Speculators, spectators, analysts, and citizens of Rwanda and Uganda are asking themselves, what is going on here? Are Museveni and Kagame now determined to put behind them the recent deep mistrust between them and build new friendly relationship? What are Museveni’s interests in Kagame and Rwanda? What are Kagame’s interests in Museveni and Uganda? What role, if any, does Kagame and Museveni need, want, or expect South Africa to play in the Rwanda-Uganda drama?
Even more difficult questions can be asked about Sarkozy and Kagame. One wonders what President Sarkozy expects to gain from courting Kagame. In the same way, it requires a stretch of imagination to understand what Kagame’s calculations and expectations are in his new venture in France. Unlike the Kagame-Museveni relationship, where one can point to a time when there was some friendship, there is no love lost between Kagame and France. How can we understand this unfolding drama?
In this mix introduce the role of the United States and the United Kingdom, the two countries that Kagame considers so crucial to the survival of his regime to the extent that it is what he cares about more than anything else, and certainly not the aspirations of the Rwandan citizens.
Consider the following ten maxims of diplomacy:
First, diplomacy is about projecting and protecting a nation’s national interests, stupid!
Second, idealism may occasionally be mentioned as the driver of diplomacy ( freedom, human rights, democracy, etc.), but realism about what is possible is what really drives a nation’s diplomacy
Third, nations (especially big powers) use hard power (gunboats) or soft power (money, culture, public diplomacy, etc.) to get what they want
Fourth, there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Fifth, a nation’s domestic environment (politics, economy, social conditions, culture, etc.) influences how it looks at the outside world, and its diplomatic posture
Sixth, in a country where governance is characterized by the absolute rule of one man, diplomacy is his exclusive prerogative, and he must use it to prolong his rule against the interests of his people and his nation. The so called national interests are his personal interests; and his personal interests are national interests
Seventh, a nation’s neighborhood, comprising of other states with which it collaborates and competes at the same time, influences its diplomatic outlook
Eighth, 21st Century diplomacy is witnessing non-traditional actors, or non-state actors that for good or for worse wield tremendous power and influence ( global businesses, armed networks, NGO’s, citizen groups, etc.)
Ninth, technology, especially social media, is proving to be a powerful tool in enhancing a nation’s diplomacy, just as it can undermine and constrain its diplomacy because citizens in and outside the country have access to it.
Tenth, diplomacy is often about appearances and perceptions rather than reality.
Through the lens of these maxims, one can see that Kagame is an embattled ruler who is taking diplomatic gambles in the hope of delaying his eventual downfall. He is an absolute ruler at home who imprisons and kills political opponents at home and abroad. He is accused by the United Nations Human Rights Commission of serious human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even possibly acts of genocide. He has kept hundreds of thousands of Rwandans as refugees, whom he wants repatriated by force to bring them under the sphere of control like the 11 million citizens who are his hostages. He has taken a belligerent posture towards Rwanda’s neighbors. He has gone to war twice in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His army fought Museveni’s army in Kisangani, DRC. He keeps a proxy force in eastern Congo to destabilize and plunder that country. The leaders of DRC and Burundi are perpetually fearful for their own personal lives, and for their shaky governments that Kagame directly or indirectly undermines. In France, Kagame has a dossier that hangs above his neck like the Sword of Damocles. In the past when anything about the death of President Habyarimana in a plane crash in 1994 has been raised by French judges, Kagame has thrown tantrums, swore that he does not give a damn, banished the French language in Rwandan schools, thrown out a French ambassador and broken diplomatic ties with France. With South Africa, diplomatic relationships are at their lowest due to the attempted assassination of General Kayumba Nyamwasa in 2010, by Kagame’s security agents. And more than ever, Kagame’s regime is feeling the heat of the resistance that is gaining momentum at home and abroad.
When Museveni went to Rwanda, he was aware of all that, and aware that Kagame is predictably unreliable. Museveni is also aware that Kagame is a very vicious and vindictive man who does not rest or spare any resources to kill his opponents (including Heads of State!). He is aware that Rwanda’s army, the RDF, has been organized on the basis that the enemy to be fought is anybody and everybody who is not with Kagame (principally his Rwandan political opponents, but also includes Museveni’s UPDF and DRC). Museveni would have been aware that if the worst came to the worst, Kagame can precipitate a Uganda-Rwanda war to conceal his internal troubles. While for sure Kagame does not hesitate to support those who are opposed to Museveni, he only assumes that Museveni supports those opposed to him (Kagame). Museveni does not support Rwanda’s opposition. Museveni would also have been aware that he and Kagame have mutual friends-the USA and the UK-who are not happy that the two African allies wash their dirty linen in public. Finally, Museveni talking points would have included that fact that Rwanda’s small economy is Uganda’s major export market.
One wonders what was achieved by the Museveni visit, apart from the appearances and perceptions. Such visits and bilateral talks have taken place before, followed by temporary calm, later to be followed by the same path of mistrust and acrimony. If Museveni came out of the visit assured that he is personally safe, that a border war is not imminent between the two countries, that Kagame will not support Museveni’s opponents, that goods and services would continue being sold in Rwanda, and finally that the relationship between the two Presidents is on the road to rehabilitation in the eyes of the USA and UK, it would have been a great success. Kagame’s main interest is that Museveni will not support Rwanda pro-democracy forces. The presence of Andrew Mitchell, UK Minister for International Development, a man who adores Kagame like an idol, was present during the Museveni visit, checkbook in hand, just in case his services were needed by the duo as a sweetener.
It is on the South African front that things remain shaky. It is possible that Museveni may have been asked by Kagame to intercede on his behalf and ask Jacob Zuma to help in extraditing Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col. Patrick Karegeya back to Rwanda, or at least relocate them. It is possible that Museveni could have been asked to convey Kagame’s wishes to President Zuma to do everything possible to end the Kayumba attempted assassination court case, because of the involvement of Rwanda state security agents.
The Franco-Rwanda relations ( or be specific, France-RPF or France-Kagame relations), it is important to note: first, France lost its influence in Rwanda in 1994. The political, defense and intelligence establishments that were supportive of the Habyarimana regime have received tremendous bashing from Kagame and his RPF. France has been accused by Kigali for supporting a genocidal regime. A cloud of guilt and uneasiness hangs on the conscience of France. Within the defense and intelligence community in France, there is no love lost with Kagame, whatever he does. Loss of influence in Rwanda, a gain for the Anglo-Americans, cannot be taken with a smile. President Sarkozy may visit Rwanda, and invite Kagame to Paris, thanks to the efforts of France’s former Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, and those of Kagame’s lobbyist former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair and his business network in France. There are still many ghosts in the France-Rwanda relationships that need to be pacified and tamed. Second, Kagame has a serious problem in France. This is the problem of French judges investigating the President Habyarimana plane crash and the indictments that point fingers to Kagame himself. Kagame hopes it will melt away, and that intimidation, denials and deceptions could nip the matter in the bud. What is the bargain between Sarkozy and Kagame? Can Sarkozy prevail over an independent judiciary to doctor the findings of the investigations in Kagame’s favor? This is doubtful. If Sarkozy was to appear even minimally supportive of Kagame’s policies, against the wishes of his Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, and the judges, what would Kagame give in return? Rwanda’s small agrarian economy of 11 million does not provide a worthwhile promise. Or that Kagame would now “pardon” the French and give them back the influence they had before 1994? Could it be that Kagame would promise that he would add France to the short list of interests (mainly US and UK) on whose behalf he acts as a gatekeeper to the Democratic Republic of Congo? Can he be a servant of more than two competing masters without hurting one and favoring others? Both Kagame and Sarkozy are taking diplomatic gambles that at the best are of little benefit, and at their worst counter-productive.
Which brings us to the question of the US and UK interests in Rwanda. From the tragedy of 1994, there might be an element of altruism, wanting to help the victims of genocide and war. The altruistic argument becomes unsustainable given the fact that the altruism becomes one-sided, favoring some victims and ignoring others. Tutsis were victims of genocide. Hutus have been victims of Kagame’s RPF regime’s war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even possible acts of genocide in Rwanda and DRC, according to a United Nations mapping Report. The US and UK, and the international community have not shown any concern to bring to accountability those who committed these crimes. There is also the problem of the guilt conscience of the international community. Since you did nothing to prevent or stop the 1994 genocide, Kagame and RPF charge, then shut up and do as we say! Kagame and RPF have used this weapon effectively for the last 17 years. The third factor is Kagame’s role as a policeman who keeps the gates to a region that is both fragile but promising to US and UK security and economic interests. The Democratic Republic of Congo is of particular interest. The fourth factor is that together with others in this region, especially Museveni of Uganda and Zenawi of Ethiopia, Kagame is seen by some circles in London and Washington DC as crucial, if not critical, to US and UK security interests in central, eastern and horn of Africa. Ethiopia and Rwanda have the largest contingents in Darfur, Sudan. Uganda’s army is deployed in Somalia and before it Ethiopia was instrumental in previous operations. The fifth factor is probably ideological. Kagame “accepted” to make Rwanda join President Bush’s “coalition of the willing” against Sadam Hussein in Iraq. Recently, as the drums of war intensified against Libya’s Gaddafi, Kagame was probably the only Africa leader who wrote in favor of NATO actions. Finally, of late Rwanda’s so-called “socio-economic miracle” has become a show case in development circles, particularly in the UK Department of International Development (DFID). Kagame might be a dictator, so the argument goes, but his state is efficient and effective in utilizing western aid. Short of success in many parts of the world, there are those in London and DC who want to push for Rwanda as a successful model of economic development. They forget that it is not the first time Rwanda is seen as “developing”, that this development leaves out the majority of the Rwandan people, that it is not sustainable because it is too dependent on aid, and that development without very basic freedoms is sham and short-lived. In summary, the US and UK give a lot to Kagame, which keeps his regime alive. In return, Kagame gives them what they want and need. In the process, it is the interests of the Rwandan people which are sacrificed.
Kagame’s diplomacy is irreparably broken. Here is how to re-invent it.
The Rwanda National Congress, together with other pro-democracy voices of Rwanda are laying the foundations for a new, people-centered diplomacy for Rwanda. The primary point of departure is Rwanda’s interests. Between Rwanda’s and other nations’ interests, mutually beneficial outcomes can be negotiated. Rwandans cannot afford any longer to be the losers all the time.
In the short term, the diplomacy of Rwanda’s pro-democracy voices is centered on persuading African countries especially Rwanda’s neighbors, and the whole international community ( especially the USA and UK) to support the following:
(a) Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners;
(b) Demanding an end to persecution (including arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, involuntary disappearances and extra-judicial killings) of government opponents and critics and their relatives;
(c) An end to the practice of channeling the development assistance that the is provided to Rwanda through budget support;
(d) Conditioning the development assistance that is provided to Rwanda government on political reforms, including opening up political space;
(e) Using regional and united Nations human rights mechanisms to ensure that President Kagame and his security officials are held accountable for gross human rights violations that are committed against innocent citizens;
(f) Ensuring the protection of all Rwandan refugees and resisting attempts by the Government of Rwanda to force the UNHCR to apply the cessation clause by end of 2011; and,
(g) Encouraging the government of Rwanda to agree to a comprehensive and unconditional dialogue with the opposition on ways for resolving the political impasse engulfing Rwanda.
In the medium to long term, RNC together with other Rwanda’s pro-democracy forces expect respect for Rwanda’s national interests, and diplomacy based on the following:
1. Stop and prevent violent conflict, including genocide and grave human rights violations that Rwanda’s people have periodically suffered and that have historically extended to citizens – men, women, and children – of neighboring states;
2. Eradicate a culture of impunity for human rights violations;
3. Create a conducive and progressive environment for inclusive social and economic development for all the people of Rwanda;
4. Establish, nurture and institutionalize democratic governance, particularly the rule of law in all its aspects;
5. Establish independent, non-partisan, professional civil service and security institutions;
6. Build a stable society that promotes and protects equality, embraces and celebrates diversity, and fosters inclusion in all aspects of national life;
7. Promote individual, community and national reconciliation and healing;
8. Promote harmonious relations, reconciliation and mutually- beneficial collaboration with the peoples and governments of neighboring states;
9. Resolve the chronic problem of Rwandan refugees;
10. Nurture a culture of tolerance to diverse ideas, freedom of discussion, and debate of critical issues.
The writing is on the wall for President Kagame. In private as he has watched the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and other places unfold; he might deceive himself that his diplomatic gambles, friendship with people in high places and protection by powerful nations will sustain him. He should be reminded that Egypt, Tunisia and Libya were immeasurably much bigger economies, had bigger armies, and certainly were much higher stakes with respect to western geo-strategic, security and economic interests. Only two years ago, there was a stampede as western politicians and businesses scrambled to call on Gaddafi in his desert tent. He was received in western capitals, including Paris, where Kagame will dine with who is who in France. Today, Libya is in turmoil and Gaddafi’s days seem to be numbered. Kagame has committed far worse crimes than Gaddafi’s, but he is still received with pomp and circumstance.
Today Kagame has friends. Tomorrow his friends might turn out to be his worst enemies. When that happens, or even before, there will always be Rwandans ready to build a new diplomacy towards a new Rwanda that will be a united, democratic, and prosperous nation inhabited by free citizens with harmonious and safe communities who will live together in peace, dignity and mutual respect, regardless of class, ethnicity, language, region, origin or other differences, within a democracy governed according to universal principles of human rights and the rule of law. To the international community, and especially to France, USA and the UK, we say: there is absolutely nothing that Kagame gives or promises that Rwandans cannot give you with better value, if it is right and fair. It is time to choose. No need to wait for a Gaddafi moment, with the death and destruction that comes with it.