Paul Kagame, National Hero Or Strongman

President Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s President provides a mixed picture in most media coverage where he is sometimes praised for his governing of Rwanda and at other times questioned on his high handedness in dealing with opposition. He currently has 21 years of rule now under his belt, beginning in 1994 when he was appointed the defacto leader by the supreme court. He was officially sworn in as President in April 2000, following an election under the then transitional constitution which the country was operating by. After the adoption of the new constitution in May 2003, which approved a 7 year tenure for leaders, President Kagame won a landslide victory against the two other candidates. President Kagame’s first term expired and new elections were held in 2010. He again won a landslide victory against two other candidates that were considered by the international community to not be actual competition, reason being that they had in the past been heavy supporters of the Rwandian Patriotic Front; the party under which Kagame was selected for candidacy both times.

Paul Kagame 1

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President Paul Kagame has received both heavy criticism and high praise throughout his tenures. Called a “visionary” by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and “one of the greatest leaders of our time” by Bill Clinton, he is one of the most prominent African leaders of his time. Instigating the procedures and processes that led to the forging of Rwanda’s vision 2020; a programme of national development that seeks to unite people and transform Rwanda from an impoverished nation to a middle-income country before the year 2020. With a list of goals such as good governance, improved agricultural production, private sector development, reconstruction, infrastructure and transport improvements, to mention a few, President Kagame sets a high bar for his government. Even more impressive is the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning’s 2011 report which reported the progress of the stated goals rating each one with a status of “on-track”, “on-watch” or “off-track”. Of 44 goals, the ministry reported that 66% were on-track, 11% were on-watch and 22% were off-track. Rwanda’s economy has also grown greatly under the presidency of Paul Kagame.

Paul Kagame

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The current hang-ups with President Kagame’s leadership among human rights and opposition groups as well as the much larger international community revolve around his apparent refusal to adhere to term limits. In October of 2015, Rwanda’s lower house of parliament decided without a single dissenting vote to change the constitution to allow Kagame to run three more times. The Senate did the same in November. Depending on one’s reading of Rwandan politics, the votes were either a sign of Kagame’s overwhelming support or the fear he has instilled in would-be opponents. In December of 2015, the Rwandan Electoral Commission announced that 6.16 million Rwandans voted in favor to allow President Paul Kagame to run for re-election in 2017.

In the face of such a move by Rwandans, going as far as amending their constitution, it begs the question, is President Kagame a national hero, capable of garnering such unwavering support or is he simply a strongman, working the system to his benefit and avoiding term limits.