The head of state responds bluntly to all questions, even the most controversial.
“I do not see how they could have made any more progress in twenty years than they have,” says with admiration Pascal Lamy, French former Director General of the World Trade Organization on a visit to Kigali in March. It is true that in terms of human and economic development, Rwanda continues to be ranked high in good governance charts.
In 2015, this country of 12 million people will be one of the few African countries to achieve most of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the United Nations. When you realise that in two decades Rwanda was economically devastated and with the social fabric destroyed in a tsunami of hatred, the country’s performance itself is staggering.
Paul Kagame, 56, is the chief architect of this miracle. He is the sole target of criticisms and sometimes insults by those who do not benefit from this change. This interview, in which Paul Kagame expresses himself, as always, without mincing his words, was conducted on March 27 at Urugwiro Village. This complex now completely renovated, highly secure and ultra-connected in the heart of Kigali, housed twenty years ago another presidential office: that of Juvenal Habyarimana. Until of course the 6th April 1994.
Jeune Afrique: Twenty years after the genocide, do you think that the outside world has finally understood and learnt the lesson of what happened here?
President Kagame: No, unfortunately. The image that dominates outside is that the genocide fell from heaven, without causes and consequences. Those who bear responsibility are portrayed as numerous and their responsibility is confused and diluted. A kind of phenomenon.
Is this misunderstanding due to the fact that this genocide was internal and unique in modern history?
Probably. Our experience is different from others and this specificity generated specific responses from us, often complex to explain. Do not forget – even if it is still a taboo subject – the key historical role and also in the course of the genocide, of these same Western powers that today define the rules of good governance and democratic standards. They would like Rwanda to be an ordinary country, as if nothing had happened, which also gives them the advantage of masking their own responsibility, but it is impossible. Take the case of France. Twenty years later, the only acceptable blame in their eyes is that they did almost nothing to save lives during the genocide. It is a fact, but it hides the essential: direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation of the genocide and the participation of the latter in the execution of the genocide.
Complicity or participation?
Both! Ask the survivors of the Bisesero slaughter in June 1994, they will tell you what the French soldiers of Operation Turquoise did. There were certainly complicit in Bisesero but also active participants in the so-called “humanitarian zone”.
Another reason that makes it difficult to be understood is that you are a very different from other heads of state. Do you realise this?
I do not know. If there is difference, it is due to my experience and the very particular history of my country. Although, in terms of development and governance, our challenges are similar to those faced by other Africans.
Your achievements in economic and social matters are unanimously acclaimed but the same praises do not apply to democracy in Rwanda. Many observers believe it is only a façade put on for donors and that opposition is tolerated as long as it does not threaten the power of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). What do you respond to this?
What kind of democracy are you talking about? If we believe in what the West tells us, democracy is about involving people, their preferences, their feelings and their choices. But when, here in Rwanda, people freely express their choices and beliefs, the same people say: No, you’re wrong, what you decide is not right for you. As long as we are not adhering to the model of democracy that they have set for you, you are wrong. This attitude has a name: intolerance, rejection of difference. When I see that elsewhere in Africa, their conception of democracy is one where there is corruption, tribalism, nepotism, even chaos, as long as appearances are maintained. I can only conclude that we have a very different understanding of things.
Do you think that economic and social achievements that you have mentioned can be accomplished without Rwandans participation and against their will?
Dignity, unity, the right to be educated, healthy and entrepreneurial, these are all democratic values.
No one is better placed than us to know what we want and what it will take to achieve this. It is necessary for the outside world get used to it because we will not change.
Your mandate will end in 2017 and the Constitution forbids you to run. Where do you place yourself in this perspective?
I’ve always said that I will uphold the Constitution. But I added that the constitution is nothing more than the expression of the will of the people at a given time and in a given context. Worldwide, in both new and old democracies, fundamental laws move, adapt and are amended constantly in the interests of concerned populations. Will it be the same for Rwanda? It is not out of the realm of possibilities; I do not know a single country where the Constitution is unalterable.
Like the presidential term limits, for example?
On this point or another one I do not know. It’s not up to me because am not the writer of the Constitution. Why this obsession around me? What you need to know is simple: I respect and uphold the Constitution. The rest does not concern me.
How can you explain that not a single Rwandan thinks that you will leave office in 2017?
If they think this, is it because they think I want to hang on to power, or is it an expression of the desire on their part? You should ask them … One thing is certain: even if proposals in this direction are made to me by the citizens of this country, I still have a choice to make. Then I will make my choice known depending on the circumstances and a variety of other things. This time will come when I will have personally decided.
Difficult to imagine you retired at 60, sitting in your Ranch at Muhazi Lake keeping an eye on your cows…
And why not? I can imagine myself very well doing that.
Since the murder of Patrick Karegeya and the attack against Kayumba Nyamwasa, two Rwandan exiled opposition in South Africa, your relations are very bad. You met Jacob Zuma in Luanda on 25 March. What did you discuss?
We did not discuss this problem, but we, of course, addressed it. My opinion is clear: Getting asylum from a state implies an obligation not to engage in subversive activities against your country of origin. It is therefore not the asylum as such that I question, but the freedom or complicity from high levels that these self-exiled people benefit from in South Africa in order to destabilise Rwanda and advocate for terrorism. We have repeated this for a long time.
Did you ask South Africa to extradite Nyamwasa and Karegeya?
Obviously – and with evidence. These people have been prosecuted and convicted in Rwanda.
But Pretoria believes that your justice system can’t offer all guarantees of impartiality
Wrongly. The South Africans would also have to not be disappointingly one sided. I believe that with time the South African government will realise it has much more interest to listen to us than to cover up the actions of a group of delinquents.
Diplomats were expelled from both sides. Will they return to their posts?
We are currently replacing them.
Your relationship with South Africa was excellent with Mandela and Mbeki. They have deteriorated since the arrival of Jacob Zuma. Is it because they seem to have opted for a strategic alliance with the DRC?
I cannot answer for them. One thing is for sure: I would not advise anyone to interfere in our internal affairs. This goes for South Africa, but also for Tanzania, France, Belgium, the media and the NGOs who take pleasure in adding fuel to the fire.
What is your responsibility in the assassination attempts against Karegeya and Kayumba?
None. There is nothing, nothing that connects these facts to the Rwandan Government. South African authorities have spoken of evidence: where is it? The only thing that they complain about is my own statement on the topic.
It is true that you had harsh words…
Does that surprise you? I always say what I think. Why would we mourn the fate of a man who sponsored murderous grenade attacks? It does not matter to me if it excites journalists.
Karegeya, Nyamwasa, former Attorney General Gerald Gahima and your former Chief of Staff Théogène Rudasingwa were very close to you before becoming your opponents. Are you concerned about these people who leave with your secrets?
What secrets? Compromising secrets for them maybe. These people have had military responsibilities, security, judicial or political in the RPF, under my command. Talking about them in terms of personal proximity with me is therefore meaningless. About their secrets, you’ve heard these people who have for a long time said what they wanted to say; besides stupidities, there is nothing new. What I notice is that while they were active here, never, at any time, did they express disagreement with me. Their opposition appeared the day they were relieved of their duties for reasons that have nothing to do with politics.
Former General Nyamwasa wishes to be heard by the French judge Trévidic about the attack against the plane of Juvenal Habyarimana. He claims to have evidence of the guilt of the RPF?
What evidence? That of his own involvement in the bombing? If he is the one who shot down the plane, very good. He should be arrested and judged.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, your neighbor to the east, led to an angry reaction when he recommended negotiations between you and your opponents, including the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda [FDLR Hutu militia]. You don’t agree with being given advice?
What I do not accept is interference. It is not acceptable that Jakaya Kikwete and the members of his government are associated in any way with génocidaires. There is no reason for it. But they have been, and for a long time. It is a policy towards Rwanda that takes other negative forms, such as mass expulsion of thousands of Rwandans living in Tanzania for decades and even Tanzanian citizens who have been confused for Rwandans that we are obligated to send back. Why behave in this way when we are part of the same East African community? Why not discuss the issues before taking brutal action? I heard the other day the Tanzanian Foreign Minister justifying their complicity with the FDLR, explaining that his country had a long history of welcoming freedom fighters. This is both ridiculous and tragic. Why are they involved? Rwanda is none of their business.
In DR Congo, UN forces and the Kinshasa government promised to end the FDLR problem after defeating M23 rebels. Do you believe it?
No. But I would not ask for anything more than to be proven wrong.
MONUSCO has a special intervention brigade that consists of Tanzanian, Malawian and South African troops. Its role was decisive against the M23. Could it not also be against the FDLR?
My impression is that this brigade was instead created to defend the FDLR.
Do you consider it as a threat to Rwanda?
The answer is obvious from what I have just told you.
The Number 2 FDLR leader recently said that his movement wanted to lay down arms. Should it be taken seriously?
I do not know. If this is true, even better.
FDLR’s militia leaders are mostly extremist genocidaires, this is true, but the main body is made up of young people who have not experienced genocide or have not participated in it. Should there not be a difference in how we treat these two groups?
There is a difference, of course. But what does it change? The solution is the same for all: Return to Rwanda, through a reintegration process that has worked for fifteen years and through which over ten thousand have already returned.
Reintegration without prior negotiation?
Negotiate what? The guilt or innocence of one or the other? Justice? There is nothing to negotiate.
Former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, in exile in Belgium, requested the opening of a national dialogue on the future of Rwanda. What is your answer to him?
Why does he ask this from abroad? He was a candidate in the presidential election in 2003, he lost, he went to live in Belgium of his own will and now he wants to negotiate via teleconference? This is not serious.
He wanted to return but he said that your embassy refused the renewal of his Rwandan passport.
Let him come to Kigali with his Belgian passport, where is the problem? Then he can address the relevant institutions.
You launched a campaign called Ndi Umunyarwanda (“I am Rwandan”) interpreted by your opposition as a way to blame or humiliate the Hutu community. What’s this campaign about?
It’s very simple. The purpose of this campaign is to focus on what unites us, “Rwandanness” and remove what divides us and what caused the genocide: divisionism. This happens while respecting our diversity.
In this context and for this purpose, those who, by commission or omission, have something they are guilty of in relation to the genocide, this is an opportunity for them to express their regrets and strengthen their commitment to the new Rwanda. We don’t force anybody to take this step, which is done on a purely voluntary basis. The fact that outside groups misrepresent this campaign as you said is not surprising. Ethnic divisions is their political tool making it necessary for them to defend it.
If you believe the official statistics, 772 cases condoning genocide have been brought to justice in Rwanda in 2012 and 2013, 25% more than in the previous two years. Is this not of concern?
No. Because it means that we are not hiding anything. We will not improve the reality of things by masking truth. It is not possible to erase this kind of ideology in twenty years. It is an every day struggle.
Do you think that one day there will be no more Tutsis or Hutus or Twas in this country, only Rwandans?
Yet again, I do not know. But what I repeat, the “Rwandanness” we preach is not the negation of diversity. We can claim to be Tutsi, Hutu or Twa, provided that this is not used to harm others. That’s all and it’s clear.
Has your extremely critical view of the International Criminal Court [ICC] changed?
Unfortunately not. And every day, every year proves me right. Nothing has changed in the functioning of this Court, whose role has only been to prosecute Africans.
However, the prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda is an African…
It does not matter. Many Africans serve interests that are not their own. It is not a matter of skin color.
Why, then, did you deliver former Congolese General Bosco Ntaganda to the ICC?
We did not facilitate let alone organise anything. Ntaganda voluntarily surrendered to the U.S. embassy in Kigali to go before the Court. We have nothing to do either with him or with his case. Our role was limited to authorising his departure from Rwandan territory.
Pascal Simbikangwa has been sentenced in Paris to twenty-five years in prison for genocide. Can we say that France is no longer a refuge for Rwandan genocide suspects?
We will see what will happen in appeal. For the rest, I do not think that there is any particularly positive development. For one convicted criminal after twenty years, how many evaded French justice? We are not fooled by this little game. They present this judgment as a gesture, almost like a favor France is doing for Rwanda, when it is the role of France in the Genocide that should be questioned.
How are your relations with the United States? Since the departure of Hillary Clinton and the change of post of Susan Rice, it seems you have lost your two main supporters in Washington. The result: The Department of State does not hesitate to criticize you.
In my view, there is no real problem between us. American planes transported our troops in the Central African Republic and cooperation on many levels is still good. The few statements to which you refer are only answers given during interviews. These are not official releases.
Your partners and the Rwandan media willingly point to what they see as a lack of objectivity of the Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynders, in respect to Rwanda. Do you agree with this?
I think he made a lot of mistakes, including associating himself in the anti- Rwandan policies conducted from Tanzania. I think his position lacks balance, for subjective reasons that I do not know.
In recent months, the share of foreign aid in your budget is slowly decreasing. However, it still represents 38% of public resources. Are you ready to face this decline?
This is a phenomenon that must be understood in its entirety. This decline does not worry us for two reasons: first, because it is coupled with an increase of our own resources and private investments, but also because there are a variety of alternative funding that we can use to balance our budget. Our goal has not changed, to become a self-reliant middle-income country by 2020.