Autocracy’s Darling: The Guileful Façade of Rwanda’s Dictator

Bill Clinton has called him one of “the greatest leaders of our time.”
Tony Blair named him a “visionary” and Harvard and Yale both
invited him to give talks, during which he addressed the issues of
reconciliation and the western perception of his leadership. The
hypocritical stance of the west is nothing new to African nations,
urging democracy with one hand they prop up and praise dictators
with the other. Of course, in this case, it is not only the west that is to
blame. Our own people stand in awe of what Kagame has
accomplished in just a few short years. Many bloggers, activists and
leaders have praised Kagame for his record on development, his clean-
city initiatives and his provision of education. At first glance you can
see why: the streets of the Kigali are clean, free of the litter of plastic
bags, cans, and other rubbish that characterizes many cities around
Africa. Efficiency is the name of the game, with corruption and crime
at an all-time low and beautiful hotels and housing springing up in
many places.

And yet, there’s a dark cloud that hangs over Rwanda’s success. It is a
sinister cloud, one that should make us think twice before heaping
praise upon the so-called ‘success story’ of Africa. The cost at which it
comes is huge, a cost that is conveniently not mentioned by the west’s
aid organizations, including NGO such as the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and Bono’s ONE foundation. Behind it all, playing the
NGOs, media and government organizations off against each other is
the master puppeteer himself, Paul Kagame. Kagame is famous for his
post-genocide reconciliation measures, and here we must allot to him
the credit he is due. In the space of a mere 23 years Kagame has pulled
Rwanda back from one of the most despicable acts of genocide in the
history of the world. After the genocide in 1994, reconciliation seemed
all but impossible. How could a country recover from such a
devastating tragedy, with the deeply entrenched divisions that it had?
So, for this achievement, I salute Kagame and congratulate him on his
unprecedented success. Leave it here however… and we are left with
only half of the story, half of the truth.

We must halt our praises of Kagame for just a moment and examine
the dark secret behind his success. 23 years on from the genocide
Rwanda has yet to experience a transition of government. The word

‘democracy’ means nothing in a nation where the only leader that
post-genocide children have ever known has been Paul Kagame-the
man with the iron fist. It is almost eerie, as you speak to Rwandans,
that there is not a single person who has a single bad thing to say
about him. There is no criticism, only worshipful praise, for the man
that the press tells them they owe their prosperity to. Kagame has
played the role of ‘benign dictator’ to its absolute max using his
success and the country’s economic growth to justify the horrific
abuses of human rights that his people have to suffer under him.
Opposition politics are non-existent and critical journalism is nowhere
to be found. Every politician who has made any meaningful attempt to
run against Kagame has either mysteriously ‘disappeared’ or been
arrested on false pretences. Kagame has been quietly brilliant in the
way he has sown such a deep fear of reprisal in his people that the vast
majority of the population refuse to utter anything but praise towards
the man they fear so greatly.

When confronting Kagame supporters, there are two main arguments
that I come up against consistently:
1. Kagame doesn’t have an opposition because nobody opposes him;
his people love him and they want him as their president.
2. I’ve been to Rwanda, I’ve seen how successful he has been… and
I’ve spoken to the people. They all love him.

I’ll tackle these separately, #1:

This is patently false. One of the beauties of Kagame’s narrative is that
it’s very easy to “prove”. Rwandan papers espouse his exceptional
leadership and the social media personalities croon over his success.
They call him “father” and heap unconditional praises upon him. The
official ‘opposition’ parties never actually oppose Kagame, they back
him and do not field candidates to challenge him in elections.
To an outside observer it seems like the ultimate success story; a
leader that truly holds the unanimous support of all his people. Stop
there, I beg you, and scratch away the chrome veneer of this story, and
you start to expose something ugly underneath. A man who refused to
do business with Kagame’s people dies mysteriously in a car accident.
His daughter, political activist Diane Rwigara) decides that she has
had enough of the regime’s brutality and starts to speak out against
the regime, stating her intent to run against Kagame. Before long she
receives multiple threats that end in the eventual arrest of her and her
mother. Another one of Kagame’s political enemies is silenced by the
deaf bars of his dark prisons. This story is not unique; Kagame’s
penchant for ridding himself of uncomfortable opposition is becoming
something of a tradition.  There is story after story of Kagame abusing
his power to arrest or eradicate those who threaten his ‘ideal Rwanda’
in which he is the God-king, the self-declared saviour of the nation.
For example- Patrick Karegeya, former spy chief-turned critic of
Kagame was found dead in his hotel room in South Africa. We can
conclude that Kagame is not quite as loved as people believe he is. The
truth is he rules by fear and intimidation.


This point obviously ties in very closely with the previous one, in
which I concluded that Kagame rules by fear and intimidation, not
because of undying loyalty from an adoring fan-base of Rwandan
citizens. Constantly when I talk to people about this issue, they bristle
and give me some quote along the line of ‘I’ve been there’ or ‘I know
someone who’s been there’ and, because I have not, people think they
have seen the real Rwanda and I am just judging from a distance.
The reason they never heard anyone speak against Kagame, and only
see adoration and love for the leader is simple: fear. This is Kagame’s
greatest tool of control. People are far too scared to speak their minds.
On the odd occasion where somebody has spoken their minds, they
have been dealt with severely, thus re-enforcing the fear and
intimidation that Kagame rules by. So, in many ways, visiting Rwanda
as a tourist or a special guest is one of the least reliable ways to get an
accurate representation of the true opinion of the people.
I must add a disclaimer now: I do not claim to have some special
intuition into the minds and hearts of Rwanda’s citizens. I do not
know them personally, and I do not live there or fully understand their
political scene. However, I object viscerally to the attitude of Kagame’s
‘worshipers’. If Kagame is so confident in his position, why doesn’t he
host a truly free and fair election where he allows any and all who wish
it to run against him with no restrictions, no intimidation and no
interference from state agents. Then we can see whether he is truly the
choice of the people… or whether he’s really just a brutal dictator
playing a spectacular and brutal game.

It is time we, as Africans, and the international community as a whole
stop condoning dictatorships and brutal oppression. Political, press
and speech freedom are all vital to a truly functioning democracy. I for
one condemn the Kagame regime, and as an African I express my
deepest concern at the way Rwandan citizens are treated by the people
who are sworn to protect them. It’s up to you to make your own
decision, but I implore you to examine the facts before singing the
praises of a man who could be one of the strongest opponents to
democracy in Africa. We have a responsibility, as Africans, to be
united in our condemnation of injustice and fear, history will not be
kind to us if we neglect doing so now.




Why I am going to the December 13th protests…and why you should too.


If you are in Blantyre, we will be starting from the Clocktower and marching to the Civil Offices.In Mzuzu from Katoto Secondary School Ground to the Civil Offices, in Zomba from Zomba Community to Mponda Freedom Park, and in Lilongwe from Community Center Ground to City Assembly.

The winds of change are blowing in Malawi. PAC, the Public Affairs Committee, along with at least 50 other Civil Society Organizations have organized nationwide protests on the 13th of December. Citing the need for Electoral Reform and transformational leadership, PAC have received the support of religious bodies countrywide and have been backed by many other civil society organizations. The primary purposes of the protests are:

A. To demand the implication of Electoral Reform, specifically the introduction of the 50% + 1 system. Which requires a presidential candidate to win 50% + 1 vote in order to take office as the next president of Malawi.

B. To demand transformational leadership. We have had some worrying situations recently where the basic freedoms of Malawians have been infringed upon. This is regressive leadership that does not seek to progressively promote the rights of Malawians. The demand is that our leaders seek to be transformational, instituting progressive legislation to ensure that the fundamental rights of every Malawian are upheld and respected, and that the promises made by those in power are fulfilled.

I will be attending the protests in Blantyre, God willing, and I think you should too… here’s why:

  1. Our voice is important.

We, who call Malawi home, have a voice that is important. Our voice deserves to be heard, and deserves to have its place in the national discussion. It is vital that, in order to preserve and promote progressive democracy in our nation, the citizenry must stay engaged and take advantage of opportunities such as these to have our voice heard by those in power. If we stay quiet and things go wrong, then we have only ourselves to blame.

  1. We must hold those in power to account.

It is a trend for those in power to grow comfortable in their positions, believing themselves invincible. We have an opportunity to remind them where the true power lies, with the people. We cannot let that opportunity disappear without seizing it. We have the chance, come Wednesday, to show those in power in our country the power of peaceful demonstration and I for one am not willing to let that opportunity pass me by.

  1. A show of peaceful, nationwide unity will send a powerful message and show we care about the future.

If we stand up as a nation, unified and peaceful, we can send a message more potent than anything printed in a newspaper or spoken from a stage. A show of a unified Malawi, desiring what is best for the nation and region, is such a beautiful and powerful picture. Be a part of this historic time in our country’s history. It is a time in which it is vitally important for our nation to stand up, to speak truth to power, and refuse to be cowed by threats.

  1. The future of Malawi is well and truly at stake.

In light of recent comments by people in power with regards to criticism, it is now more important than ever that we refuse to compromise as a nation. Our rights, enshrined in the constitution, are under threat by those who wish to intimidate us into contrite silence. This is about more than just electoral reform; this is about the Malawian people holding those in leadership to account.

Brothers and sisters, we face a situation that could be a crunch moment for the future. We have an opportunity to play a powerful role in the shaping of our future. We cannot sit idly by and watch our rights be slowly removed from us.For now, it’s a comment made in anger… but what will it be tomorrow? We cannot risk being silent as our future is stolen from us. I urge you to come out for that reason, because you have an opportunity to play a vital role in securing the future, for you, your children, friends, grandkids and fellow Malawians.So I will be going out on Wednesday the 13th of December, 2017, demanding a better future for myself and my family in order to stand up for my rights, and the rights of my fellow Malawians. Let us remember the powerful examples of men and women who sacrificed for our democracy, and dedicate ourselves to uphold their legacy. I hope you will join me, let us gather together across the nation to demand changes in our electoral process and demand that our leaders be transformational and progressive and that they address issues such as freedom of speech and respecting the fundamental rights of all Malawians. Whether you are young or old, male or female, regardless of religion or ethnicity, come out on Wednesday and play a role in the future of our nation. Anyone who wants to show solidarity with the people of Malawi, regardless of nationality, please join the gathering on Wednesday the 13th of December at the clock tower.

#AfricaRising: A Glimpse of African Spring

2017, a year of triumph and tragedy, from the heights of Gambian democratic victory to the lows of DRC’s election controversy. We are currently living in a time where African nations are rising to throw off the chains of oppressive rulers and despotic dictators it is vital to recognize the importance of this era. Not only in order to appreciate it, but so that we can take action to ensure that it does not falter. To do all we can to make certain that the progress that has begun continues. It is an era characterized by the rising of grassroots activism and peaceful protest. The unequivocal success of this was seen in Gambia, and serves as a shining example of the trend that is beginning to shape the African political landscape. As the people are awakened to take on our own drive for freedom, we are learning to no longer lean upon the international community to fight our battles for us, nor even the traditional opposition parties. But as a citizenry we are beginning to fight back, through the revolutionary means of peaceful protest, our voices are being heard.

It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in such a short time. Not that long ago most of Africa, specifically the SADC region where my focus lies, was shrouded in the darkness of autocratic oppression. From Malawi’s Kamuzu Banda to South Africa’s Apartheid regime we were in a state of political night. But the cracks began to show, as Apartheid was lambasted from abroad and from within by the likes Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, Banda’s tyrannical regime was starting to fall apart at the seems as Malawians grew tired of living in fear and oppression, citizens like the emerging artist Lucius Banda grew emboldened and began to speak out.  President Ibrahim Babangida of Nigeria, the incoming OAU (Organization of African Unity) chairman spoke strongly in favor of democratization in Africa. Babangida stated that Africans faced the simultaneous tasks “of solving acute problems of economic restructuring and of creating free and democratic institutions for social expression.” The ideals of self governance and freedom of determination were beginning to take root in the heart of Africans.

These were positive, exciting times. Hope swelled in the hearts of many, and the future appeared bright. Things weren’t changing everywhere though, as the world entered a new millennium Zimbabwe entered one of it’s darkest periods under autocratic leader Robert Mugabe. Many countries faced corruption scandals, and abuses of powers from leaders. Malawi narrowly fought off the threat of an unconstitutional third term run from incumbent Bakili Muluzi and Moçambique continued to face sporadic violence and repressive government to name just a few of the damaging events in African politics at the time.

The battle for democracy in Africa is an uphill battle, one that is constantly being fought. Every day another story breaks, some are good and some are bad. From heartbreak to heaven, sometimes more than once a day.

But through the turmoil, and through the struggle there is one very important thing to keep our eyes on. That is a glimpse, a glimpse that we have been gifted… to spur us on, and to give us hope. It’s the glimpse of an African spring. As the darkness begins to be fought away, a glimmer of light appears. Through a long tunnel we can see the world beyond, an Africa where democracy reigns. Where despots like Robert Mugabe and Filipe Nyusi no longer hold power far beyond their constitutional reach.

Really, it shouldn’t be that hard to see now. The glimmer has grown stronger over the past several years. As Gambia held it’s first decisive, free election and we saw a region come together to ensure that the democratic process be honoured. It should encourage and inspire us, the #ThisFlag movement and other movements have swept Zimbabwe, where people are standing up to tyrannical rule. Nigeria had landmark elections, and the peaceful stepping down of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from power and the orderly first round of voting in Liberia has been almost surreal.

And to those who would put out the false narrative that Africans do not desire democracy, I urge you to rethink. AfroBarometer states:

  • On average across the continent, Africans prefer democracy to any other kind of government. Large majorities of Africans surveyed by Afrobarometer reject alternative authoritarian regimes such as presidential dictatorship, military rule and one-party government.

So let us not lose hope as we stare down the barrel of more battles to be fought on the plains of peaceful protest and citizens action. Rather, I encourage all Africans to take heed of these successes and let us keep our eyes focused on the light of spring that is so close at hand. Don’t give up, don’t give in… we may have a distance to go, but we’ve come too far to look back and we’ve fought too hard to give in. Future generations will look back and either thank this generation for what it did to ensure their freedom, or they’ll wonder why we didn’t do more… why we gave up on a dream that was within our reach.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good people to do nothing.”