Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paul Kagame and Africa's "flawed heroes"

Rwanda's minority Tutsi President Paul Kagame is one of Bill Clinton's three top world leaders whose actions and words deserve attention

"I think people should study what Paul Kagame did in Rwanda. It is the only country in the world that has more women than men in Parliament (obviously part of the demographic is from the genocide). It may not be perfect, but Rwanda has the greatest capacity of any developing country I have seen to accept outside help and make use of it. It's hard to accept help. They've done that. And how in God's name does he get every adult in the country to spend one Saturday every month cleaning the streets? And what has the psychological impact of that been? The identity impact? The president says it's not embarrassing, it's not menial work, it's a way of expressing your loyalty to and your pride in your country. How do you change your attitudes about something that you think you know what it means? How did he pull that off?"

Rwanda has been one of the standout economic performers in Africa during the last decade. The World Bank has praised it for being one of Africa's top performers on good governance and least levels of corruption. The World Bank Doing Business Report 2009 named Rwanda as the world’s top reformer of business regulation, making it easier to start businesses, register property, protect investors, trade across borders, and access credit.

Kagame led the forces of Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) that liberated the country from its genocidal Hutu government that decimated over 800,000 (one-tenth of the country's population) Tutsis and moderate Hutus over a three-month span in 1994. One of his most remarkable successes was to achieve political reconcilation and prevent a slippage into civil war similar to the other post-conflict African countries. As Fareed Zakaria writes, he succeeded in the reintegration of the perpetrators of the brutal genocide into their original homes, often living next door to their previous victims.

"Rwanda is very unique in its post-conflict makeup... in Germany, the Jews left for America and Israel. In the Balkans the warring groups spilt up geographically. In Cambodia, the class that perpetrated the violence was easily identifiable and separated. In Rwanda, however, the killers and the victims live side-by-side, in every village and community. Can you imagine Nazis and Jews living next door to one another?

The only way President Kagame could see to make peace was to reintegrate these communities. He came up with a specially crafted solution - using local courts called Gacacas. In each village, the killers stood before their neighbors and confessed, and in turn were offered forgiveness - part court, and part community council. It has made for a fascinating historical experiment that seems to be working."

The Economist though calls him a "flawed hero", even claiming that he "allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe". However, given the dispiritingly long and bitter history of demagogic and corrupt leaders that has characterized much of African leadership of the past sixty years, there may be a strong case for supporting leaders like Ugandan Presdent Yoweri Museveni, Botswana's ex-President Festus Mogae, and Kagame. Heroes flawed maybe, but heroes nevertheless!


Anonymous said...

I am repeating verbatim..
" using local courts called Gacacas. In each village, the killers stood before their neighbors and confessed, and in turn were offered forgiveness - part court, and part community council. "
Seems too good to be true. History has shown that forgiving is not very natural and the same issues keep cropping up again and again.
Is there a time bomb somewhere waiting to blow up?
Rwandan Army and police is filled with Tutsis. Govt headed by Tutsis and supported by neighbouring african countries. SOme degree of benevolence or non-supression seems to be working.
I find simplistic explanations to such complex issues difficult to believe..

gulzar said...

i had the same feeling when i read it first - too good to be true!

but on closer analysis, consider this.

Kagame's success appears to lie in his appreciation of the big picture - one which may have nudged him into believing that some form of "benevolence and non-suppression" towards the Hutu majority would go a long way towards achieving the delicate balancing act. confidence building so as to bridge the massive gulf of suspicion and hatred becomes vital in such civil war torn societies.

most often, the victors trample over the vanquished and leave discontent simmering. very few countries are fortunate have leadership that seek to bridge the gulf. Kagame, being a Tutsi in a country with Tutsi dominated administration and army, has a greater chance of carrying off this policy of "benevolence" and he has to be acknowledged for doing the same and not sliding down the vindictive stadards set by the likes of Charles Taylor.

there are no set administrative or socio-political patterns to governning civil-war torn countries, leadership matters. the most classic case is Josip Tito's stable Yugolslavia, which disintegrated into chaos and violence after the likes of Milosevic, Karadzic, Franjo Tudjman etc assumed power. leadership matters substantially in managing post-conflict situations.

however, leadership should have going in its favor buckets full of luck and liberal doses of development aid, to make a reasonable job out of even such good intentions.