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Is a benevolent dictator possible?

Rwanda has come under attack in the past year or so, particularly around the time of reelection for post genocide President Kagame in August of 2010. Allegations of limiting free press, eliminating the opposition, and keeping a tight grip around the country with extremely high arrest rates entered the global discussion. Has President Kagame, who initially managed to bring peace and reconciliation to a war torn country while pushing forward immense development and a vibrant business and ICT culture, turned into another power hungry dictatorial African leader?

Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, responds to some of these concerns by painting a picture of a country that is still struggling to keep genocidal people and entities at bay, needing strict laws and a vigilant eye towards potentially inflammable behavior. In particular she addresses the “genocidal tendencies” law in Rwanda:

“People say the law against Rwandans engaging in “genocide ideology” was put in place by President Paul Kagame’s regime to keep them from talking. Rwandans have talked about genocide and what has happened in this country for the past 20 years non-stop. How does one create a law that fights racism, genocide and bigotry that is precise?

“There is no precision in ‘ideology’ whether you are in France, the United
States, Poland, Holland or South Africa. I have looked at 15 other countries with these laws and they are as vague as they can be… They have things as vague as, ‘insulting the memory of the dead,’ or ‘offending a group of people because of their sexual preference.’ What precision is there in that law? How do you interpret it? How do you think a Rwandan judge will interpret it in a way that will stop people from expressing themselves?... What we are looking out for in our society are those things that could take us back to what we witnessed in this country. In some of these other countries, it was the Holocaust, bigotry, and racist behaviour. You can’t make a difference in measuring the degree of these things, it is all vague. People outside the country should know that Rwanda has moved on in terms of political concepts and mindsets.”

Implications from Institute for the Future:

Rwanda has made impressive leaps since the end of the genocide in the mid 90s. Kagame is undoubtedly a big part of the positive movement forward, but at what point does limited freedom in order to prevent the perceived dangers of another conflict turn in to a dictatorship?

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Society for International Development, April 2010, pgs. 12-14