Paul Kagame on Nelson Mandela: a Politician Capable of the Remarkable

The president of Rwanda recalls his fellow African leader

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Denis Farrell / Getty Images

Rwandan President Paul Kagame meets former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation March 20, 2009, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Few were less comfortable with the prospect of sainthood than Nelson Mandela himself. “One issue that deeply worried me in prison,” he wrote in Conversations with Myself, a collection of his writings published in 2010 “was the false image that I unwittingly projected to the outside world: of being regarded as a saint. I never was one, even on the basis of an earthly definition of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

A rush to secular canonization would squander Mandela’s memory to unquestioning adulation. If we are to learn from his extraordinary legacy—and, as leaders, to act on what we learn—we are surely obliged to reckon fully with its layers and nuance. Symbolism must not crowd out substance while we reflect on the depth and range of Mandela’s contributions, to South Africa and to the world.

Take as an example his legendary refusal to exact revenge on those who imprisoned and humiliated him during the Apartheid years, culminating in the appointment of former white supremacist F.W. de Klerk as his deputy president. It is true that this was an act of admirable personal magnanimity, and a great testament to Mandela’s character. But, as a straightforward matter of politics, it was also both pragmatic and necessary. No other path could have ensured South Africa’s viability as an incipient democracy under ANC rule, not to mention protect its short- and  long-term economic prospects.

In 1994, as the world cheered Mandela’s ascension to the South African Presidency, Rwanda emerged from a genocide that claimed more than a million lives. For 19 years, Rwandans have repulsed the urge to vengeance and instead placed reconciliation at the heart of our journey towards national recovery and progress. As with South Africa under Mandela, we concluded that the only path to healing and peace is to unequivocally reject—and never to replicate—the hatred, injustice and violence that inflicted our wounds to begin with. Given the unjustified basket-case reputation that our continent attracts in some quarters, it is notable that Africa has produced two stories of national reconciliation and renewal.

It is impossible to exaggerate the stakes for South Africa in the mid-’90s as the ANC took office. The Mandela government faced countless obstacles in 1994, including the real and imminent risk of economic collapse brought about by capital flight. This would have been daunting enough for an experienced government, let alone one made up of newcomers who had, until recently, been shut out of the political process by the white minority.

There was enormous pressure on the government to meet the long-repressed demands of an exhilarated but impatient population. Meanwhile, investors and the world community looked on for signs that the majority black rule would inevitably engender instability and dysfunction.

It is to South Africa’s enduring benefit that President Mandela was able to lead his country—and his party—through this period of turmoil. By applying his formidable skills as a communicator, politician and diplomat, he instilled confidence in his government and, by extension, in South Africa as a whole. Inevitably, the sky-high hopes and expectations of the population sometimes collided with the reality of managing a large, diverse and complex national economy. The difficult task of setting priorities and making tough decisions meant that compromises were made and promises broken. The euphoria that accompanied the end of apartheid inevitably faded. But, for the duration of his stewardship, Mandela’s rock-steady hand kept the ship afloat and eventually guided it on to calmer seas.

There is no doubting Mandela’s virtues as a moral exemplar and inspirational figure. There is no modern leader who has done more to deserve the waves of praise and mourning that his passing has unleashed.

But Mandela’s life’s work was, ultimately, politics. He worked for decades to advance his cherished political party, from exile to government. He defied his political enemies for 27 years, but did not hesitate to sit down with them when the time came to negotiate. He understood the power of his celebrity which he used to great and lasting effect. He never stopped striving towards concrete political ends; never missed a chance to plead his case or cause; never wavered from the struggle.

To point out that Nelson Mandela was, above all, a politician is not to diminish his remarkable legacy, but rather to remind the world that politicians are capable of remarkable things.

Kagame is the President of Rwanda. 
8 comments
Mandela
Mandela

Sorry guys. I noticed that most of you are wondering who authored the piece. I am happy to announce that it was authored by the CEO, Crystal Ventures Investment, Professor Nshuti Manasse.  Crystal Ventures is a Kagame-owned mega business that owns more than 50% of all Rwandan business and runs several businesses abroad. It has bank accounts in all strange countries like Bamuda. The company gets contracts from all government projects, hires planes to the President, rents buildings to Rwandan Embassies abroad etc. It is so big that Mr. kagame appointed Professor Nshuti, once a minister to run it. You can follow other articles, written in the same style and tone, on the New Times newspaper on Rwanda. Most (or all) of the articles are about why Kagame should continue as President beyond his official term limit of 2017.

Now I am sure you have a vague idea about the author.

RIP Mzee Mandela. Don't be disturbed by this.

AnnGarrison
AnnGarrison

TIME Magazine, how did this happen?  What made you agree to publish this?  This is not the voice of Paul Kagame and not simply because the English is so carefully nuanced.  A head of state's use of a ghost writer for that would be understandable.  But this is not Kagame's voice, not even remotely, not even as polished by a ghost writer.  It's not just a lie because he is ruling over a de facto apartheid state; it's not his voice.  

Nkunzurwanda
Nkunzurwanda

Mr. President congratulations for the brilliant piece you have published on Mr. Mandela, but comparing the South Africa's reconciliation with the Rwanda's false reconciliation it's comparing two paradoxical processes and outcomes. I agree with you that Mr. Mandela became a genius politician because he refused to revenge against the White minority who oppressed his people and imprisoned him for 27 years. On the other hand, you Mr. President Kagame you spent 30 years in exile not in prison, but when you guerrilla movement of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and its military wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) attacked Rwanda in October 1990 you revenged against Hutu civilians in Byumba and Ruhengeri. You know very well that the killing of innocent civilians begun when you replaced the late Gen. Fred Rwigyema! You can see how different the movement you led to power in 1994 is extremely contrary to the struggle of the ANC Mr. Mandela led.


You have tried to compare the South Africa's reconciliation with the Rwanda’s false reconciliation. Mr. President South Africa had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was based on truth telling. In South Africa, the leaders from the ANC were not immune to confessing the wrong they did during the struggle. They apologized as White supremacists did. On the other hand in Rwanda, your reconciliation paradigm was put all Hutus in one basket as perpetrators and all Tutsis in another basket as victims. No Tutsis from the RPF/RPA ever apologized for the Hutus they murdered.  


You know your justice system prosecuted Hutus only and Tutsis who killed Hutus are enjoying their freedom as you award them higher positions in your government. Furthermore, the ANC did not ask all White people including children to apologize to black South Africans for the wrong the White South Africans did during the apartheid. However, you and your government under the campaign you called “I am a Rwandan, [Ndi Umunyarwanda]” you are urging all Hutus to apologize for genocide you said that it was committed in their name against the Tutsis. Your government humiliates all Hutus and this will result in an uprising if nothing changes.


Mr. President, you have no moral stand whatsoever to eulogize His Excellency Nelson Mandela because you have nothing in common. He is a true freedom fighter, but you are a ruthless tyrant who believe in nothing more than killing his opponents and critics wherever they are.  



BoscoClub
BoscoClub

Poor Kagame trying to fool the ignorant. I'm sure Mandela got disgusted when he saw you rig elections over and over instead of resigning and preserve a legacy. The picture you have in this article is very old... It's like the ones you got taken back in the day at the white house, where you are no longer welcome. I'm sure Mandela regretted the photo opp with you the minute he heard that you have murdered about 10 million innocent civilians in Rwanda and DRC. In fact he never opposed Zuma when he sent South African troops to fight off your M23 death squads out of DRC. Should Mandela have been healthier lately, he would have told you that your violent oppression against hutus and opposing tutsis will only be addressed through violent popular uprising. The only handshake you got from Mandela was before you disrespected his beloved South Africa when you sent in your death squads to spill the blood of Kayumba Nyamwasa. Today you can no longer set your foot in South Africa. As a matter of fact, you have been missing all heads of states summits that have been taking place in South Africa over the past year or so. Your time is up. You will not live as long as Mandela did, because you are not even physically strong enough to spend 27 years in prison.

You go ahead and fool whoever you want. We will counter with the truth... truth that hurts malicious liars like you. https://www.facebook.com/bosco.mutarambirwa/posts/604244757309

JennElla
JennElla

There is NO way Kagame wrote this himself. Who actually authored this?? He is not capable of such prose. 

tsvskibum
tsvskibum

A terrific essay by Paul Kagame, but with all due respect. It is time, like Madiba, to trust his nation and turn over his nation to others.  He's been in power since 2000, its way past hour for which he should believe in his country and step down.