Profile: Paul Kagame

Rwandan incumbent president poised to win new seven-year term in office.

paul kagame
Kagame waged a guerrilla war against the then Hutu government in the 1990s, ending the genocide that killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus [GALLO/GETTY] 

President Paul Kagame has been the leading figure in Rwandan politics since the end of genocide 17 years ago when his rebel army stopped the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people.

In October 1990, Kagame was one of a group of Rwandan army officers serving in the Ugandan army who deserted to form the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and wage a guerrilla campaign against the government of Juvenal Habyarimana.

After the death of the RPF’s charismatic leader, Fred Rwigyema, Kagame managed single-handedly to rebuild the RPF into a 14,000-strong force.

With the international community doing little to end the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the RPF waged a guerrilla war against the then Hutu government and managed to expel a 40,000-strong Hutu army into exile in neighbouring countries.

A new government was sworn in in July 1994 with Pasteur Bizimungu, a Hutu, as president and Kagame as vice-president and defence minister.

First victory

However, since the end of the genocide, Kagame, 52, has been widely seen as the real power in the country.

In 2000, the national assembly unanimously chose Kagame as their president, making him the first to come from the minority Tutsis since independence from Belgium in 1962.

Having never faced a public vote before, Kagame won the 2003 presidential election with 95 per cent of the vote, after running on a platform of national unity, boosting economic growth, strengthening governance.

The opposition claimed that his triumph in this election was marred by intimidation, censorship and a dearth of meaningful competition.

Kagame was successful in presenting himself as a Rwandan and not a Tutsi, and has taken a strong line with those accused of “promoting ethnic divisions”.

Human rights and opposition groups have accused Kagame of using this as a pretext to suppress differing political views and political rights.

Kagame has also faced foreign criticism for his involvement in the war in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1996 and 1997, Rwanda backed a rebellion that overthrew President Mobutu Seso Seko’s regime. Two years later, it became embroiled in a new war that involved at least six countries.

Kagame has always fended off international criticism by citing the world’s failure to stop the 1994 slaughter.

‘Top reformer’

Although there has been a rising tide of criticism of its human-rights record and foreign engagements, Kagame’s government has overseen impressive economic development and rebuilding effort since the genocide.

Rwanda’s GDP has doubled since 2005. Most Rwandans having access medical insurance and the country has “a 100% food security”, Kagame says.

There have also been massive developments in the information technology sector and in exploring renewable energy, and the government offers attractive incentives to investors to boost economic growth.

Kagame insists that his government has been successful in curbing corruption and strengthening government institutions. Rwanda has been rated as the most transparent among east African countries, according to Transparency International.

Rwanda was named the world’s top reformer in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2010.

Kagame has also focused on economic co-operation with Rwanda’s neighbours to the north and east, in part to secure access to the coast and regional markets. Under his leadership, the East African Community signed a common market protocol to boost trade.

Kagame’s government has been exceptionally successful in improving the status of women and enhancing their political participation. The Rwandan government has the  highest share of women than any other government in the world.

Kagame is married with four children.   

Source: News Agencies