World Review | Paul Kagame guides Rwanda out of war and poverty

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Paul Kagame guides Rwanda out of war and poverty

Paul Kagame guides Rwanda out of war and poverty
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame (photo:dpa)

PAUL Kagame, President of Rwanda since March 2000, is far from being a consensual leader. But while some consider him a role model for African leaders, others see him as an authoritarian ruler who clamps down on dissent and limits political freedoms in the name of national unity.

One thing is certain, Paul Kagame is the man responsible for Rwanda’s economic miracle and the face of a new generation of African leaders.

Paul Kagame, the youngest of six children, was born in October 1957 in southern Rwanda. His parents, both Tutsi, had family ties to Rwanda’s last king, Mutara III.

At the age of two, Mr Kagame and his family were forced to abandon Rwanda after the 1959 violent anti-Tutsi pogroms.

He spent part of his childhood in a refugee camp in western Uganda, where he was educated at an English-speaking school, an experience which later inspired him to make all Rwandan schools teach in English.

Paul Kagame joined the rebellion led by Yoweri Museveni in the fight against the repressive regime of Uganda’s President Milton Obote from 1981 to 1986.

It was when he served Mr Museveni as a senior intelligence officer, that he drew inspiration from other guerrilla movements.

In 1986, Mr Museveni sent Paul Kagame to Cuba for training as head of military intelligence. He went on to create the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in 1987.

In 1989, he was sent to the US Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. But he left the college to return home and join the RPF’s first invasion of Rwanda in October 1990.

The 30 years spent in exile proved decisive in Paul Kagame’s life. The RPF, under the command of Paul Kagame, was the only force that intervened to bring the genocide that had killed 800,000 Rwandans - mostly Tutsi - to a halt.

The failure of the international community to intervene as thousands of Rwandans were hacked to death conditioned relations between post-genocide Rwanda and the West.

After gaining control of Rwanda, the RPF established the National Unity Government. It appointed a Rwandan Hutu, Pasteur Bizimungu, as its first president. Paul Kagame was appointed vice president and minister of defence.

In 2000, Paul Kagame became president after forcing Pasteur Bizimungu from office. In 2003 the country held the first post-genocide presidential elections. Paul Kagame won with 95.5 per cent of the votes.

In 2010, Mr Kagame was re-elected for a second seven-year term winning 93 per cent of the votes.

Most international observers considered the elections sufficiently free and fair. But Mr Kagame was accused of neutralising most of his opponents.

President Kagame believes that the only way of promoting economic growth and development for the people of Rwanda is to make the country secure and stable.

He is inspired by Asian leaders and believes they are the countries which have found a delicate balance between driving economic development and limiting political freedoms.

President Kagame has transformed Rwanda into a modern country. His most important achievement has been peace and stability.

The president has also showed the world what can be done if foreign aid is used effectively.

The poverty rate decreased from 56.9 per cent to 44.9 per cent between 2005 and 2010. One million people -10 per cent of the population - have been taken out of poverty because of simple but effective projects.

President Kagame has adopted a series of quality of life laws. The use of seat belts is mandatory, plastic bags are banned, public urination and spitting is forbidden and people have to wear shoes in public, even in rural areas.

But President Kagame’s main ambition is to transform Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020, shifting from a low-income agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based and service-oriented economy.

Teresa Nogueira Pinto

Teresa Nogueira Pinto is an African Affairs expert. She is an international relations consultant in Gaporsul Ltd, a business intelligence and advisory company which has some of the main Port ...

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