General Paul Kagame is the complete replica of the Russian head of state Vladimir Putin. The two men are indistinguishable not only in their careers before their respective ascendancy to the highest office, but also how they rule via highly personalist regimes.
They differ in one important area, however.While Putin built a supportive base of wealthiest and most influential oligarchs who control the Russian economy, Kagame captured the entire Rwandan economy through his own ruling party’s business empire.
Start from the beginning. Putin was a spy in KGB, the dreaded security agency of the Soviet Union. Kagame too was a spy during the Ugandan bush war led by Yoweri Museveni and after Museveni came to power.
Once in power, Putin and Kagame used constitutional manoeuvres to cling to power for over twenty years, building totalitarian regimes with remarkably similar characteristics. Both are famous for making decisions by themselves. This is because they believe they know more and better than everybody else.
They believe in their own propaganda and are prone to exaggerating their military capabilities.
They hardly get inputs from their cabinet ministers and state bureaucracies – they receive advice and information from their often terrified, rotating and expanding groups of sycophants.
In such environments, the sycophants tell Putin and Kagame what they want to hear.
Both rulers are obsessed with and are very good at one thing – political survival. They deploy all manner of methods to mercilessly smash their political opponents by forcing them into exile, prison, or outright assassination at home and abroad. Invading their neighbours has become routine – DR Congo is Kagame’s playground as is Ukraine for Putin.
As noted, Kagame is different from Putin in one area, however. While Putin allowed eight Russian oligarchs to acquire enormous wealth in exchange for supporting his despotic regime, Kagame captured the entire Rwandan economy through his ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
The Economist famously called RPF the “party of business” whose business empire, Crystal Ventures Ltd, “has investments in everything from furniture to finance.”