Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rwanda: Biography Paul Kagame - Dictator or Hero?

By Village Reporters
The Africa Global Village
Saturday, 02 April 2011

Paul Kagame (born October 23, 1957) is the current President of the Republic of Rwanda. He rose to prominence as the leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), whose victory over the incumbent government in July 1994 effectively ended the Rwandan genocide. Under his leadership, Rwanda has been called Africa’s "biggest success story" and Kagame has become a public advocate of new models for foreign aid designed to help recipients become self-reliant.

However, involvement in the Congo Civil War and the recent and mysterious death of opposition deputy Andre Kagwa Rwisereka has seen doubts raised over his Government's policies and motives, particularly regarding political freedom. All major parties opposed to Kagame were disqualified from participation in the 2010 presidential elections, and Kagame subsequently won with 93% of the vote.

Early life

Kagame was born to a Tutsi family in Ruhango, Rwanda-Urundi in October 1957 to Deogratius and Asteria Rutagambwa. In November 1959, an increasingly restive Hutu population sparked a revolt, eventually resulting in the overthrow of Mwami Kigeri V Ndahindurwa in 1961. During the 1959 revolt and its aftermath, more than 150,000 people were killed in the fighting, with the Tutsis suffering the greatest losses. Several thousand moved to neighbouring countries including Burundi and Uganda. In all, some 20,000 Tutsis were killed. In 1960 Kagame left with his family at the age of two and moved to Uganda with many other Tutsis. In 1962 they settled in the Gahunge refugee camp, Toro, where Kagame spent the rest of his childhood years. He attended Ntare Secondary School in Uganda. During this time Kagame was a "motivated student" and bore an early fascination with revolutionaries like Che Guevara. 

Military service

His military career started when he joined Yoweri Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) and spent years fighting as a guerrilla against the government of Milton Obote in what is commonly known in Uganda as the bush war.

On July 27, 1985, Milton Obote was ousted in a military coup led by Tito Okello. In 1986 the NRA succeeded in overthrowing Okello and the NRA leader Yoweri Museveni became President of Uganda.

This same year, Kagame as a Tutsi was instrumental in forming, along with his close friend Fred Rwigema, the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF), which was composed mainly of expatriate Rwandan Tutsi soldiers that had also fought with the NRA; the RPF was also based in Uganda.

In 1986, Kagame became the head of military intelligence in the NRA, and was regarded as one of Museveni's closest allies. He also joined the official Ugandan military.

During 1990, Kagame went to Fort Leavenworth where the U.S. Army gave him military training. Broadening this connection, the U.S. and U.K. military provided further training and active logistical support to the RPF, which it used to take over power in Rwanda after 1994. After coming to power, Kagame arranged for the RPF to receive further counterinsurgency and combat training from U.S. Special Forces, which was put to use in the 1996-1997 Rwandan-backed military campaign to overthrow the government of neighboring Zaire.

Invasions, assassinations

In October 1990, while Kagame was undergoing military training in the U.S., the RPF invaded Rwanda in the struggle for the interests of Rwanda's Tutsi minority ethnic group. Only two days into the invasion, Rwigema was murdered, making Kagame the military commander of the RPF. Despite initial successes, a force of French, Belgian, Rwandan, and Zairean soldiers forced the RPF to retreat. A renewed invasion was attempted in late 1991, but also had limited success.

The invasion increased ethnic tension throughout the region, including in neighbouring Burundi where similar tensions existed. Peace talks between the RPF and the Rwandan government resulted in the Arusha accords, including political participation of the RPF in Rwanda. Despite the agreement, ethnic tensions still flared dangerously.

On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying both the Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down by a surface-to-air missile as it approached Kigali airport. All on board were killed. The deaths immediately sparked the Rwandan Genocide and an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed. Under the Arusha accords, the RPF had a small contingent of troops present in Kigali at the time. The outbreak of genocide ended what vestiges remained of the cease fire. The RPF, under the leadership of Kagame, proceeded to take control of the whole country. Kigali was captured July 4, 1994, bringing the downfall of the government of Jean Kambanda.

French indictment

Because three French citizens, crew members of the aircraft, died during the crash, an investigation was carried out by French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who controversially concluded that the shooting of the plane was ordered by Kagame. In November 2006 Judge Bruguière signed international indictments against nine of President Kagame's senior aides, and accused Kagame of ordering the assassination of the two African presidents. Kagame could not be indicted under French law, since as a head-of-state he had immunity from prosecution. The indictments have failed to produce any arrests, due to non-cooperation from the Rwandan government, which accused the judge of partiality. The Kagame government countered that the indictment was based upon declarations by fugitives and disgruntled former lower rank RPF members who testified that the RPF was the only organization with the type of missiles that were used in the assassination. It also pointed out that at the time of the shooting of the plane, the French military was in control of Kigali Airport; although that point, and the possible attempt to imply that the French shot down the plane, is irrelevant as the plane was shot down on approach to the airport and not from the zone controlled by French forces. The former chief prosecutor for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Judge Richard Goldstone, argued in the interview that political motivations were at play in the indictment, though this did not negate the potential veracity of the accusations leveled by Judge Bruguière. Judge Goldstone stated that: "Well I don't think that case has been made at all. It's a very political judgement and I don't believe that it's borne out by the evidence. Certainly the witnesses who spoke to Bruguiere allege that those were statements made by President Kagame himself. Whether he did or not obviously is a matter in dispute, in hot dispute, but the political judgement it seems to me is another matter."

The accusations against Kagame were corroborated by several witnesses including former intelligence RPF members, the most publicly known being Commando Lieutenant Abdul Ruzibiza. Ruzibiza published a book (Rwanda: L'histoire secrete) and released testimony pertaining to Kagame and the RPF's involvement in the plane downing and massacres; however, Ruzibiza subsequently retracted part of his testimony, especially as pertains to Kagame senior aide Rose Kabuye after she was arrested in Germany and extradited to France. The Association des Avocats de la Defence released a statement backing Judge Bruguière's allegations. Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan of mixed Hutu and Tutsi origin whose feat saving 1,268 civilians has been the basis of the Academy Award nominated film Hotel Rwanda (2004), has supported the allegation that Kagame and the RPF were behind the plane downing, and stated that:

It defies logic why the UN Security Council has never mandated an investigation of this airplane missile attack to establish who was responsible, especially since everyone agrees it was the one incident that touched off the mass killings commonly referred to as the "Rwandan genocide of 1994".

In a political countereffort, Kagame broke diplomatic relations with France in November 2006 and ordered the formation of a commission of loyal Rwandans that was officially "charged with assembling proof of the involvement of France in the genocide". The political character of that investigation was further averred when the commission issued its report solely to Kagame in November 2007 and its head, Jean de Dieu Mucyo, stated that the commission would now "wait for President Kagame to declare whether the inquiry was valid."

In a 2007 interview with the BBC, Mr Kagame said he would co-operate with an impartial inquiry. The BBC concluded that "Whether any judge would want to take on such a task is quite another matter."

As of 2009, a report commissioned by the Rwandan government concluded the RPF and Kagame were not responsible for the crash of the president's plane.

Spanish indictment

In February 2008, Fernando Andreu, a Spanish judge, indicted 40 current or former Rwandan military officers for several counts of genocide and human rights abuses during the Rwandan Genocide.

The judge issued international arrest warrants against the 40, including Gen. James Kabarebe, whom the judge believed to be the chief of staff of Rwanda's military; Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, Rwanda's ex-ambassador to India; and Lt. Col. Rugumya Gacinya, military attache at Rwanda's embassy in Washington.

Evidence was presented of crimes allegedly perpetrated by the RPA/RPF in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the period 1990-2000, primarily. This revealed that the RPA/RPF’s hierarchical chain of command headed by Kagame, is responsible for three major and closely interrelated blocks of crime:

crimes perpetrated against 9 Spanish victims - missionaries and aid workers- observers of the killings of Hutu inhabitants in both countries

crimes against Rwandans and Congolese, against various specific leaders, or systematically carried out as mass murders of civilians

crimes of war pillage- the systematic, large-scale plundering of natural resources, especially strategically valuable minerals.

The Second Congo War

Kagame was part of the cabinet of President Pasteur Bizimungu, who came to power in the aftermath of the genocide. Kagame was made Vice President of Rwanda and Defense Minister. Bizimungu was also a member of the RPF, and as its military leader, Kagame was viewed as the power behind the throne, and eventually became President when Bizimungu was deposed in March 2000.

In 1998, Rwanda got heavily involved in the Second Congo War, supporting a well-armed rebel group in Congo, the Congolese Rally for Democracy. Together with Uganda, Rwandan forces invaded the mineral-rich north and east of Democratic Republic of Congo, citing Congolese anti-Tutsi policies and historical Rwandan heritage in the area. The government of Congo soon found itself supported by several other African nations, and mounted a counter attack, with limited success.

An April 2001 United Nations report alleged "mass scale looting" of Congolese mineral resources. The report claimed that senior members of the Rwandan government had made hundreds of millions of dollars from illegal mineral trading, and that:

" Presidents Kagame and [Uganda's President] Museveni are on the verge of becoming the godfathers of the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the continuation of the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "

A June 2001 Amnesty International report implicated Rwandan and Rwandan-backed forces (amongst others) in the deliberate killing of thousands of Congolese civilians.

Although the Rwandan and Ugandan governments claim to have withdrawn their forces from Congo, there are consistent reports of ongoing Rwandan involvement in support of rebel fighters trying to protect local Tutsi minorities against remnants of the Interahamwe, the militia involved in the 1994 Rwanda Genocide. However, as of September 2007, the Rwanda government has strongly denied any involvement in the current Congo fighting.

Critics allege that the Rwandan occupation of the Eastern Congo has been motivated chiefly by a desire to exploit Congolese mineral resources. Paul Kagame has, in turn, claimed that these criticisms are based on Hutu-extremist propaganda, and that Rwanda's sole reason for occupying the Congo has been to defeat the remnants of the Hutu-extremist militia who fled there from Rwanda after the 1994 genocide.

A 2002 United Nations report elaborated on the allegations of illegal profiteering by Rwandan and Ugandan forces in Congo:

" The claims of Rwanda concerning its security have justified the continuing presence of its armed forces, whose real long-term purpose is, to use the term employed by the Congo Desk of the Rwandan Patriotic Army, to "secure property". Rwanda's leaders have succeeded in persuading the international community that their military presence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo protects the country against hostile groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who, they claim, are actively mounting an invasion against them.

The Panel has extensive evidence to the contrary. For example, the Panel is in possession of a letter, dated 26 May 2000, from Jean-Pierre Ondekane, First Vice-President and Chief of the Military High Command for [the Rwandan-backed rebel group] RCD-Goma, urging all army units to maintain good relations "with our Interahamwe and Mayi-Mayi brothers", and further, "if necessary to let them exploit the sub-soil for their survival"...

A 30-year-old Interahamwe combatant living in the area of Bukavu described the situation in a taped interview with a United Nations officer in early 2002:

We haven't fought much with the RPA in the last two years. We think they are tired of this war, like we are. In any case, they aren't here in the Congo to chase us, like they pretend. I have seen the gold and coltan mining they do here, we see how they rob the population. These are the reasons for their being here. The RPA come and shoot in the air and raid the villagers' houses but they don't attack us any more.

President Kagame

Paul Kagame became President of Rwanda in March 2000, after Bizimungu was deposed. Three and a half years later, on August 25, 2003, he won a landslide victory in the first national elections since his government took power in 1994 winning 95.5% of the votes.

Kagame is highly critical of the United Nations and its role in the 1994 genocide. In March 2004, his public criticism of France for its role in the genocide and its lack of preventative actions caused a diplomatic row. In November 2006, Rwanda severed all diplomatic ties with France and ordered all its diplomatic staff out of Rwanda within 24 hours following Judge Bruguiere issuing warrants accusing nine high ranking Rwandans of plotting the downing of President Juvenal Habyarimana's airplane in 1994 and also accusing Kagame of ordering the plane shot down.

As president, Kagame has also been critical of the West's lack of development aid in Africa. Kagame believes that Western countries keep African products out of the world marketplace. In contrast, he has praised China, saying in a 2009 interview that "the Chinese bring what Africa needs: investment and money for governments and companies."

Paul Kagame has in presidential standing expressed positive views on private enterprise and free markets.

Human rights

Regarding human rights under the Kagame government, Human Rights Watch has accused Rwandan police of several instances of extrajudicial killings and deaths in custody. In June 2006, the International Federation of Human Rights and Human Rights Watch described what they called "serious violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Rwanda Patriotic Army".

According to The Economist, Kagame "allows less political space and press freedom at home than Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe", and "[a]nyone who poses the slightest political threat to the regime is dealt with ruthlessly".

The United States' government in 2006 described the human rights record of the Kagame government as "mediocre", citing the "disappearances" of political dissidents, as well as arbitrary arrests and acts of violence, torture and murders committed by police. US authorities listed human rights problems including the existence of political prisoners and limited freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

Reporters Without Borders listed Rwanda in 147th place out of 169 for freedom of the press in 2007, and reported that "Rwandan journalists suffer permanent hostility from their government and surveillance by the security services". It cited cases of journalists being threatened, harassed and arrested for criticising the government. According to Reporters Without Borders, "President Paul Kagame and his government have never accepted that the press should be guaranteed genuine freedom.

Reference

The Bishop of Rwanda

Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts

Paul Kagame and Rwanda: Power, Genocide and the Rwandan Patriotic Front

A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It

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