wonder if the treaty signatories appreciate just what a bold diplomatic step this is. Egypt is already facing appreciable water shortages, even with the Nile in full, uninterrupted flow; its massive population is just not sustainable. This is terrifying Hosni Mubarak and his ruling elite, because the root of their longevity has been a basic social contract – Egyptians may not have any rights or participation, but they will always have access to cheap, basic goods (water prices are negligible, and bread is massively subsidised). If the bread, and then the water, disappears, then Mubarak will too. Egypt will do whatever it takes to ensure it keeps what water it already has, including legal, diplomatic and even military action. Whatever happens, the stakes are high.

Keep an eye on this one, it is set to run and run.

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The Rwandan elections go 4th, but it’s just a typo

It may or may not be fair (and our thoughts on the enigma that is Kagame and modern Rwanda shall wait for another time), but it is certain that Paul Kagame will win the Rwandan elections this August. So certain, in fact, that the head of the electoral commission has decided to skip the formalities and schedule the announcement of the election results two days before the election actually takes place. That’s confidence.

PS. Thanks to the Democracy Watch – Rwanda 2010 blog for the tip.

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