Sunday, January 9, 2011

Similarities between Habyarimana and Kagame

As the rhetoric of genocide denial and other forms of threats and intimidation that representatives of the RPF continue to put into the public domain heats up, in and out of Rwanda, it seems a good time to reflect on Kagame's leadership style. Central to the international legitimacy that the RPF enjoys is that it is made of up of "good guys" who stopped the 1994. This of course masks the role of the RPF in its own crimes of against humanity, and war crimes before, during and after the genocide. That is a different issue for a different post. Continued international praise, most recently from Tony Blair in The Guardian continues this trend of international tolerance for the human rights excesses of Kagame's regime. Seeing the RPF as the good guys leads many international observers, Tony Blair and others included, to see a radical break in leadership styles between the pre- and post-genocide periods. To this I say, hooey.

A colleague and I recently finished a paper that is currently under review on the similarities in leadership style of both Habyarimana and Kagame. Part and parcel of post-genocide leadership is the assertion of President Paul Kagame that his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) offers a new way of governing Rwanda so that the "scourge of genocide never again happens" in the country. My colleague and I, among many other observers and analysts of Rwanda's politics, would also like to see the killing stop. Unfortunately, our research shows that Habyarimana and Kagame regimes share the same authoritarian concerns with power and control of Rwandan society.

Using the concept of 'benevolent leadership', we argue that there is considerable continuity in the Kagame regime with the techniques of power employed during the Habyarimana regime. The key similarity is that both President actively seek to maintain a defined and gaping distance between elites (those ‘in the know’) and the population (those needing ‘guidance’), and reinforces the boundaries of socio-political hierarchy between political elites and ordinary Rwandans. Reminding Rwandans of hierarchy, authority, and of the need for obedience, this style of leadership aims to limit popular dissent and stimulate support on the part of the population. We argue that elite projections of a ‘benevolent leadership’ have been a tool not only to help authoritarian governments win over the international community, but also to try discipline the Rwandan population.

Our paper won't be published for another six to twelve months, publishing cycles being what they are. Please email me for a copy if you would like to consider our full argument and supporting evidence. In the meantime, an article that I consider a must read for anyone who follows politics in Rwanda in particular, the GLR more broadly is Filip Reyntjens latest. You can find it here.


  1. how could you compare this killer with Habyarimana are hilarious. did we have genocide ideology and denial during Habyarimana's rule?did we have 200000 people behind the bars for decades not justice come on if you want to write dont compare the uncomparables

  2. This comparison is total nonsense as far as I am concerned.Did Habyarimana get into power through deceitful means of killing and causing the deaths of about a million innocent Rwandese to gain political power?
    Kagame is now a super rich dollar billionaire as revealed by true sons of the RPF junta (Rwanda Briefing),owns personal jets, owns buildings in Europe which he is renting to the Rwanda government.This after only 16 years in power. Can you tell us a penny Habyarimana stole from the Rwandan people for personal use? etc...
    Please look for another topic and save your name from this embrassing deficit of logic and fact.

  3. Hey susan and your colleague, get serious! If only Habyarimana could resurrect to see for himself a united nation not built on ethinic divides any more and no quotas for children to attend schools. A nation on development-course, where all rwandese can afford to put on shoes, over 50 % with mobile phones, each poor family with a cow, and where women and youth are playing an active role in governance of their country. He should be the one to make the judgement for himself. If you are running out of comparative studies, contact me for meaningful topics to venture in energy to write about.


  4. Susan, I'd be very interested in the article. I've been quite fascinated by your experience of 'ingando' which I've been reading up on elsewhere on the net. Please email me at cori (at) I'm not sure if I would position myself quite as strongly in opposition to the current government as you (and Reyntjens, Pottier and others) do, but am interested in your take on things. Thanks for this blog! Cori.