Lee Slater is a professor at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. She visited Rwanda for 10 days. Her work in Rwanda was focused on development of community-building skills. However, her article titled “Rwanda’s Obama” that claimed similarities between Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame and US President Barack Obama was a downright insult to president Obama and to the American people at best. The two men are like night and day next to each other as the differences between the two men and their personalities are major; even beyond measure. How do you begin to liken a tyrant who is a war criminal alleged to have a hand in the genocide of his people to the president of change and hope? How do you compare a peacemaker to warmonger?
Slate claims that “Both men are visionaries, forward-thinkers, striving for reconciliation (Obama in the politically fractured U.S. and Kagame in a post-genocide Rwanda) and both are calling for institutionalized dignity in governmental structures.” In Obama, the world has seen his vision of striving for an era of hope and peace where dialogue is used to resolve conflict and to mitigate future conflicts. Obama has reached out to those who are known as America’s adversaries and is willing to talk to them. In contrast, Kagame has mastered the use of violence and Intimidation to maintain his political power.
While Obama is striving for negotiated solutions; Kagame meanwhile invaded the Congo and caused a conflict that has claimed over 5 million innocent children, women and men and still counting since 1998. The Rwandan forces and their proxy militias and rebel groups have sent almost 2 million Congolese into refugee camps, amputated thousands, raped hundreds of thousands of women and used thousands of child soldiers. Obama sends message of take your destiny into your hands and earn an honest living. This is a far cry from Paul Kagame who has enriched himself, his friends and Rwanda through the plunder of Congo’s minerals. Kagame and his government in Kigali use Rwandan prisoners as slaves to work in the mines in the Congo as well as to clean Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
It is farfetched to compare Obama who deplores evil institutions such as slavery to General Paul Kagame whose government institutions in Kigali use slaves. On his recent trip to Ghana, President Obama said that:” history is on the side of the brave Africans and not with those who use coups or change Constitutions to stay in power. Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions.” By that account, history is not on Kagame’s side and neither is evidence. Kagame acquired power after fighting a four year guerrilla war that culminated in the Rwandan Genocide. He has since manipulated the genocide to maintain his grip on power and thwart and real opposition in the country. He runs a state under worse conditions than the former Soviet Union.
Contrasts between the leader of the world whose hopes for Americans is to reconcile the fractured U.S. political arena by focusing on what unites Americans rather than what divides Americans and Kagame who kills his own people can go on forever. Furthermore Obama’s hopes for Africa are for a continent with strong institutions that rule by the will of the people. This again is a major difference from the ever cynical Paul Kagame who claimed that “you cannot make an omelet without breaking the eggs” referring to Tutsis who were killed during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. A man who left a big mark in the region by taking part in massacres of millions of people, kills and imprisons opponents, uses prisoners as slave laborers, committed terrorism by shooting two former presidentshas no comparable qualities to President Obama. Any forward thinker knows that war is no longer a solution anywhere. It is true that college and university professors strive for creativity and thinking outside the box but comparing Paul Kagame to Barack Obama is thinking outside of the Universe.