Nicholas Shakespeare

The making of a monster: Paul Kagame’s bloodstained past

Rwanda’s President has been widely feted as ‘the man who ended the genocide’. But he may also have started it, according to Michela Wrong

‘God created me in a very strange way,’ Paul Kagame once told an obsequious interviewer. Credit: Alamy

In June, Commonwealth heads of government will meet in the Rwandan capital Kigali, a city advertised by their Tutsi host, the 63-year-old Paul Kagame, as ‘the Davos of Africa’. Kagame, Rwanda’s de facto leader since 1994 — and boasting more honorary degrees than Barack Obama, although he never finished high school — has become the ‘donor darling’ of the international community. He is why the World Bank has donated in excess of $4 billion, and why, until recently, the biggest bilateral donor has been the UK. ‘As far as I’m concerned,’ says the Tory MP Andrew Mitchell, ‘he is a hero for ending the violence.’

Michela Wrong is a British authority on Africa who begs to differ. Her brave and tremendous book, the product of 30 years’ reporting, demands that we revise the entire history of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which upwards of one million Tutsis and Hutus were slaughtered during a three-month frenzy. She places the blame, devastatingly, at the feet of the tall, thin, reedy-voiced Kagame, suggesting that ‘the leader routinely labelled in the West as “the Man Who Ended the Genocide” might actually also have started it’. Kagame’s ex-chief of staff, Theogene Rudasingwa, is one of many former colleagues of Kagame’s interviewed who regret passionately their part in his rise, and now perceive him in Conradian hues as a black Kurtz: ‘We had a hand in the making of a monster.’

When I hear ‘Rwanda’, I think of a diabolical humanitarian crisis that seems to have raged on for years: the worst-case scenario of what happens when colonisers leave and ethnic enmities flare. Wrong untangles the background like this. For roughly 800 years, a minority of cattle-owning Tutsis, comprising 14 per cent of Rwanda’s population, lorded it over the Hutu majority. Then, in 1959, the soon-to-be-departing Belgians switched allegiance.

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