Rwanda’s future hangs in the balance
Monday, April 26, 2010
Paul Kagame is an easy man to praise. He has brought peace and stability to the fractured central African nation. His anti-aid talk and trade-boosting reforms have been lauded by journalists and development economists alike. However, for all the sensible economic policies he has undertaken that are rightly praised, he deserves to be equally admonished for the nasty undercurrent of authoritarianism and oppression that currently threaten political and civil freedoms in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s economy has more than quadrupled since 1994 and aid dependency, although still 20 per cent of GDP, has reduced from over 60 per cent just five years ago. Foreign investment (over $100 million in 2008) is a symptom of the ever improving business conditions: Rwanda was recently voted the top reformer by the World Bank’s Doing Business report climbing to a ranking of 67 (5th highest in sub-Saharan Africa).
But this welcome progress has taken place alongside frequent reports of opposition harassment and persecution of journalists, severely threatening freedom of the press, political debate and other pillars of a free and open society. Independant newspapers have been closed down and many feel that attempts to silence “genocide deniers” are arbitrary and politically-motivated. These problems take on even greater significance as Rwanda gears up for a Presidential election in August 2010, which could further extend Kagame’s already lengthy 16 year tenure. These awful abuses of power only serve to stoke resentment in a corner of the world that is not unfamiliar to conflict and bloodshed.
Will Paul Kagame be remembered as the great reformer who enabled foreign investment and remarkable growth? Or will he join the infamous ranks of the many other African dictators-for-life who clung tightly to power at all possible costs? In order for Rwanda to overcome its awful history, Kagame’s liberal economic reforms must be matched by a commitment to the rule of law and free, open elections.