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Kagame : Tyrant and/or Saviour ?

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By James Lamont and Mark Turner. Financial Times;
Aug 03, 2002.
The handshake spoke volumes. At the signing of a pact hailed as marking the
end of a conflict that has ravaged the heart of Africa, President Paul Kagame
of Rwanda thrust out his hand. President Joseph Kabila, his 30-year-old Congolese adversary, looked away as he took it - diffident, disconcerted and,
apparently, reluctant.
There are several leading figures in the civil war in Congo, formerly Zaire, that
has sucked in half a dozen of its central African neighbours. They include Josý
Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. But Mr Kagame is arguably the critical player.
He is also emerging as one of the most controversial leaders in Africa.
To his supporters, he is a saviour whose Rwandan Patriotic Front extracted
 tiny Rwanda from the 1994 genocide of more than 500,000 Tutsis and
 moderate Hutus while the outside world looked on and did nothing.
He is resolved to prevent a repeat of the slaughter by shoring up the country's
 frontier from the genocidal killers who fled to Congo and by healing the deep
 scars at home.
To his detractors - they include most other leaders in central Africa - he is a
 tyrant intent on imposing his supremacy on a vast swathe of central Africa. His
 occupation of eastern Congo since the war began in 1998, they say, is
 building up ethnic hatred that will poison the region for many years.
No one doubts that Mr Kagame has an ascetic single-mindedness. "He is a
 man of extremely puritanical habits and very controlled: he could be a British
 gentleman or a Japanese Samurai," says Gerard Prunier, a French historian. "He is totally cold-blooded, though not a sadist, and a master manipulator."
Mr Kagame, 44, is a lifelong soldier-turned-statesman. His formative years
 were spent as part of a Rwandan diaspora. Aged four, he fled to Uganda with
 his family as anti-Tutsi violence spread in his home country. He later rose
 through the ranks of Mr Museveni's National Resistance Army to become its
 head of intelligence. In 1990, he broke away to form the Rwandan Patriotic
 Front, a guerrilla army staffed by his compatriots in Uganda and supplied with
 arms stolen from Mr Museveni's army.
Mr Kagame rose to become the RPF's military leader after the death of Major
 General Fred Rwigyema two days after the group invaded Rwanda. After a
 four-year offensive, the RPF took power in July 1994. But its capture of
Kigali came too late to save the country from state- sponsored genocide.
The consequences have shaped Mr Kagame's thinking ever since. He
 profoundly distrusts the international community - the United Nations, its
 secretary-general Kofi Annan, and France in particular - which failed to
 respond. His avowed desire is to track down the perpetrators and bring them
 to justice.
Finally, it looks as though Mr Kagame may be on the road to achieving that
objectives. He has a commitment from the Kinshasa government to hand over
 the génocidaires under its control and to cut off supplies to anti-Rwandan
 militia. In return, he will withdraw his troops.
But many doubt whether Rwanda has any intention of leaving. The economic
 exploitation of the eastern Congo by Rwandan forces is extensive. Mr
 Kagame has himself described the campaign as "self-financing". There are
 also questions over how willing Rwanda will be to absorb as many as 40,000
 soldiers - many of them Hutus.
At home, Mr Kagame faces the difficult task of bringing tens of thousands of
 genocide suspects to justice while reversing Rwanda's tribal divisions. "He
 needs to transform himself from the chief Tutsi, and a fighter, to the president
 of Rwandans," says Jean- Marie Gasana, an analyst with the International
 Crisis Group.
Mr Kagame is frank about his government's shortcomings. Although
 parliamentary elections are proposed for next year, progress towards
 democracy is slow and security remains the top priority. District elections last
 year were overshadowed by a heavy military presence. The RPF is the only
 party allowed to organise for fear that political activity will open up ethnic
 divisions. Mr Kagame's government has also been unwilling to co-operate
 with the International Criminal Tribunal over alleged war crimes committed by
the Rwandan Patriotic Army, its military wing.
"In the wake of the genocide, the army was the only organisation that could
bring control. That continues to inform Kagame's outlook," says Elizabeth
 Sidiropoulos, director of studies at the South African Institute of International
 Affairs. The arrest of gýnocidaires could give Mr Kagame greater confidence
 to promote democracy in Rwanda, but with their threat gone, he would have
 less justification for military rule.
Most observers agree that the 90-day implementation of the peace plan is too
 optimistic and see little international enthusiasm for a peacekeeping force. South Africa has offered troops. Clare Short, Britain's minister for international
development and one of Mr Kagame's greatest supporters, appears open to
the suggestion of a Sierra Leone-type role for the UK in training the UN
monitoring force. But the hurdles are immense.
Some think Mr Kagame has got the better deal in the treaty with Congo. The
responsibility for tracking down and disarming the militias rests principally with
Kinshasa and the international community. That leaves Mr Kabila, supported
by Angola and Zimbabwe, facing huge challenges to fulfil his side of the
bargain. As he signed the peace deal this week, he made commitments to
peace and good government. But his cause is vague, his motives uncertain and
his allies operate independently of him. There were even rumours that the
signing was delayed as he struggled to win over dissenters in his own ranks.
Mr Kagame appears to have no such problems. As he strode from the
presidential guest house in Pretoria, he towered over his retinue of advisers. Mr Kabila, immaculately dressed but dwarfed by his bodyguards, looked ore like a prisoner than a president.
Central Africa has long waited for this week's peace deal. Few doubt that its chances of success largely depend on Mr Kagame.