Rwanda: Success Story or Authoritarian State Horror Film?

Similar to President Trump, Rwandan leader, Paul Kagame, often tweets. In these tweets he congratulates neighboring country’s election winners, speaks in Swahili to his citizens and champions women’s rights by recognizing women’s day by tweeting, “Happy Women’s Day!!” . As of 2010, Rwandan women are permitted to own land. In reaction to this change, laws have been passed under Kagame’s leadership to allow the splitting of total marital assets if a couple divorces. The Rwandan parliamentary system is the only of its kind in Africa, having over fifty percent of its seats go to women. Richard Grant, writer for The Telegraph, describes how Kagame’s presence in the room is felt, “His eyes have a keen, piercing intelligence, and he radiates a quality of intense seriousness that is both impressive and intimidating.” On the surface, Paul Kagame appears to be a righteous leader who leads in favor of his people, but the recent political campaigns and constitutional referendum leave critics unable to sway in his favor.

His ability to turn situations around, like that of after the genocide of the moderate Hutus and Tutsi ethnic group, has made him recognized across the world as a successful leader. When just passing through towns like Kigali and Gisenyi, Rwanda roads are free of  potholes that usually haunt the entirety of Africa. In addition to skyrocketing primary school attendance, child mortality rates have halved and the opening of the country’s first public library has paved the way for more progressed learning. Plastic bags can’t be found floating around in Rwanda because Kagame banned them. He appeals to many people. Maybe it’s because he gives cattle to the poor. Perhaps what truly helped Rwanda to pick itself up was the one hundred twenty-eight million dollars that the United States gave them. Donor aid by mainly democratic countries has helped significantly rebuild the country, receiving 17.9 % of aid based off of Rwanda’s GDP (gross domestic product). Most importantly, he has erased the divisive terms Hutu and Tutsi, nowadays, the only accepted identity is Rwandan.

However, elections since the genocide have critics thinking that his constant occupation of the Presidency is simply just a way to keep the eighty-five percent population of Hutus out of power. In Kagame’s government there are Hutu ministers, but the inner circle of the Rwandan Patriotic Front contains all Tutsi. The election results in 2010 reflected Kagame’s solid support with 93% of the winning vote. It was hard for Kagame’s opponents Frank Habineza and Philippe Mpayimana to even campaign to the general public, for the majority of radio stations and television stations only aired pro-Kagame information. They only showed his campaign commercials. His defeated opponent Habineza says,  “He failed on democracy and that is my role. He was a former rebel leader, so he has been ruling the country like a soldier.” In 2012, the NGO Amnesty International reported that scores of Rwanda civilians were arrested and held without trial or charges prior to being tortured into making false confessions. Subjected to electric shocks, severe beatings and sensory deprivation, captives were held from a range of nine days to nine months without outside world access. The acting African deputy for Amnesty International said, “The Rwandan military’s human rights record abroad is increasingly scrutinised, but their unlawful detention and torture of civilians in Rwanda is shrouded in secrecy. Donors funding military training must suspend financial support to security forces involved in human rights violations.” Rwanda held a constitutional referendum in December 2015, where 98 percent of voters backed the removal of term limits that would have barred Kagame from running in the 2017 elections. Call it what you please, but Rwanda is heading down a dark path where they may never see the end of the authoritarian Paul Kagame.


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