Profile: Rwanda President Paul Kagame

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Paul Kagame (born 23 October 1957) is the sixth and current President of Rwanda having taken office in 2000 when his predecessor, Pasteur Bizimungu, resigned. Kagame previously commanded the rebel force that ended the 1994Rwandan Genocide. He was considered Rwanda’s de facto leader when he served as Vice President and Minister of Defence from 1994 to 2000.

Kagame was born to a Tutsi family in southern Rwanda. When he was two years old, the Rwandan Revolution ended centuries of Tutsi political dominance; his family fled to Uganda, where he spent the rest of his childhood.

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In the 1980s, Kagame fought in Yoweri Museveni‘s rebel army, becoming a senior Ugandan army officer after Museveni’s military victories carried him to the Ugandan presidency. Kagame joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990; leader Fred Rwigyema died early in the war and Kagame took control. By 1993, the RPF controlled significant territory in Rwanda and a ceasefire was negotiated.

Theassassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana was the starting point of the genocide, in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 500,000 to one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Kagame resumed the civil war, and ended the genocide with a military victory.

During his vice presidency, Kagame controlled the national army and maintained law and order, while other officials began rebuilding the country. Many RPF soldiers carried out retribution killings; it is disputed whether Kagame organised these, or was powerless to stop them. Hutu refugee camps formed in Zaire and other countries, which were controlled by the genocidaires (participants in the genocide) and threatened Rwanda’s security.

The RPF attacked and disbanded the camps in 1996, forcing many refugees to return home, but insurgents continued to attack Rwanda. As part of the counterinsurgency, Kagame sponsored two controversial rebel wars in Zaire. The Rwandan- and Ugandan-backed rebels won the first war (1996–97), installing Laurent-Désiré Kabila as presidentin place of dictator Mobutu and renaming the country as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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The second war was launched in 1998 against Kabila, and later his son Joseph, following the DRC government’s expulsion of Rwandan and Ugandan military forces from the country. The war escalated into a continent-wide conflict which lasted until a 2003 peace deal and ceasefire.

As president, Kagame has prioritised national development, launching a programme to develop Rwanda as a middle income countryby 2020. As of 2013, the country is developing strongly on key indicators, including health care and education; annual growth between 2004 and 2010 averaged 8% per year. Kagame has had mostly good relations with the East African Community and the United States, while his relations with France were poor until 2009.

Relations with the DRC remain tense despite the 2003 ceasefire; human rights groups and a leaked United Nations report allege Rwandan support for two insurgencies in the country, a charge Kagame denies. Several countries suspended aid payments in 2012 following these allegations.

Kagame is popular in Rwanda and with some foreign observers; however, human rights groups accuse him of political repression.

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