Howard W. French: Reevaluating Paul Kagame's Legacy
Howard W. French is the author of A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa and Disappearing Shanghai. He is completing a forthcoming book about China and Africa, titled Haphazard Empire. He teaches at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
When Rwandan-backed rebels recently took Goma, the biggest city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Paul Kagame had every reason to think the world would give him a pass. That, after all, has been the pattern for years.
Frequently lauded by people such as Bono, Tony Blair, and Pastor Rick, the Rwandan president enjoys some extraordinary backing in the West—support that is particularly remarkable given his alleged hand in ongoing regional conflicts believed to have killed more than 5 million people since the mid-’90s.
On the aid and awards circuit, Kagame is known as the man who led Rwanda from the ashes of the 1994 genocide—one of the late 20th century’s greatest atrocities—to hope and prosperity: a land of fast growth and rare good economic governance with enviable advances in health care, education, and women’s rights. Bestowing his foundation’s Global Citizen Award on Kagame three years ago, Bill Clinton said: "From crisis, President Kagame has forged a strong, unified, and growing nation with the potential to become a model for the rest of Africa and the world."
But that model narrative seems to be shifting in the aftermath of the Goma takeover. After a United Nations report found that Rwanda created and commands the rebel group known as M23, important European friends such as Britain and Belgium partially suspended aid donations to Rwanda, and President Obama called Kagame to warn him against any continued military adventurism.
Leading observers say the reevaluation of Kagame and his legacy is long overdue...
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