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Rwanda is a place where the generally accepted and reported narrative is increasingly diverging from the facts on the ground. Media and philanthropists alike seem to have slotted Rwanda into the “good” category allowing themselves to ignore the evidence at hand. The narrative is well-known: Since the genocide, Rwanda has made steady progress in economic growth, stability and reconciliation under the benevolent and enlightened leadership of President Paul Kagame who is attracting economic investment from the business community rather than by soliciting aid. Two good examples of this narrative can be found in Philip Gourevitch’s homage to Kagame in the New Yorker and Jeff Chu’s more economy-focused piece from Fast Company.

But the narrative is breaking down at all levels.

While it would be hard to dispute Rwanda’s “business-friendly” bona fides, the much celebrated efforts by the Kagame effort haven’t yielded much beyond the endlessly cited deal with Starbucks. The most recent significant investment announced—a deal to extract methane from Lake Kivu—is essentially the same deal announced with different partners three years ago and then canceled. The one sector where Rwanda had been attracting actual capital was the tourism industry. But the New York Times recently reported that the largest investor in that sector, Dubai World, had cut six of its eight projects.

In the meantime, Kagame’s government is increasingly gaining a reputation for autocracy not reconciliation. In just the past nine months, as noted by Reporters Without Borders, the government has temporarily banned and threatened the BBC, suspended publication of a variety of independent newspapers, sentenced several journalists to lengthy jail terms and proposed new regulations that all but prohibit the creation of new independent media. Combine that with the Kagame government’s role in the ongoing destabilization of Eastern Congo, and the picture of Rwanda looks a lot more like a bitter tragedy rather than an inspirational new model.

A new Huffington Post editorial by Joseph Sebarenzi, a former speaker of the Rwandan parliament, adds the necessary element of irony to the tragedy: the terminology often used to praise Rwanda today, “the Switzerland of Africa,“ was also used to describe the government of Juvenal Habyarimana which eventually spawned the genocide.

So will this latest salvo be enough to shift the narrative? And even if it does, will it make any difference to the Kagame government?


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