Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Once a general, always a general

The East African has a profile of the increasingly dictatorial regime of Rwanda's Paul Kagame.

The paper noted that Kagame's contribution to reconstructing Rwanda's shattered economy is beyond question. The former rebel leader has also handled the delicate task of reconciliation in a country traumatized by genocide. I happen to think the gacaca courts are an innovative way of addressing this complex task. True reconciliation must take place not solely in law courts but through broader social dialogue.

But aside from the gacaca, broader social dialogue is exactly what's missing from Kagame's Rwanda. Once a general, always a general.

What Kagame has failed to do, however, is to open up political space in the country. Today, there is no single individual or institution that can be described as an alternative voice in the country.

So stiffling is the atmosphere inside Rwanda that the media rarely gives the alternative view and easily embraces the culture of self-censorship. Open criticism of the government is regarded as treason.

When asked about how might succeed Kagame after he retires, one journalist responded nervously, “Do not involve me in that kind of talk; it is dangerous, watch out.”

Like most leaders who take over after a protracted struggle against fascist regimes, Kagame has exploited the country’ history of suffering and the conformist attitudes of his people to the full.

Kagame is widely appreciated for his group's role in bringing an end to the bloody genocide. And rightly so. But much like with Mugabe in Zimbabwe, he seems to think this gives him a free pass ad infinitum.

Like Mugabe and so many other African leaders, Kagame has passed himself off as the only person capable of running the country without it falling apart. There's only one problem, he will either leave office or die eventually.

This is precisely the opposite of leadership.

Someone like Nelson Mandela continues to stand in noble contrast to Kagame and so many others. I remain convinced that the greatest gift Mandela gave to the new South Africa was to serve only one term. In making himself dispensible, he sent the message that a modern, progressive state must not be dependent on a single person for leadership and vision. He sent that message despite governing a country that was nearly as divided, traumatized and precarious as Rwanda.

That is statesmanship.

Although he came to power around the same time as Mandela, Paul Kagame has sadly not learned from Madiba's example.


At 12:17 AM, Blogger Yzerfontein said...

I hadn't thought of the importance of Nelson Mandela not serving a second term - thanks for sharing.

At 12:28 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Thanks. I didn't think about it at the time but it's significance occurred to me later as I kept noticing leaders rigging their constitutions to keep themselves in power ad infinitum. Those countries kept falling into crisis while South Africa kept its slow but steady rise. I was thinking about why and this came to me.


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