President Paul Kagame has a way of inspiring himself and those who work for him. He is cunning, can be inspirational, forceful, confrontational and sometimes, has appeared slightly “deluded”.
But you have to give credit to a man who feels so passionate about his country that he is willing to take on any critic of his on the ground, at home, away from home and in the air (read cyber space). That President Kagame chose to take on Ian Birrell on Twitter is only surprising if you know nothing about Rwanda’s strong man. Kagame famously in 2006 said that he was not ready for any lessons from Westerners who he accuses of looking on as Rwanda was going up in flames in 1994. Argument: you must have helped Rwanda during the genocide to criticize him…really?
As someone who fought the genocidaire, won the war and therefore helped stop the genocide (at least according to his account), Kagame feels that his figure should tower (literally) above everyone else’s when it comes to Rwandan issues. “No one has the moral right to judge me,” he keeps repeating. President Kagame breathes Rwanda, believes in Rwanda and feels Rwanda. Typical patriot, you may say but is he?
Sometime last year, I wrote here about the self made Lord of Rwanda that PK has sought to become. Those who know him wanted to believe me (not that I was really intending to have anyone believe me) but his henchmen were up in arms against me, writing and sending me all sorts of emails and comments, some worth the dustbin. The vitriol and abuse I got from Kigali was overwhelming – sometimes, incredible. Why you may ask? Paul Kagame has made himself, or forced those under him to make him the father figure of modern Rwanda (somehow he may be depending on which sources you read). But in doing so, he has been left to assume that everything Rwandese rotates around him, and this is his problem.
When anyone (read critic) questions what is going on in Rwanda, say for instance why there is no free speech, no political space or why human rights organisations are being prevented from freely doing their work, PK and his supporters take this to be a direct attack on the president. They forget that such questions, especially like the ones about freedom of speech, political space and other freedoms are policy questions. Now, while PK is head of state, he is not the sole maker of policy in Rwanda. Policy in the country is or ought to be a result of decisions by policy makers in the country who must or should include parliamentarians, heads of government institutions, ministers and where applicable, some members of the civil society. Any question about government policy should therefore be a direct hit at those who made the policy not the president himself.
But PK being the self effacer and control obsessed manager that he is, he always takes this to be a direct question aimed at his manner and nature of rule. Instead of arguing that this is government policy aimed at say for instance ensuring that the country does not revert to the olden days of hatred, ethnicity and or sectarianism, he starts blabbing about how no one has the right to judge him!
In the twitter exchange with Ian Birrell, President Kagame was asked why he feels “no media, human rights group or even the UN has the right to criticize him”. While he did not directly answer the question, his response was clear. Kagame feels that these organisations have got their own “serious flows”. He did not elaborate as to which flows he was talking about – at least from the transcript on Birrell’s blog. Granted, Birrell was somehow too confrontational and slightly harsh by referring to Kagame as deluded, but if PK felt the need to continue their discussion on Twitter, he should have besides pointing out Birell’s abusive use of words, gone ahead to clearly explain why he feels no one has the moral right to criticize him.
He did not. He instead, and I am assuming here, called Rwanda’s Minister of Information, Louise Mushikiwabo who defending her boss came in with the mother of defences. “ Ian what so complicated? can critic but u hav no “moral”(key word)right: PK saved lives, built country n gave hope”, she said. According to Mushikiwabo, PK is “unbwogable” should never be questioned because he is a hero, a life saver and a giver of hope.
You begin to see the reason why PK behaves the way he does. He has been made to believe that he is Rwanda’s saviour, Stephen Kinser even referred to him as the Man Who Dreamed Rwanda’s Rebirth. Bill Clinton has showered him with all sorts of prizes for excellently guiding Rwanda out of the rubble to a respectable status as a nation. He continues to get as many accolades as possible from people and institutions most of them Western, who feel his position in global politics has been elevated, and thus wish to be part of the story. Tony Blair has been making endless runs into and out of Kigali as special adviser to PK. It is things like these that have made the man “unbwogable”. It is writers like Kinser that have made the man feel like he is a demi-god, well above everyone and particularly insulated from criticism.
If you are a journalist and you happen to be critical of his style of leadership or even question his government’s policy on selected aspects, you are immediately branded anti-Rwanda (a traitor if you are Rwandese). If you are a researcher and you choose to say what the government feels is wrong (irrespective of whether you previously have said good things about the leadership), you immediately become an enemy, someone who can not be trusted and thus must leave. This way Rwanda has managed to control what goes into the public domain, been able to preserve a smooth and clear public image which projects it as an efficiently well managed nation – the panacea for more foreign aid. It works, has worked for PK and whether we want it or not, he will still enjoy this father figure for some years to come. Question though is, is this productive as far as Rwandese are concerned?
PK will argue that the Rwandese came out in large numbers last year in August to show their unrelenting support for his rule. That as long as the Rwandese are happy, he does not care. And why should he really? Why should he bother about a group of people asking him to be reasonable or not to be deluded if the Rwandese (the people who elected him) are happy with what he is offering? To answer this, you need to know exactly what these Rwandese in question truly think of their president. Unfortunately, with free speech non existent, without an independent media, a functional civil society and the ever looming divisionism and genocide ideology laws, this question will never be answered. And as we wait for that time, Paul Kagame will continue to make claims, claims that may be true but which are not about to be put to test. As we thank Ian Birell for getting us into the mind of PK (for those who didn’t know) we should perhaps say bravo to Mr. President, for coming clean and telling the world who he actually is.
Over to you my little monsters!…