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Tony Blair’s odd poster child for advancing good African governance

Tony Blair and Paul Kagame
Tony Blair and Paul Kagame

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair wants to end aid dependence by fostering better governance, especially in Africa.

Since moving off the geopolitical center stage, Blair has inserted himself into several new supporting roles that could generally be lumped together as world betterment consultant.

For one such role, there is Blair’s African Governance Initiative. One of his shining examples of good African governance is Rwandan President Paul Kagame — a leader widely credited with reviving Rwanda’s economy over the past 15-plus years and building up strong domestic institutions. Unfortunately, Kagame is also increasingly becoming widely ‘celebrated’ for fueling warfare in neighboring DR Congo, acting like a dictator at home and committing various human rights violations.

“At the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), we believe that the developed world has been quick to act against bad leaders, but slow to support good ones,” writes AGI head Kate Gross in the Stanford Social Innovation Review recently. She then proceeds to talk about the work that the AGI has done with Kagame, describing how it has “fundamentally shaped our model.”

Gross mentions the development gains made by Rwanda, but neglects to point out some of the humanitarian concerns leveled at the Kagame regime. A rebellion called the March 23 Movement (M23) in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has slowly asserted control over the region in some part due to support from the Rwandan government. An investigative report by the UN found evidence of Rwandan nationals recruited and trained in Rwanda to fight in the DRC.

The development gains by Rwanda have helped obfuscate the reality of a Kagame-led regime. The article bemoans the tendency to pick bad governments over good ones, but the continued connection between AGI and Rwanda brings to question how partners are determined by AGI.

Paul Rusesabagina, the man made famous by the film Hotel Rwanda, penned an open letter recently that called on Blair to denounce the crimes perpetrated by the Kagame regime. “Mr. Blair, I call upon you to show the moral leadership that I know you are capable of, and denounce President Kagame and his activities in the Congo,” implores Rusesabagina.

“Call him and ask him to stop these deadly activities. Ask him to stop killing, jailing and exiling the journalists and political leaders in Rwanda. You are one of the few people in the world that he still might listen to, please stop him before more innocent people are slaughtered.”

Human Rights Watch called on the White House to ‘dump’ Rwanda as an ally citing the situation in the DRC in addition to crackdowns on opposition groups and atrocities committed by the Rwandan Patriotic Front in the 1990s.

There have been calls for Blair to distance himself from Kagame for years. He defended himself to the Guardian two years ago saying, “I’m a believer in and a supporter of Paul Kagame. I don’t ignore all those criticisms, having said that. But I do think you’ve got to recognize that Rwanda is an immensely special case because of the genocide. Secondly, you can’t argue with the fact that Rwanda has gone on a remarkable path of development. Every time I visit Kigali and the surrounding areas you can just see the changes being made in the country.”

The former UK Prime Minister is following in the steps of former leaders like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to build a legacy through an organization that seeks to alleviate poverty. Carter decided that he wanted to take on a host of diseases that caused problems, got little attention and can be defeated.  His more low key approach has garnered few headlines, but his Carter Center will soon celebrate the eradication of guniea worm, a direct result of its work, very soon.

Clinton, who is also a Kagame fan, took a more high profile approach with his work by launching the Clinton Global Initiative, probably best known for its annual confab where members dish out tens of thousands of dollars to rub elbows with the world’s elite. It has served as a place where new organizations can gain wealthy supporters and all get to connect with world leaders.

Governance is a lower profile issue. It won’t lead to clear victories in the way that Carter will achieve through health targets and it does not get the attention near the level of Clinton’s CGI. The AGI has been around for give years and worked with Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Malawi. It is a group of countries that is in many ways still in transition following conflict or poor leadership. The leaders in the group are some of the most charismatic an controversial.

It is quite possible that Blair is using his relationship with Kagame as a way to encourage the leader to change. However, it becomes hard to know exactly where he and AGI stand when they continue to tout the success of Rwandan governance in propelling the country’s development without making mention of some of the country’s problems.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]