Today at Yale, Rwandan President Paul Kagame will deliver the prestigious Coca-Cola World Fund Lecture, in which he is being celebrated in part for his leadership in the “promotion of human rights.” By Yale’s account, Kagame is the man responsible for Rwanda’s impressive economic growth, stability and human development. And yet, the wide recognition and extensive documentation of Kagame’s abysmal human rights record tells a different story.

Yale’s MacMillan Center has invited various high-profile figures to deliver the lecture previously, but Kagame’s invitation stands out for its blazon disregard for human rights. The lecture is part of the Coca-Cola World Fund, established in 1992 to “support intersecting endeavors among specialists in international relations, international law and the management of international enterprises and organizations.” Previous speakers have included heads of state, U.N. officials, journalists and academics such as Samantha Power ’92, Nicholas Kristof, Mary Robinson and Tom Friedman.

In the weeks building up to Rwanda’s last election in 2010, Kagame stifled political dissent and cemented his control over the country. Many of Kagame’s political opponents came under attack. In July, the vice president of Rwanda’s Democratic Green Party, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was found dead with “his head almost completely severed.” One month earlier, General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, a former ally of Kagame who had gone into exile in South Africa, was shot. To date, Nyamwasa has survived four assassination attempts. Investigating assassinations in Rwanda can also be a life-threatening endeavor. Jean-Leonard Rugambage, a journalist researching the shooting of Nyamwasa, was found dead shortly after he implicated Rwandan officials in the failed assassination attempt.

Assassination attempts aren’t the only human rights violations in Rwanda. Freedom House has documented the rigid restrictions of rights over the freedoms of speech and press. Amnesty International has outlined the repressive environment for human rights defenders and members of the political opposition. A U.N. report noted the Rwandan government’s “prevailing hostility toward peaceful initiatives by its critics and the existence of a legal framework that silences dissent.”

Freedom of the press in Rwanda has deteriorated over Kagame’s presidency. In October 2014, the BBC broadcast a documentary entitled “Rwanda’s Untold Story,” which questioned in part Kagame’s official depiction of the 1994 genocide. The documentary implicated him in ballot-box stuffing, assassination attempts of former allies and repressing free speech.

Shortly after the documentary was broadcast, the Rwandan government created a committee to investigate. The committee concluded that the BBC had violated Rwandan law relating to genocide denial and incited hatred and divisionism. BBC Kinyarwanda service has since been suspended indefinitely.

Those in Rwanda who publicly critique Kagame and question the official line can expect to spend many years behind bars. One of those individuals is Victoire Ingabire. After spending most of her life living in the Netherlands, Ingabire returned to Rwanda in 2010 to stand against Kagame in the election. Ingabire was a leading critic of Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front. Upon questioning the lack of memorials for the Hutus who died in the genocide, Ingabire was given an eight-year sentence for “denying the genocide.” In 2013, Ingabire’s sentence was extended. She remains imprisoned.

Kagame is unapologetic about his firm hand in punishment.  In 2014, Colonel Patrick Karegeya, former chief of external intelligence who was also living in exile, was found dead in his hotel room. Not long after the Karagaya was strangled to death, Kagame publicly said: “You can’t betray Rwanda and not get punished for it”

Two years ago, I sat in a Yale graduate seminar in which the professor selected Rwanda as a case study for a “successful transition.” The professor cited Rwanda’s impressive annual seven percent GDP growth, improvements to child mortality and life expectancy. When a handful of students raised concerns about human rights abuses, we were told to “focus on the development indicators.” Similar to Yale’s description of Kagame, the syllabus had whitewashed any mention of human rights abuses. Our critiques were dismissed and stifled. Kagame’s visit to Yale is a clear message that human rights abuses can be brushed aside whilst growth indicators improve and GDP soars.

In honoring Kagame’s leadership in the “promotion of human rights,” Yale is warping the truth and legitimizing his leadership.

Louisa Brown is a Community Fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School. Contact her at louisa.brown@yale.edu .

  • Inyurabwenge

    It is possible that if Rwanda were a failed or failing state like many other African autocracies and semi-democracies, rather than a thriving, remarkably efficient one, it might receive less hostile press.

    • Fazela

      Truth is not hostility. It is opening your eyes and minds to question what is purported. Kagame has friends in high places, like Yale’s president, he uses these friends to give him a platform to spread his propaganda.

      Why should an institution like Yale give a killer and destroyer of free speech a platform? Is this the type of leaders that Yale is hoping to deliver. You are asking Brown to be less hostile when citizens in Rwanda are being sentenced for decades for their free speech.

      What is thriving in Rwanda is its lies about its economy and what is going into Kagame’s pocket.

  • ShadrachSmith

    You want approval of who speaks? Nope 🙂

  • Rwabutogo

    Kagame is not popular for nothing. His achievements include entrenching efficiency in public service delivery, growing the economy exponentially, eradicating tribalism that led to the infamous genocide of close to a million people in 1994 and creating one of the most secure countries in Africa.

  • gasana

    The problem is that even the growth excuse isn’t holding up any more. Statistics have been falsified and a closer look reveals that the growth is shallow and unsustainable: driven by aid, congolese minerals and unsustainable debt invested in prestige projects like the KCC rather than in productive assets. And then there is the disastrous agricultural policy that is causing increased poverty and famine in parts of the country. The aid industry’s potemkin village is not as successful as tgey would like us to think

  • F Rukundo

    Rwanda is under total dictatorship, none is allowed to think or act independently, you have to say what sounds better in the ears of the Rwandan gvt otherwise you would never be seen again. the so called dvpt is just myth, people are facing hardship and serious famine in rural areas, high taxes that favours richest only and bad education are among many other problems.

  • Joel

    Great analysis by Luisa Brown. @Inyurabwenge’s fallacy works as follows: “Hey, General Paul Kagame’s PR dollars have worked hard: we have managed to sell ourselves as a thriving efficient state. Our General Paul Kagame has killed 7 millions people in Congo, assassinated Col Karegeya in South Africa, almost killed Gen Nyamwasa, banned his closest allies Dr Rudasingwa, Dr David Himbara & al to foreign lands, people in the countryside are starving or drinking infested water, but we have just inaugurated a Convention center. We are really efficient. So do not criticize us.” What a shame! How can Yale University associate itself with such a brutal tyrant?

  • Aaron Aarons

    The Rwandan dictatorship has been prospering on the basis of the mineral wealth that it, in alliance with mostly-Western companies, has been ripping off from the Eastern Congo for two decades, while murdering about 5 million people in the process. Kagame had better be careful, though. If he does too much business with China, Western imperialists will start noticing his crimes and he may wind up like Saddam Hussein, another discarded client.