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Carnegie Mellon University and President Kagame: A venture capital romance

November 25, 2011

by Rebecca Cech

The caption with this photo from Paul Kagame’s flickr photostream says, “President Kagame speaks with faculty, staff and students at Carnegie Mellon University before making a speech and answering students' questions.” – Photo: Paul Kagame
Rwandan President Kagame and Carnegie Mellon University’s new relationship has the whiff of a celebrity marriage. There’s an unmistakable aura of money and convenience when powerful public figures suddenly get moon-eyes and pretend to look past the sum of their mutual assets at some pure and ideal reason for their union written in the stars.

Whether you are claiming undying love or revealing plans to produce a “university community open to the exchange of ideas” together, forgive us if we notice that this partnership appears to have been forged in publicity stunt heaven and reads like a trashy venture capital romance novel. Perhaps it was fate.

When you take Kagame’s Rwanda, with its clinical orderliness, access to bucketloads of no-questions-asked international aid and unchecked state power, entrepreneurs like CMU are bound to come a-courtin’. I believe it was Jane Austen who said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that an African war criminal in possession of a presidency must be in want of a Western institution whose reputation can lend him international credibility.”

The plot is painfully familiar. Quick, someone pop the cork and think of an appropriate toast for the new couple that sounds sincere. And, as CMU throws her arms around Kagame in an exaggerated show of public affection, for godsakes, don’t be gauche and mention the dirty money she is coincidentally fingering in his back pocket or point out the embarrassing way she’s twittering on about what an international, adventurous and humanitarian character this new African commitment proves she is.

CMU and Kagame went public about their relationship on Sept. 15, 2011, just a day before the president arrived in Pittsburgh to deliver a commemorative speech at the university and take part in a ceremonial signing to celebrate their dewy, contractual bliss. We know, however, that the romance began years earlier when they met in 2007 at the Connect Africa Summit.

Kambale Musavuli, student coordinator and spokesperson for Friends of the Congo, and other Congolese and Rwandans joined Carnegie Mellon students to protest Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s visit to the university on Sept. 16. Though hastily organized due to little advance notice, the protest was well covered by the media. – Photo: Lindsay Dill
According to the June 2011 publication by ISOKO Institute (“Africa’s Leading Free Market Think Tank”), the investment frontier in Africa is like water for chocolate, ready to melt entrepreneurial hearts everywhere – or, as they less amorously put it, “ripe for business.” At the summit, the African Development Bank lit some candles and put on some lilting Vivaldi.

Suddenly, CMU looked across the board table, admired how the light fell across Kagame’s general hat and felt strangely “impressed by Rwanda’s remarkable growth.” Kagame, for his part, enjoyed the salon-fresh smell of CMU’s hair and the expansive effect the institution promised to have on his country’s “knowledge hub.”

Before you could say “hail to the cupid of convenient wedlock,” the president was down on bended knee, gazing longingly into CMU’s prestige, asking “will you open a CMU branch campus with me in Kigali, if I underwrite all your operating costs, paying you nearly $100 million over the next decade?” Swoon!

Despite four years of private courting, CMU’s press release about its collaboration with Kagame had the public timing of a shotgun wedding. With less than a week to respond, letters of concern went out from CMU faculty and from the African Great Lakes Coalition too late to influence any discussion surrounding the contract. The deed was irrevocably done by the time anyone with a cautionary opinion could respond.

On the day commemorating the happy union, 40 protesters, including some students from the university, held signs and shouted, “CMU, shame on you,” for the duration of the president’s visit. This can be a mood-killer, as CMU’s honeymoon-is-over tone soon reflected.

Before the event, the university’s fawning publications put Kagame in the front and center, crediting him with a large part of Rwanda’s “success story.” Afterward, when criticism and curiosity began to mount, CMU changed its assessment of Rwanda’s status to “it’s complicated,” dodging questions about the many indictments against the Rwandan president, including the fact that he’s considered by Reporters Without Borders a “predator of the press,” by BBC and Scotland Yard a would-be assassin of critics abroad, by the UN Mapping Report of 2010 a war criminal responsible for massacres that may prove in court to be genocide, and by the Spanish Court a criminal implicated in mass murder and terrorism.

I wish someone could sit with CMU over a cup of something steamy and deliver this warning: “Yes, he is powerful. Yes, he is monied. Yes, he is intelligent. I’ll take your word for it that he has a huge investment territory. It’s good to have things in common: You’re both entrepreneurial, you both receive an obscene amount of money from the U.S. government, and your Western allies seem to get along.

“However, I would gently urge you to consider the fact that this man is most certainly, besides all the things that make you go gaga, an accomplished war criminal in a region positively littered with the bodies of his victims. CMU, you have signed up for the trials of a mob wife. I know that you’re determined to make this relationship work and that you think his ‘business’ elsewhere won’t affect what you have together privately on your campus.

“However, even if you never look directly into the trunk of his car, it’s a safe bet you will hear and see things that will trouble your conscience. From what I gather, Kagame does not tolerate open and free spaces for inquiry, dissent or criticism of any kind. He’s gifted at keeping people quiet through legal shams, disappearances, assassinations and plain, old-fashioned intimidation.

“What will silence you, if you ever get up the gumption to say something? And how long are you prepared to pretend you don’t see victimization, in the face of evidence, to protect Kagame’s name – a name that is now associated with yours? I hope you know what you’re doing. Claiming ignorance or looking strategically the other way has a nasty habit of coming back to roost. Just ask Penn State.”

Rebecca Cech authors www.congostory.org, using culture, art, scholarly studies in post-colonialism and four generations of family life in Congo to inform her advocacy.

 

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13 thoughts on “Carnegie Mellon University and President Kagame: A venture capital romance

  1. Samson

    How are you people…what's wrong with you who bewitched you…you are so stuck in hatred to the point that your eyes are too blind to see the light. Rwandans and other African people are going to benefit from that University. I mean youth…students…not Kagame lol. If that's not enough for you to realize a positive side of the story then you are simply filled with a bunch of crap. I'm so sorry for you because this type of politic no longer works.

    Reply
    1. Mukamwezi

      Samson pleas tell those evils for me, i dont know how they were created they are just full of hate for Rwandans and now to Africans.

      Reply
  2. Tom

    Rebecca Cech…whatever the f* you are just leave Rwanda and It's people alone…In Rwanda nobody cares bout your sh*t anyway…..!!!!

    Reply
  3. Nyiragongo

    Hey Rebecca I have a better Idea for you. Why can't you spend more of your time talking about how your non-functional congress can create jobs in America or about your new presidential candidates who are not even close to a half way of looking presidential or about your dead healthcare…or PROTESTERS IN NEW YORK…or at least about Too big to fail companies that are shipping all your jobs overseas…huh….I guess you don't have guts for that..do you?????????????

    Reply
  4. Bosco Habimana

    Rwandan children are have a opportunity to attend one of the best universities in the world. The university is there for that purpose. Those who want to oppose everything good about Rwanda have their own agenda. At the end Rwandans are going to win.

    Reply
  5. Aimable

    Very well put Rebecca! I am a Rwandan who saw with my own eyes many of the innocent women, children, and elderly who brutally butchered by General Kagame's forces. I like the style in which you expressed the embarrassment that CMU will face in the future when General Kagame is brought to trial for his war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

    Reply
    1. ubuntu

      Where in Congo? If you are Interahamwa, you are lucky to be a live. kagame's forces saved millions of women and children.
      Ubuntu

      Reply
  6. Selina

    I agree with the comments directed at the writer of this article.

    The US is a hypocrite for bashing the any leader that has a notorious background that involves brutality towards it's own people but if your Gov't ( the US) is supporting of this……

    Then how can you go on writing articles about a man you is not only back by the US to include England. I agree, yes leave Paul Kagame alone

    Reply
  7. Ann_Garrison

    I think Rebecca and I are both most of all concerned about our own government's involvement in this. The CMU administrator for university/government relations is centrally involved and Carnegie Mellon is one of the biggest academic military contractors in the country, so much so that it's been nicknamed Carnegie Military University.

    Reply
    1. Mukamwezi

      Ann and Rebecca your so wrong, and i promise your wasting your time. you will never win, just keep supporting FDLR .

      Reply
      1. Ann_Garrison

        @Mukamwezi: Did Rebecca and I say anything about the FDLR? I didn't and I didn't read anything Rebecca wrote about the FDLR. Do you really think that, as American citizens, we have no reason to be concerned with what our own government is doing, here, in Africa, and elsewhere in the world? If so, you're not going to get far with that argument, not with us or many other Americans I can think of, even those I disagree with.

        Reply
  8. therisingcontinent

    I just finished reading George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty Four where the English writer describes expertly behaviours of authoritarian regimes towards their citizens. According to his writing, they have a sickening obsession of their subjects' minds and what the latter think that they do anything in their power to control peoples' thoughts.

    As far as I am concerned, I find that those who cannot accept that people can have differing views on some subjects must have something not operating properly in their minds.

    Reply

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