Could Rwanda’s Kagame get thrown out of the “smoke filled room”?

The Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R. Calif.)  has released a letter yesterday “decrying targeted killings of Rwandan regime critics abroad” in which “the Chairman urged Secretary Kerry to reevaluate U.S. engagement with Rwanda, including future assistance”:

Dear Mr. Secretary: I am writing to express my deep concern over the numerous attempted attacks and killings of Rwandan dissidents living outside that country. Any functioning and responsible democracy allows the voices of opposition to be heard. Yet in Rwanda there is a systematic effort to silence – by any means necessary – the voices of those who question the regime in Kigali.   .  .  .  .

This really strikes me as a potentially major setback for Kagame.  In addition to the support Kagame has had from those who were at the helm in the U.S. executive branch 20 years ago during the 1994 genocide and Kagame’s ascension, he has also had an extra level of support in recent years from some House Republicans and others in the Republican Party.  Part of it is the same type of thing that kept Museveni and the Ethiopian regime of Meles Zenawi in favor with some on the “right” in American politics well after most people who pay attention to Africa got over the notion that this class of rulers represented a “renaissance generation” of semi-democratic leadership.  Kagame has lost a lot of his American support over the last few years over the exposure of his actions in relation to the DRC and his growing authoritarianism, even though continuing to solidify his stature as a “go to” source for troops for the U.S. and Europe in the region and a secure landingpad for global investment endeavors. (h/t Cameron Hudson @cch7c on the Royce letter)

Kagame may have finally gone too far to stomach for both the Republican and Democrat mainstream in Washington.

A next question will be what reaction we see from the global elite, what some might refer to as “the Davos crowd”, including the wealthy investor/philanthropist/celebrity networks which have patronized Kagame.  In fact, the World Economic Forum last year was the venue for Kagame to announce with “homeless billionaire” Nicolas Berggruen, Nigerian investor Tony Elumelu and former U.S. official Jendayi Frazer the launch of the “East African Exchange” in Kigali.

As reported at the time in Africa Mining Intelligence, “Kigali, Future minerals trading platform” : “[A] commodities exchange in East Africa that will deal initially with farm goods and minerals covering the entire Great Lakes region, will be set up in Kigali, capital of Rwanda . . . The inauguration of the East African Exchange (EAX) will be seen to by a consortium whose most prominent figure is Jendayi Frazer who was a U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs under George W. Bush.”

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Updated: Burgeoning South Sudan crisis will increase Kenya’s leverage over donors, NGOs, international media

The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.

Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.

This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.

Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.

In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.

Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.

By the way, Uhuru did end up signing that Media Bill.

Update: See the editorial in today’s Star: Work Permit Crackdown Is Counter-Productive. And the news story, “Rules on Work Permits Tighten“.