Dispatch

The Syrian Rebels' Libyan Weapon

Meet the Irish-Libyan commander giving Bashar al-Assad nightmares.

IDLIB, Syria — In a dusty schoolyard somewhere in Idlib province, several hundred men form neat rows before standing to attention. "Who are we?" bellows one man at the front. "Liwa al-Ummah!" the men reply in unison, pumping their guns in the air. They look different from your average Syrian rebel fighter, typically dressed in a scruffy mismatch of military fatigues and civilian clothes. Most of these men are decked out in identical fatigues, boots, and khaki-colored T-shirts. A handful sport dazzling white T-shirts emblazoned with the Liwa al-Ummah crest: a raised fist set against the tri-starred green, white, and black flag adopted by the Syrian rebels. "Revolutionaries of Sham," it reads, using the Arabic term for historical greater Syria, above the name Liwa al-Ummah.

Sitting in an empty classroom flanked by several Syrian and Libyan fighters, a soft-spoken Libyan-born Irish citizen named Mahdi al-Harati explains how he came to be the leader of Liwa al-Ummah. The brigade emerged, he says, after several Syrians, aware of his experience as commander of the Tripoli Brigade during the Libyan revolution, approached him about founding a similar outfit in Syria.

The Tripoli Brigade was one of the first rebel units into the Libyan capital in August 2011. Its fighters, who included many Libyan expatriates, had received training from Qatari special forces in Nalut, a town in Libya's western mountains. After the fall of Tripoli, during which he participated in the battle for Muammar al-Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound, Harati was appointed deputy head of the Tripoli Military Council (TMC), serving under Abdel Hakim Belhaj, former leader of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. Last autumn Harati stepped down as commander of the brigade and as TMC deputy. He made his first trip to Syria shortly afterward for what he says was initially humanitarian work in the country's northern borderlands. The idea for Liwa al-Ummah came this year.

"There was a sense of increasing frustration among the Syrian thuwar [revolutionaries] over their lack of coordination," he says. "They asked me if I could help them train and organize, and I agreed."

According to Harati, more than 6,000 men across Syria have joined Liwa al-Ummah since its establishment three months ago. Most are members of existing rebel battalions or groups who decided to come under the Liwa al-Ummah umbrella; others signed up as individuals.

He says the brigade is separate from the Free Syrian Army, the loosely organized grouping of military defectors and civilian volunteers whose nominal leadership is based just over the border in Turkey. Liwa al-Ummah is also in the process of developing a Syrian-led political wing, as are an increasing number of other brigades.

Recently posted YouTube videos show a number of Syrian rebel factions announcing they have joined Liwa al-Ummah. Harati stresses that Syrians make up over 90 percent of the brigade. The rest are Libyans, most of them former members of the Tripoli Brigade, along with a smattering of other Arabs. Almost all use the honorific title "Sheikh Mahdi" when referring to Harati.

"We're here to facilitate and train civilian rebels in Syria -- many of whom are doctors, engineers, and teachers -- using our experience during the Libyan revolution," Harati says. "We are a group of civilians brought together for a cause. When the Syrians have achieved their revolution, our job will be done."

With Harati are some of his closest confidants from Ireland and Libya. Back home in Dublin, where he lives with his Irish-born wife and four children, Harati teaches Arabic and is known as an activist who is heavily involved in the Palestinian cause. He took part in the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla, which was intercepted by Israeli commandos, resulting in the deaths of nine people.

Those with him in Syria include his Irish-born brother-in-law Housam Najjair, a 33-year-old building contractor with a Libyan father and Irish mother. Najjair, who had never picked up a gun until the Libyan revolution, was also a prominent member of the Tripoli Brigade -- some of his fellow fighters labeled him "the Dublin sniper." He says he felt compelled to come to Syria after watching gruesome videos of some of the most violent episodes of the 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

"The horror of what I saw was enough for me to decide something must be done," he says, sitting cross-legged on the floor of the safe house where Harati and his men sleep side by side on mattresses, their assault rifles within arm's reach. "We couldn't understand why the world was failing to respond to the plight of the Syrian people. When they didn't take a stand, we decided to act."

Najjair gestures toward the Syrians around him: "We feel as if we are their brothers." The Syrians smile and shout, "Allahu akbar."

Others here from Ireland include an engineer who is helping Liwa al-Ummah register its members in order to issue everyone laminated photo ID cards, as well as two men in their early 20s who are experiencing war for the first time.

One, a 22-year-old who wears glasses and whose father is a surgeon in Ireland, admits that his plan to come fight in Syria initially worried his family. "They respect and trust Sheikh Mahdi, so when they learned I was coming to join him here, they felt a little better," he says. He frames his reasons for coming to Syria in philosophical terms: "I see my life as being about three things: Searching for the truth, defending the weak against injustice and the oppressors, and helping to build peace in the world. The battle here in Syria combines all three."

The other, a bearded 21-year-old with a distinctive Dublin accent, says he joined the brigade out of a sense of duty. "It is impossible to just sit back and watch Assad killing innocent people," he says. "The slaughter of children in particular struck at my heart. I felt I just had to do something."

Liwa al-Ummah has an undeniably religious character, though some of those who have lived in Europe fret that this might be misconstrued. One insists that the brigade's name should be translated in English as "Banner [or Brigade] of the Nation," though I point out that the Arabic word ummah has a specifically religious meaning and is usually translated along the lines of "global community of Muslims."

Several members are sensitive about how Liwa al-Ummah may be perceived, given the foreigners within its ranks and the Syrian regime's narrative that it is under attack from external forces, including militant Islamists.

A number of Syrian rebel commanders I met in Idlib and Aleppo denied outright the presence of foreign fighters in the country. "We can defend ourselves. There is no need for foreigners here," said Abu Azzam, an army captain who defected a month ago and now heads a brigade in the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province. Ayman, a prominent opposition figure in Idlib who did not wish to have his full name published, was more positive. "We are all brothers in Islam, and brothers help brothers," he said. "We welcome foreigners if they are good people we can work with, like those in Liwa al-Ummah. The problem is there are good and bad people coming."

Najjair grumbles about the Assad regime's attempts to portray fighters of other nationalities like him as extremists linked to al Qaeda. "This is not an al Qaeda jihad," he says. "This is a people's revolution, and we want to help."

Syrians in Liwa al-Ummah say they were drawn to it because it is well organized and disciplined compared with many other brigades. Harati is selective about whom he allows to join. "Sheikh Mahdi knows what he is doing," says one man. "He has experience." Several mention what another man describes as the brigade's "Islamic frame of reference."

The Facebook page for Liwa al-Ummah is a mix of battle updates, photographs of training sessions, and grainy footage of operations (one of which was dubbed "the Libyan ambassador," a reference to the brigade's Libyan contingent). It also includes a video clip of the late Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian religious scholar who provided the theological underpinning for the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, outlining when jihad becomes fard ayn, meaning an individual duty. A message bylined by Harati contains an invitation to "join the jihad in the land of al-Sham."

The Facebook page also includes a mission statement of sorts, outlining the brigade's principles and goals. The goals include defending the ummah and liberating it from dictatorship and aggression; cooperating to establish Islamic governance (though no detail is given as to what this might entail); and working to unite the ummah and bring about its "renaissance" (the Arabic word they use is ennahda, the name of the Islamist ruling party in Tunisia).

It was these objectives that appealed to Mohammed al-Sukni, a 28-year-old engineer who serves as Liwa al-Ummah's commander in Homs, the restive city in central Syria. "I joined because I liked the central idea of the ummah and raising the banner of Islam," he says. "I would like to see Syria with a moderate Islamic government -- something like Tunisia or Turkey. Liwa al-Ummah is different from the other brigades in that it is not just fighting the regime, but it is also preparing for after the war. I think it will play a pivotal role now and in the future."

This is echoed by Hassan Barakat, who recently brought his group of 150 rebel fighters in Maaret al-Numan, a town on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, under the auspices of Liwa al-Ummah. "The idea of the ummah, of Muslims cooperating together, is uplifting," he says. "It gives us a sense of dignity."

One night after iftar, the meal that breaks the Ramadan fast, I am introduced to Abdelmajid al-Khatib, an unassuming pharmacist from the Jabal al-Zawiya area of Idlib province who acts as Liwa al-Ummah's political organizer.

"Our plan is to transform into a political party to accomplish the goals of Liwa al-Ummah," he says. "We want to be part of any transitional government. The end of the regime is close, so it is necessary for us to get organized politically to ensure that such a government is not created from the outside but from here inside Syria."

He says the group already has representatives in "most areas" of Syria. "We are opening offices in different parts of the country that are under the control of the thuwar. We are also refining our political ideology; we envisage a party that will accept all factions, religions, and sects in Syria including Alawites, but with an Islamic frame of reference," he says.

Khatib divides his time between Syria and Turkey, where he shuttles between Istanbul and Antakya, the city close to the border that has become a hub for the Syrian rebels, to coordinate with sympathizers. "We're putting the word out and gathering popular support for the political battle ahead," he says.

From its uniforms -- all purchased by Harati in Turkey -- to its arsenal, Liwa al-Ummah appears well funded compared with many other rebel brigades. The arms at its disposal include 12.5 mm and 14.5 mm anti-aircraft guns, rocket-propelled grenades, and rifles including PKCs and M16s. Harati says the brigade has access to "new and improved" weaponry now that rebel forces control several border posts along the frontier with Turkey. But as he is quick to point out, "It's still a very unbalanced war." Like other Syrian rebel factions, the brigade is also developing expertise to produce improvised explosive devices to target Assad's forces.

Harati says Liwa al-Ummah draws on a network of private donors in Syria and across the Middle East and North Africa for financing. Its Facebook page features several expressions of gratitude to named benefactors in Kuwait. "These are individual people who feel very strongly about the slaughter happening in Syria," says Harati. On one point, he is especially adamant: "We receive no money from any governments."

Last month, rumors claiming Harati had been killed fighting in Idlib swept media in Syria and Libya. The men of Liwa al-Ummah blame the Assad regime for circulating the bogus story. Harati shrugs it off. "We expect this kind of thing from the regime. It's another form of warfare."

The Libyans in the brigade often debate with their Syrian counterparts the differences between the Syrian uprising and the revolution in their own country. "In Libya our revolution was unified under the banner of the National Transitional Council and its head, Mustafa Abdel Jalil," says Harati. "Here there is no face that represents all the branches of the Syrian revolt." Najjair, his brother-in-law, agrees. "There are so many different factions, objectives, and ideologies." Harati nods before sighing: "The complexity of the situation here makes me feel like we were just playing games in Libya last year."

-/AFP/Getty Images

Dispatch

Our Man in Kigali

For years, Rwanda's budding dictator, Paul Kagame, has gotten away with murder, while winning praise (and billions of dollars) from the West. But is the blind support for this strongman finally drying up?

For a slide show of Paul Kagame's rise to power, click here. 

KIGALI, Rwanda — Despite years of credible accusations of repression and war crimes leveled at Rwanda, both within the country and abroad, the United States, Britain, and a host of Western governments have consistently looked the other way, showering this tiny central African country with aid, touting it as a paragon of post-conflict reform, and protecting it staunchly against criticism. The accusations have included killing tens of thousands of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, supporting violent rebellions in that country, illegally controlling Congo's lucrative mineral trade, and running an authoritarian regime that severely represses political opponents, journalists, and citizens in its own country.

But this summer, after a U.N. Group of Experts report accused Rwanda of aiding a Congolese rebel group, many of these same donors -- almost inexplicably, given the gravity of the accusations they were willing to overlook in the past -- have suddenly begun to ask tough questions of Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We have deep concerns about Rwanda's support to the Congolese rebel group that goes by the name M23." A number of countries have gone as far as suspending aid to Rwanda, which, until recently, was a darling of the international development community.

The development community is heavily invested in Rwanda's success, providing over $1 billion annually in development assistance to this small country of 10 million people. To many, the country incarnates the hope that Africa will rise from its poverty. The government has reported an average 8.2 percent annual GDP growth rate over the last five years, even in the midst of the global financial crisis, and claims to have lifted 1 million people out of poverty during the same period. The World Bank unequivocally praises its progress on development. And Kagame -- along with Western governments -- has promoted a narrative of a country rising spectacularly from a horrific genocide in 1994, a shining example that foreign aid, if well managed, can indeed give poor countries a leg up.

But Kagame, who relies on Western aid for about half of his country's budget, has reason now to be alarmed. For weeks, his government has fended off the damning accusations, not wavering from its usual strategy of forcefully denying all criticism and claiming the evidence has been fabricated. Rwanda generally argues that the crimes it is accused of would be against its interests -- for instance, that a war on its border would hurt its own economic growth and development. But the old arguments seem to be no longer working for Kagame. While Western donors in the past seemed content to give the president the benefit of the doubt, it appears now that his staunchest friends no longer believe his repeated denials.

Kagame lashed out in late July, dismissing America's aid cut as stemming from ignorance and saying the international community -- once his unwavering ally -- has "twisted everything" and is not listening to him.

The U.S. government, Rwanda's staunchest ally and largest donor, began its surprising about-face with a July 22 announcement that it was suspending military aid to Rwanda. The amount of aid cut was minuscule -- only $200,000 -- and is unlikely to apply to the full extent of U.S. military support to Rwanda, which includes training Kagame's son at the West Point military academy, but analysts saw the announcement as deeply symbolic.

Obama's ambassador at large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, then issued an astounding warning, reported on July 25 by Britain's Guardian newspaper, that Kagame could be charged with war crimes for "aiding and abetting" crimes against humanity in a neighboring country. The Dutch government followed by suspending aid to Rwanda. Britain -- one of Rwanda's largest donors and strongest allies, which had facilitated the country's entry to the Commonwealth -- did the same. Germany also held back payments, with Development Minister Dirk Niebel saying, "The suspension of aid is an unmistakable signal to the Rwandan government." Even the African Development Bank -- usually apolitical, and headed by a Rwandan, Donald Kaberuka, who is sometimes mentioned as Kagame's successor (the president, who has run Rwanda for almost two decades, insists he will step down in 2017) -- has been forced by its Scandinavian board members and India to suspend aid payments.

The U.N. Group of Experts' late-June report that led to this surge of defection from Rwanda's camp alleged that the country had violated a U.N. arms embargo by providing troops and weapons to M23, the Congolese rebel group. The embargo, in place since 2003, was designed to help bring peace to a volatile region that the world has tried to secure for years. The United Nations' largest peacekeeping force, at a cost of $1.5 billion annually, has been deployed in this effort. The report laid out credible evidence that officials at the highest levels of the Rwandan government -- in Kagame's immediate entourage -- were involved in supporting the rebels.

M23 is made up of soldiers who defected from the Congolese army this year, and the group appears to be trying to carve out an area of eastern Congo for itself. It is composed of ethnic Tutsis who have been historically marginalized in Congo but also count among their ranks powerful politicians and wealthy businessmen, with ties to Rwanda, who are supporting the rebellion. Kagame -- and much of the elite in his government -- is also Tutsi. The rebellion has caused great turmoil, displacing more than 260,000 Congolese in the last four months as it has seized territory and successfully fought off Congolese government troops backed by U.N. forces. The U.N. report suggests not only that Rwanda has been subverting the world's attempt to bring peace to Congo, but that it seems, according to the report, to be helping the rebels take control of a part of its neighbor.

The charges are grave. But then again, Kagame has been accused of far worse in the past. And donors have been more than happy to ignore those transgressions. With few exceptions, they never withdrew their aid or even criticized his government.

* * *

When Rwanda invaded Congo in 1996 and 1998, deposing Congo's longstanding dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, and installing a new leader, Laurent Kabila, Kagame's forces were accused of systematically killing tens or hundreds of thousands of people, including unarmed women and children living in refugee camps. The invasions left a trail of mass graves across Congo. The Rwandan government has said it was pursuing the perpetrators of its 1994 genocide, in which 800,000 people were killed. But a 2010 U.N. report mapped the killings -- in which Rwanda was not the only foreign country involved -- and raised the question of whether Kagame's forces might have themselves committed crimes of genocide. Two previous U.N. reports had concluded that genocide might have been committed.

Since these invasions, Rwanda has plundered tens of millions of dollars annually -- by conservative estimates -- through control of lucrative tin, coltan, and gold mines in Congo. Rwanda has always denied these claims, and the plundered wealth does not appear on the national budget. But diplomats say Rwanda uses the Congo profits to finance the country's formidable army. Kagame's government has long supported proxy armies on Congolese territories, and his immediate circle has enriched itself immensely from these wars, as well as through corruption. The wealth is visible in Rwanda's capital. A newly developed boulevard in Kigali -- housing many of the government's elite, along with well-off expatriates -- is informally called "Congo Street" by residents who are well aware that it was funded with this illicit money.

Six years ago, Rwanda supported a rebellion almost identical to M23's. That rebellion was accused of multiple war crimes -- including incidents of mass rape -- for which Congo issued an international warrant for rebel leader Laurent Nkunda. The Rwandan-backed rebellion acted with impunity, attacking and capturing cities almost at will, taking control of vast swaths of Congo, and displacing several hundred-thousand people. Nkunda eventually became a bit too hot for Kagame to handle, and Rwandan forces arrested him in 2009. He has been held in secret detention in Rwanda ever since.

Kagame has also been accused of ruthless repression and human rights violations in Rwanda -- charges he has denied. In the run-up to Rwanda's 2010 presidential election, which was funded by Western donors, his government imprisoned a number of political opponents. Some were said to have been tortured; one was found beheaded. A defector from Kagame's government was shot at and nearly killed in Johannesburg. Worse, the journalist who reported that Kagame's men were responsible for the Johannesburg shooting was killed in Kigali hours after he filed his story. Other reporters were arrested on charges of threatening state security and insulting Kagame. Several journalists and political opponents fled the country. But exile is no guarantee of safety: Journalists critical of Kagame abroad have also been killed.

Kagame subsequently won the election with 93 percent of the vote. By the end of the election, according to Freedom House, "the government no longer allowed any independent media capable of criticizing it to function in Rwanda."

Rwanda has denied deploying assassins against its opponents abroad, though Scotland Yard has issued letters to critics of Kagame living in Britain, stating that the Rwandan government posed an imminent threat to their lives.

Remarkably, none of these transgressions led to any serious international penalties for Rwanda. Indeed, despite the gravity of the accusations and the degree of available evidence, the dominant narrative from the West has been not one of criticism, but of stunning praise for Kagame as a new breed of African leader.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has called him "one of the greatest leaders of our time"; former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has described him as a "visionary." In fact, Clinton was in Rwanda with his daughter on July 19 to inaugurate a new cancer hospital and issue more praise for "the strong national leadership … from His Excellency President Kagame." (There are no reports that Clinton discussed the M23 allegations with Kagame.) Visiting U.N. supremos regularly say that Rwanda has much to teach the world about good governance. On June 23, 2010, the day before the journalist was killed in Kigali, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon named Kagame co-leader of a prestigious panel of development experts, dubbed the Millennium Development Goals "superheroes."

While all this was happening, aid to Rwanda kept steadily increasing, and more and more of it was channeled directly to Kagame's government. The adulation and money gave Kagame an aura of invincibility. If the president was seen as doing no wrong, it gave him the ability to act with impunity, whether overseeing repression in his own country or pursuing his opponents and interests in Congo and the world.

Such was the level of support for Rwanda that the United States has reportedly for many years helped block investigations into the crimes in Congo. The 2010 U.N. mapping report was issued more than a decade after the massacres and only as a result of an investigation conducted with an unusual level of secrecy -- to prevent Rwanda from mobilizing its allies to block the inquiry yet again, investigators have said in private.

Academics, diplomats, and journalists observing the region have long been intrigued by such total support from the West for Kagame. Adam Hochschild, author of a book on Congo, has written about Kagame: "How this media-savvy autocrat has managed to convince so many American journalists, diplomats and political leaders that he is a great statesman is worth a book in itself." Some have said it was due to Western guilt for not intervening in Rwanda's 1994 genocide, during which the Clinton administration in particular refused to act. Others have cited Rwanda's contribution of troops to foreign peacekeeping missions, relieving the burden of military intervention from the West.

There was also Rwanda's efficient autocratic state, which appeared to carry out foreign aid programs to their last details. Prominent development experts like Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs champion Rwanda's programs. This led to Rwanda's emergence as a poster child for a global movement that believed in the power of foreign aid to turn around Africa. And Kagame has used his influence with astuteness, both to consolidate political power within his country and to make Rwanda the region's most formidable military force.

This is why the recent about-face was so unexpected. Few foresaw such change in Kagame's fortunes so quickly.

At a news conference in Kigali, the Rwandan president cut off a foreign journalist, ordering her not to even mention Human Rights Watch, which had been among the first to accuse Kagame of complicity in the Congo rebellion. It was a typical display of defiance -- and irritation -- from the president. 

Rwanda must have assumed that it would be able to block or dismiss this report, as it had all the other accusations in the past. The U.N. investigative team has claimed that Kagame's government refused to engage with it on its findings, despite the team's efforts, as far back as this May.

After the team first presented its findings -- orally -- about one month ago at the U.N. Security Council, every member state, including China, Russia, and Britain, voted in favor of publishing the findings that were damaging to Rwanda, according to diplomats who witnessed the meeting and spoke with me under condition of confidentiality. But the United States blocked the release.

Under pressure from the other council members, the United States finally agreed to allow publication of the U.N. report, under the condition that Rwanda be allowed to add its response before publication. The concession was one that countries accused of war crimes are rarely allowed -- another example of favoritism to Rwanda. This was not news.

Then, suddenly, the U.S. government announced that, for the first time, it was suspending military aid -- to the tune of $200,000, which had been earmarked for a military training academy -- to its longtime ally. In an emailed statement, Hilary Fuller Renner, a State Department spokeswoman, wrote, "The United States government is deeply concerned about the evidence that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups, including M23."

It was the first sign of a change in policy. And though Kagame dismissed the cut as "nothing," he was obviously concerned. A team of French journalists reporting on the president noted how much of Kagame's time was spent dealing with the M23 accusations -- and his government's denial has been swift and strident. But it seems the West's patience for Kagame's interference in Congo has run out. A Human Rights Watch director has claimed that the United States is "sick of being lied to."

The U.N. team responsible for the report traveled to Rwanda last week to present its findings to Kagame's government. Donors are waiting to see how Rwanda will respond before deciding whether to continue sending aid to Kagame.

Yet it seems likely that Rwanda's government will continue its pattern of angry denials, no matter the evidence presented. Rwanda's shrewd foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, claimed on Aug. 1 that she had successfully rebutted, point by point, the United Nations' accusations and had shown them to be false. She said Rwanda's response had been officially submitted to the U.N. Security Council on July 30.

Kagame has also upped the ante, accusing the West and the international community as being the cause of Congo's current crisis, and repeating that his government had not supplied the rebels with even "one bullet." On July 28, Mushikiwabo accused Western governments of treating aid recipient countries in paternalistic ways -- trying to reignite Western guilt for colonialism and inaction during the genocide that has worked so well to Rwanda's advantage in the past.

Kagame is the region's most powerful figure, and his army could neutralize the M23 rebels if he ordered it. Additionally, if the alleged Rwandan support for M23 were to end and Rwanda offered the rebels no escape route, the rebellion would quite likely be beaten into submission by Congolese and U.N. forces. But there's no indication yet that Kagame intends to exercise either of these options.

Why? He's still got more than enough support from other quarters. Some of Rwanda's Western and multilateral donors have not cut funding to Kagame: The European Union, Belgium, the World Bank, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria provide over $400 million in aid to Rwanda each year, according to the OECD -- with significant portions going directly to the Rwandan government or to government-led projects. At this time, none have suspended their payments or expressed any intent to do so. The United States has still not suspended nonmilitary aid, some $240 million, meaning its action so far amounts to a slap on the wrist for Rwanda.

China, too, will likely continue its support for Rwanda and may well be increasingly courted by Kagame's regime. Chinese companies are already involved in a host of infrastructure and related projects in the country -- in deals shrouded in great secrecy -- including the construction of roads and extensive hotel complexes, as part of a Rwandan government plan to transform the capital into a tourism and conference hub modeled on Singapore. The Chinese are, however, profiting from both sides: They are also friendly with the Congolese government and involved in major infrastructure projects in Congo.

The bottom line is that there's a long history of support for Rwanda despite evidence of human rights violations. The regime that Kagame toppled back in 1994, which was responsible for the genocide, also received large amounts of aid and support from the West. And that government was also praised for maintaining peace and stability in a troubled region and for managing foreign funds effectively. Kagame has been equally effective in casting a spell over donors and extricating himself from tight diplomatic situations. But one judges by the increasingly bitter tone of Kagame's public pronouncements, it seems that the Rwandan autocrat is tiring of constant Western scrutiny. And the West may be getting tired of him as well.

TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty Images