"Paul Kagame would fold his antenna-thin frame
into a big black leather chair."
"I found myself thinking of another
famously tall and skinny civil warrior,
Ever since the genocide in Rwanda, which began on April 7, 1994 and ended on July 4, 1994, I have been following the story of Rwanda and its inspirational climb from the depths of hell to its position today as the safest and most democratic nation in Africa, most of the responsibility for that resting on the shoulders of its exemplary leader, President Paul Kagame.
RWANDA'S GOOD MAN KAGAME and HOW KAGAME BECAME LEADER
That's why I've been particularly interested today in following President Kagame's visit to Washington, DC where he was invited to the White House by President Bush. When searching for news of the event to share with Orwell Today readers I came across the White House Press Release describing the Oval Office meeting of President Bush and President Kagame:
President Bush welcomes President Kagame (for discussions in Oval Office). White House, May 31, 2006
In one of the photos contained in the article I notice a portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking over Paul Kagame's shoulder, symbolically giving him moral and spiritual support.
Both Lincoln and Kagame were inspirational leaders during the most horrific times of their nation's history - Civil War - and both of them were Presidents in the aftermath, when nearly every person in the nation had lost at least one family member to death.
Lincoln and Kagame have other things in common and if you read the following excerpt from the book WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES you'll understand why it's symbolic that Lincoln and Kagame are pictured together in the White House:
In his 1998 book about the Rwandan Genocide, Philip Gourevitch compared the then Vice-President and Commander of the Army, Major General Kagame, to Abraham Lincoln:
"...Kagame, for whom the office of Vice President was specially invented, did not deny that the RPF formed the backbone of the regime, and that as its chief military and political strategist he was the country's most powerful political figure. "He who controls the army controls all," Rwandans liked to say, and following the total destruction of the national infrastructure during the genocide this seemed truer than ever. But Kagame imposed institutional checks on his own power --"who else could impose them"--and when he said that he could remove those checks, he was only stating the obvious. He may even have been overstating the case, since it was never clear, after the genocide, that he had complete control of the army, but he was trying to explain what it meant that he had chosen not to be an absolute leader in a country that had no experience of anything else. And he said, "I never had any illusions that these political tasks were going to be simple."...
He always sounded so soothingly sane, even when he was describing, with characteristic bluntness, the endless discouragements and continued anquish that surely lay ahead. He spoke of all the woes of his tiny trashed country as a set of problems to be solved, and he seemed to relish the challenge. He was a man of rare scope--a man of action with an acute human and political intelligence. It appeared impossible to discover an angle to the history he was born into and was making that he hadn't already reckoned. And where others saw defeat, he saw opportunity. He was, after all, a revolutionary; for more than fifteen years, his life had consisted of overthrowing dictators and establishing new states in the harshest of circumstances.
Because he was not an ideologue, Kagame was often called a pragmatist. But that suggests an indifference to principle and, with a soldier's stark habits of mind, he sought to make a principle of being rational. Reason can be ruthless, and Kagame, who had emerged in ruthless times, was convinced that with reason he could bend all that was twisted in Rwanda straighter, that the country and its people truly could be changed--made saner, and so better--and he meant to prove it. The process might be ugly: against those who preferred violence to reason, Kagame was ready to fight, and, unlike most politicians, when he spoke or took action, he aimed to be understood, not to be loved. So he made himself clear, and he could be remarkably persuasive.
We always met in his office at the Ministry of Defense, a big room with translucent curtains drawn over the windows. He would fold his antenna-thin frame into a big black leather chair, I would sit to his right on a couch, and he would answer my questions for two or three hours at a stretch with a quietly ferocious concentration. And what he said mattered, because Kagame was truly somebody of consequence. He made things happen.
Several times, when I was sitting with him, I found myself thinking of another famously tall and skinny civil warrior, Abraham Lincoln, who once said, "It is to deny what the history of the world tells us is true to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion as others have so done before them . . . whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or of enslaving freemen." Kagame had proven himself quite effective at getting what he wanted, and if Kagame truly wanted to find an original response to his original circumstances, the only course open to him was emancipation. That was certainly how he presented it, and I don't doubt that that was what he wanted. But the time always came when I had to leave his office. Kagame would stand, we'd shake hands, a soldier with a side arm would open the door, and then I would step back out into Rwanda...[end of quoting from Gourevitch]
With that in mind, readers will now be able to appreciate the symbolism of President Lincoln being present in the Oval Office meeting of President Kagame and President Bush today.
After the 11:30am meeting at the White House was over, President Kagame attended a 2:30pm Press Conference at the Voice of America building, which was taped for viewing on Real Media Player. While watching it I recognized some of Kagame's traits as described by Gourevitch in his interviews over the course of the four visits he made to Rwanda in prepration for writing his book.
The journalists attending the VOA Press Conference asked only confrontational questions, many of them stating rumours as facts, and most of them attempts to discredit Kagame's accomplishments in Rwanda, and the country's proven success. Instead of reacting in anger, Kagame patiently and with wit and rare comportment and intelligence, calmly explained the facts and the reality of the situation.
After listening to him I had a greater understanding of the complex issues of the Gacacca Courts, the crime of Genocide, the International Criminal Tribune abuses, the falsity of the human rights abuse allegations, and the falsification of Rwanda's history portrayed in the movies, to name a few of the topics.
I highly recommend that people who only know Rwanda through the movies, take this opportunity to listen to a true Rwandan hero - their President, Paul Kagame. ~ Jackie Jura
President Kagame holds Press Conference (at Voice of America studio). VOA, May 31, 2006
~ an independent researcher monitoring local, national and international events ~
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