Paul Kagame is President of the Republic of Rwanda. Married to Jeannette Kagame, with whom he has three sons and a daughter, Kagame became Rwanda’s sixth President in 2000. Previously, Kagame served as Vice-President and Defence minister from 1994 to 2000. Beginning in 1990, as commander of the forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), he led the struggle to liberate Rwanda. The RPF halted the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, which claimed over a million victims. .
Kagame was born on October 23, 1957, in Rwanda’s Southern Province to Deogratias and Asteria Rutagambwa (all deceased). His family fled pre-independence ethnic persecution and violence in 1960, crossing into Uganda where Kagame spent thirty years as a refugee. Determined to resist oppressive regimes, as a young man, Paul Kagame joined current Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and his group of guerilla fighters to launch a war to free Uganda from dictatorship. At 28 years old Kagame helped Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni come to power. Under the new government, he served as a general in the Ugandan Army.
In 1990, Paul Kagame returned to Rwanda to lead the Rwandan Patriotic Front’s (RPF) four-year struggle to liberate the country from the autocratic and divisive order established since independence. Led by Kagame, the Rwanda Patriotic Army defeated the genocidal government in July 1994 and the RPF subsequently set Rwanda on its current course towards reconciliation, nation building and socioeconomic development. .
Paul Kagame was appointed Vice-President and Minister for Defence in the Government of National Unity on 19 July 1994. Kagame, a Tutsi and member of the (mainly Tutsi) RPF had been in office since the then-guerrilla RPA took Kigali in July, 1994. Four years later he played a key role in the ousting of Zaire dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Kagame is one of the "59ers" who grew up as a refugee in Uganda and served in Museveni's army. He led the RPA to victory, but ceded the top spot to President Pasteur Bizimungu, a moderate Hutu. Four years later was elected Chairman of the RPF, a partner in the Government of National Unity.
Kagame stepped out of Museveni's shadow more quickly than his mentor had anticipated. He inherited a battered country brought to its knees by conflict and a bitter ethnic rivalry. In an abundance of failed states, Rwanda, under Kagame’s leadership, is often hailed as an African success story. Annual economic growth rates have consistently been positive, averaging above six percent in the past five years.
Kagame is an extremely energetic, extremely intelligent man who has fully taken advantage of many of the hot buttons that he knows the West cares about, that is economic progress, that is environmental concern, that is furthering information technology, He took the lead on the international stage that originally put him among the new African leaders during the Clinton administration, including Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia, and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.
By 2016 his policies reduced the number of people living under extreme poverty by 22 percent, bridging the gender gap by giving women opportunities in government and waging a war against corruption. Kigali is Africa's cleanest city, a line that had spread the legend of Kagame's leadership the world over.
His exceptional role in commanding RPA liberators that ended the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and rebuilding an economy once regarded as a failed state into one of the fastest growing ones in the world, forced some Rwandans to petition parliament—asking for the scrapping of presidential term limits to allow Kagame to continue steering the country beyond 2017. President Kagame’s second term and what was meant to be his last in office—as per the previous Constitution–was to end in 2017. However, Rwandans requested for his continued stewardship of the country for at least one more term. When a poll was held on December 17, 2015, regarding constitutional amendment—specifically scrapping of two-term limit, 98.3 per cent of voters endorsed it.
The success of Kagame is connected to the horrors of the genocide. He exploits Western guilt for abandoning Rwanda in its time of need. He has always been quick to remind them that they don’t have the moral high ground to question what Kigali does. He has justified his authoritarian approach with economic growth; aid and foreign investment keep pouring in.
Add to the unending hagiography articles hailing Kagame's leadership as a model for Africa. He is the leader who hobnobs with top celebrities like talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, Chinese technologist Jack-Ma, Rwanda is also a shirt sponsor of Arsenal Football Club. Kagame’s successful rule has been based on both glamour and tight control.
One of the consequences of Kagame’s achievements is that his rule has become so successful neither he nor his critics can see anyone to potentially replace him, leaving a dangerous vacuum once the strongman is gone. He is politically secure at home for now, his main worry being ‘dissidents’ from abroad who are threatening his position.
His critics say that he tolerates no dissent, which he has not made a secret, a streak that has put him in direct conflict with Uganda. He closed the border with Uganda in early 2019 after a public falling out with Museveni, who he accused of protecting elements hostile to his government, accusations Uganda rejects saying that it was Kagame who was targeting his opponents on Ugandan soil. The row provided an example of Kagame fighting the shadows of his own success which have been built on his tight command and control.
Many of his close friends have fled Rwanda to neighboring countries. Most notably his close confidant, Tutsi rebel and later chief of staff of the Rwandan Army, Kayumba Nyamwasa, who fled to South Africa to form the opposition. Just as Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) party was formed abroad, Nyamwasa started the Rwanda National Congress abroad, which Kagame is not comfortable with.
A former intelligence chief in the Ugandan army, he has been accused of infiltrating other governments. He has imprisoned opposition leaders, hunted dissidents abroad to the outcry of human rights organisations. Paranoid of his critics at home and abroad, Kagame’s lethal intelligence service with assassins who can operate anywhere is threatening regional stability. Paranoid, he controls the media. Those who speak out against the government are forced to flee. Even those who question the overriding narrative about the genocide are targeted.
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