To see government leaders argue publicly about politics and security at the African Development Bank meeting in Kigali last week showed how much discourse, if not governance, has changed. When he was in office, South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki was notoriously reticent about criticising governments or leaders. At the Kigali meeting, he described the South Sudanese leadership as 'fundamentally self-centred, serving its own interest instead of the masses it is supposed to lead'. Then he concluded: 'It's not as though the Dinka and the Nuer decided to take up arms against each other. They never did: the leaders decided.'
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame warmed to the theme, referring to the purveyors of ethnic hatred who had launched the genocide in his country 20 years ago: 'Leaders made people believe that they were the majority and the others should be killed. They made people who had nothing believe that they, too, were Hutu power when in fact they had none.' All this talk of stirring ethnic sentiment for political gain seemed to unsettle fellow panellist William Ruto, Kenya's Vice-President, who faces trial at the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity after the murder of over 1,200 people following the 2007 elections. 'We need leaders that inspire society,' he offered, trying to change the subject.
Kagame returned to the offensive with a veiled critique of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for asking French President François Hollande to host a mini-summit on regional security. 'What image does it give about governments in Africa? It doesn't make sense.' Two seats away on the podium, another former President, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, who is no great admirer of Jonathan, broke into a broad smile.