“Kagame has done well, but he is not the world’s president”— a response to Al Jazeera’s Rashid Abdallah

On October 7, 2019, Al Jazeera published an article title “Kagame should not fear opposition” whose author Rashid Abdallah provides a long list of President Kagame’s accomplishments. Yet, he concludes that Kagame is on the wrong path. 

Consider that Mr. Abdallah thinks that President Kagame is a visionary who has transformed a country from utter devastation to a success story.

"President Kagame still enjoys overwhelming public support, with many Rwandans viewing him as a visionary who brought peace and stability to a country broken by genocide. 

"Indeed, since his rebel group seized power by force, ending the 100-day genocide that began on April 7, 1994, and making him the country's de facto leader, he has done much to change Rwanda for the better.

"He deserves credit for the economic transformation of the country and for battling corruption. He has opened up the country for business, promoted the growth of new economic sectors and improved its bureaucracy so it ranks 29th globally on the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business Index.

"He has spent foreign aid prudently and used Rwanda's natural resources wisely. Unlike so many struggling states that show growth only on paper, Rwanda boasts positive strides in economic development, education, healthcare, etc, which have markedly improved the lives of ordinary people. He has pushed for more women in political office - 64 percent of the legislators in Rwanda's parliament are women, the highest percentage of any country in the world.

"He has also eliminated the scourge of tribalism that afflicts most of the continent, and has united the country after a genocide. Over the past few years, Rwanda has been touted as an 'African success story'.

"An overwhelming majority of Rwandans support the president. Since his rise to power a quarter-century ago, Kagame has won three elections with massive landslides. In 2015, Rwandans overwhelmingly voted for an amendment to the constitution to allow the president to potentially remain in power until 2034. While similar moves have sparked violence and instability in countries like neighbouring Burundi and the Republic of Congo, there has been no unrest in Rwanda about the constitutional amendment. Instead, Rwandans showed nothing but support for the president, who they believe played an unrivalled role in ending the genocide and rebuilding the nation from its ashes.”

Yet, the author thinks that the same president who has faced a political context that no other leader has had to face in modern history, who has steered a country from the brink of being erased from the map of the world, and whose people nearly became extinct, is suddenly on the wrong path.

“It is not too late for him to change course,” Abdallah writes in a far too familiar patronizing tone. “He can still avoid ruining his country and having to make an ignominious exit like so many others before him.”

But what crime has the president for whom the vast majority of Rwandans ‘show nothing but support’ committed? Someone whose leadership has “markedly improved the lives of ordinary people,” to use Abdallah’s own words. 

Apparently Kagame is doomed unless he opens “the political system for contenstation” in order for him “not to threaten his presidency.” But Abdallah is not done lecturing someone he admittedly considers an iconic political figure. “He needs to see that if he does not allow Rwanda to experience democracy today, the country may well fall back to its old ways after his eventual demise.”

At this point one wonders where the threat to “contestation” will come from since “an overwhelming majority of Rwandans support the president.” Moreover, what other way should Kagame make Rwandans “experience democracy” if they enjoy “markedly improved lives” under his presidency and presumably the reason for the support of the “overwhelming majority of Rwandan”? 

One wonders what democracy is to Mr. Abdallah and whose democracy he believes it to be if not for the people of Rwanda. 

“The world is watching Kagame, and he holds the pen of history in his hands. Will he allow the democracy he helped build in Rwanda to prosper and continue to be an example to other countries,” he writes, undisturbed by his own contradictions.

One remains confused about whether the overwhelming support the people of Rwanda have given Kagame is for him to build democracy for “the world” or for him to continue delivering on what is already a “marked improvement of their lives.”

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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