On the 21st February 2003, as African Heads of State were winding up the Franco-African summit in Paris, a document containing France’s draft statement that opposed the US backed war on Iraq was circulated to the leaders to sign.
President Jacque Chirac wanted backing from the African bloc to boost France’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq.
In attendance and for the first time, was President Paul Kagame. When time came to sign this document, the 42 Heads of government present, lined up and endorsed it, one at a time.
Only one colleague, President Paul Kagame was missing on the queue.
President Kagame refused to sign this ‘precious’ French document because it was simply a draft resolution pushed down the throats of African leaders. He opposed the way the statement was introduced at the conference without an opportunity for a serious discussion.
In a subsequent interview, days preceding the Iraq attack, Kagame said “they should act when they are right to act because the Security Council can be wrong.
It was wrong in Rwanda...You might avoid war and have a worse situation... That is why I was giving a comparison with our case. People avoided a war or doing very much and it ended up with genocide.”
I don’t think this action went down well with the French. Neither did it go down well with his colleagues hosted to fine French wines at the Elysee.
Many must have questioned the kind of guts this man has and where he derives the energy and muscle to stand and oppose the position of his host and more so, a power like France. But that defines President Kagame’s character as a leader. He is like an expert fisherman who refuses to fish only where the tour guides point to.
He is a man not easily misled by superficial analyses, surface truth or spin. Once he believes in a thing and has done his home work, he will take a strong stand even if, it might cost him friends.
His firm understanding (shaped by his own experience and the history of what happened here in 1994), on how the world can act indifferent or be misled, leading to loss of innocent lives, informed his decision on Iraq.
Almost seven years later, we again see these values unfolding as he takes a strong stand on what is happening in Libya, even though it is likely to enrage many of his peers on the continent.
As the African Union dithers or drags its feet in coming up with a firm solution to the Libyan crisis, President Kagame is the only African Head of State to openly support the on-going intervention in Libya. Simply because the continent has been slow in responding and yet more and more people continue to lose their lives.
Incidentally or ironically, some of the African countries condemning these air strikes are members of the UN Security Council who voted for resolution 1973 that authorized the military action to protect civilians in the Libyan rebel-held areas.
Talk of double standards and this tells the story. Surely the tears they claim to be shedding over the attacks must be crocodile tears. What did they expect when they appended to this resolution? Did they expect a pair of love-doves flying over the Mediterranean with love notes for the man in Tripoli?? They clearly understood the actions that follow a no-fly zone!
Of course a good number of those condemning the attacks and chorusing the same accusations of ‘foreign imperialism’ could be doing it out of fear that what is happening to Gaddafi today could be awaiting them in future. You see some of our leaders on the continent take leadership as popularity contest.
They hide behind the curtains of solidarity, trying to defend what is not even worth defending.
You will all agree with me that the self- anointed King of Kings has over stayed his welcome. At 42 years in power, instead of reading the signal well and accepting that time is up, he decides to unleash terror on a section on his population. Killing innocent people for the sake of protecting his throne.
Would Rwanda, a country with the worst lessons on how a rogue government can turn against its people, simply keep a blind eye? President Kagame has learnt from history well and fortunately is willing to stand up to be counted.
Certainly, just like the position he took in Paris in 2003, his latest stand will not appease many. But who says leadership is about appeasing everyone.
After all, leaders who are afraid to make some individuals angry are likely to waver and procrastinate when it comes to making tough choices.
In 2003, his firm stand on the Iraq war raised antennas but his latest position on the Libyan conflict is a confirmation of the conscience of a man who has learned a lot from history.
On twitter @aasiimwe, aasiimwe.wordpress.com