Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Thursday, July 5

Come on, Kristof

After a series of articles "long on gloom and suffering", from his take-a-student-to-Africa trip, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof turns to a story of hope: Rwanda. Kristof gushes about how the cops pull over drivers to tell them to fasten their seat belts instead of to ask for bribes, and about how President Paul Kagame reads the Harvard Business Review. This is fine, Rwanda's development and order in the past decade have been impressive.

But Kristof ignores a couple of things. First, Rwanda is nice and orderly because the regime is extremely repressive. Kristof is aware of this, but dismisses it in one line by acknowledging that Kagame is "authoritarian, repressive, and quirky," sandwiched between how he is "honest, intelligent and capable" and how he "did wonders" for the standard of living. Yes, the press has little freedom, but Kagame reads the Harvard Business Review, so it's ok.

Second, Kristof seems to be respecting Kagame's ban on talking about the 1994 genocide and ethnic tension. It's great that Rwanda has been able to develop so much since the tragedy, but a victor's justice that makes little attempt at reconciliation, along with reprisals by the Tutsi-led FPR rebels-turned-army against Hutus in Rwanda and the DRC, decrease the chances that this grim cycle is over. I recently got around to reading A Continent for the Taking, by the Times' former Central Africa correspondent, Howard French, and I wonder how French - extremely critical of Kagame's actions in the DRC in the mid-90s - would react to Kristof's endorsement of the regime.

Yes, there is much to praise in Rwanda's recent history, but plenty to condemn as well. I would have hoped he could have come up with a better example of optimism for the continent. I, for one, will be holding off on investing in real estate in Kigali for now.


Anonymous said...


You are the typical armchair critic who doesn't seem to hold any personal opinion except to sweep everything under "repressive.....winner's justice...DRC looting..." and all the other things your ilk like to harp on!

Why don't you ask us Rwandans in Rwanda the right questions? Then we'll give you the right answers and tell you about the proliferation of critical local media; the all-consuming concerted effort at reconciliation even if genocidaires continue to audaciously abuse it by killing genocide survivors; how there has never existed a Tutsi RPF in this country, even during the days of the bush; etc.

As you don't assume to have answers, so don't offer them. We in Rwanda are searching for them, and we elected one man in 2003 to lead us in the search. President Kagame leads a team, he does not search alone.

With all due respect,

Pan Butamire

Aaron said...

Ha. Yeah, reading that piece, it did strike me as a bit bizarre that, after painting so many portraits of unmitigated misery around Africa, he would choose Rwanda as his bright spot. What's particularly ironic, I thought, is, while you could say Rwanda is at least impressive in contrast to what happened there 13 years ago, you could also make the case that all that is impressive about Rwanda today is a result of what didn't happen there 13 years ago (i.e., 'autonomous recovery')--not a great rallying cry for more robust intervention in Darfur.

Harald H. said...

Isn't it always so that the colonial visitor needs to have one "Story of success" in his imagination, and thus, in his account. This is to counterbalance the uncomprehendable complexity of the chaotic reality of the heart of darkness. Rwanda is becoming that non-complex pillow for Kristof to lean his head on before ging to sleep and forget about the rest of evil Africa. The "Friday" of Africa...

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