OFF to the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London to see the Rwandan president Paul Kagame give a guest lecture. The topic that Mr Kagame had chosen to talk about was his favourite: “The Challenges of Nation-Building in Africa: The case of Rwanda”. But what a packed room really wanted to hear was his response to the draft UN report on war crimes in Congo leaked a few weeks ago that virtually accuses his forces of committing genocide there in the late 1990s. Did he mention the burning subject of the moment in his 20-minute speech? Not at all. He just waited for the question and answer session, and then smoothly dismissed the allegations; “baseless” and “absurd”, he said.As this was one of the first times that he has appeared in front of a critical Western audience since the UN report made headlines around the world, Mr Kagame’s high-handed dismissal of it was either very smart or very dumb—and I can’t quite decide which.
He clearly wants to try to retain the moral high ground, a territory which he has carved out very successfully over the last few years: there was much talk today of wicked colonialists, global warming and self-defeating aid agencies, for example. This used to work very well for him, and there are still many who will hail him as a prophet of development and nation-building. But, increasingly I don’t think it will do for the Rwandan president. His extremely murky past has caught up with him and he and/or his government need to give some full explanations as to what they were really doing in Congo during the civil war, and indeed what their real involvement is there to this day.
After all, part of his pitch (repeated today at length) is to boast about how successful his government has been at trying and convicting those perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda itself - but that looks merely like victors’ justice if those on his own side who are now accused of killing thousands of Hutus in Congo get a free pass. He denied that his legitimacy has been at all affected by the evidence accumulating against him and the RPF, but I think it has. Western—British—politicians who warmly embraced him before are now a little more weary. The onus is now firmly on Mr Kagame to explain himself more fully and openly.