Rwanda’s President Thinks He’s Indispensable By Justin Fox

This could have been the year that Rwandan President Paul Kagame rode off into the sunset to riches and acclaim. Kagame has been his country’s dominant political figure since leading the 1994 military rebellion that halted the genocide by the majority Hutus of his ethnic group, the Tutsis. He was chosen as president by the country’s parliament and cabinet in 2000. Then, after a new constitution called for a directly elected president who could serve two seven-year terms, he ran and was elected easily in 2003 and 2010.

If he had chosen to step down at the end of that second elected term this year, Kagame might have been a strong contender for the Ibrahim Prize — an award of $5 million over 10 years and $200,000 a year for life after that, financed by Sudanese-British mobile-phone billionaire Mo Ibrahim to give African leaders incentive to hand over power peacefully. I’d also guess that, given how admired he is in Western business circles, Kagame could have landed a lucrative corporate board seat or two, gone on the speaking circuit and found lots of other attractive opportunities. In short, the guy had options that your typical African politician does not.

Instead, it looks as if Kagame will be keeping his firm grip on political power for another decade or two. After Rwandans amended their constitution in 2015 to allow him to run for one more seven-year term as president and two more five-year ones, he was reelected Friday with what the Rwandan National Election Commission said was 98.63 percent of the vote.

Developing-world presidents who get reelected with 99 percent of the vote are common enough, of course. We generally call them dictators, and we assume that their desire to stay in office indefinitely is driven by some combination of a hunger for power and an instinct for self-preservation.

Kagame isn’t just some tin-pot dictator, though. He’s the architect of one of the great economic development success stories of the past quarter-century. Here’s Rwanda’s per-capita real gross domestic product since 1990. FULL STORY