The Global Elite’s Favorite Strongman

Paul Kagame is an international hero for reforming Rwanda. But cleaning up a country doesn’t come without moral hazards.

Comments: 130

  1. Gettlemen manages to capture many aspects of the remarkable progress made in Rwanda. In addition to the reduction in malaria deaths, the country has seen one million people come out of poverty in just five years - something unheard of on the continent. One of the key reasons for this is the decentralization efforts undertaken in parallel to the Imihigo described in the article.

    Today significant decision making power is given not only to local officials but to communities themselves. This is the untold story of political empowerment in Rwanda. Villagers often meet to decide how and what to spend government money on and who within the community will receive social security benefits like free health insurance. It's because of this decentralization that aid funds have been spent efficiently and reach those who need it most.

  2. It’s great that you mention Imihigo in your story. Imihigo is just one among many solutions Rwandans have drawn from their culture, that the government has used to deal with every day issues. These home grown solutions have helped nurture a shared national identity and ensure participation and agency.

    Other initiatives include Umuganda or community service on the last Saturday of each month which is why the city (and country side) is clean. Communities come together to do a variety of public works. This often includes infrastructure development and environmental protection. I know other African countries are looking into this…we should try and do that here!

    Another favorite of mine is Girinka which is one cow per poor family. The Government of Rwanda initiated Girinka in response to the alarmingly high rate of childhood malnutrition. The community chooses who gets a cow and the first calf is then passed to another needy person. Sort of like pay it forward. Since its introduction in 2006, more than 179,000 beneficiaries have received cows. Whatever your views on Kagame, there are no denying, the guy has done his people good. I’m not so sure Obama can claim the same record---and we are supposed to be a democracy!

  3. President Kagame is a strong man! Not only he stopped the genocide, he rebuilt a destroyed Rwandan community by bringing Gacaca courts which helped Rwandans to reconcile and reinforce their unity, to eradicate the culture of impunity as well as to speed up the genocide trials. This looked impossible before

  4. Oh sure he is strong...he started another genocide in Congo by supportin gproxy wars in Congo by supporting the RCD, CNDP adn today M23 among other..he is very strong by ots human rights abusers and killers supporters abilities..oh sure so strong indeed...the "global elite" should be ashamed of supporting this man who is currently sending his troops to kill, loot and murders in Congo as evidenced by the UN and is silencing political opponents and human rights group...last question where is Victoire Ingabire? (for those who don't who this fine lady is google it, then come talk about Kagame)

  5. Glad you were able to speak to him yourself and get a dose of the complexity around Kagame and Rwanda. Your piece is long...which I guess means interesting enough to read 9 pages! I like the fact that you mentioned registered successes, 85% drop in malaria is frankly miraculous! Kagame is an enigma. Had he been a push over like most African leaders are, if he let corrupt leaders get away without a beating (:D), if he did what others did, pay off some, play video games, call western leaders daddy, no one would attack him and the country would fall apart...which is the wider African narrative (what you call low expectations - created by westerners and their African cronies). Last time I visited Rwanda, I was impressed by most of the things Gettleman brings up, I asked my guide what he thought of the fact that journalists said there is no freedom of speech in the country and he said, "well people assume because conversations don't happen in English, they are not happening. Listen to radio in Kinyarwanda and you know we are having tough discussions. Muzungus (white people) make a lot of assumptions."

    On a final note, Gettleman mentioned the Tutsi ministers. He forgot to mention that the Senate Leader (constitutionally next in line) is Hutu--I asked. So is the Prime Minister, so are most of the other ministers not mentioned. It's hard to not see Rwanda in the prism of ethnicity but from my research, meritocracy and expertise is what Kagame is looking for.

  6. Rwanda is a distinctive nation made up of distinctive people with a distinctive history. Go beyond the usual reading material (ie Phillip Gourevitch and Samantha Power) and you will get the sense that although the West may have exacerbated the most recent Rwandan slaughter/genocide, they certainly didn't cause the origins of the cycles of violence in this part of the world. I say this as someone with an appreciation of Rwandan history and culture. I don't know what the answer is, but Kagame is just another episode in the Rwandan cycle of history. Distinctive peoples have unique destinies.

  7. Hello Jen, my intention is not to question your expertise on Rwanda, but allow me to disagree with your statement which reads that “although the West may have exacerbated the most recent Rwandan slaughter/genocide, they certainly didn't cause the origins of the cycles of violence in this part of the world.” It is a historical fact that genocidal violence in Rwanda started only in 1959 under Belgian colonial rule. And remember, the Rwandan Nation was at the time more than 400 years old.

  8. As a Canadian working in the humanitarian sector East Africa, the first few paragraphs of this article plus what I have seen with my own eyes in Rwanda is enough to convince me that this country is getting it right and in a large part driven by an extraordinary leader, Kagame. Perhaps we from the West have a lot of work to do to remove our own tired, patronizing attitude and ingrained biases that can only see African leaders as creatures to be taken apart and demonized at every opportunity. In my opinion, those out of work Kagame staffers are come off as sour losers and they come nowhere near to stacking up against the impressive progress that has bettered the life of 11 million Rwandans.

  9. Thanks Gentleman for this story,
    Rwanda under president Kagame introduced > in its budget now each government institution and the smallest administration unit on the local level they has to present gender implication for the budget to be approved. That's how a million people graduated from poverty majority are women

    The constitution says at least 30% in any all decision levels organs that's how the parliament got 56% of women. in all 30 district that representation can be seen up to the village level. They compete and on merit both Hutu & Tutsi are in all levels.

    I think Kagame deserves to be recognized for what he has done. In fact the development you talked about and reported by world bank & IMF could not have worked if the system was excluding the Hutu as Kagame's opponents told u practically it cant work bse they are the majority-Simple otherwise its self contraction

    You know why diplomats don't bother about the so called authoritarian? Its because its not what on the ground. I know Pres Kagame does not tolerate leaders who dont serve or corrupt thats why most of those end up running out of the country.
    By the way what do you think opponents would tell you about their opponent simple especially in Africa? They will say despot, authoritarian, killers, political space all that to get your sympathy

  10. Those accusing Kagame's leadership of being dominated by Tutsi simple dont know it. in the big 5 ie;

    1- President is Tutsi
    2- President of the Senate is Hutu and Secretary general of the main opposition
    3- The Speaker of the Lower House was is Hutu
    4- Prime Minister who heads Government is Hutu
    5- Chief Justice is Tutsi but just replaced a Hutu who finished her term

    We have 25 ministers over 15 are Hutu, Parliament of 107 over 66 are Hutu, thats true

  11. Thanks, Gordon, to mention the figures, though here in Rwanda, we don't like much to stay locked into the trap of statistics and policies of ethnicity. But mind you that staunch followers of genocide ideology will tell you that those Hutu in the highest positions are just "hutu for hire" ("Hutu de service" in French as coined it Filip Reyntjens, the Belgian professor turned political activist who happens to be the greatest ideologue of the "Hutu supremacy ideology" , "policy of ethnicity" or "genocide ideology" in Rwanda.)

  12. Quite a paean to a sociopath responsible for the death of millions of people in his own country and neighboring DR Congo. People like Prime Minister David Cameron should shut up about stopping the next Rwanda in Syria and stop Rwanda in Congo. Rwandan troops are amassing on the Rwanda/Congo border once again, now that the Congolese army has pushed back Rwanda's proxy militia M23.

    Difficult for Kagame to credibly negotiate for territory within the boundaries of DR Congo. Hence M23, which he continues to deny is a battalion of the army he commands.

    Kagame is beloved by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, because, by assassinating three African presidents, Juvenal Habyarimana, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and Laurent Kabila, he established US/Anglophone dominance in this resource rich region formerly dominated by France. Never mind the slaughter, dislocation, and subsequent death by starvation or disease recounted in 20 years of UN investigations, including the fragment of the 1994 Gersony Report.

    In 2009, Sarkozy finally accepted the loss, revised France's account of the Rwanda Genocide, and said "we can share."

  13. Well said Ann Garrison, let's the world know the truth, with all due respect Tony Blair and Bill Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for supporting Kagame regime.

  14. Thank you, LetFreedomRing, and let me correct myself on one point: The French rapprochement with Kigali did begin in 2009, but it wasn't till 2010 that France further obliged by revising its version of the Rwanda Genocide story, for the sake of access to eastern Congo's resource wealth.

  15. "Never mind the slaughter, dislocation, and subsequent death by starvation or disease recounted in 20 years of UN investigations, including the fragment of the 1994 Gersony Report."

    20 years??? In 1993, Kagame was not even in Rwanda, let alone causing chaos in Congo. From what I read M23 came into existence in 2012 when the Congolese government failed to stick to a peace treaty it had signed with the National Congress for the Defence of the People, one of the many political parties on the ground, on March 23, 2009. It is fact that the war in Congo has lasted for well over 17 years now, and that there are more than 30 active rebel groups spread throughout Congo. How can M23 solely be responsible for all the casualties?

    Why do you blatantly ignore the fact that Congo lacks good governance and is led by selfish politicians? Need I mention Congolese politicians' paycheck widely exceeds that of a wall-street banker ($13k/month for members of parliament and $30k for ministers). The kind of gross opulence & greed these so-called politicians exhibit prove that their countrymen well-being is nowhere on their list of priorities. Where is western complicity in your post?
    why hasn't the Congolese government disarmed these Hutu Rwandans, as any responsible government would any groups of foreign armed groups, especially genocidal groups, on its soil?

    For you to write up a few solutions to a very complex war that has claimed millions of lives is demeaning and simplistic at best

  16. What a photograph!

  17. A very interesting report on an under reported story. The nature of "Strong" man states include cult of personality and localized enforcement mechanism to enforce the centers demands. Neither element was detailed and I am curious as to whether a formal party mechanics works at the village or municipality level and if a personality cult is present. The over sized portraits aside, any little red ,green or other colored books?

  18. I'm confused. Not more than a year ago I read in some other major publication (maybe even the NYTimes since I don't read too many publications) about how corrupt, repressive and authoritarian this man was becoming. Did he offend some powerful westerner (Bono perhaps?) and is now back in his good graces?

  19. This guy Kagame is not great, he is the principal trouble maker in the region meddling in Congo war and silencing political opponents as Victoire Ingabire and human rights organizations.

  20. Kagame and Rwanda are VERY complex, and few Western journalists have the patience, humility, or intellectual voracity to understand it. There are a lot of people who write about them both with minimal understanding. I've seen a lot of horribly researched, poorly analyzed articles on Kagame. You can't believe everything you read just because it's published in a newspaper, unfortunately.

  21. I haven't even read the article yet because I'm mesmerized by the accompanying photograph - what a fantastic portrait!

  22. I stared at it a long time too!

  23. Absolutely superb. I have not stopped looking. These Times photographers are second to none. More than a pic. A portrait.

  24. Western journalists writing on Rwanda and Africa do so through the prism of their own countries, forgeting that like people are distinct, so are their realities. This, to Africans makes them sound ignorant, especially when it comes to the way they see democracy in Africa, repression and human rights. a country like Rwanda, they seem confused themselves, because they fail take tome to analyse critically. Rwanda has achieved all that they say, all for the benefit of its people, but turn around and talk of repression. how can you wrestle people from the yoke of poverty, give them better medication, give them good education, ask them to practice family planning and turn around and oppress them? it simply doesnt make sense. oppressive regimes dont care about people, they remit the donor money to swiss banks for their families to live comfortably. Kagame's crime is only that he is concentrating on making Rwanda and its people better, but as society always has few lunatics, they tend to want to disrupt his work. what do u do?

  25. Thank you, sir. You speak the truth. To imagine that the ideal of American democracy should somehow fit perfectly on to one of the most brutalized political narratives in Africa seems naive.

    Especially as the author himself acknowledges that the demographics create a 'time bomb'. If you were sitting on a time-bomb, esp. one that might result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, would you want to turn that time-bomb into a political football? To do so would be irresponsible.

  26. So, Mugabe run Zimbabwe into the ground??
    I seem to remember a western embargo!

  27. There are much better ways to support and defend post-colonial Africa than coming to Mugabe's defense.

  28. Phenomenal photograph, Nadav! I am transfixed. I hope that you win an award for this one. Exemplary work.

  29. I remember those Israeli machine guns, too!!!!
    I visited Kigali in 2003, and those guns struck me, i hadn't seen them anywhere else in Africa!!

  30. This guy Kagame is not great, he is the principal trouble maker in the region meddling in Congo war and silencing political opponents as Victoire Ingabire and human rights organizations.
    He is now losing "his" proxy war with the M23 in Congo and the Rwandan lobby in New York and DC want to show him is a good light...when just recently among other abuses he The leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights has been ousted because of its independent stance.

  31. What I would like to know is what will happen to Rwanda when Kagame dies. Also, many great leaders have become not so great the longer they've stayed in power. That is the biggest danger in having such an authoritarian, centralized (yet measurably successful) government: everything is contigent on the leader, and all that progress could immediately disappear. What I am left wondering is: how strong are Rwanda's institutions?

  32. If horrors can be ranked, then the horror of The Congo may exceed the horrors of the genicide in Rwanda and Burundi. Certainly the body count exceeds it. Jason Stearn's great book on The Congo, "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters" makes Kagame's complicity in that tragedy clear. Of course, for all his crimes he's done a lot of good. But true order cannot come from repression. Tito seemed like he had brought order to Yugoslavia---an order that barely outlasted his death. Kagame's beating his subordinates says a great deal about him. He thinks he's daddy and even his aides recalcitrant children.But even recalcitrant children grow up. Will he, using the parent analogy, train his "children" to take control? Will he gradually cede control? Or do we simply wait until the next explosion?

    He's no grafter, but he's making the mistake of those who don't indulge in that vice and forget the maxim that power is the greatest corrupter. Money and sex just erode the character, but power takes over.

  33. It's curious that the very informative article neglects to discuss fairly well-documented allegations that Kagame ordered the shooting down of President Habyarimana's plane on 7 April 1994, which restarted the civil war that degenerated into genocide. Or how the RPF insisted on frustrating and undermining Arusha peace accords that gave it the lion's share in negotiated power-sharing back in 1994, before war and genocide consumed Rwanda. Or how RPF commandos targeted "moderate" Hutu reformers for assassination, thus sowing confusion and escalating deterioration in an already tenuous political scene --- which set the stage for renewed war ... and genocide back in 1994. Kagame's achievements are indeed remarkable. But one can also wonder at what cost, ultimately.

  34. Dew,

    I read on Wikipedia that the jury is still out on who killed Habyarimana. Some say it was Hutu extremists within his administration who didn't like his moderate approach in dealing with Tutsi. And others say it was RPF.

    You say it's "well-documented". Where is it documented? I am interested to read the sources and know the truth.

  35. It's interesting to read all the very sensible things Mr Kagame has done to improve his country. It should become readily apparent (if it wasn't already) that these economic and social tactics are well known. How to wrest a country and it's people from poverty is, in fact, not a mystery.

    Here in the US our elections are confused by a "party" that tries to pretend it is all about "patriotism", "small businessman" and "freedom" when really it is selfishly profiting at the county's expense; stealing from the poor to pay the rich while taking freedoms from the female and brown. They are able to do this by instilling doubt in even very sensible, proven economic techniques that work every time, period.

    Greedy, Obnoxious People know no boundaries - they are everywhere - they are Kagame's critics - they are Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck and Mitch McConnell. They serve a purpose in a stable democracy but it's great to see what can be accomplished when they are silenced for a time.

  36. "He also exploits Western guilt, pointedly reminding governments that they abandoned Rwanda on its judgment day; some of his biggest fans, like Bill Clinton, have become teary with regret. The message is clear: No one on the outside occupies the moral high ground when it comes to Rwanda, and nobody should tell Kagame what is right or wrong. "

    This is at once the most fascinating and troubling part of this incredible piece. Rwanda will have the ability to ride the western guilt trip for some time. If only western, democratic leaders could convince Kagame to go down in history as a humble savior of his country, instead of another African demagogue, and to step down when his term ends. He has been the right man at the right time for Rwanda. But what is the point of educating the next generation if you are not also teaching them to lead a country?

  37. Kagame has benefitted from his moving forward and having an interest in seeing Rwanda not sink to African corruption and dependency. The movie Hotel Rwanda was a superb rendering of the genocide. The movie called the western leaders cowards for leaving defenseless Tutsis to be murdered by marauding Hutus. But the western powers supplied Kagame's rebel force that chased the Hutus into Congo. No movie has been made to show the disaster that has befallen the Hutus and others at the hands of Tutsi militias. Kagame has got the trains to run on time as they said was the virtue of Mussolini. Kagame probably will not leave office at the end of his term but, as the other rulers mentioned in the article, hang onto power and oppress his opponents. That was one of the wonderful things about Nelson Mandela he knew when to walk away from power and his moral influence grew.

  38. And look at South Africa now. Many people put up his glowing example - no disputing Mandela is one of Africa's greats - but what did he leave behind after one term? Corruption, poverty, inequality etc. that only gets worse. That's the discussion we should be having...

  39. Kudos to the reporter for asking the hard questions and reporting all sides. From what I read here this man is not much different from your garden variety African dictator following a well known arc . Initially he paves roads and distributes mosquito nets then later will show his true colors when it's time to leave and people desire change. Many people in the west seem to have a genuine concern for Rwanda and a desire not to see the past reoccur. I hope through aid and moral persuasion they get the government to do right by its people.

  40. '...and Bill Clinton said that Kagame “freed the heart and the mind of his people.” '

    Mr, Clinton would do well to say nothing at all about Rwanda.

  41. Since when are journalists allowed to add such blatant opinions into a story? This profile was fascinating until I got to:
    "The United States has a long history, of course, of putting aside concerns over human rights and democratic principles and supporting strongmen who can protect its strategic interests, like keeping the oil flowing or Communist sympathizers or Muslim extremists in check."

    The NYT of all places should know better. You set the bar. Either mark this as an editorial, or cut out the opinions. Your readers don't want the journalist to give us his opinions on American politics.

  42. Hmmm. I think this is just fact, at this point.

  43. That the US has a long history of putting aside concerns over human rights and democratic priinciples and supporting strongmen who can protect strategic interests, like keeping the oil flowing or Communist sympathisers or Muslims in check, is not an opinion. It is verifiable fact. It is our history. You may wish it were not so, as do I, but it is our history.

  44. This is a pretty well established fact at this point, unfortunately. I don't think it even requires an argument on the part of the author -- fair to just state it.

  45. Rwanda, Ethiopia and Uganda were all cited as African countries obtaining some measure of success amongst a continental sea of "failed states" and tribal anarchy. All three are ruled by authoritarian and marginally benign despots who have accomplished some measure of control by ruthless measures. This said, I find the article somewhat confusing and contradictory.

    Western democracies have an embarrassment of wars and oppressions of their own, including the colonial exploitation and manipulations of tribal ignorance in Africa that deprives them of any high ground to preach to Kagame or anyone else. This isn't to say he does not deserve criticism. But Gettleman supplies no rationale for an option to him that is certain to do better amongst those competitors who have "fled."

    it seems we have an irrational impatience to move Africa from tribal chaos and the rule of corruption to democratic statehood on a Mad Hatter's timetable. If it takes a relatively enlightened strongman to reverse these malignancies, shouldn't we accept
    the incremental successes that come at the leadership of those strong enough to impose some measure of order in the evolution of African statehood as part of long, if untidy process?

  46. The most surprising thing to me about the aftermath of the genocide is that Islam did not wind up gaining a faster foothold in the country. The Catholic Church in Rwanda was deeply mixed up in the mechanism of the '94 genocide, and when it came to religious convictions guiding humane behavior, the Muslims in Rwanda acquitted themselves very well. For a while after the genocide it seemed Islam was on the rise in the country. But I'm guessing Kagame, the new mwami, has had some subtle thing to do with that not really happening?. At the very least, he is certainly a charismatic and powerful force. But again, don't ascribe wholly to Kagame what is part of the Rwandan national character. This country was called "the Switzerland of Africa" long before the Kagame era. This is a highly organized society and always has been. Ironically, it is that character that was distorted during the genocide and became a tool of slaughter.

  47. An excellent article that not only describes the rise of one of Africa's most respected leaders, but the complexity, brutality and uncertainty that seems to follow. We should follow the story of Rwanda closely over the coming years - as perhaps a model of what can be replicated elsewhere, or a model of what should never be tolerated anywhere.

  48. Once again--an amazing analysis of a very complex and unique situation. This is a very rare glimpse into the mind of a most celebrated and feared African leader. Thank you, Mr. Gettleman, for asking him the questions that needed to be asked.

  49. That is one of the most stunning portrait photos I've ever seen!!

  50. Excellent work by Mr Gettleman. Complex analysis with multiple facts to back up those questions. Thank you for reporting non-headline grabbing but very important issues.

  51. I worked on Rwanda from 1994 (just after the genocide) until 1998. I was struck by the sheer capacity, hard work, charm and tragedy of Rwandans, Hutu and Tutsi. I can only wish the people and the country well, and remember distinctly my meeting with Vice President (at the time) Paul Kagame, right at the beginning of the end of the massive refugee camps in Zaire (then so -called). He is indeed a remarkably forceful, if soft-spoken, leader. To what extent economic growth, reduced poverty and better access to health and education can lead to longer-term peaceful development after the end of the "strongman's" rule, who knows?

  52. Great interview, great insight into a region once ignored by us. Scary president, hopefully he does not turn into another Mugabe. Big question is how the western world can keep this guy from turning into a monster. The first real bad indicator will be if he continues on to a third term. I would love to see this nation progress into a Singapore after all the suffering and misery which occured during the genocide.

  53. Thank you, Mr. Gettleman. I suggest all read this article from end to beginning. This crazy feeling of 'specialness' that is shared by all despots is exhibited in that last sentence of the piece. History is full of 'expert managers' that made the trains run on time and built magnificent buildings as an ode to their superior races. To a man, all were murderous brutes who micromanaged their citizens' lives, all the while being admired by the 'world' and its inept and guilt ridden leaders.
    A president of a country that sees only a problem of sustainability in physically beating up his subordinates is a psycho by definition. As much as I admire President Clinton, his blind eye to the Kagames, Meleses and Musevenis of this world is shameful.
    Kagame will go as death will get us all. It might be by another murderous man as himself or a heart attack, but then we will have another genocide as the now-oppressed will seek their revenge. Tragedy will always accompany murderous despots.

  54. As complicated and even problematic as Kagame is as a President, it is too simplistic to dismiss him as a murderous brute. A great resource for a fuller perspective is Philip Gourevitch's book "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families..." Kagame and the RPF stopped a genocide, (think about that, he stopped a genocide...), while the rest of the world stood idly by (in fact, there's significant evidence that one European government actively aided the perpetrators). This doesn't mean that he should get a blank check to oppress dissenters, but there is a reason that so many Rwandans support him--he literally saved their lives. And rather than seeking revenge, the new government, in which Kagame was a prominent leader, didn't even send the majority of those involved in the killing to jail (long story, but you can find the rationale in the book). Not necessarily the actions of your garden variety murderous brute. Some people are too complicated to fit in a narrow box and I think Kagame is one of them. He is both hero and villain.

    On another note, the article implies that Tutsis hold a privileged space in the country. In fact, many Tutsi survivors of the genocide are incredibly poor, even by Rwandan standards.

  55. I ran a mobile phone and Internet company in Rwanda several years back. It was, at the time, the largest US private sector investment in the country. For various reasons, some business, others personal, we got on the wrong side of Kagame and the GoR. What happened next was straight out of a movie. Trumped up charges, absurd fines for alleged failure to perform and culminating in negotiations that led to the company being forced to sell at a fraction of its value. The GoR then quickly resold it at a very nice profit to a Libyan entity.

    Flash forward a few years. Libya's in turmoil, Qaddafi's dead and, the movie's a sequel this time. Same script. Charges levied against the company, licenses retracted, assets seized, etc. Then quickly resold once again, this time to an Indian company. Things happen.

    Opportunistic and ruthless, yes. But, on balance, Rwanda remains a model of African exceptionalism. Mr. Gettleman's article strikes a fair median between the two.

  56. Modern-day Westerners often fail to appreciate that undeveloped nations with fewer police and social resources must resort to harsh punishments to maintain order. Cruel as Kagame may be, he is still far more lenient and progressive than the leaders of highly refined and civilized European countries a few hundred years ago, who maintained order by drawing and quartering criminals and dissenters and impaling their heads on city gates. Frankly, I am impressed that Kagame manages to maintain order in such an undeveloped nation while still maintaining some semblance of modernity.

  57. This story is rather revisionist and misses a very important part of President Kagame’s biography. The claim that Kagame is “A soldier by training, he joined a Ugandan rebel group shortly out of high school, rose up through the ranks and then did a short stint at the staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., part of the Pentagon’s efforts to make African armies more professional.”, fails to mention that Kagame wasn’t just any “soldier by training” and that the rebel army he joined, wasn’t just another “Ugandan rebel group”. Like many ethnic Rwandese who grew up in Uganda as a “refugee”, he was virtually integrated in the Ugandan social fabric. And like many Ugandans who were intent on rescuing their country from years of brutal dictatorships, he joined President Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1982 as one of the original core of 27 fighters who started that rebellion. He rose through the ranks as one of Museveni’s most trusted and effective rebel commanders.

    Upon taking power in 1986 Kagame was one of the highest ranking officers in the NRA (now the UPDF), and rose to the rank of Major General and was the head of Uganda’s Military Intelligence unit. He was a serving officer in the UPDF when he was sent to Fort Leavenworth for further military training.

  58. And, just why do you think the Pentagon would invest in the "professionalizing" an African military, particularly a refugee army that was about to invade Rwanda from Uganda? Humanitarian concern?

  59. @Ann Garrison:..because the Clinton administration at the time, with Susan Rice, the actual National Security Advisor decided to get rid of old dictators as Habyarimana and Mobutu and replace them with new ones as Museveni and Kagame....

  60. Congratulations on a fantastic story (and fantastic photo) that deserved to be told. NYT editors should be commended for publishing a long-form article on this important topic.
    I have been involved in international efforts that combat repression of free speech in Rwanda. The situation there reminds me strongly of China. There too, opinion is split over the strong authoritarian regime. During my visits there, many decried the heavy-handedness of the Communist Party; but for every critic, I also met those who supported the country's miraculous economic rise (the "sleeping dragon awakened")--many young Chinese are simply too busy making money and bettering their lives to worry about freedom of speech or one-party control. I suppose one thing Kagame has over the Chinese Communist Party is the lack of widespread official corruption and graft (as the article noted, it is easier to run a smaller country than a large sprawling one).
    Perhaps, as other commentators have said, it is neither fair nor practical to expect developing countries with troubled colonial pasts to adopt fully-formed, western-style democracies. But, I suppose, neither do we need to keep pumping money into places like Rwanda without some serious strings attached. Or publishing good, critical journalism about its leaders, for that matter.

  61. Portrait photo of Mr. Kagame is reminiscent of the late, great Armenian Canadian portraitist Yousuf Karsh. Compelling, transfixing photo.

  62. What's "impressive" about Paul Kagame is that he's not corrupt, unlike many leaders in other African nations. He is no doubt "repressive" and tolerates no opposition. When his rebel army ended the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people in 1994, he became first vice-president and president in 2000. He has been praised by economists for striving to lift the country out of poverty. Yet, just like in Zimbabwe, total submission is the price that citizens have to pay.

  63. ***Continued from earlier comment****

    When the Ugandan-supported rebellion to oust President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda broke out in 1990, Kagame was at Fort Leavenworth. A few days into the rebellion, it’s military leader – Major general Fred Rwigyema (another senior officer of Rwandese decent in the higher echelons of Uganda’s military), was killed. Kagame was then summoned to come back to Rwanda and assume leadership of the guerilla movement that went on to overthrow the Hutu-dominated government of Rwanda in 1994 and stopped the genocide.

    I realize that you couldn’t include all these details in your otherwise well-written piece, but to truly understand Kagame, it would be foolhardy to not acknowledge how his thinking and worldview was shaped by his role in the Ugandan liberation struggle. That experience is so integral to his thinking. One can even argue that without President Museveni and the NRA, there would never have been a Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPA/F). Most of whose founders and leaders of this movement (including Kagame) were educated and trained in Uganda and still have strong familial and professional connections there. Many of them are currently running Rwanda right now. The bonds between the 2 countries and their leaders are still very close to this day and can not be delineated without skewing history.

  64. It seems like we are seeing a Nilotic v. Bantu struggle in multiple countries, with the Nilotics like Kagame and Museveni currently on top. Remarkably, even in the United States, where the vast majority of African-Americans are of Bantu origin, the President is half-Nilotic and not at all Bantu.

  65. Our government supported the ultra authoritarian Mobutu Sese Seko when he serially raped his country, leaving nothing for the vast majority of his people despite the billions in aid that poured into Zaire. Should we now get worked up about an authoritarian leader in Africa who is actually doing something good for his people?

    When nations are not grounded in centuries of humanist legal frameworks, history has shown that majority rule can be very repressive, caring nothing of minority rights. (I could cite majority rule in the U.S. from before 1776 to the 1960s but it wouldn't fit the criteria expressed in the previous sentence.) In Rwanda, when the majority Hutus gained control, there was a horrible genocide. Yet, as the article stated, the Tutsi have ruled in Rwanda for centuries apparently without that kind of carnage. Iraq is becoming the bombing capital of the world under the majority Shiites, thanks to us. Even the Alawites in Syria protected Christians, secularists and other minorities. Can we guarantee or do we assume that the Sunni and jihadi forces fighting Assad will do the same?

    Sometimes the devil we know may be better than the devil we don't know.

  66. Ok, natives American Indians are the minority in the US and have been ruling the US for centuries, following your analogy maybe native Americans should rule the United States also to protect the rights of everyone.....????

  67. "When nations are not grounded in centuries of humanist legal frameworks, history has shown that majority rule can be very repressive, caring nothing of minority rights. (I could cite majority rule in the U.S. from before 1776 to the 1960s but it wouldn't fit the criteria expressed in the previous sentence.)"

    Yes it does. America has a HORRIBLE history with minority rights.

    America upheld slavery for two centuries.
    Executed centuries of genocide on it's indigenous people.
    Upheld apartheid government, a.k.a, Jim Crow for a large swath of its country.

    And let's not get started on the wars. . .

    It is laughable how persons in the West, particularly America, try to hold a moral high ground. We have one of the most murderous countries in history.

  68. Extraordinary article. Congratulations Mr, Gettleman and the NYT!

    Having lived in democracy my entire life I find it terrible that others do not. Not in many African countries, not in many Asian countries, certainly not in Russia. However, I believe that in some of these countries, attempting to impose democracy too quickly, such as in Egypt, would lead to something much worse.

    The article discusses the tradeoffs (as much as can be done in a newspaper article), and given Africa's recent history, it sounds like it is a net positive for the country. The most likely alternative would be more anarchy and no possible bright future.

    Now we, and Kagame, should be thinking hard about the future of Rwanda and about Kagame's legacy. As Kagame might say "his ways are not sustainable". Kagame appears to be a relatively benevolent dictator (I know, many people would not use the word "benevolent") who tries to make the country better and does not steal millions from its coffers. However, when he is no longer able to lead, whether it be tomorrow or 20 years from now, the next leader may not be so country-focused. If the next leader has Kagame's current power he could dismantle all of Kagame's good.

    Now is the time to begin making the move to a more democratic state. To sharing power, and slowly helping the country to create the systems and institutions required to make it work.

  69. I had the privilege of meeting Gregoire Kayabanda , Rwanda's second president when I lived in Gisenyi, Rwanda in the early 1970s'. Kayabanda was very approachable and would take walks outside his residence every evening after dinner when he would speak with anyone who wanted to have a conversation. He was overthrown by Habyarimana in July 1973 and died mysteriously. Rwanda is a beautiful country and the people are very friendly, despite the massacre 20 years ago.

  70. Strong piece. However, I think the article is heavy handed at times in trying to shade the reader's perception of Kagame. "It was a little scary how quickly he flipped from friendly to imperious. He clearly wasn’t used to confrontational questions, especially from a reporter." Describing his actions and reactions alone would have been more effective and valuable than having your "sense" and subjective views woven into the article.

  71. Fascinating article, one question I would have wished was asked of Kagame: what happens after him? Even if the Rwandan constitution gets changed and he gets acclaimed as president-for-life, what happens after his life ends? Even if you accept that on the balance, President Kagame has been mostly positive, what happens after? This has been a chronic problem in Africa, succession-planning. I wish the reporter had asked him about post-Kagame Rwanda.

  72. Who says Kagame is trying to kill anyone? Kagame is merely the face of a regime, and like regimes everywhere, the man you see is most certainly not the decider-in-chief.

    He seems like a genuinely thoughtful, even benign individual. That doesn't make the regime any less lethal.

  73. This account is quite illuminating.

    While reading this, I was amazed by Kagame's achievements. I felt, here is an African leader who ought to be elevated to lead all of Sub-Saharan Africa. And the West ought to enable that to happen.

    But as I read through, his vindictiveness was quite disheartening. Anger issues may not be that big a problem, if he were forgiving. You don't get the picture of a forgiving individual. That's disappointing.

    Then again, his "transgressions" could be overlooked, if he proves not to be a monster. Spending $15,000 a night for a fancy hotel with Rwanda's meagre resources, if he doesn't repeat, is forgivable.

    In any case, he deserves the support, with merciless criticism, of the rest of the world.

  74. I lived and worked in Rwanda in 1987 through 1989. I also found myself there during the genocide. My latest visit to the country was in 2010. When I personally assess pre-genocide Rwanda and post-genocide Rwanda and how Paul Kagame has influenced life in Rwanda I would give him a B+ overall. The grade is for ending the genocide, rebuilding a devasted country and trying to disable the cultural weknesses that caused the genocide. The people that experienced the genocide, including me, were severely traumatized. I was able to leave and hela at home in Canada. Rwandan survivors were not as lucky as me. Kagame's strong leadership gives those people hope that it won't happen to them again. Is he an overly controlling and perhaps ruthless leader? Of this I have no doubt. When I interacted with RPF soldiers during the war they were in awe of Kagame and feared him. Discipline within the ranks of the RPF army was ruthlessly enforced. Kagame has brought that same discipline to Rwanda as a whole. Part of the B+ I give him is for doing this. Rwanda is a land of contradictions so where he fails is also for doing this.

  75. NY Times, please make sure this portrait is entered into this year's World Press Photo contest !

  76. For those of us who live in Rwanda, it is almost impossible to describe the change we have seen (for the better), delivered at an unprecedented pace under Kagame's leadership. The improvements in our lives is both tangible and concrete. Furthermore, the vast majority of Rwandans are happy with the government (see gallup polls on Rwanda) and believe that the country has a bright future. It is puzzling to see how some people are quick to brandish labels such as 'oppressor, dictator' etc, It simply doesn't add up - how does an oppressive regime, lift more than one million people out of poverty in less than five years? How does an oppressor ensure universal health insurance for his people, provide universal primary education, ensure the country is one of the safest and cleanest in the world, create one of the best environments for doing business on the continent, steer GDP growth of over 8% a year for the past decade...? The list goes on, point being these facts don't fit with the narrative of a brutal, oppressive regime but on the contrary seem to be the hallmarks of a benign, enlightened and highly focused leadership.

  77. No, he's not perfect, but when you think of the direction he could have taken as he entered Rwanda at the head of a well-disciplined army back in 1994 - well. He had a choice, and he chose the high ground unlike so many of his African counterparts.

    Sure, there are problems and issues, that grow every time you scratch the surface, but there is no other country in Africa at that level of poverty that is so intent and dedicated to getting it right and improving the conditions for its citizens. Bravo, Kagame, warts and all.

  78. Kagame measurable success, although meager, in running Rwanda at many level has of course blinded so many powerhouses (Bill clinton and Tony Blair).
    Ignoring the plight and the killing in the Congo is the most unacceptable mistake the world is making. Tutsi mistakenly thinking that supporting a Tutsi killing machine by funding rebels are creating a foundation to the explosion of a regional conflct that won't benefit the Great Lakes region progress.

  79. A balanced and well written article I must say. I think we need a Kagame in Uganda and in most African countries to streamline things. I salute President Kagame for pulling his country out of a genocide abyss and making it a force to reckon with in Africa. Instead of the stinging criticism from the west, Kagame needs all the support to keep his country on the road to economic recovery. People in Africa need a functional state that delivers services and not the western type of democracy of rights some of which do not make sense to us. Thank you Jeffrey for a job well done.

  80. I am not surprised at all that this is going in Rwanda. How else was the most efficient--and most technologically backward--genocide in modern human history effected if not by a society that is this rigidly authoritarian and hyper-centralized?

    There's a common misconception that the 1994 genocide was a sudden outburst of ancient tribal passions. That was far from the truth. The genocide was meticulously planned, with the vast majority of Rwandans having been brainwashed for decades that Tutsis were subhuman. Even the designation of "Tutsi" and "Hutu" was of recent vintage, introduced by divide-and-conquer Belgian colonists in the early 1900s. Suffice to say, the genocide was carried out by a machine-like apparatus, and was far from being predicated on "ancient tribal passions."

    Such a genocide could only be carried out by a society that was incredibly regimented and organized, akin to a mini-Germany, Sweden or Japan. The history and culture of Rwanda shows a strict rule-bound ethos that is somewhat unique to Africa. Rwandan society has also encouraged a "everyone is watching everyone" strain to it that is definitely not paranoia--neighbors keep tabs on neighbors in Rwanda, and have long done so.

    The social and cultural milieu is therefore fertile ground for an efficient and coldly calculating dictator. The dictatorship that had instigated the 1994 genocide was much like this, but with ends that were far more horrific than what Kagame seeks to accomplish.

  81. Although I spent little of my professional life as an African historian in the African Great Lakes, I did visit Burundi twice in the late 1980s. So much of what I saw there (Burundi was pro-western and Tutsi dominated, while Rwanda was pro-Soviet and Hutu dominated) resembles Kagame's Rwanda. Ethnic identification was illegal (Tutsis were surreptitiously referred to as tall, Hutus small, and Twa tiny) but obviously palpable. Tutsis controlled the army, key civilian positions, and university admissions. When Pierre Buyoya replaced Jean-Baptiste Bagaza, the latter became a non-person whose name was purged from books. Part of this repressive style came from colonial days when both Ruanda and Urundi was assigned to the Belgians as mandates under the League of Nations. Before that both were part of German East Africa. Unfortunately neither the colonizers nor their collaborators are entirely responsible for the dictatorial style which prevails in their successor states. Colonial rule and the Cold War helped make these twin kingdoms into the repressive states which they became.

  82. As a young Rwandan, I can not express enough the gratitude of having President Kagame as a leader and example to many young Rwandans. He has done so much for this healing nation and its hard to ignore his loyalty to his people. What many do not realize is that it is not easy to be a leader of a country with such a complicated past. But when you focus on the achievements and opportunities he has given his people, President Kagame deserves an applause for being such an influential leader. He has transformed his life from a young man who lived in exile to a liberator and today a power name who's being featured in the biggest media houses such as the New York Times. In my opinion, this editorial is controversial. Only fact I can attest to is that President Kagame together with RPF saved a young girl with a malnutrition disease from the genocide. And that young girl was me.

  83. Possibly the most FASCINATING and close to accurate account i have so far read about Paul Kagame, Rwanda and many things in between...
    I know Congo and Rwanda are 'supposed' to be 'enemies' as people usually align themselves with rage on the two extreme sides of the issue.
    For you cannot demonize the man without acknowledging his accomplishments and tangibility of development results in his country.
    And on that same token you cannot applaud the man without acknowledging the multiple complexities from which these 'results' are rooted.
    And you need to do that without discounting the varying dimensions of his persona, the incredible success and failure of his leadership, the bravery of his life journey and maybe also the frailty of his legacy today and tomorrow.
    And because doing all of these analyses and doing them well is complicated for our brains, and because so far the world has seen only one and one Kagame, and because we don't know what to do with what we may know, we then choose to focus on the difficult yet easy story to tell, which is the narratives of rape, killings, cell phone and mineral resources in the Congo...
    Stories that deserve to be told but stories that accomplish absolutely NOTHING, if not only to distract us from the real problem in the Congo, which is State building... the birthing, re-birthing, strengthening, existence or non existence of a state capable to ensure all forms of security(financial, economic, political,educational) for its people.

  84. Kagame has inspirational qualities as a leader. Leadership and Good Governance are among them. But the love of this country and people is the mother of the two. Recent studies including by the World Bank, concluded that leadership is one of the top factors of development. So, no surprise that steady economic growth and poverty reduction have been registering in Rwanda since more than 10 years. In 60's, Lee Kuan Yew was determined and convinced that Singapore would develop although without resources. So, for sure, in some years, Rwanda will be a development model to many countries. Those who criticize Kagame will continue for many reasons. For some, it is part of their job or driven by their own interests. For others, it might be lack of facts. For the latter, it would be better to visit the region and get the real story... Whether the former or the latter will change their opinions no body knows. But what is known for sure, is that Kagame will not change his focus and target, that is to develop his country and people. This is my firm conviction as a citizen. I have never seen such a leader! It is amazing. May all African countries have their Kagame! I am sincere in my wish. Best,
    Edward

  85. The west has long talked of transplanting democracy, presenting the concept as a remedy, given in the same package as practiced in the economically developed nations. This is where the West has got it all wrong. You cannot talk about democratic principles or even teach the people to practice democracy as perceived, when they cannot read, are disease stricken, ravaged by the shortcomings of tribalism, poverty, religious animosity and lack the sense of national cohesiveness to work together in order to solve the larger problems. Learning democratic principles is a long process which includes the establishment of a middle class that has vested interests in protecting plus advancing that little it owns. The issue then comes to helping the people achieve that goal of owning and accumulation and that involves providing education, building an infrastructure that allows transportation of goods and people, which makes accessibility of all regions in the country where business transactions could take place, helping with better healthcare to remove to worry about how many children are going to survive childhood. With time, people get their immediate needs catered for and can move forward and start to think about how to protect their property, how to advance the issue of participation grounded on well founded principles.
    It is a long process of learning but it comes not immediately as proved in Europe. The revolutions in both England and France say a lot in that regard!

  86. Right after Kagame was elected and Times Magazine stated he was the 8th most outstanding person of the year I chose to go to Rwanda. About 5 years ago. I went by myself and found on the internet a company to take me to the Mountain Gorillas. At that time it was $500.00 to see the Gorillas for one hour. It was an outstanding adventure. Then I went into Kigali and walked around. Never say one other white person. Saw the monument in remembering the killings that happened there. Was horrific. And we did nothing because they had nothing we needed. Hilary Clinton still regrets not doing something. Two sets of children came up to me and asked me the same question not my name or where I was from. Just how old was I? Being over 65 they had never seen an older person. The people where great. They all liked Kagame. Clean the streets once a month and he stands for no corruption in his government they told me.
    Then when he was running for election this past time I read that two of his opposition people where killed. So this article confirmed just what type of person he is. Thank you so much for this in depth article. I love Rwanda and its people. But i am troubled by Kagame.

  87. I guess it's good that Africa, for the most part, has no oil; for that gives it cause for us to turn our back's on it policy-wise, and what goes on inside there.

    Can you imagine if it were otherwise and it did, so as it were suddenly within our sphere of "national interest", like the middle east has become and the source of one long, on-going, headache after another.

    How on earth would we be able to square a leader such as Kagame, such as we're having such a hard time doing with all the other leaders like in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Palestine . . . .

    That's one less Pandora's box we need not look into, when it comes to championed democratic ideologies. Definitely a jungle from which we might never be able to find our way out of, assuming we were to feel to stupid as to go in, in the first place.

    Quicksand.

  88. At last another portrait of an African leader as a complex human being with flaws, strengths, weakness, eccentric, ordinary and understandable. Instead of the usual caricature of the brutal tribal superstitious savage outside the main stream of history and humanity. Even Mandela was once a seen as brutal savage and terrorist. His foibles are his rather than his race or tribe.

    European tribal divisions based upon faith, language and culture led to a new dark age culminating in World War I and II. The so called nation state rather than being a higher form of organization and morality was instead the pinnacle of ethnic tribalism. Conflicts resting in colonialism, imperialism, fascism, communism, Protestantism Catholicism and capitalism are not from an ancient superstitious past.

    Paul Kagame is a politician riding an ethnic whirlwind. With a lot more class and success in achieving a pluralistic diverse democracy than any of America's Arab Muslim dictator allies. He is as tough as Putin. And as practical as Xi Jinping and Obama. W was more flawed and floundering by comparison.

    Nearly a million dead in a mere three months based upon tribe using machetes and clubs and hand guns is a new pinnacle of human barbarism.

    Give him time and space and measure him by a common human scale.

  89. If Kagame is what the West has to prove that aid is effective then the whole business is doomed. To do so, one has to willingly ignore the slaughter and the rape perpetuated by his proxies and armies in the last one decade. Or is it perhaps the case that without such horrors, the foreign aid empire would collapse. So they need him in order to stay in business. Either way, this is one of the saddest and most cynical foreign policy effects in modern times.

    For us in the region, all we can do is pray that God will do away with this murderous dictator and convince the West that we too deserve the same human rights that they accord to their citizens. Democracy is not just a western idea: all mankind wants to be free. This includes the people of Rwanda.

  90. ..This is not the Rwanda that I know.. the one I live in is a clean place where children, women, the environment are given ample protection; where healthcare is universal and thieves, genocide minded people are vigorously prosecuted.

    Reading your entry one will wonder why in independent surveys Rwandans are among the less likely candidates to emigrate and among the least corrupted in the world etc...

    Very few Rwandans would like to back to a time where your had to carry an ID that has indicate your "tribe", where murdering your neighbor was a rewarded as literally a civic duty and where female couldn't even inherit from their parents..

  91. Paul Kagame is a dictator, "strong man" is not even close. People in Rwanda live in fear of arrest and being killed for just expressing their opinions. There is no viable opposition in Rwanda. Anyone who is thought of as a threat to the regime ends up killed or arrested under some obscure laws meant to keep Kagame and his friends in power. Even worst, the United Nations, the United States, have said that Rwanda is supporting rebels in Congo, where millions have died and others are displaced because of rebellions supported by Rwanda. So what are the accolades about? Is it OK to let Kagame kill his opponents, impose tyranny on his people, and support ruthless rebels in neighboring Congo, just because he can build some roads or schools at home?

  92. When pondering the "morality," is it, of continued aid to Rwanda, perhaps the most appropriate comparison is not with other African nations but with Israel. Its forty years of illegal occupation and brutal mistreatment of a subject population have done nothing to diminish the flow of American dollars.

  93. Was reminded of this quote when discussing this piece with members of my family:

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
    Theodore Roosevelt

  94. "Perhaps there is something in the rebel experience — the fierce discipline or uncompromising vision — that helps explain why former rebels are so good at organization and administration but horrible at democracy."

    pol pot and mao zedong were also rebels--in fact, revolutionaries--with fierce discipline and uncompromising vision forged during times of civil war. i hope that genocide never returns to rwanda, but maybe i should have even higher hopes. i would take litter in democratic streets before torture in clean prisons.
    ...

    "Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who ran a beautiful, prosperous nation straight into the ground..."

    yes, but mr. mugabe has ruled for more than 30 years. mr. kagame has ruled for 10 years, so just wait. let's hope that in 2017 mr. kagame follows the constitution of the country that he purports to serve. if mr. kagame really wants to serve his country well, he should check out while his reputation is still somewhat respectable.

  95. This article brings to mind an interview with Saddam Hussain, (written some time ago). Saddam said a country like Iraq could not afford democracy. It's as if democracy were a luxury, affordable only to wealthy western countries. Jeffery G.'s report here, supports Saddam's assertions.
    History is, of course, rife with tyrants who raised down-troden lands to world prominance. While shuddering, we have to be greatful for their contribution.

  96. This guy Kagame may have done commendable things for Rwanda but he is not to be considered a great and respectable statesman. He is the principal trouble maker in the great lakes region meddling in Congo war and silencing political opponents as Victoire Ingabire and human rights organizations.
    He is now losing his proxy war as he supports the M23 in Congo and the Rwandan lobby in New York and DC want to show him in a good light...when just recently among other abuses The leadership of the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights has been ousted because of its independent stance.
    Lastly again: where is Victoire Ingabire--for those unaware on who that fine lady is google her name then come back to continue lavishing your praises on Kagame...NYTIMES thank you for not censoring this post as you have censored so many others on this article....

  97. Great article and interview. Paul Kagame is an extraordinary individual. I have visited Rwanda and have seen the great things he has accomplished. We have been friends for over 20 years.

  98. Great Piece! I like your style -- especially how you gave Mr. Kageme all the credit for some of the things he's done well but at the sometime took it all away. I wish you had asked him about opposition politician Victoire Ingabire who has been looked up for life and former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu who is also under house arrest.

  99. “Some Rwandans say that Kagame tries to play down ethnicity simply to cover for the fact that his minority ethnic group, the Tutsis, who account for about 15 percent of the population, control just about everything.”

    Promoting a sense of citizenship and belonging to a common nation for all Rwandans is the only way forward to attain security and prosperity. Nostalgia of the politics of quotas (14% Tutsi, 85% Hutu, 1% Twa) will not allow Rwandans get rid of an ideology which destroyed our nation since the sixties and led to the 1994 genocide. And note that one of the big ingredients of the genocide ideology in Rwanda since the missionaries and explorers era, is to confuse the country’s leadership with a whole community. Why can’t you judge Kagame’s leadership on its own without identifying him to the whole Tutsi group? Have you ever considered the United States under Barack Obama as a black rule? Or you think the double standard is allowed since it is Africa!

  100. "Last year, United Nations investigators revealed that Kagame’s troops crossed into Congo to fight side by side with a notorious rebel group, the M23, which has murdered civilians and gang-raped women, wreaking destruction on a swath of the eastern part of that country."

    The M23 is certainly not the sinister criminal gang that you describe here, but rather a rebellion of self- defense against the DRC authorities who openly practice discrimination and persecution against the Kinyarwanda speaking populations in the eastern part of the country. French Newspaper Liberation has established how Human Rights Watch was paying poor women in Goma to get negative testimonies against M23 Human Rights record. The International community (the UN particularly) needs to portray a negative image of M23 to justify how its army (MONUSCO and Force of Intervention Brigade) fights alongside the Kinshasa government FRDC and genocidal Rwandan militia FDLR against a rebellion of self-defense which claims nothing else but better governance in their country.

  101. Although Kagame has done a lot in rebuilding Rwanda, the instability his army is creating in the region, will not benefit him or Rwanda...

  102. Great article. For those who come away with the shortcomings of president Kagame I refer you to research, Mugabe-Zimbabwe.

  103. Kagame being a refugee from childhood has a huge impact on his personality and way of thinking.Lets thank God for the good transformation he has made in his country.But he should know that some one can carry on with his good works otherwise if he doesnt retire now,he will become a monster for Rwanda just like M7 became a blood sucker for Uganda.he has now taken on Killing and oppressing his people.

  104. Ann GarrisonSan Francisco
    Quite a paean to a sociopath responsible for the death of millions of people in his own country and neighboring DR Congo. People like Prime Minister David Cameron should shut up about stopping the next Rwanda in Syria and stop Rwanda in Congo. Rwandan troops are amassing on the Rwanda/Congo border once again, now that the Congolese army has pushed back Rwanda's proxy militia M23.

    Difficult for Kagame to credibly negotiate for territory within the boundaries of DR Congo. Hence M23, which he continues to deny is a battalion of the army he commands.

    Kagame is beloved by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, because, by assassinating three African presidents, Juvenal Habyarimana, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and Laurent Kabila, he established US/Anglophone dominance in this resource rich region formerly dominated by France. Never mind the slaughter, dislocation, and subsequent death by starvation or disease recounted in 20 years of UN investigations, including the fragment of the 1994 Gersony Report.

    In 2009, Sarkozy finally accepted the loss, revised France's account of the Rwanda Genocide, and said "we can share."

  105. Promoting a sense of citizenship and belonging to a common nation for all Rwandans is the only way forward to attain security and prosperity. Nostalgia of the politics of quotas (14% Tutsi, 85% Hutu, 1% Twa) will not allow Rwandans get rid of an ideology which destroyed our nation since the sixties and led to the 1994 genocide. And note that one of the big ingredients of the genocide ideology in Rwanda since the missionaries and explorers era, is to confuse the country’s leadership with a whole community. Why can’t you judge Kagame’s leadership on its own without identifying him to the whole Tutsi group? Have you ever considered the United States under Barack Obama as a black rule? Or you think the double standard is allowed since it is Africa!

  106. The M23 is certainly not the sinister criminal gang that you describe here, but rather a rebellion of self- defense against the DRC authorities who openly practice discrimination and persecution against the Kinyarwanda speaking populations in the eastern part of the country. French Newspaper Liberation has established how Human Rights Watch was paying poor women in Goma to get negative testimonies against M23’s Human Rights record. The International community (the UN particularly) needs to portray a negative image of M23 to justify how its army (MONUSCO and Force Intervention Brigade) fights alongside the Kinshasa government FRDC and genocidal Rwandan militia FDLR against a rebellion of self-defense which claims nothing else but security and better governance in their country.

  107. I expected at least some policy or issue-based criticism to counter the Kagame administration's undeniable and impressive successes. But the author instead chose deeply personal whining accusations of brutality from former associates with obvious grudges. Disappointing. And a little racist I think.

  108. What workable alternative is suggested by those who criticize Rwanda and its leadership in particular? Gacaca, Gir'inka, Umuganda are part of Rwandan culture. By definition Rwandans are community centred. It doesn't make sense for you to be prosperous while your neighbour languishes in poverty.

    So Rwandans strive to make sure everyone has education, health care, jobs, food. This for us is the definition of human rights. The right to attend school, access health services, compete for a job, feed your family, live in a secure environment and ultimately have the freedom to define what kind of life you as a Rwandan deserves.

    This is the real and daily struggle that we face.

  109. I'm no expert in Rwanda or Africa, but its seems to me that the ends Paul Kagame seeks are wise, and the means are enabled by a cultural bias towards hierarchy. Do ends justify the means?

    The concern is that Kagame transitions from benificent autocrat/technocrat into a Mugabe style dictatorship is a real one, but I can tell you that I'd rather live an extra 20 years complaining about political problems than die young...

    Very informative story about a complex figure.

  110. Great leaders have been in existence ever since. Not because they were saints but due to the fact that their strong-sides outweighed their weak-sides. Those criticizing President Kagame are saying due to their selfish interests but those who know who he is to their lives have all reasons to be thankful to God. You say there is no free speech in Rwanda. Do you want sentences like Tutsis are snakes, cockroaches, and all other dehumanizing statements like there were in and before the genenocide of 1994 against Tutsis? You want political opponents like Mugesera to say that they want Tutsis wiped and Ingabire Victoire's shameful statements when she entered Rwanda in 2010 and confused it with the Rwanda she and her fellow Hutu dictators built by vomiting unwise statements that aimed at driving Rwandans back to their dark history? you are only prophesying Democracy because Rwanda is stable but if it was like Somalia all your mouths would be shut like they were shut in 1994.Don't you confuse Rwandans and Congolese who speak Kinyarwanda. Those who are fighting in DRC are the victims of poor leadership in Kinshasa and who want to see their country in a better position, I mean the M23. They represent no interests of Rwanda but rather their own self-defense and self-emancipation from a visionless, poor, and corrupt government of Kabila that the West would like to be in power until the end of ages so that you can keep exploiting the natural resources of DRC without any obstacle.

  111. This was in excellent article. One topic that was not addressed, however, is explaining to outsiders what the difference is between the Hutus and the Tutsis . As I understand the two groups, for hundreds of years, have spoken the exact same language and that they have no religious or racial differences. I don't understand why they are considered different “ethnic” groups.

  112. It is regrettable that Kagame, like most male leaders, places responsibility for birth control solely on women. Men can produce far more children during their lifetimes than women can. Men must be held responsible for their procreation. Living standards cannot improve unless humans control their reproduction.

  113. This article could have used more context. It is encouraging that such great progress has occurred in Rwanda for health outcomes, education, and development generally. It is horrifying that the progress is accompanied by ruthless oppression. .... The article should not have implied that progress is so rare in Africa (while also implying that only through oppression can progress come about). There is a book called "Emergining Africa" by Steven Radelet, in which he studies a group of 17 non-resource-rich African countries, comprising about 300,000,000 people, where there has been substantial progress over the last few decades. One lesson of the book is that governments can become better--surely Rwanda's is not the only path to development.

  114. This article reminds me of what Western journalist consistently did to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, of Ghana fame, before his CIA-led overthrow in 1966. It's sad that the West can't seem to leave Africa and Africans alone to tidy up a continent Europeans pillaged and pirated.
    Keep writing about all the accusations of Kagame's haters. We know what you wish to accomplish here - stoke his overthrow and return the country again to the doldrums of poverty and destitution.
    This idea of Tutsi and Hutu was an European ideological implementation in Africa and has not root in African history. Mr. Kagame is cleaning that up! But dear journalist, like your predecessors, you dwell on accusations and hearsay and you travel through Rwanda to ignite a bitter history brought on Rwandans though no fault of their own. Thanks for letting the world know you haven't changed not even a tad bit.

  115. The problem with this article, like others I have read, is that Paul Kagame is being criticized for not living up to western ideals of democracy, and that is an absurd basis for criticism on at least two grounds. First and most obvious, Africa is not the west, and the values held by industrialized western nations simply cannot be assumed to apply to an agrarian African state (that is the mistake that George W. Bush made in invading Iraq, assuming that the Iraqi people would set up a western-style democracy once Saddam Hussein was toppled). This is not a matter of low expectations for Africa (which falsely and arrogantly assumes that the only appropriate goal for Africa is to become an America-clone); this is about recognizing that Africa simply is not America. Second, industrialized western nations, including America, often violate those same values that we claim to hold, which makes criticism of Rwanda hypocritical.
    Mr. Kagame deserves credit for leading Rwanda out of the horror of the genocide and toward a more secure and prosperous future; that much is beyond dispute. As to whether he could have accomplished as much if he had displayed more devotion to western notions of democracy is pure speculation--fodder for political rivals and cultural snobs, but irrelevant to the great majority of Rwandans who could truthfully answer "Yes, definitely" to the question, "Are you better off now than you were before Mr. Kagame took office?"

  116. The author writes as if he is a movie critic-breezily picking what he likes and doesn't like. The condescension is thinly disguised if it all. A more balanced tone would've done the subject matter more justice. This article is fascinating in what it reveals about the reductionist western liberal media bias as much as it does to tell an interesting story of an extremely complicated situation.

  117. Very frank and informative article. I have witnessed Kigali transform over the years and congratulate not just Kagame's leadership ...but that of the Rwandan people that have a strong appetite to reshape themselves and their country. Although we have not been successful in finding local strategic partners, Mindfulness Without Borders' educational programs on social and emotional learning were successfully integrated into select high schools and NGO's in Kigali because of the open-mindededness of its leaders to address the universal skill-sets necessary to navigate life's challenges. Twenty-first century Rwanda deserves the chance to be the author of its own history. Freedom is not only the ability to choose, it is the power to create the things we are choosing. Within the mind it is no different and a mindful approach to living can move forward a broader vision of what it means to live together in recognition of our interdependence, as a defining characteristic of globalization.

  118. The article is very interesting as there is great attention to detail and there is a balance on the good, the bad and the ugly things associated with Kagame.
    Rwanda has grown at a very remarkable pace after the genocide. There have been improvements in most sectors in the country but I am convinced that the issue of human rights is also important and should not be overlooked because of the progress being made in sectors such as security, agriculture, education and healthcare.
    Human rights should be high on Kagame`s priorities so that the state does not go back to another genocide. Kagame should respect and follow the constitution and not extend his stay in office. As a good leader, he should be able to inspire others to also become good leaders who will take over when his term expires so he should not behave like he is the only one who can lead Rwanda.
    If Kagame`s government continues to gag the media, eliminate his critics and he overlooks the rights of other people such as those close to him and Hutus then he will be destroying the country he has worked so hard to build. It is wrong for Kagame to meddle with the affairs of the Congo since it is not only violating the sovereignty of Congo but also putting the citizens of Rwanda at risk should the Hutus who are the majority decide to rebel against his government for being sidelined.

  119. I appalud this great article, it's informative and balanced. Others have made this point I guess but it's worth re-stating.

    We cannot judge Rwanda as if it were a wealthy Western democracy - where were our nations 200 years ago when we stumbled into the industrial revolution? Rwanda, like many poor African countries, must be judged on its own terms. Kagame may not be a saint but Rwanda is demonstrably better for having him in power. I hope it stays that way.

    I've been there, it feels like a place 'on the up'.

  120. As one of the entries pointed out, Rwanda or any other Country, cannot be understood solely on how successful it has been on becoming a clone of a western democracy.

    President Kagame,like other Rwandans, is Rwandan culture. For example most outsiders are baffled by the Gacaca court and forget that if Rwanda was to use the western judicial system It could have taken more than 250 years to complete all the cases.

    The Mihoge system, which is the tradition of challenging your peers in the ancient Rwanda Kingdom that president Kagame is using seems to baffle the writer as well.

    Alison Des Forges title of one of her books::"Defeat is the only bad news", a Rwandan say can maybe explain the stubborn determination of President Kagame,and Rwandan to succeed.

    The last king of Rwanda for example, King Kigeri V, ousted by the Belgians at the young age of 25 is now in DC single and with no home to his name. To marry and to build a house is to settle. A King in exile, in the Rwandan tradition doesn't settle.

    To do so, you see, is to accept defeat. .. And that is bad news indeed.

  121. Mr. Kagame and his government have achieved a great deal but, as Mr. Gettleman notes, at some cost to some sections of the public. Two issues that bear watching over time are first, the autocratic 'management' of agriculture that entails forcing farmers to grow certain crops only and appropriating land for large-scale projects - interventions that have had poor to bad results elsewhere; and the role of Mr.Kagame and his party in owning industrial/manufacturing corporations.

  122. It is always easier for any of us to criticize, if it is OK for western countries to apply home grown solutions, why african leaders should be criticized to do the same? In North America (at least in Canada) we all know that freedom of expression is not absolute, why not in Rwanda? We now know that no digital communication is secure in North America; any communication is susceptible to government interception; why this should be allowed in America but not in Rwanda? It is about time that the line drawn by westerners of how africans should behave is long overdue, I guess we haven't got a clue. Leave alone africa, her leaders and her people, after all when they suffer we all pull out with our pets and leave africans succumb to their miseries... Rwanda was once brought to her knees, learnt from hardship, can't afford to go back where she came from... only the countrymen and women on the villages of Rwanda are the judges of their leaders; the rest is irrelevant and pure diversion; Ingabire is not above the law, the E-DRC problems existed way before Kagame was even born and they will continue to exist if not dealed from the root causes. It is about time we start looking at Africa with different lenses, the time of fatherhood has shifted and evolved.

  123. Dear Jeffrey Gettleman, this is an excellent piece of writing - with honest and balanced views. Coming to Kagame’s criticisms - we are all human beings, and everyone (including the kindest person in the world) can be criticized. However, based on my experience under the ruling of more than 5 presidents in Rwanda, I can say that Kagame is charismatic, exceptional, visionary and innovative leader. As an example, there is a development programme called “GIRINKA”, or one cow by poor family. From different analysts, this is an excellent innovative poverty eradication strategy. Furthermore – for many years, poor people were discriminated in education, and now, under the leadership of Kagame - you will find a person from the remotest area of Rwanda in the best universities in USA under the sponsorship of the government, merely because he/she passed a test and won. About what outsiders call authoritarianism – a good parent can’t leave his children abuse their freedom; he always put limits or red lines – failing to do that, you become irresponsible parent. That is just normal. Unfortunately, some children realized how their parents were the good ones, after they become big men or women. That is how Kagame lives with some of his own people – call them dissidents or whatever.
    C.H

  124. An excellent, unbiased article. It seems to be showcasing a man who is in the transition between a popular freedom fighter and a feared Mugabe-style despot. To me, Kagame seems almost helpless in that we can already see a downward trajectory inexorably leading the man into despotic perdition.

  125. My daughter & son in law are in a small village about 50 miles from the capital of Rwanda leading a health center and educational center for the village and surrounding villages. Rwandans are the most gracious hosts, it's a slow country, nothing happens quickly. But it is far better than most African nations, just very poor. They need to learn how to dig deep water wells, to learn how to build sustainable housing, starvation is far less frequent in Rwanda than most other African nations.
    Everyone is required to clean up the places in which they live, NO litter anywhere.
    Kagame is the best thing to happen in Rwanda in forty years

  126. Thank you for your article. I am not wise in the ways that other "commenters" seem to be. My experience comes from spending some time over the years in DR Congo. I distrust Paul Kagame; the streets may be cleaned by women wearing white gloves and singing, however there are FDLR forces in Eastern Congo and as I understand from people who live there, FDLR have been in DRC since the Genocide. There has not been a positive assimilation in most cases.

    The streets of Kigali may be clean; they may be nicely paved. Rwanda may receive one billion in aid each year... how many people have died/are dying because of the hunger for power which obsesses Kagame. In the last election, he had the woman who wanted to run for office, put under house arrest. Oh, and by the way, please never forget that he was trained at Ft. Leavenworth, KS by US forces, before the genocide. Kagame, Museveni and Papa Kabila worked together to overthrow whatever needed to be replaced, so that they could rise to power.

    Mr. Gettleman, thank you for bringing some of the mystery of Rwanda's rise to the surface. Our generations will never know the whole truth here.

  127. wise leaders know how to show the way and then let go and trust their fellow countrymen to carry on, like mandela.

  128. "But what makes the Kagame situation different... is that there is no obvious strategic American interest in Rwanda. It is a tiny country, in the middle of Africa, with few natural resources"

    Umm, but:

    - border with DRC (no shortage of nat resources)
    - DRC borders with: Uganda, South Sudan, Congo, Angola, Zambia, Tanzania (ref: Zbig, grand chessboards, geo-strat center of gravity)
    - Refer Also: AFRICOM, SOCAFRICA, 3rd/5th Special Forces Group, lily pads,