By Peter Nyanzi
Rwandan President Paul Kagame was in Kampala as chief guest at the Young Achievers Awards ceremony on Dec.11 and ended his visit with a media dialogue attended by The Independent’s Peter Nyanzi. Excerpts of the exchange follow.
At the Young Achievers Awards ceremony you said leaders have a responsibility to mentor young leaders. In case you retire, what kind of leader is best for Rwanda going forward?
The story of Rwanda is similar to those of other countries but ours is a bit complex and peculiar, full of challenges and very difficult issues. Our history shows how our country has been divided until the genocide and death that covered the whole country. In Rwanda we need leaders not just one leader. These leaders first must understand the issues they have to deal with. Secondly, we need disciplined and firm leaders. In Rwanda there are lots of emotions involved. Each individual has lost someone so you can understand the emotions. In confronting that situation, you have to avoid being emotional when dealing with them, not to be swayed. You have to keep that balance, which really requires a firm, clear-minded, and committed leader able to see life beyond one’s self.
Regarding the Victoria Ingabire trial, what are your views on the claims that she had links to rebels in DR Congo?
There is more than enough evidence on the case of Ingabire, and that evidence has come from various sources including the Netherlands and Rwanda. In fact, this is a very interesting case because it brings out the prejudice people have against Rwanda. Even Ingabire herself knows it and she has tried to work behind the scenes to negotiate. She knows that the evidence is in our hands which we got through Western Union and the Netherlands.
Now, on one hand the Netherlands had this evidence and at the same time they were accusing the Rwanda government of holding Ingabire illegally for political motives. It is recently that reason prevailed and some people in the Netherlands said you must provide that evidence which they did several weeks ago. We had the same problem in the U.S. Also, this case is being tried in a public court, but the same people who sit in the court step out and claim that these are political charges. Now there is evidence from witnesses who were with Ingabire. At first she denied them and later said they were working together. So what do you want to believe? There are people who won’t believe because they have that prejudice. It has nothing to do with politics.
Also, when one of her lawyers learnt that there was new evidence, he asked to leave the case. He knew all along they did not have the evidence.
Someone might say Victoria Ingabire is such a popular politician in Rwanda and that in an election she would beaten you and so you are trying to get rid of a political rival?
If that was the case you would see it in the expression of Rwandans and not by the prejudiced people outside. I don’t think the people would allow the person they love to be refused to stand and they would just keep quiet. So, it is outsiders who are deciding for Rwandans what is popular for them and what is not. Sometimes people hear about what is being said about Rwanda and wonder if this is the country you know; two totally different worlds.
According to the ICJ, six Rwandan journalists have fled your country; two have been killed while others are in jail. What do you think of such a record about your country, which aspires to be democratic?
It is another complex situation involving inaccurate statements. The moment people hear that somebody has died, the conclusion is that he has been killed by Kagame. I don’t understand where all this comes from. I wonder whether it is traced back to our history which has been full of killing. In Rwanda, journalists were not only killed but they also killed – they were among the genociders. There is too much prejudice.
On the journalist who was killed in Uganda, I first heard of it when I was out of the country. Somebody asked about him. Then I said I cannot keep on answering questions about people who have run out of the country. You need to start from the point that the person could be at fault, you simply can’t hold me responsible for a crime committed by someone else.
There are institutions that should tell us the truth so that we can make a judgment. Every time something bad happens, the story line is that the government Rwanda is responsible. What I heard was that this person was one of the survivors of genocide and they had an association of orphans, which he was heading. That this Ingabire stole the money of this organisation. We have many such cases and people run away citing political persecution. The portrayal is that this was an innocent journalist who was opposed to the government and later on meets his death in Uganda so the Rwandan State is involved. The least we can do is to give the benefit of the doubt. Investigate and get to the bottom of it because there are so many options.
With all these accusations, for instance from Reporters Without Borders – or liars without borders (laughter). Now are they accusing us of not liking our own Rwandan journalists and liking others from the rest of the world? Journalists from the rest of the world come and work freely and comfortably in Rwanda. How come those are not affected? No foreign journalist has complained. Why?
What is your comment on suggestions to remove term limits to allow you to stand again? If the people of Rwanda request you will you offer yourself to lead for another term?
People should have freedom to express themselves as they want. I cannot tell people to shut up. People are free to say they want me and that they don’t want me. The process is what you are talking about. I have no qualms about what this party or that person is saying. There will be discussions. But I also have a say on the issue not only as a person but also as the leader of my party. It is my responsibility to engage the nation and the party. It is also my responsibility to guide them. Finally, there is a decision to make. I have already made pronouncements on where I stand on this and it has not changed. The debate is about convincing one another about what is the right thing to do. You have to be patient and allow me to do my business and let the country move on. I believe we shall arrive at the end result, which I think will be very rational.
You talked about popularity but it is only supposed to be for the west. In Africa, popularity means dictatorship and everyone has swallowed it. But I am comfortable with my people and they are comfortable with me but the reality will change. You see even if I wanted to rule forever, it won’t be possible. Other forces of nature can take care of you. I will have a discussion with my people so they know what to expect but the most important thing is stability and continued progress in our country. That is a must. This does not have to happen only by Kagame being the President. That is my belief, it should continue even without Kagame.
But Mr President, African Presidents are known to backtrack on their promises. Someone might say why should we trust President Kagame?
I should not be prejudged on the basis of other people. One bad side of me is that if people keep saying it, I may defy them. Because I do the right thing because it is the right thing and not because everybody else is staying on. Some people say when we question him he will feel guilty. I make a rational decision not because of guilt. It is not because of the pressure of the media or development partners.
What is your comment on your relationship with President Museveni and what does it take to invest in Rwanda?
There is no problem between Uganda and Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni and I. Even what was there in the recent past has come to pass because we are reasonable people and we think strategically. We draw a lot of strength from the relationship between the people of Uganda and Rwanda.
Your comment on the Nyamwasa assassination attempt?
This is again an old story. One thing it reveals is that the number of people who have been arrested are of different nationalities. But every time they are produced in the court of law, the case is postponed because the prosecutor has failed to produce anything in court. There is not even a trace of anything on Rwanda [involvement].
Let me take a risk of being misunderstood. If the state of Rwanda were to be involved in the killing of dissidents, there are people who would be targeted. These are the murderers who killed our people – the mass murders who are still enjoying a false sense of freedom. If it were not for respecting the rule of law, I would go for those.
What is your comment on President Joseph Kabila’s victory in the recent elections in DR Congo?
Well, as you know the case is yet to be sorted out. How then can I start making comments about it? I think it is better to wait and see how things get sorted out.
As regards the EAC affairs, Tanzania appears to think that its counterparts are moving too fast. How do you think that confidence can be restored?
Whether Tanzania or any other country complains about the pace, my question is how are things being done? If you are getting things right, why not go fast? All of us want to handle things with a sense of urgency, but it does not mean that we don’t get things right for the sake of urgency. So I think the debate around that is healthy and it should continue. Largely, I can say that Rwandans are happy with what is going on.