From the Horror to the Envy of Africa: Rwanda’s Ruler Holds Tight Grip

Blood coursed through the streets of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, in April 1994 as machete-wielding militiamen began a campaign of genocide that killed as many as 800,000 people, one of the great horrors of the late 20th century.

Thirty years later, Kigali is the envy of Africa. Smooth streets curl past gleaming towers that hold banks, luxury hotels and tech startups. There is a Volkswagen car plant and an mRNA vaccine facility. A 10,000-seat arena hosts Africa’s biggest basketball league and concerts by stars like Kendrick Lamar, the American rapper, who performed there in December.

Tourists fly in to visit Rwanda’s famed gorillas. Government officials from other African countries arrive for lessons in good governance. The electricity is reliable. Traffic cops do not solicit bribes. Violence is rare.

The architect of this stunning transformation, President Paul Kagame, achieved it with harsh methods that would normally attract international condemnation. Opponents are jailed, free speech is curtailed and critics often die in murky circumstances, even those living in the West. Mr. Kagame’s soldiers have been accused of massacre and plunder in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Three decades after the Rwandan genocide, Kigali is a modern capital and a destination for tourists, conventioneers and African officials.Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For decades, Western leaders have looked past Mr. Kagame’s abuses. Some have expressed guilt for their failure to halt the genocide, when Hutu extremists massacred people mostly from Mr. Kagame’s Tutsi ethnic group. Rwanda’s tragic history makes it an “immensely special case,” Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, once said.

Back to top button