Rwanda heavily reliant on international aid for almost two-thirds of its budget. The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is due to be held in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, this summer, an event that will put Paul Kagame at the centre of an international stage.
In a new biography far from the charismatic, driven and progressive leader he is perceived as by his international supporters, Kagame emerges from Wrong’s account as a murderously authoritarian figure. "Do Not Disturb" is written by Michela Wrong, the author who covered the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when more than 800,000 people – largely ethnic Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus – were killed by Hutu militias over 100 days. The book accuses Rwanda’s president Kagame – long feted as the model of visionary new African leadership – of being a serial human rights abuser, including for his role in a sustained campaign of assassinating his rivals in exile.
In Wrong’s account Kagame is shown to be a murderously authoritarian figure; a cold, petty and vindictive individual, comparable to Stalin’s notorious secret police chief Beria, always able “to find the crime to fit the man”. Wrong’s examination of Kagame and Rwanda’s role in destabilising its neighbours in the Great Lakes raises embarrassing questions for his prominent supporters who have included Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bill Gates and Clare Short – and for international aid donors including the UK accused of long turning a blind eye.
As a young reporter covering the genocide, when – like so many others – Wrong embraced the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) narrative.
“I was completely won over by them and completely willing to accept that their takeover was a very good thing because it spelled the end of the horror. That’s how I viewed the RPF for many years and that’s how the world saw it.” Wrong talks of an encounter with a French diplomat who described the later pursuit and murder of Hutus fleeing into the Democratic Republic of the Congo by RPF’s forces and remembers thinking: “This is nonsense! It was so at odds with what I believed the RPF stood for. Now I look back, that was a briefing we should have paid more attention to.”
It was the 1998 assassination in Kenya of Seth Sendashonga, a Hutu former interior minister in the government of national unity in Rwanda who had fallen out with the regime in Kigali, that was the first crack in her perception.
In 2014, in a South African hotel Kagame was deeply implicated in the murder of Patrick Karegey, a former intelligence chief. He delivered a prayer breakfast, saying: “Whoever betrays the country will pay the price, I assure you. Any person still alive who may be plotting against Rwanda, whoever they are, will pay the price,” Kagame said. “Whoever it is, it is a matter of time.”
Wrong points out that, “The people that Kagame really fears, the people he is reaching out across the globe to silence, intimidate, harass and kill are more often than not members of his own Tutsi elite,” who once belonged to Kagame’s most trusted inner circle.
There are also suspicions – thus far uncorroborated – of Rwandan involvement in the 2001 assassination of Congolese president Laurent Kabila.
"...There’s been a very tactful diplomatic cover-up by Rwanda’s allies abroad.... There’s a double standard because Rwanda is seen as the good guys. Our friends. And they’re people we give an awful lot of aid to...”
“It’s an old story. We always pick sides. Leaders are embraced and a blind eye turned to the atrocities. There’s a temptation to personalise and simplify, to choose good guys and bad guys. The other argument of Rwanda’s international supporters is that it’s a stabilising force, but the destabilising force in the Great Lakes for decades has been Rwanda, including the systematic pillaging of Congo’s minerals.”
“There’s a development paradigm playing out in Rwanda which goes quite deep and it’s sinister. It’s this idea that the west can deliver development irrespective of what the local government is like and that you can strip the politics out of the development agenda by focusing on education, health, mosquito nets, vaccination rates. But the local politics are the only thing that matters. There’s something profoundly uncomfortable about insisting that a government which has a deteriorating human rights record and has committed egregious war crimes is a worthy recipient of aid because it performs well on aid metrics yet is busy killing journalists and rounding up and disappearing critics.”