New Rulers, US Plan Give Africa a Future

Clinton to push trade over aid to help Africa, where a new style of leaders brings hope

They came to power by guns, not glad-handing. They once touted Marx but now talk markets. They don't order their pictures hung in public but instead build schools, clean streets, grapple with graft.

A new breed of leaders is arising in Africa - leaders who know they must distance themselves from the days when despots bought villas in France while their people went hungry. A semblance of stability is being created in eastern and central Africa by the likes of Rwanda's Paul Kagame, Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Eritrea's Issaias Afewerki, and possibly Congo's recent conqueror, Laurent-Desir Kabila.

They embody a break with the cold-war, post-colonial era, when big powers backed proxies in Africa. These men toy with democracy to win limited praise from Washington. To stay in power, they embrace market reforms that woo foreign investors.

They are leaders whom President Clinton is banking on for his plan, announced Tuesday, to alter the way the West treats the world's poorest continent. The plan, to be taken up this weekend at the Group of Seven summit in Denver, accents trade over aid, business over dependency.

"Americans want ... us to start treating Africa like we treat the rest of the world, as economic partners," said one co-sponsor of the initiative, Rep. Jim McDermott (D) of Washingon. The initiative would reward African countries reforming their economies by lowering tariffs, give some $650 million in loan guarantees to spur investment, and urge the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to forgive debts of the poorest countries.

Here are profiles of four heads of state who are putting a new face on governing in Africa:

YOWERI MUSEVENI could be called the founding member of the new club of strongmen. Uganda's president has set an indelible example of African leadership since taking the reins 10 years ago. He has inspired two protegs, Rwanda's Mr. Kagame and Congo's Mr. Kabila, whom he helped bring to power.

Mr. Museveni cut his political teeth in the 1970s, taking part in the Mozambican war of independence. He rose to power in the struggle to overthrow Ugandan dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote. Now a decade into the job, Museveni presides over one of Africa's happier stories. Under his leadership, the ethnic massacres that tore the country apart have stopped.

Buoyed by this newfound stability, foreign investment has poured in. Uganda's 19 million people have enjoyed 8 percent economic growth since 1992 - one of the stronger economies on the continent.

But while winning plaudits for his financial pragmatism, Museveni's political approach has prompted some consternation among advocates of pluralism, who accuse him of authoritarianism. Under Museveni's "no party" state, individuals, but not parties, can take part in elections.

Museveni is irritated by foreign criticism, arguing that in Uganda political parties are inherently tribalist, and could tear society apart. He insists that, until stability is fully restored, the country cannot take the risk of fomenting ethnic tension.

Judging by the situation now, that could take some time. The country is still divided along ethnic lines, and he has a severe security threat with rebels in the north.

Whether or not one agrees with Museveni's views, it is undeniable that he is a man of vision who cares about his country. And his vision extends to the entire region. His reported backing of Kabila, Kagame, and of Sudanese rebels is justified as a way to bring stability next door. But such meddling has raised the hackles of neighbors such as Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi, who accuses Museveni of expansionism.

Paul Kagame, the main power figure in Rwanda, could be called Museveni's first political son. This Tutsi defense minister and vice president is credited with engineering the overthrow of the country's Hutu-led government just months after Hutus murdered at least 800,000 Tutsis in 1994. "Serious" and "austere" are adjectives often applied to General Kagame. The new state created by Kagame and his Tutsi government is centered on security, often likened to Israel in its concern with self-preservation.

Kagame's roots are in Uganda, where, like many other Rwandan Tutsis, he was raised in exile. He took part in the ouster of Ugandan dictator Milton Obote in 1986 that brought Museveni to power. It proved a training ground for the rebellion he spearheaded in Rwanda later on.

Kagame and his men set an almost puritanical example, free of the excesses of other African states. The country he leads is an earnest one where schools function, streets are clean, bribery is frowned on, and hard work rewarded.

Critics of Kagame's Tutsi-dominated administration say it has done little to incorporate the 84 percent majority Hutus. But like Museveni, Kagame dismisses suggestions for multiparty elections, for now. He argues that first he must deal with the legacy of Rwanda's genocide. Last fall, mostly Tutsi rebels in what used to be eastern Zaire did Rwanda's leadership the service of breaking up refugee camps, which Hutu militiamen and former soldiers had used as bases to attack Rwanda. That sent hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom had been held virtually prisoner by the perpetrators of the genocide, running home to Rwanda. His task now is to find homes in the already-crowded country for all these people. Plus, he must deal with armed Hutu infiltators who have been staging attacks, and trying more than 90,000 genocide suspects in a judicial system with less than 20 legally qualified lawyers.

Laurent-Desir Kabila, Museveni's second political son, may be the latest to join the club of leaders. Since he ousted despot Mobutu Sese Seko in May, Mr. Kabila has become the self-proclaimed leader of what used to be Zaire, the new Democratic Republic of the Congo.

What is certain, diplomats say, is that Kabila is close to Kagame and Museveni, who reportedly helped arm his uprising, which in seven months conquered a country the size of Western Europe.

It is not quite clear what Kabila's vision for leadership is. His Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo is a mishmash of bush fighters and academics who say themselves that they have no unifying ideology.

There is an apparent contradiction in their spouting Maoist rhetoric about furthering the cause of peasants while they court foreign mining companies to develop the country's mineral wealth.

Optimists say they already see signs of a more enlightened economic policy, as well as a war on the endemic corruption left over from Mr. Mobutu's three decades in power. But Kabila's past record doesn't impress many diplomats. He was a mediocre guerrilla, a gold smuggler, and a womanizer, by most accounts. The late Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, dismissed Kabila as a revolutionary lightweight who spent too much time living the high life rather than slugging it out on the front line. "Kabila hasn't proved himself," says one Western diplomat based in Kinshasa. "He's been an opportunist and an adventurer for much of his revolutionary career. The jury is still out."

It is also still out on Kabila's professed advocacy of human rights. Disturbing mass graves have been uncovered of Hutu Rwandans seeking refuge in his territory. But some diplomats here give Kabila the benefit of the doubt, believing that rogue forces may have carried out the dirty work for Rwanda's Tutsi government.

Kabila, who included few opposition members in his Cabinet, has promised elections in two years, which some Western diplomats say is just fine. "There is no point in rushing things and having a bad election just for the sake of it," says one.

Issaias Afewerki, the president of Eritrea, maintains a lower profile than the three other men. And that is fitting for the leader of this unique country. The ruling party looks askance at the cult of personality so prevalent in the rest of Africa. And Mr. Afewerki and his fellow leaders have a commitment to the masses that is unparalleled elsewhere in Africa.

Since they declared independence from Ethiopoia in May 1993, they have strived to create a culture of self-sufficiency.

Demobilized soldiers are employed in public-works projects. Foreign aid with strings attached is rejected. UN personnel have been kicked out for meddling.

For instance, when a European donor suggested a project to rebuild roads, Eritrea decided it was cheaper to do it itself. And an offer for US scholarships for government officials was politely turned down on the grounds that they were needed at home to rebuild the country.

The example of self-sacrifice, diligence, and integrity is set from the top. "The notion here of corruption is using a government car to take your kid to school," says one Western diplomat.

There is a downside, however: social control. Beggars are rounded up. Citizens complain they are watched and are expected to help the reconstruction effort.

Behind this mindset lies the 30-year war for independence waged by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. When it was apparent they would get little outside help, they became entirely self-reliant. The result was one of the most remarkable guerrilla movements in modern history. They built factories in caves. Literacy classes were held on the battlefield.

This self-reliance has bred a suspiciousness of the outside world, which is not completely unwarranted. The biggest threat is from Sudan next door. Eritrea accuses the militant Islamic country of arming guerillas who infiltrated its borders. In turn, it aids southern rebels fighting Sudan in the name of self-protection.

QR Code to New Rulers, US Plan Give Africa a Future
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today