The tenure of Paul Kagame in the African Union : Meritorious leader or dictator?

Paul Kagame | 9th Broadband Commission Meeting, Dublin 22-23 March 2014 |  ITU pictures  | flickr

Paul Kagame | 9th Broadband Commission Meeting, Dublin 22-23 March 2014 | ITU pictures | flickr

With over a decade since its establishment, and its roots dating back to as early as 1966 were it was then called the Organization of African Unity, the African Union has played a vital role in the development and cohesion of African countries.

The world has witnessed this geo-political entity, as a driving force of cohesion, through a body comprising of approximately 55 countries, working actively towards their vision, which is a progression towards an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force within the global arena.  Against this backdrop of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, the African Union has contributed in many ways including resolving conflicts, reducing drug trade, and ensuring that any activities by ransom seekers that are illegal are indeed criminalized.On the 28th of January 2018, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union met at their 30th Ordinary Session at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and elected a bureau to pilot the activities of the Union for the year 2018.

Paul Kagame, who is the current president of Rwanda, was elected as the Chairperson of the African Union, taking over from the President of the Republic of Guinea who had been chairing the Union in 2017. The African Union has met some highs and lows. This perhaps highlights the type of leader Paul Kagame has been.In his tenure as the chairperson, Paul Kagame managed to push for an import tax continent-wide, in order to fund the African Union, so that it will rely less on external donors.  

Despite resistance to this import tax which Kagame proposed in order to increase continental funding towards the African Union, he found means to lead reforms to increase self-funding within the African Union, which improved by 17% in 2016.  Kagame has also been at the forefront of the 32nd African Union summit held in February 2019,  pioneering the proposal of a single African passport, which the African Union believes will improve free trade and connectivity.Outside of the African Union, Paul Kagame has played a role in politics, including launching a programme to develop Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020.

As it stands, under the leadership of Kagame, Rwanda is developing strongly on key indicators including health care and education, were the annual growth between 2004 and 2010 averaged 8% per year. Even with his seemingly meritorious resume, Paul Kagame has been dubbed as a dictator and a figure responsible for the impediment of civil rights of women challenging his leadership. He raked a questionable 99% of votes after the mass genocide committed almost two decades ago by the Hutu government. His dictatorship was affirmed by the widely criticized adoption of an amendment of the Constitution on term limits, which will allow him to stay in power until 2034.

Despite Rwanda having a vast majority of women in positions of power, the women who have contested Paul Kagame’s position have landed in jail. Diane Shima Rwigara, a business woman and activist, was arrested for “offenses against state security and forgery” shortly after announcing to run against Paul Kagame. Based on technical reasons, she was disqualified from running, and also had her nude pictures released right after her intention to run for president. Victoire Ingabire, an activist and chairperson of the Unified Democratic Forces, is also another woman who dared to run for presidency against Paul Kagame, and found herself in the same predicament. She was arrested for terrorist conspiracy to undermine the government and downplaying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide . This was shortly after Victoire  Igabire  announcing to run for president. Coincidence?

The baton to chair the African Union has been passed on to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is said to be focused on issues of peacekeeping and security in post-war reconstruction. This seamlessly aligns with the 2019 theme of the African Union which focuses on Refugees, Returnees and internally displaced people. This is a pivotal matter, considering the large number of African refugees displaced around the world. This appointment may be met with reservations, considering the 2013 debacle, were the Egyptian army’s forcible movement of the first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, and ended in Egypt being suspended from the African Union until the country’s order was restored. Five years later, with an Egyptian president being appointed as the new chairperson, Africa will be watching closely to see if Egypt can step away from the narrative of defiance to one of fostering peace, considering the backdrop that is enshrined in the 2019 theme of Refugees and Returnees of displaced people, by which the president of Egypt and new chairperson of the African Union would have to align.

The African Union will also experience a new dawn, with the election of the current President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, who will be chairperson in 2020.  From that point, the position will rotate in the Southern region. The office will continue to deliberate on, and contribute to issues which include the financing of the African Union and the development of Africa in issues such as African Continental Trade. By virtue of being part of the political party that has secured the majority of the votes and have recently come under fire due to cases of corruption, abuse of state resources and illegal financial activities, it could be said that the leadership of the African Union under Cyril Ramaphosa will leave little to be desired.

As years progress, it is imperative that we keep in mind the 2063 agenda of the African Union which is “a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years, seeking to accelerate the implementation of past and existing continental initiatives for growth and sustainable development”. The tenure of a leader is instrumental in achieving this and we will be watching closely to see what the result of this shift in leadership will cultivate.


The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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