Paul Kagame’s supporters hail him as a visionary, even while his adversaries call him a dictator, alleging that he muzzles the media and political opponents.
Kagame first took power at the age of 36, coming from Uganda at the head of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and bringing an end to the Rwanda genocide in which 800,000 of his fellow ethnic Tutsis were murdered.
Sixteen years later, his accomplishments have drawn far-reaching acclaim. International support has ensured that the country’s economy developed swiftly, in services, new technologies and modernised agriculture.
Africa investors prize Rwanda. Direct foreign investment catapulted from 32 million dollars there in 2003 to more than 540 million dollars last year.
But critics of Kagame’s government say this has been done through deceit, by a repressive, authoritarian regime. These dissenting voices point suggestively to the recent murders of an independent journalist in Rwanda and of an opposition politician. The government in Kigali denied any involvement in these killings.
Before the foreign press, Kagame has dismissed as cynical allegations he says are coming from outside the country.
Kagame said: “I don’t want you to keep insinuating there is a crisis about democracy here in Rwanda. That is my responsibility: to stress that and be sure that Rwandans decide for themselves — anybody from Belgium or anywhere deciding for us? No. You decide for yourselves and we [will] decide for ourselves.”
Numerous opposition members have preferred to leave the country, some feeling safer in Belgium, such as the previous prime minister Faustin Twagiramungu — who is Hutu.
Twagiramungu said: “The West knows about this 16-year dictatorship of Mr Kagame. He kills, imprisons — including the former president Bizimungu. He throws us out. He is still killing today, and no one speaks out against it.”
While Paul Kagame continues to enjoy strong support in Rwanda, his most vocal critics keep pressure up outside the country, like at weekend demonstrations at the Rwandan embassy in Brussels.