President Paul Kagame, in an interview published in Jeune Afrique discusses a wide range of issues including the DRC, France, opposition, governance, and the ICC. The President talks about it all while leaving open the debate on his leaving power (or not) in 2017.
Interview with François Soudan.
There is a book that Paul Kagame, 55, recommends to his visitors. According to him, it reflects the true image of his country. Written by two female American authors, Rwanda, Inc. describes the success story of this small country of 11 million people in which ‘exemplary governance’, inspired by a ‘visionary leader’, made a model of economic and social success spring up from the ashes of the genocide.
A cliché for some, maybe. Celebrated by donors, praised by a handful of American investors for whom good business walks hand in hand with good actions, given media attention through Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the Rwandan experience fascinates every visitor – especially Africans – of this land of a thousand hills.
But this country, which in less than twenty 20 years, has gone from French speaking to English speaking overnight, the language of globalisation, is, with as much frequency, accused of being a totalitarian state closed to external politics, led with an iron fist by an authoritarian CEO. Paul Kagame wishes to erase this other side of the coin which led to international aid suspensions in 2012 for alleged intervention in DR Congo (but didn’t stop it from being elected for two years at the UN Security Council).
An experienced tennis player, fan of Arsenal soccer team and its French coach Arsène Wenger, the General Manager of “Rwanda, Inc.” received Jeune Afrique, on a rainy morning in Kigali.
Jeune Afrique: The last months have been difficult for you with accusations of interference into your Congolese neighbour’s affairs, suspension in part of international aid, critical reports from NGOs… What lessons have you learned given that the worst part of the storm seems to have passed?
PAUL KAGAME: Very little as a matter of fact. This is not the first time that Rwanda experiences this type of lack of understanding on the situation in eastern Congo, and it is not the first time that aid has been suspended because of it. Rwandans have learned to face these periods of hardship.
The sanctions you speak of were taken a priori, based on a report of so-called experts from the UN, of which Rwanda had not even been informed and relied on rumours and anonymous allegations. Certainly, the problems of Congo concern us in the sense that it has been sheltering for the past nineteen years an armed militia that committed the1994 genocide and has not given up on “finishing up the work”. But it is the responsibility of the Congolese government and the international community to solve that problem. It seems as if, having failed, they believe that Rwanda has to pay for that failure. We do not accept that.
JA – How do you explain that very few people believe you when you deny any interference in the DR Congo?
PK – Why have they decided to not believe us, when everyone recognises that the problems of the Congo are problems that are fundamentally Congolese? That they relate to governance, citizenship, and the identity of that country? Why do so few people believe us, even though everyone realises that the United Nations Mission, which was supposed to help rebuild a nation, is obviously useless? Why, for so many years, has the perception of Rwanda been based, not on verified facts, but rather on misleading press releases coming from NGOs or agenda-driven organisations and which are lazily repeated by western media? This anti-Rwandan campaign, we saw it in action when it tried to stop us from being elected at the United Nations Security Council. It failed, of course, but I have no doubt: it is ready to do us harm again.
In reality, Rwanda is a threat for two reasons. The first one is of psychological and historical nature. The international community was not able to prevent or stop the genocide of Tutsis, even less, it was not able to manage the consequences. So there is this heavy sense of guilt. To lessen guilt, Rwanda has to be permanently held responsible for something. This is typical: one takes the weight off his guilty conscience by constantly being on the offensive. The second reason touches on the relationship between Africa and the world. From its specific history, Rwanda is leading a struggle for a dignified Africa, free, master of its own destiny and its resources. This does not please everyone, it’s obvious: ‘Let’s bring them back to order’ is what they say to themselves…
JA –Judging from your reaction, you’ve taken these accusations as a personal attack…
PK – Rwandans in general perceived it that way. We are not responsible for other people’s problems, and those who dream to wipe us out need to know that each injustice makes us stronger.
JA – A Pan African force of 3000 men with a robust mandate is being set up under the aegis of the UN, in order to finish the problem of rebel groups in the DRC. Is this finally the right solution?
PK – I am afraid this might not make any sense but let them try. Rwanda does not object, although I already know that it will resolve nothing. The answer has to be political because the problem is political. How is an intervention brigade, equipped with surveillance drones a cure for weak governance, infrastructure, institutions and administration suffered by the people? It is neither the right diagnosis nor the right cure. It is just ridiculous.
JA – You will acknowledge however that it is difficult to believe that the M23 rebels are not close to you…
PK – Difficult for whom? For those who have decided to ignore the facts, to publish biased reports and to not listen to us? M23 is not my business; it is the Congolese government’s business. And anyway, why this obsession with M23? There are many other rebel groups in the DRC, which apparently, nobody is interested in.
JA- Did the suspension of foreign aid catch you off guard?
PK – No, we are not naive. We know very well that the aid depends on the goodwill of who gives or withdraws for reasons only they know. We protested, but we also acted. Complaining is pointless.
JA – Will it come back soon?
PK – It is coming back gradually. The aid is appreciated, of course, especially since we know on what grounds we deserve it. But its use as a tool of political control is what we refuse. Our daily struggle is to bring about, step by step, conditions which will allow us to make good use of it.
JA – At the moment, 40% of your income is derived from the external assistance that you have come to call “poison.” How can one be independent in this context?
PK – Real independence is a gradual process. On one hand, the help is appreciated; on the other hand those who give it want us to not live without it. It’s a contradiction which we will only be able to overcome through hard work, determination and a clear understanding of our interests, therefore of our objectives.
What you need to understand is this; I am all in favour of a strict evaluation of the use of aid by donors. Verifying that there is no waste or corruption is the least of things, and I believe that in this area the Rwanda is exemplary.
We can account for each dollar spent and we do. But when the donors begin to lecture us and want to decide for the people who their leaders should be or what their future should look like, there is a problem. The reasons that led to the suspension of aid to Rwanda in 2012 had nothing to do with what this aid is intended to do, economic and social development.
JA – The international bond that was launched last April was immediately subscribed to beyond your expectations despite a non favourable economic context. How do you explain this success?
PK – The election of Rwanda, in the first round, as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, despite a hostile campaign was already a first victory.
This oversubscription, as well as the success of the Agaciro Fund which raised funds from our own population, is a second one. Private investors and the financial world judge us as we really are: a serious, reliable country, ready for takeoff, and most importantly bankable. It is not so common.
JA – It’s the “Kagame effect”, says your friend Tony Blair…
PK –If there’s any “Kagame effect”, it’s because Rwandans believe in Kagame. And if they believe in him, it is not because he is Kagame, but because of what they have accomplished together that has changed their lives.
JA – Your power is based on an ultra dominant party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which is also a major economic player as its investment funds are worth several hundreds of millions of dollars. Is it healthy that a political movement is so involved in business?
PK – The last U.S. election cost $ 2 billion [1.5 billion Euros], collected from private donors, cynics say that the winner was the one who gathered the most money. Is this healthy? In Europe, parties and candidates often have to beg from contributors to survive. Is this reasonable? Are you sure that this system doesn’t create an obligation or dependence that is contrary to transparency and democracy? The problem of the relationship between money and politics cannot be understood in simple ideas, and our history, the RPF, is unique.
From the first day of our liberation struggle, we considered it vital to be financially independent. Nobody, except Rwandan patriots can say that they funded the struggle. After the war, we were prepared to shoulder a period of self-sufficiency: we knew that state coffers were looted and that international aid would not come overnight. For about four years, it is money that the RPF had placed outside the country that ran the Rwandan government and helped take care of genocide survivors and import the basics: sugar, salt, soap, fuel, etc… Since about fifteen years ago, the purpose of these funds has changed. They are invested in strategic sectors such as telecommunications and infrastructure to stimulate the private sector.
JA – How do you avoid conflicts of interest in public procurement between companies controlled by the RPF and other companies?
PK – Most often, the RPF invests in activities that initially do not interest the private sector, but that we believe are essential. For the rest, the party-controlled companies obey the same rules as the others: they pay their taxes, they are regularly audited and the tender bids they submit are perfectly transparent. If this was not the case, Rwanda would not be ranked as the fourth African country in the “Doing Business” ranking.
JA – Do you believe you have eradicated corruption?
PK – To a large extent, yes. Most Rwandans have now built a culture of accountability that has transformed their mentality. Education has played an important role, as well as the strict measures we have taken to fight against this phenomenon. Wherever you are, whatever your position is, impunity does not exist in Rwanda. In this area as in all others, the leadership must be absolutely exemplary.
JA – Another problem is population growth. With more than 400 inhabitants per Km2, Rwanda is on the verge of asphyxiation. Is there a solution?
PK – This is both a great challenge and a great opportunity. If, in fifteen years, the growth curve of our population has decreased from 10% per year to less of 3%, it is not by using coercion, which is totally unproductive in our culture, but by combining education and persuasion. The message is simple: have a family that fits your resources, have the children you can feed, care for and educate, Nearly 70% of Rwandans are under 30 years … If there is massive investment in health, employment and education, this is not a handicap – it’s an opportunity.
JA – The mandate for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha will expire soon. What is your assessment of the court?
PK – Very negative, I’m very critical of it. Not the institution as such, but what it has produced and on the influences exerted on that institution. I prefer not to spend a lot of time on this topic.
JA – A few months ago, while on a trip in Brussels, you said that all your opponents in exile could come back to Rwanda. Do you really believe that Faustin Twagiramungu, Paul Rusesabagina, Emmanuel Habyarimana and others, who characterise you as a dictator, do not risk being taken to court once they arrive in Kigali?
PK – I did say in fact that they could come back and that the conditions have been met to allow for that. The rest concerns them and the Rwandan justice system.
JA So if the justice system finds fault with them, they are likely to be charged, like Victoire Ingabire was?
PK – Exactly. I do not see on which basis they should be accorded special immunity let alone impunity.
JA – Are you ready to negotiate with them?
PK – Negotiate what? What they want is summarised in one word: power. I will not give it to them, not outside the legal avenues available for them to achieve this. There is nothing to negotiate.
JA – In a little bit over a month, there will no longer be officially any Rwandan refugees overseas since the UNHCR announced the cessation of their status. Supported by Kinshasa, which believes that the conditions of security and dignity are not fulfilled for their return to Rwanda, some of them have protested against this decision. What do you think about that?
PK – In what manner is the Congolese government qualified to judge the internal situation in Rwanda? Why is it speaking on behalf of these refugees? Kinshasa should clean its own backyard first, and I believe they have a lot to keep them busy there. For the rest, the cessation of the Rwandan refugee status shows that the conditions that forced people to become refugees are obsolete. But we are not forcing anyone to come back.
JA – I’m assuming that your hostile position vis-à-vis the International Criminal Court has not changed…
PK – Absolutely. The ICC is not about delivering justice, but about being an instrument that services the interests of those outside of Africa wishing to exert control over Africa.
JA – So you do agree with the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, who asks the UN to stop the ICC judicial proceedings against him?
PK – Without a doubt. The ICC tried to influence the results of the presidential election, without success. The voting was democratic, real progress toward reconciliation was accomplished. These proceedings no longer make any sense.
JA – Since your first official visit to France, in September 2011, nothing has changed in the relations between the two countries. Cooperation broke down. Why?
PK – The history between Rwanda and France has known so many negative events that the simple fact that there is no news is already good news. We are open to any form of cooperation with Paris, but all considered, I prefer there be nothing happening rather than having endless setbacks.
JA – You supported the French intervention in Mali. Was it a gesture towards François Hollande?
PK – It was a gesture in favour of the Malian people. We didn’t support France, the old colonial master, as such. We supported the action itself. And we would have supported any other intervention capable of avoiding the worst in Mali.
JA – According to the Constitution, you committed to respect, your current and final term will end in 2017. Yet, a look at the newspapers supportive of you, a campaign already seems to be underway to keep you as head of state. Will you change your mind?
PK – First: nothing that I have said or done so far indicates that I went from one position to another. Second: the debate that you are echoing, I encourage. As well as whether the door keeping my contribution in its current form must be closed – which is my wish – or be opened.
My opinion, which I share with all Rwandans is that change is necessary because it is part of the dynamics of governance that we have chosen. But it must fulfil two conditions: further progress in all areas and national security. Whether I stay or not, those are the absolute imperatives.
JA – In other words, according to you if the interests of Rwanda requires it, you will run again in 2017?
PK – Neither I nor anyone else has come to this conclusion. Today’s Rwanda was not made for me. I’m just saying Rwandans: “Discuss, consider, make proposals taking into account the three pillars that I suggested: change, progress and security. Up to you to find the link between them.
JA – Assuming that you are a candidate to your own succession, you know what will be said: Kagame clings to power, Kagame manipulates…
PK – …Kagame is an autocrat, etc.. I know all that. What is new about that? I have said it over and over; I’m not interested in power for power, NGOs have been repeating this stuff since the early days of my first term. What do you want it to do to Rwandans?
JA – “Nobody in the West,” you said one day, “has the right or moral standing to bring any accusation against me and the Rwandan people. ” Is this not presumptuous?
PK – No. And what I say applies to the whole of Africa. As long as the West pretends to judge us based on its own criteria and interests, as long as it will pretend to dictate us on what should even be our will, if it considers that its lifestyle is the only acceptable one, its accusations will have no foundation. Take one of them, probably the most common in the pseudo-NGO reports: “Rwandans are not free.” But who asked the questions of Rwandans? Transparency International and the Gallup polls had the honesty to do it here in Kigali. Answer: 90% of respondents say they have confidence in their institutions. Does one also strongly rely on institutions in a dictatorship? I doubt it. How can one insist that a country that is third in Africa on the index of economic freedom in the Wall Street Journal and is one of the very few on the continent where the growth is accompanied by a real poverty reduction – 1 million Rwandans were lifted out of in the last six years – is this not a free country?
JA –These criticisms are not addressed to Rwandans. They are addressed at you. A Head of State has rarely raised such extreme and mixed reactions…
PK – That does not stop me from living and it will not change anything at the time of my death. If you want to know, I sleep very well at night.