The president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, was named the African of the Year for 2018 by Forbes, being described as the "visionary." He graces the cover of the Forbes Africa Magazine, January edition.
The award is a recognition of the leaders who have contributed to shaping the African economy. Kagame is the chair of the African Union, and he revealed changes he has instituted both as Rwanda's president and the chairperson of the African Union.
President Kagame is a man who elicits different opinions in people. He has been widely, and duly, credited for restoring normalcy in Rwanda and leading it on a steady trajectory of economic growth in the aftermath of the devastating genocide that ravaged the country back in 1994. He established peace and stability in Rwanda after the trail of destruction left by the effects of the genocide. Rwanda also ranks well when it comes to ease of doing business, and is also ranked as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa.
However, Paul Kagame has an authoritarian side that has been criticized heavily. Political opponents have no space in Rwanda as they are frequently harassed, abused and arrested. The arrest of Diane Rwigara exemplifies this, and there are many other opponents critical of the government who are locked up. To instill a sense of loyalty in the people of Rwanda, he passed a law that criminalizes statements and publications deemed humiliating by government officials in October 2018.
Thus with such a mixed perception, what message is Forbes sending by making Kagame the African of the Year? By describing him as the "visionary"? It seems that the issue of human rights is one that does not bother these Western institutions. Western media of this nature is gravitating in a position where only investment is that one thing which matters, while human rights and democracy are neglected to their own dereliction.
As long as the investors in the West are hearing such positive messages, they come to Rwanda, and at times this is not for the benefit of the locals. As long as they have the perception of stability, human rights do not matter. It is progress at the expense of democracy. The way political opponents have been treated in Rwanda is sufficient for anyone to strongly believe that human rights and democracy are not primary matters to Kagame. Democracy does not matter as long as there are optics of progress.
Forbes describes Kagame in this way: "Kagame has led his country from penury to prosperity. His government has co-invested alongside private capital to reduce risk and create a more appealing proposition."
"The last two decades on the Rwandan economic front have also been characterized by improving the investment ecosystem to create interest from the international and local business community," says Forbes.
Maybe Forbes could be endorsing this perception. Stability matters for investors and human rights will only matter afterwards, or maybe not. Kagame has also been on a charm offensive with China, making deals with companies such as Alibaba. He says China has traded equally with Rwanda, but evidence may show this to be untrue.
Or, maybe, this is just a genuinely positive message meant to motivate other African countries to follow the exemplary precedence set forth by Kagame. But then, why always ignore his authoritarian side?
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