Department of False Dichotomies

William Wallis profiles Rwandan President Paul Kagame under the headline “Lunch with Paul Kagame: Is the Rwandan leader a visionary statesman, or a blood-stained tyrant?”

Not wanting to comment on the specifics of a region of the world with which I’m not that familiar, I’m left to wonder why this is meant to be an either/or issue. Andrew Jackson is responsible for ethnic cleansing that could make any blood-stained tyrant proud, but he’s also the main founder of America’s oldest political party, featured on the $20 bill, etc. Napoleon Bonaparte didn’t engage in that kind of massacre and displacement, but surely plenty of people died in the wars he launched. Yet he’s also an important statesman whose various conquests and administrative reforms shaped the subsequent 200 years of European governance in a profound way. If Deng Xiaoping wasn’t a visionary leader then I don’t know who was, but that doesn’t mean nobody ever got run over by a tank protesting the regime he led.

It’s difficult to understand world events by trying to reductively view everything as a struggle of visionary good guys against blood-stained tyrants. Returning to the subject at hand, I think the piece actually makes it perfectly clear that you won’t be able to understand Kagame’s role through this lens, so it’s annoying to see it headlined in this way. Precisely the danger posed by a figure like Kagame is that western leaders will look at his very real and very important accomplishments, conclude that he’s “one of the good guys,” and then turn a blind eye to real flaws in his conduct. Politicians are normally a mixed bag, and need to be assessed as such.