Rwandan President Paul Kagame greets University President William P. Leahy, SJ, and University Trustee Pierre Prosper '85 prior to giving his speech Monday at Robsham Theater. (Photos by Lee Pellegrini)
Kagame: Rwanda an 'Oasis of Stability'
By Mark Sullivan
Rwandan President Paul Kagame, in a speech at Boston College Monday afternoon, marked the anniversary of the genocide that cost the lives of nearly a million of his countrymen in 1994, while endorsing quick action by the international community to address the current violence against civilians in the Darfur region of the Sudan.
"The Rwandan genocide was a crime against humanity," said Kagame, who led armed resistance to the mass slaughter as a guerilla general, and who since has been credited with restoring stability to the country as president.
"The last 11 years in Rwanda have been a tale of courage in the face of insurmountable problems," he said. "Today, Rwanda is an oasis of stability in the region."
Kagame said the massacre of between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis over 100 days in 1994 was engineered by Hutu extremists in "deliberate and cold-blooded" fashion while the international community failed to intervene.
Evil prevailed, he said, paraphrasing Edmund Burke, because good men and women did nothing.
"Did the international community fail 1 million innocent Rwandans because Rwanda was of no strategic importance?" he said. "Are some lives considered less precious than others?"
"Every single individual life" should be considered "strategic," the Rwandan president said. "If the UN and its Security Council are unwilling or unable to act, regional powers should take action. When no on acts in the face of large-scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing, those...with the capacity to act should be held responsible.
"As someone said, perhaps next time when the killing starts somewhere, we will live up to the humanitarian ideals we often espouse but so rarely employ."
Comparisons have been drawn between Rwanda and the current humanitarian crisis in Darfur, where more than 200,000 have been killed and 1.6 million displaced in attacks by the government and its Arab proxy militias on black African tribal villagers in what has been broadly condemned as a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign.
Rwanda is represented in the African Union peacekeeping force of 2,000 that has been sent to Darfur to help stabilize the area and enable negotiations between warring parties, he said. "We have made a modest contribution to, and will continue to support, African Union peacekeeping forces on our continent," Kagame said.
"So far, the situation has not worsened - and the problem has not been resolved, either. Negotiations are still going on between the warring parties, and forces remain on the ground. What needs to be done with the international community is to speed up that process - not spend so much time working out what to do. People need to act quickly."
A former guerilla fighter in Uganda as well as Rwanda, Kagame has been "long viewed as the most powerful man in Rwanda" and has an "image as a military strongman and power-broker," according to a BBC profile five years ago of the "Quiet soldier who runs Rwanda."
Elected president in 2003, he has been credited with restoring Rwanda to political and economic stability. But he also has been criticized for suppressing democratic opposition to his rule, and for advocating Rwanda's continued military engagement in the Congo.
More than a dozen students and local Ugandans organized by Adj. Assoc. Prof. Aloysius Lugira (Theology) held picket signs on More Drive to protest Kagame's appearance at Robsham Theater.
Questioned from the Robsham audience on criticism he had imprisoned political rivals and banned opposition parties, Kagame said he acted against extremists who promoted "genocide ideology" rejected under his country's new constitution, and drew a comparison to Western democracies that "have had to ban certain groups for similar ideologies."
He suggested - erroneously - that groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Party are not allowed to exist in the United States.
"What is good for the goose is good for the gander," he said, to a smattering of applause.
Kagame appeared at the invitation of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, and was welcomed by UGBC President Grace Simmons '05. He was accompanied on stage by University President William Leahy, SJ, and University Trustee Pierre Prosper '85, US ambassador at large for war crimes issues, both of whom offered introductory remarks.
The Rwandan president arrived at BC by motorcade from Fenway Park, where he had attended Opening Day ceremonies with Gov. Mitt Romney following a Statehouse visit to tout Rwandan trade and tourism.