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Twenty years after Rwanda’s horrific genocide, President Paul Kagame is widely praised for dramatically reducing poverty and increasing life expectancy in his tiny, land-locked African nation. But critics say the economic progress comes at a price. We talk with a former Kagame adviser about what he calls Kagame’s despotic leadership and with a former U.S. ambassador about the complexities of the U.S. relationship with Rwanda.
- David Himbara Former senior aide and economic advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame; Educator, Economist, Author
- Princeton Lyman Former U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan
MR. KOJO NNAMDITwenty years ago the Sub-Saharan African country of Rwanda suffered a horrific genocide, Hutu militias killing an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis in a nation of 7 million people. Today it's illegal to talk about ethnicity in Rwanda for fear of starting up old tensions. But development experts around the world are talking about Rwanda's dramatic economic turnaround in just two decades. Poverty is down, life expectancy up, 90 percent of Rwandans reportedly have health insurance.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd UNICEF says nine in ten children are enrolled in school, the highest primary school rate in Africa. Admirers credit Rwandan President Paul Kagame in office for 11 years with three more to go in his second term. But critics say his human rights record is less stellar with political adversaries allegedly dying in suspicious circumstances and press and other freedoms restricted. The United States is a big economic supporter of Rwanda even as officials say they worry about human rights there.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining me to look at the future of Rwanda and its relationship with the United States is David Himbara. He is former economic advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He's now a consultant based in Toronto. He joins us in studio. David Himbara, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID HIMBARAThank you very much.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Princeton Lyman. He's a former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, former deputy assistant secretary of state for foreign affairs, long-time State Department official. Ambassador Lyman, thank you for joining us.
AMB. PRINCETON LYMANMy pleasure.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. Is Rwanda's dramatic economic progress a model for African and the world? How should the U.S. balance economics and human rights in shaping its relationship with countries like Rwanda, 800-433-8850? You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. David Himbara, first let's look at the so-called positive. You were an economic advisor to President Paul Kagame during a period of rapid economic expansion, household income, life expectancy rising dramatically since the mid 1990s. Can you describe the transformation of Rwanda over the last 20 years?
HIMBARAWell, in terms of economic -- on the economic side, significant reforms have been made particularly to provide a better environment for investors, both domestic and foreign. So yeah, the reforms, really he should take credit because he led those reforms and we were there to make those reforms, many legal reforms.
NNAMDIPresident (sic) Lyman, President Kagame has impressed western leaders with his ability to transform his country economically in a relatively short space of time. And to do so in part through strategic partnerships. To what extent does the west view him as a role model for other countries in Africa and maybe even elsewhere in the world?
LYMANWell, I think there are some people who do but I think it's a mistake to do that. There is this attraction with what's called the enlightened autocrat as the person to lead economic development. But what you do is you get a lot of autocrats and you don't get very many enlightened ones. Now there's no doubt that Paul Kagame has presided over an extraordinary economic turnaround in that country. But there are many countries in Africa that are democratic that also do well, Tanzania and Mozambique and Ghana and Benin and a number of others.
LYMANYou don't need an autocrat and you don't need to pay the price in human rights to get economic development. So I think we have to be very careful about calling this the model because I think it could be very costly to people.
NNAMDIDavid Himbara, you quit the Kagame government four years ago and you're now speaking out about human rights in Rwanda in what you have described as President Kagame's despotism. But you were quite close to the president. Reading from the Rwanda publication Umuvugizi, it says that you wrote Kagame's speeches for years. You set up the strategy and policy unit in the president's office. You advised government on strategic matters. You were responsible for managing relationships with Kagame's presidential advisory council including the work of Tony Blaire's Africa initiative in Rwanda.
NNAMDIYou were the founding chairman of the Rwandan Development Board responsible for doing business in the country, founding chairman of the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research. You were, according to this publication in general, the person who led the country's reform agenda between 2006 and January 2010. So why did you leave?
HIMBARAWell, actually I should have met Ambassador Lyman before I did all that because you -- he told me that separating politics and economics is a recipe for disaster. So of course I went in for reformism making networks with, you know, the best brains inside Rwanda and outside Rwanda to make those reforms. But I was ignoring the other side, the politics. And the politics kept getting more ugly and uglier as we got closer to 2010 because that was the election.
HIMBARAThe regime intended to be more paranoid so that even some statistics that were not pleasant led us to trouble. So you say, well, if you say you didn't grow by 10 percent, but rather 3, that became a crime. So that was a warning for me to leave. And I left. And of course leaving then I became a target because anyone who leaves becomes the enemy of the state. And that's what I've been suffering ever since I left.
NNAMDIYes. We'll talk some more about that later. In case you're just joining us, that's the voice of David Himbara, former economic advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He's now a consultant based in Toronto. He joins us in Studio with Princeton Lyman, former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan and former deputy assistant secretary of African Affairs.
NNAMDIPrinceton Lyman, the U.S. has a largely positive relationship with Rwanda, sending economic aid, forming military partnerships to stem violence elsewhere in Africa and inviting President Kagame to last month's Africa summit in Washington. But it's also aware of and it's troubled by the human rights situation. How does the U.S. balance these conflicting views of Rwanda today?
LYMANWell, it's a classic case, Kojo, of where we have multiple objectives. And we have to decide how we balance them. Most of our aid is in the form of the PEPFAR program, the aid to victims of HIV-AIDS. You don't cut that off even when you have differences with the government because people literally would die. We did sanction them and cut off our military assistance because of Rwanda's involvement in supporting a militia in eastern Congo.
LYMANBut Rwanda always contributes to seven UN peacekeeping missions. And they play a very important role in that regard. So you have to balance your objectives and hopefully you pursue multiple objectives. You cooperate where there's positive elements but you also continue to press on the issues of human rights. If you look at the State Department's human rights report on Rwanda, it's extremely candid about killings, about the lack of freedom of the press, etcetera. And those are always on the agenda of our relationship with the government of Rwanda.
NNAMDIIt's one thing for the State Department to publish reports, another thing entirely for U.S. representatives to raise those issues directly with President Kagame. When we were in Ethiopia earlier this year, the ambassador made it clear that these were delicate issues to be discussed with that government there. Do American officials, in fact, discuss human rights with President Kagame even as they send him aid?
LYMANI'm sure they do. And I know from my own experience as envoy to Sudan that a meeting with Prime Minister Meles in Ethiopia, the ambassador was with me at the same time. And when I finished my business on Sudan he raised issues of human rights. So it is possible to pursue both although it is difficult. And I think the critical thing -- and David and I were talking about this just before the program -- when it gets to a ruler's perceptions of power and staying in power, having influence is tough.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can send email to email@example.com. Let's go to Anthony in Northeast Washington. Anthony, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANTHONYThanks for taking my call. Can you hear me?
NNAMDIYes, we hear you very clearly, Anthony.
ANTHONYOh, okay. My question is about this different groups that are fled Rwanda into the Congo during the genocide and after the genocide (unintelligible). There are many groups like that in the Congo. What effort is the Kagame government making to at least make peace with them so that they don't come back to Rwanda, just when we think we have progress, to cause another problem?
NNAMDIDavid Himbara, is that a question that you can answer?
HIMBARAYes. I should -- President Kikwete, the president of Tanzania made that very suggestions that it's time to sit down and for President Kagame to -- with his opponents to make peace and adopt some kind of national agenda that will take into consideration the concerns of all these groups. But of course Kagame's response was that he'll hit Kikwete when time is appropriate. So he was not for that.
NNAMDII'm glad the caller brought up the issue of the genocide, David Himbara, because you've said that one reason the west is sympathetic to President Kagame is what you call genocide guilt, guilt for not having done more to stop the killing 20 years ago. How, in your view, does that shape the American attitude toward Kagame?
HIMBARAWell, in a way it touches on this success that we attribute to Kagame, a lot of aid. Rwanda receives up to at least a billion dollars a year in aid. And U.S. leads. It's the largest donor followed by the British. And really the -- it began, I think, with Clinton, especially, when he considered -- he named Kagame, among the many other (unintelligible) and others, the new breed of African leaders. And he -- President Clinton also acknowledged that he did very little when he was the president in terms of preventing a genocide.
HIMBARASo not only then did he name Kagame a new breed of African leader, he pumped aid, but also he remains one of the few people who are outside office that really supports him along with Tony Blaire of the UK. So it's that guilt that also has now become something else. But because once his heads of state leave office they're going to foundations and NGOs. Then they need partners. So they are partners. So guilt becomes something else, partnership.
NNAMDIMr. Ambassador, should the U.S. relationship with Rwanda to some extent be seen in the context of the genocide of 1994 and the failure of the U.S. and the international community to act in a timely manner, does that influence the U.S. relationship with President Kagame?
LYMANOf course it influences it. You can't get away from it. And I think it inhibits you in going and telling President Kagame what you think he ought to do when the world stood by when that genocide took place. So it cannot help but have an impact. And you have to be understanding and sympathetic to what that country had to go through and what it took under President Kagame to come back out of that and establish a peaceful and prosperous country. So, yes, of course it has an impact.
NNAMDIOn to Mark in Rockville, Md. Mark, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKI'm a big fan of President Kagame. I've been to Rwanda. I think the ambassador's last comment captures the idea correctly in the sense that it's not a question of western guilt that drives or should drive policy, but rather concrete recognition of where that country was 20 years ago, what it has accomplished in the meantime and what any of us in President Kagame's position would have done and the decisions he has made.
MARKAnd I challenge people that they would not have made probably any different decisions, including things like not bringing up ethnic divisionism and also, as the president did, strive to have internal reconciliation , economic growth, internet wireless, health care, education, good roads.
NNAMDIBut that also seems...
MARKWhat that country has accomplished is unbelievable in a two-decade span.
NNAMDIIt's undeniable also but it also seems to be occurring in an environment where there is some significant suppression of opposition viewpoints. What do you think about that, Mark?
MARKThere's a tradeoff in political thinking between economic and social rights and political and civil rights. And the question is not do you privilege one set over the other, but how you strike the balance. And we, in this country, have had periods where we have restricted speech to some extent. And maybe, in retrospect, sometimes that line has been drawn not quite in the wrong -- right place. But that doesn't mean it's not appropriate to draw some line.
MARKSo the question is one of challenging the government, a matter of degree, but not in terms of overall strategy and affect. And it's a developing nation with absolutely no corruption whatsoever compared to most of the other countries in Africa.
NNAMDIThat is one of the issues that we have not discussed. Thank you for bringing it up, Mark. Incidents of corruption of Rwanda, in your view, David Himbara?
HIMBARAOh, I think some -- one day the truth will come out. Actually, that's the -- probably they're more corrupt than even its neighbors. It's just that it's more sophisticated corruption concentrated on top. This is a person, Kagame, who owns two Bombardier executive jets. Each one costing $50 million. This is someone -- by the way, the RPF and RPF companies now -- they employ more people than even the private sector (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWhen you say the RPF companies, those are government owned?
HIMBARAYeah -- no, not government, the ruling party, you know. They control telephones, they control food processing.
NNAMDIAnd so you're saying that as far as you're concerned those are clear indications of corruption or…
HIMBARAYeah, it's just that is known to report because the generals have died, they've been killed or exiled. The opposition parties that would point that out are either imprisoned or exiled and assassinated. It's all very well to say, well, to take the government line, the government running line…
NNAMDIThat there is no corruption. Do you have any idea, Ambassador Lyman, whether the U.S. thinks that there is significant -- a significant level of corruption in Rwanda?
LYMANI haven't seen reports on that, but I would like to comment on Mark's comments because I think there are lines and it's one thing to suppress some political and social rights. It's another to carry out what the human rights report calls extrajudicial killings. I mean, this is not something of just a moderate imbalance. And I think the lines have been crossed in several aspects.
NNAMDIThose extrajudicial killings allegedly have been carried out in several other countries, as a matter of fact.
LYMANThat's evidently the case.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. We're going to have to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation on the price of progress in Rwanda and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think democracy and personal freedom are essential in countries like Rwanda where reforms are dramatically increasing the standard of living and pulling people out of poverty? Share your view, 800-433-8850. Or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the price of progress in Rwanda with David Himbara, former economic advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, now a consultant based on Toronto, and Ambassador Princeton Lyman, former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, former deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIPrinceton Lyman, at last month's U.S./Africa Summit in Washington, President Obama included Rwanda as one of six African countries in a new peacekeeping partnership with the U.S. One goal is to combat rebels in the democratic Republic of Congo. How important is the peacekeeping partnership to both Rwanda and the U.S.?
LYMANWell, here again, you have a situation where Rwanda does carry out programs and policies important to the United States. Rwanda is an excellent participant in U.N. peacekeeping missions. They're troops are not afraid to enforce U.N. mandates. They're highly prized. Rwanda has a big stake in the eastern part of the Congo. And the way to get at that is to have a collaborative program. And that's what the new special envoy for the Great Lakes, Senator Russ Feingold, and -- has been pressing along with the U.N.
LYMANWe sanctioned Rwanda for its support of the M23 group. We cut off our military assistance there. And now, moving toward a more collaborative approach to Congo, I think that's the right direction to have gone. And I think a lot of credit goes to Sen. Feingold.
NNAMDIDavid Hambara, you have a way of coming up with catchy phrases. There was genocide guilt, what the ambassador and I just described, you describe as peacekeeper gratitude. You feel that that also affects the U.S. relationship with Rwanda in a way that is advantageous to President Kagame.
HIMBARAYes. We have to remember that -- the sexist story of Rwanda is actually the based on the fact that 40 percent of its budget comes from elsewhere, comes from donor. So Rwanda has to figure out ways of how to market itself. If it's not genocide capital, then the new capital is the peacekeeping. Because, you see, when U.S. or U.K. looks at supporting Rwanda's peace mission, versus sending their own soldiers into conflict areas, I think they'd rather hold their nose -- noses, and then send Rwanda soldiers in there. So it's a kind of -- choosing from two bad scenarios.
NNAMDIWell, President Kagame was in Atlanta on Saturday for the annual Rwanda Day celebration for Rwandan expats in the U.S. He spoke on Sunday to the United Nations Broadband Commission in New York. What reception is he getting in the United States this week, Mr. Ambassador?
LYMANWell, he is getting a very good reception, particularly in terms of technology, in terms of the things that he accomplishes well in Rwanda. The wireless, the internet, the connections joining the East Africa Common Market, all the things you mentioned at the outset in reducing poverty. Those are things that win him a lot of support and probably win him a new investment after the summit and his travels in the United States. And it's this two-sides of the situation that you're seeing. And I'm not surprised that he attracts a lot of positive reaction from industries and elsewhere, who look at his economic performance.
NNAMDIOn to Kadani, in Washington, D.C. Kadani, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
KADANIYeah, thank you, Kojo, for accessing my call. You know, I was just listening to you, how many positions that Mr. David has held in the government. I think from what I have heard there is only one position left, and that's the president. Did he have an ambition to run maybe?
NNAMDIHe has been quoted in the aforementioned Umuvugizi as saying he has no military or political ambitions in Rwanda, but of course he can speak for himself.
HIMBARAI would love to be a president of a think tank. That would be enough for me.
NNAMDIYou don't -- well, let's talk about that because your decision to leave Rwanda and speak out against President Kagame, appears to put you -- to have put you at risk. The newspaper or the publication that I mentioned reports that according to its reporting, you were subject to harassment by Rwandan authorities in South Africa, you were almost run over in the Johannesburg in a failed plot, you were almost kidnapped to Rwanda from Nairobi, Kenya, saved by your Canadian passport. And the last thing I'm seeing is that the government of Canada has been warning you that you are at risk. How do deal with that?
HIMBARAWell, actually, it's a tragic -- for not only in broad (word?) terms, but also for myself. I have to tell you that a month ago my own brother, who was in the military, was thrown in jail, after serving as a deputy commander of the U.N. in the South Sudan. That -- he -- and he's accused of "spreading rumors." Five days ago another brother of mine -- he -- his wife, who's eight months pregnant, and their three-year-old son, have been thrown in a prison and we don't really know where they are.
HIMBARASo what is this about? The thing is that in Rwanda if you join that government you don't quit, you tow the line. If you leave or if you have any kind of independent thinking you are just in the wrong. So that's -- the stories you hear is what I've been going through for the past four years. And it's -- they're not ending.
NNAMDIIf the intention of moving against relatives of yours in Rwanda is to stop you from speaking out against the government, why do you continue to do so?
HIMBARAWell, I continue to do so because before I start -- before I talked the government also went after me and people were -- so either way you go. So I'd rather go down talking than, you know, because, you know, silence does not buy peace there either.
NNAMDIOn to William, in Silver Spring, Md. William, your turn.
WILLIAMOh, hi. Good afternoon, Kojo. I am from Ghana, in West Africa. And I have been an admirer of what's going on in Rwanda by the president right now. And the reason -- my simple reason is that Africans are so hard to govern. And when you come to a new democratic like the one in Rwanda and probably being Ghana, if the president or whoever is governing the country doesn't do it with a very tough hand, he will not be able to achieve anything for the people, you know.
NNAMDIQuestion for you before I turn this over to Ambassador Lyman. Do you think Americans are easy to govern?
WILLIAMNo. I don't -- I -- no. I'm -- you seen, when you look at the…
NNAMDIHave you looked around you lately? Have you looked at the Congress of the United States? Have you looked at what the president is dealing with?
WILLIAMYes. But they started -- when they started, it wasn't like this. There were in-fightings and other things, so many things that happened before the American democratic got to this very point. And then when he started something like this in an African country, it's hard, it's tough. If you have good intentions and you are in any of these African countries, it's so hard to bring it out because they will kill it.
NNAMDIAnd that's indeed what we hear a lot. Mr. Ambassador, President Kagame seems to be unapologetic about his approach to transforming Rwanda. Says he wants it to be the Singapore of Africa. That plays into this hypothesis that maybe a bold economic transformation takes a strong hand, rather than a democratic one. What do you say?
LYMANWell, here's the tragedy, he has done extraordinary things in that direction, but that he feels that he also has to jail or murder or drive underground political opponents is the tragedy of it. It isn't essential. You can have bold leadership, great economic turnaround -- he certainly was in a position to do that. He enjoyed that much power. The tragedy is then adding to that, as David has said, it grew in 2009, 2010, etcetera, into a kind of price being paid in political and social terms that I think is unnecessary to get the kind of growth and dramatic turnaround for which he deserves credit.
NNAMDIDavid Himbara, how would you like to see the U.S. relationship with Rwanda moving forward? How would you like to see that relationship change?
HIMBARAI think must have -- I already noted something about that. It's not a question of asking the Americans or the British or whoever, to stop supporting the country. It's rather being -- using the influence to tell Kagame, for example, to stop killing. Stop the killing. We are not talking about removal because we're not the ones who have to remove him when his time is up.
HIMBARABut behavior -- if you belong to a club of good -- I mean, in U.N. or peacekeeping or whatever, the World Bank, there are certain sets of behavior that are called for. And I think even we can go into religious terminology. I mean, the 10 commandments. Killing must stop.
NNAMDIMr. Ambassador, how do you think the U.S. relationship with Rwanda will ultimately play out?
LYMANWell, I think you're going to continue to see us pursuing multiple objectives. And it isn't the only place we have to do that. I think their importance in the region is going to continue to be part of our policy and our concerns, the Great Lakes region and elsewhere, and their role in the peacekeeping. And we want to see them succeed economically. We will continue to support that. But I do think that this issue of human rights and the extremes that have been going on have to be part of our policy, how we relate to the government and what kinds of assistance we provide.
NNAMDIAmman, in Chantilly, Va. We only have about a minute left, but you have it. Amman, you're on the air.
AMMANThank you, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I just want to ask the ambassador, I'm originally from Somalia. And I can only state that we, as Somalis, will never learn how to forgive each other. And we're still waiting for U.N. or NGO to solve our problems. How would you advise Somali people today if you give them advice?
NNAMDIHow would he advise the Somali people today?
NNAMDII said we only have a minute left, Mr. Ambassador.
LYMANWell, I will make it…
NNAMDISo solve that problem.
LYMAN…very quick. I wish I could, but the hope is that the new Somalia government -- Somali government will begin to repair some of the terrible damage that's gone on. It has to come from within Somalia. It has to come from people coming together. It's deserving of a much longer conversation than we can have here. But hopefully with the new government progress will be made in this direction.
NNAMDIPrinceton Lyman is former U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, former deputy assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. Ambassador Princeton Lyman, thank you for joining us.
LYMANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDavid Himbara is former economic advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He's now a consultant based in Toronto. David Himbara, thank you very much for joining us.
HIMBARAOh, Kojo, it was wonderful. Thank you for the opportunity. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd as we say in the country I came from, walk safe. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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