In a frank interview on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the genocide, President Kagame talked about its repercussions, regional politics and the end of his last term as leader in 2017.
The Africa Report : Twenty years after the genocide, do you think the world outside Rwanda has finally come to terms with what happened?
President Paul Kagame: Unfortunately, no. The image portrayed on the outside is that of a genocide that fell from the sky without any causes or consequences, where responsibilities are multiple, muddled and diluted. It’s a kind of epiphenomenon
Could this lack of understanding be due to the fact that this carnage was carried out by people living together in the same community – a situation unique in modern history? Without a doubt. Our experience was different to that of other people. This led to specific responses, which are often complicated to explain.
Even though today it remains a taboo subject, we must not forget the key role some Western powers played, not only in the historical roots but also in the unfolding of the genocide. Today, it is these same Western powers alone who lay down the rules of good governance and set the standards for democracy.
They would like Rwanda to be a normal country as though nothing happened, which would have the advantage for them of making people forget their own role in the massacre, but that’s impossible. Take the French: twenty years later, the only reproach admissable in their eyes is that they didn’t do enough to save lives during the genocide. That’s a fact, but it hides the main point: the direct role of Belgium and France in the political preparation of the genocide and the participation of the latter in its very execution.
Complicity or participation?
Both! Ask the survivors of the Bisesero massacre in June 1994 and they will tell you what the French military in Opération Turquoise did there. In Bisesero and in the whole area designated a ‘humanitarian safe zone’ they were not only accomplices but perpetrators as well.
Another reason why it’s difficult to understand what happened is that you stand out as a very different head of state. Are you aware of this?
I have no idea. If there is a difference, it would be due to my experience and my country’s unique history, but in terms of development and governance we’re facing the same challenges as all Africans.
Though your social and economic achievements have been unanimously applauded, the same cannot be said for democracy in Rwanda.
What democracy are you referring to? If I were to believe what the West feeds us, democracy is for and by the people: its expressions, its sentiments, its choices. However in Rwanda, when the population freely ex- press its choices, the same people hit back saying: ‘No, you’re mistaken, your decisions are not good for you.’
As long as we don’t adopt the model of democracy they have defined for us, we are doing the wrong thing. This attitude has a name, it’s called intolerance or refusal to accept differences. When I see that elsewhere in Africa their conception of democracy is compatible with corruption, tribalism, nepotism and in some cases chaos as long as they manage to keep up appearances, I tell myself that we definitely don’t share the same view.
Do you believe for a second that the social and economic achievements you mentioned could have been accomplished without the participation of Rwandans and against their will? Dignity, unity, the right to start a business, the right to education and to health and integrity are among our key democratic values.
No one is in a better position than we are to know our needs and the ways to achieve them. The outside world had better get used to that because we are not going to change.
Your term of office ends in 2017, and the constitution prevents you from running again. Where do you stand on that?
I’ve always said I will respect the constitution. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that a constitution is nothing other than an expression of the will of the people at one moment and in a given context. All over the world, in the oldest democracies as in newer ones, fundamental laws are subject to constant changes, revisions and amendments in the interests of the citizens concerned.
Concerning presidential term limits, for example?
On this point, as in others, I don’t know. It’s not up to me, and I am not the writer of the constitution. Why this obsession with me? The only thing you should keep in mind is that I respect the constitution and I will continue to do so. Anything else is not my concern.
How do you explain that not a single Rwandan believes you will step down in 2017?
Is it because they’re assuming I want to stay in power or they are expressing a wish on their part? You should put the question to them. One thing is sure: ultimately, if this type of proposal were to be submitted to me by the people, I would have to decide.
It’s difficult to picture you as a 60-year-old retiree, sitting in your Muhazi lake ranch watching over your cows…
Why not? I can easily see myself in that picture.
Since oppositionist Patrick Karegeya’s assassination and the attack on Kayumba Nyamwasa’s villa in South Africa, your relationship with Pretoria has been stormy. You met President Jacob Zuma in Luanda on 25 March. What did you say to each other?
Our discussions were not focused on this issue, but we obviously touched on the subject. My opinion is clear: obtaining asylum in a country implies a duty of discretion and a ban on carrying out subversive activities against your country of origin. So it’s not the right to asylum I’m questioning as such, but the freedom and even high-level complicity that some of these self-exiles in South Africa enjoy in their efforts to destabilise Rwanda and promote terrorism.
Did you ask the South African authorities to extradite Karegeya and Nyamwasa?
Obviously we did, and I have the records to prove it. These people were prosecuted and convicted
But Pretoria doesn’t think your justice system can offer all the guarantees of impartiality…
Wrongly so. The South Africans should be careful not to give the unfortunate impression that they themselves are biased. I’m hopeful that with time South Africa’s government will realise that there’s far more to be gained from listening to us than covering up for a bunch of offenders.
Diplomats were expelled on both sides. Will they be reinstated in their jobs?
We are in the process of replacing them.
Since Zuma arrived in power, your relationship with South Africa has deteriorated. Is it because he chose to form a strategic alliance with the Democratic Republic of Congo?
I can’t answer for him. But one thing is sure: I wouldn’t advise anyone to meddle in our domestic affairs. What I’m saying applies not only to South Africa but also to Tanzania, France, Belgium, the media and the non-governmental organisations that take malevolent delight in fanning the flames of resentment.
What role did you play in the assassination of Karegeya and the attack against Kayumba?
None. There’s nothing, no evidence that links the state of Rwanda to these crimes. The South African authorities say they have evidence, but where is it? The only thing they really criticise us for are my own statements on the matter.
It’s true that you pulled no punches…
Are you surprised? I always speak my mind. Why should we cry over the fate of a man who ordered deadly grenade attacks? Regardless of whether this excites journalists.
Karegeya, Nyamwasa but also former prosecutor general Gerald Gahima and former cabinet director Théogène Rudasingwa were very close allies until they became your sworn enemies. Does this worry you, these people who leave with secrets?
What secrets? Compromising secrets for them, perhaps? These people held military, security, judicial or political offices in the Rwandan Patriotic Front under my command. So referring to them in terms of how close they were to me means nothing. As for their secrets, you’ve heard them. These people said all they had to say a long time ago, and it’s nothing but nonsense. I’ve noticed that while we were working together, they never once disagreed with me on anything. They only expressed disapproval the day they were relieved of their duties for reasons not related to politics.
President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania incurred your wrath when he recommended opening negotiations with your opponents, including the FDLR Hutu militia. You don’t accept this view?
What I don’t accept is interference. It’s inadmissible that Jakaya Kikwete and members of his government should associate themselves in any way with genocide perpetrators, and I see no reason why they should.
Six months ago you launched a campaign named Ndi Umunyarwanda (I am Rwandan), which your opponents have interpreted as a way of culpabilising and humiliating the Hutu community. What is it all about?
It’s very simple. The aim of this campaign is to emphasise what unites us – our Rwandanness – and eliminate what divided us, and which caused the genocide: communitarianism. Of course, this should be done with respect for our diversity. In this framework and with this aim, those who, by commission or omission, have reason to reproach themselves about the genocide will have the opportunity to express their regrets and commitment to the new Rwanda. Taking this step is purely on an individual and voluntary basis, and no one is being forced.
What is your state of relations with the US? Since Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice moved on it seems you have lost your two main supporters in Washington and the State Department is now quick to criticise you.
To my knowledge, there isn’t any real problem between us. It was American aircraft that brought our troops to Central Africa and our cooperation on several issues remains good. The few statements you’re referring to are answers given during interviews, they are not official statements.