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Paul Kagame’s Leadership: Relentless Pursuit of Absolute Power

by FDU-Inkingi and Rwanda National Congress.

(from joint open letter of FDU-Inkingi and Rwanda National Congress to members of the US Congress – 14th September 2011)

President Paul Kagame’s Leadership

The grave political crisis that Rwanda is facing is largely a result of President Kagame’s relentless pursuit of absolute power. Rwanda’s first post-genocide government included a range of other political groups that had campaigned for democratic reform during the early 1990s. Rwanda’s experience with broad-based multi-party government swiftly came to an end after only a year. Then Vice-President Kagame drove the opposition leaders, who were part of that government, from office on account of their criticism of human rights abuses by members of the Rwandese Patriotic Army. From then on, President Kagame embarked on a mission to emasculate all party and state institutions and to craft a state controlled in every aspect by a single person who wields absolute and unaccountable power.

Rwanda is not only a one-party state; it is also a state governed by one man. President Paul Kagame exerts absolute control over both the ruling party and the government. All institutions of the state are controlled by the President. The country’s political system lacks checks and balances. The judiciary and the legislature, whose members are mostly handpicked and run personally by President Kagame and his RPF party, do not have any independence or accountability to the people. State institutions, especially law enforcement agencies, the judiciary and security services, serve to protect President Paul Kagame’s political monopoly instead of protecting the fundamental human rights of citizens and executing their constitutional mandates. President Kagame’s absolute control of the entire machinery of the state affords him protection from being held accountable for his many serious crimes, some of which have led to horrendous consequences for innocent civilians both inside and outside Rwanda.

President Kagame is one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators. He is a corrupt leader who lives a lavish lifestyle that is out of step with the abject poverty of the majority of the people of Rwanda. President Kagame has used his time in office to amass personal wealth of unprecedented proportions in the Eastern and Southern African region. The business conglomerate, owned by his political party, which for all practical purposes is his personal property, has extensive corrupt business relations with the state. RPF business entities have priority when government is issuing licenses for the most lucrative sectors of the country’s resources. Business entities owned by the RPF and close family and friends of the President receive the bulk of the government’s procurement contracts. Domestic and foreign investors seeking business opportunities in Rwanda are often compelled to go into partnership with the RPF as a condition for being allowed to do business in Rwanda. The RPF finances its various businesses with preferential financial financing from state-owned banks, insurance companies, and the national social security fund. Because they benefit only a small group of people, the business activities of the RPF promote social inequality and undermine national stability. The involvement of the RPF in business compromises the integrity of very many of its members, including President Kagame, because of the conflict of interest that they are involved in day-to-day in making official decisions affecting the party’s business interests. The RPF’s business arm already controls a big part of the country’s economy.

President Kagame also bears personal responsibility for some extremely serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, that have been committed against innocent civilians in both Rwanda and the Congo. The United Nations Mapping Report on the Democratic Republic of Congo (1993-2003) cites war crimes, crimes against humanity and even possible acts of genocide. President Kagame will not shrink from committing any crime in order to stay in power. He does not have respect for the sanctity of human life and that is why he is always prepared to resort to the murder of political opponents to deal with peaceful challenges to his rule. President Kagame bears responsibility for Rwanda’s failed transition to democracy and the political impasse that his attempts to cling to unaccountable power has given rise to.

President Kagame’s manipulation and abuse of institutions of state to harass political opponents and stifle dissenting opinions continues to be condemned by virtually every reputable international human rights organisation, and many major media outlets and prominent scholars and journalists, including some who have previously been supportive of President Kagame.

Freedom House country report, 2011 states:

In the lead-up to the August 2010 presidential election, the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) tightened its control over civic and political life. The government seriously increased restrictions on press freedom and party activity, while extralegal violence had a chilling effect on dissent. Journalists were threatened and assassinated, and some 30 newspapers, journals, and radio stations were suspended. All serious challengers for the presidency were prevented from running, leading to incumbent Paul Kagame’s reelection.

Human Rights Watch expressed concerns ahead of 2010 Presidential elections:

Over the last six months, Human Rights Watch has documented a worrying pattern of intimidation, harassment and other abuses – ranging from killings and arrests to restrictive administrative measures – against opposition parties, journalists, members of civil society and other critics.

Reporters Without Borders, the global press freedom watchdog, ranks Rwanda 157th out of 175 countries, and lists President Kagame as one of the predators of press freedom. Amnesty International says “Rwanda’s laws banning “genocide ideology” and “sectarianism” are vague and sweeping, and have been used to silence legitimate dissent.”

Recently, a report published by the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and commissioned by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), highlighted Rwanda’s key stress points:

The Rwanda Government’s inability to manage political competition within a democratic framework may ultimately radicalize opponents who have no legitimate means to challenge the regime. Mutual suspicion and fear along ethnic lines-the product of more than a century of state manipulation-abide. But new coalitions that are united in opposition to the current ruling party may also emerge.

The Government’s strategy to “development without politics” on which it has staked its domestic and international legitimacy, has important limitations, leaving the cornerstone of the country’s fragile social compact vulnerable to economic shocks, possible setbacks, and growing economic inequality.

Rwanda’s continued economic interests and involvement in the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo could have destabilizing effects both in that country and within Rwanda.

Potential Consequences of the Policies of the Rwanda Government: “A Violent Conflict Is Virtually Certain”


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