by Nii Akuetteh
Commentary headlined “Rwanda: The Two Faces of Paul Kagame” by Kigali-based freelance journalist Jon Rosen appeared in World Politics Review on May 27. – ed.
First, Rosen mentions only Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, implying that these two are the Kagame dictatorship’s only critics. Nothing could be further from the truth. It would be similar to claiming that only African-Americans hated apartheid.
The millions who have already sounded the alarm publicly that Kagame is getting away with (mass) murder include The Economist; The New York Times; three different expert panels assembled by the U.N. Security Council; U.S. Sens. Durbin and Feingold; Mrs. Clinton’s State Department – although theirs may be just crocodile tears; the world’s best experts on the Great Lakes region – renowned researchers and thinkers such as Nzongola-Ntalaja, Howard French, Rene Lemarchand, Gerard Prunier, Thomas Turner and Allan Stam; and ADNA, a network of Africa-focused advocacy nonprofits monitoring U.S. foreign policy.
And the critics include millions of individual Rwandans and other Africans – like me.
Second, Rosen glosses over the damning case against Kagame – in the same way he ignores most Kagame critics. Rosen fails to mention that right now Kagame’s regime is shutting down newspapers, is kidnapping the homeless and is demonizing and pronouncing Victoire Ingabire guilty – before her sham trial even begins. And hours ago in Rwanda, Kagame arrested eminent American law professor, Peter Erlinder, who is defending Ms. Ingabire.
Nor does Rosen mention Mr. Kagame’s role in Yoweri Museveni’s blood-soaked climb to power in Uganda. And he is silent about their joint plundering of the Congo – the real driver of their invasion.
Speaking of the Congo, Rosen could not even be bothered to spell out in full Kagame’s greatest crime there. The thousand-word essay devotes all of one sentence to mass rapes, massive displacements and millions of deaths.
And even though it is published in a global journal, the Rosen essay forgets to mention that Gen. Kagame continues to enjoy more than two decades of American support, that he was trained at American military academies, that his son is now enrolled in West Point, and that he tours the U.S. several times each year.
If I appear irritated, please understand why. In Washington’s current relations with Mr. Kagame, we are seeing the replay of a tired old movie. Since 1960, Africa’s year of independence, each and every U.S. administration has praised, financed and kept in power its own set of brutal African strongmen that, in its secret files, it has labeled “friendly tyrants.” Mobutu sese Seko of Zaire, Siyaad Barre of Somalia, Hissene Habre of Chad, Samuel Doe of Liberia and Jonas Savimbi of Angola – these are just five of the dozens. This continuing scandal of official Washington supporting “friendly tyrants” in Africa is the third reason the Rosen essay is outrageous.
The fourth reason stinks even worse. American journalists, whose most sacred democratic duty is to expose government abuse of power, cover up the “friendly tyrants” scandal, keeping American citizens in the dark. Thus today, we have media giants like Steven Kinzer and Fareed Zakaria singing Kagame’s praises. Now, along comes Jon Rosen to join the chorus of praise singers.
But it is not just journalists. As Rosen writes, “Kagame has long attracted an international following. Figures from Tony Blair to Rick Warren have lauded him …”
All this reeks because it continues a tradition of Western elites telling Africans to be happy living under dictatorships that those elites would not tolerate in their own countries for a single day.
It is entirely possible that Jon Rosen has a reason. Perhaps to avoid being arrested in Rwanda – as just happened to Peter Erlinder – he is obliged to publish an outrageous, slanted analysis that dismisses the critics and pooh-poohs the damning case against Kagame as a mere “narrative.” If so, that price is too high and Rosen should have walked away from Rwanda.
Nii Akuetteh, former executive director of Africa Action and adjunct professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, is a member of the Scholars’ Council at TransAfrica Forum and founder of the Democracy and Conflict Research Institute in Accra, Ghana, and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). Contact Mr. Akuetteh at email@example.com.