the truth sets you free
Rick Warren's defense of Paul Kagame as one of Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world is difficult to stomach. Aside from reading Stephen Kinzer's hagiography of Kagame, Warren appears to have done almost no research on the activities of a man he considers to be a "model of the transition from soldier to statesman." In fact, most of the entry is comprised of statements that are demonstrably false, or at least up for serious debate.
Let's take it point-by-point, shall we? Warren's words from the Time piece are in quotation marks; mine follow.
- "During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the world watched in horror but did nothing. Kagame was responsible for ending the slaughter." Um, not exactly. As Romeo Dallaire (the Canadian general in charge of the UN peacekeeping mission that was present in Rwanda during the genocide but was not allowed by UN member states to actually do anything to stop the slaughter) points out in his haunting autobiography, Kagame's primary goal was not to end the genocide. It was to take absolute power in the country. Kagame did not take the most direct route to places where Tutsis were being slaughtered. His sights were set on Kigali, which he flanked around to choke off the national army. As Gerard Prunier puts it, "[the RPF] never planned their military operations so as to try saving as many as possible." And the genocide did not end until after Kagame had achieved his primary objective.
- "After the genocide, the nation was in shambles. Kagame and others began the slow process of rebuilding." This is true, to some extent. But the RPF government initially focused most of its energy on exacting revenge rather than on reconstruction. There's also increasingly clear evidence that Kagame's forces began slaughtering innocent Hutus en masse shortly after taking power. The most reliable estimate is that about 30,000 people were killed by the RPF during and after the genocide for no reason other than their ethnicity. The massacre of approximately 5,000 displaced Hutus at Kabeho camp in April 1995 is but one example.
- "Kagame's leadership has a number of uncommon characteristics. One is his willingness to listen to and learn from those who oppose him. When journalist Stephen Kinzer was writing a biography of Kagame, the President gave him a list of his critics and suggested that Kinzer could discover what he was really like by interviewing them. Only a humble yet confident leader would do that." Well, that's one interpretation. Another is that Kagame has silenced or forced into exile most of his serious critics. Does Rick Warren genuinely believe that a man who allows no political opposition to contest elections "listens to and learns from those who oppose him?" Some, like former government minister Seth Sendashonga, are dead because they dared to oppose the RPF leadership. Others are banned from entering the country because they've dared to criticize Kagame's rule in public. This happened just last year to the late Alison Des Forges, America's foremost expert on Rwanda.
- "Then there is Kagame's zero tolerance for corruption. Rwanda is one of the few countries where I've never been asked for a bribe. Any government worker caught engaging in corruption is publicly exposed and dealt with. That is a model for the entire country — and the rest of the world too." This is true. There's very little corruption in Rwanda, at least in the sense of being asked for bribes at every turn. Kigali is one of the safest cities in the world; I feel perfectly safe walking through its streets alone at night. However, that lack of corruption comes at a high price. Rwanda is one of the most authoritarian states in Africa. The government spies on its own citizens and on foreigners. Civilians are to report suspicious or behavior that is not consistent with the reconciliation narrative to their local authorities. Those transiting through the country to Congo are advised to have a consistent story for everyone about where they are going and what they are doing because discrepencies will be noticed. Human rights observers in the Congo whose entries into the country are tracked by the Rwandans, and not just like they track every entry and exit from the country. Put it this way: one would not normally expect a border guard to immediately identify an international human rights observer who works in another country just by seeing his or her name on a passport.
- Also on corruption, there is incontrovertible evidence that Kagame's regime has been stealing mineral wealth from and fueling in the Congo for more than a decade. The invasions of 1996 and 1998, the backing of the RCD-Goma rebel government during the war, and the funding and supplying of Laurend Nkunda's CNDP forces directly contributed to the deaths of 5 million Congolese.
But Rick Warren has also been to Goma. Surely he saw the results of the last fifteen years' worth of war in his visit to a hospital that treats rape victims and in the community's houses of worship. How could he not make the connection that Kagame is responsible for much of that suffering?
Instead of attempting to learn more about Kagame's character, Warren has chosen to take the man at his word. My hope is that the pastor would learn a little more of the truth about Kagame's character and actions before he puts so much trust in the man. If Paul Kagame is a model for African leadership, the continent is doomed.