By Horand Knaup
Critics and Opponents Suppressed
But for the past few months, just in time for the presidential elections scheduled for Monday, the president has shown a completely different face -- a face more reminiscent of other African potentates, one that bans newspapers and has journalists arrested and opposition leaders swept out of the way.
In the third week in June, Léonard Rugambage, a journalist, was shot and killed in front of his house in Kigali. And, in mid-June, the deputy chairman of the country's Green Party, André Kagwa Rwisereka, was found dead in a swamp, his head almost completely severed from his body. The leader of the Socialist Party has been detained for weeks, while his secretary disappeared without a trace in mid-June. In July, Kagame had three journalists arrested on charges of insulting the president. His most promising opponent has been under house arrest for months.
The government has distanced itself from the murders, and yet none of the cases has been solved. This seems odd in a country where the police even hands out tickets for throwing away plastic bags.
The world has long regarded Rwanda with favor. A latent sense of guilt for having done nothing about the 1994 prompted many governments, including Germany's, to generously support the Kagame administration. About 800,000 people, most of them members of the Tutsi ethnic group, were killed between April and July 1994. After 100 days, the massacres were finally brought to an end when Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) marched in.
Unlike other African leaders, Kagame is not suspected of having lined his own pockets while in office. His motorcade is relatively modest, he doesn't drink alcohol and he values punctuality. Employees who have not arrived at the presidential palace by 7 a.m. are barred from the premises for the next two hours. These virtues have also contributed to his popularity in the United States and Europe.
Using the Genocide as Ammunition
The United States provides Rwanda with about $200 million (€154 million) in annual foreign aid. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a personal advisor to the president. This spring, the Global Fund promised him $431 million for a program to fight AIDS and tuberculosis. Hardly any other African country receives this much attention and support.
All of this aid and investment has clearly paid off. The streets in Kigali are as good as they are in Europe, two five-star hotels are under construction and a new airport is planned. Some 92 percent of the population has health insurance, and Rwanda, once a starving nation, is even exporting food products today.
But as energetically as Kagame has pressed ahead with economic development, he still holds freedom of expression and democratic rights in low regard. He cites Rwanda's unique history as justification for his restrictive policies.
For years, the RPF has used the trauma of the genocide as ammunition in its political disputes with critics. The president and the RPF see themselves as the country's unassailable moral authority, arguing that they were the ones who put an end to one of the worst genocides since World War II. They point out that it was the RPF that lifted the country out of an African quagmire of corruption and mismanagement. This is why they treat members of the opposition as traitors, and not as people with diverging political convictions.
Nowadays Habineza always locks himself into his office. Then he whispers: "You never know who will suddenly walk in."