Interview with H.E President Paul Kagame: Justice for Europe and justice for Africa are not any different

Much of the world’s attention during the recent summit of African leaders in Egypt was focused on how the leaders would respond to the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was busy winning backing for an African Union resolution that would prevent the principle of universal jurisdiction being extended across the AU’s 53 member states. This follows a series of indictments of Rwandan officials in European courts. William Wallis, FT Africa editor was at the AU summit and with a reporter from Bloomberg news agency they spoke to Mr Kagame about the resolution; about the Zimbabwe crisis and its bearing on Africa’s relations with the outside world; and on Rwanda, 14 years after the genocide.
H.E. President Paul Kagame.
H.E. President Paul Kagame.

Much of the world’s attention during the recent summit of African leaders in Egypt was focused on how the leaders would respond to the ongoing crisis in Zimbabwe. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda was busy winning backing for an African Union resolution that would prevent the principle of universal jurisdiction being extended across the AU’s 53 member states. This follows a series of indictments of Rwandan officials in European courts. William Wallis, FT Africa editor was at the AU summit and with a reporter from Bloomberg news agency they spoke to Mr Kagame about the resolution; about the Zimbabwe crisis and its bearing on Africa’s relations with the outside world; and on Rwanda, 14 years after the genocide.

Q: What is Rwanda’s position on what you think should happen in Zimbabwe?

PK: Rwanda’s position seems to be irrelevant in a way. I can say what I think. But we are not short of what people think. What we are short of is what people are doing to actually resolve the problem.

Things went wrong. I agree with that. I would also agree with what some (African leaders) are saying that they bring the two sides together.

It is too late and it is not even possible to talk about a winner...given such a background. Therefore the sides must be brought together to stop the violence and bring some semblance of peace in Zimbabwe.

Q: Do the events in Zimbabwe and the pressure that has been brought to bear on African governments to do something about it, tell us something fundamental about Africa’s relations with the outside world?

PK: I think it is so many things. There are weaknesses on our continent that we have to come together to face, whether they are institutional or otherwise. Part of it is historical.

There has been a relationship where the outside world, meaning the west really, always wants to dictate things in Africa. When things are going well they want to be seen to be the one responsible for things going well.

When things are going wrong they want to be the ones responsible for putting them right. That gives room for people to justify themselves when they are not right. There is a tendency to say this problem is actually one created by outsiders even when it is not. Things are never straightforward.

Q: Do you think it was reasonable of the outside world to expect an organization as complex as the African Union with 53 member states to reach a consensus on the internal affairs of another state?

PK: The size and different criss-crossing external and internal interests poses huge problems that we will have to contend with for a long time.

Q: Given all the attention focussed on Zimbabwe, do you find it striking how little was paid to Rwanda 14 years ago?

PK: The message is clear. Things are never straightforward whether with the international community or indeed with anybody. There is so much fuss and noise about Zimbabwe.

The other day it was Kenya. Rwanda it was silence. The only thing you get from Rwanda is always what is wrong, not what is right.

We were talking about the huge change that has taken place in Rwanda mainly between 2004 and 2008 which is visible for anyone to see. But outsiders will not be interested in talking about this.

They continue talking about the ugly history which we have had for sure. But this ugly history we have had is not entirely the responsibility of Rwandese alone. It is also the same outsiders who contributed largely to that, because the genocide has its origins in colonial history.

Look at what is happening in Rwanda today: the recovery whether it is reconciliation, in national unity or in economic and social development, governance issues, democracy at work.

Rwanda at this point is much better off than it has ever been in its entire history. But of course you will always have outsiders who highlight what they blame Rwanda for. They want to indict people who stopped the genocide.

They are entertaining people who committed the genocide in their own capitals. You have Spanish, French judges indicting people. They are not indicting people who committed the genocide. They are indicting people who stopped the genocide!

Q: From what you are saying the spirit of new relations at the EU Africa summit in Lisbon last year, which seemed in part a European response to the threat to its sphere of influence from Asia, is bogus. All that historical baggage is still there?

PK: Yes it is still there. And we need to handle it whether bilaterally or multilaterally. We need to talk about it and address it. It is a serious matter.

Things will remain where they are for years to come unless countries are able to stand up to this either by themselves or collectively work together in the African Union

Q: Do you think the African Union as an institution is strengthening in its capacity to respond or is it weakened by the fact that a majority of leaders still lack democratic credentials?

PK: There are still weaknesses.

Q: I understand your government is due to make public a report on the involvement of France in the genocide. What can you say about the content of the report?

PK: I can’t tell you what is in it before it is out.

Q: In summary?

PK: The work was done professionally. They went investigating; they went into details, criss-crossed the world talking to people, they went to many places in Europe and Africa.

At the UN, they collected a lot information. There are facts about what happened, about instances, about people, about responsibilities.

Q: So it will name names?

PK: Yes. And hopefully our judges will enjoy indicting some of those people. There is no justice for Europe and justice for Africa that are different.

And if they are to be different it cannot just be Europe extending its jurisdiction into other countries Africa if it is to be universal.

Q: So you will launch some indictments on the basis of the report?

PK: I don’t rule that out unless there is progress on these issues.

Q: What needs to happen for Rwanda to normalize relations with France?

PK: I think the French need to come clean on their involvement in the genocide. France like others needs to respect other people.

In Africa and in Rwanda we are not there because they wish us to be there. We are there because we have the right to be there.

Q: They have not apologized yet.

PK: Doing that would have been helpful. But I am not even demanding that they apologize. It is not up to me to tell the French what to do.
 
Q: To an outsider it seems like the political tensions between Rwanda and France are being exercised through the legal system?

PK: Legal systems are systems of government. No one will believe the French when they say it is the judge we are not concerned. Judges don’t make laws they only carry out their duties based on the laws of the country.

There are problems relating to that between us and France and Spain. And probably there would be problems between us and any other country that would want to come up with this.

First of all there is no basis in terms of fact and no basis in terms of process. It is hugely questionable what is meant by universal jurisdiction when it comes to basing things on their own law and extending it to other territories.

One would have expected there to be an international regulatory mechanism, otherwise you will not avoid chaos. Everyone will be indicting everyone else.

Q: Is there anything approaching an African regulatory mechanism by the adoption of these points at the AU summit?

PK: Yes. In fact they have also appointed judges for a court to address human rights issues.

Q: Do you think Africa could go further by creating an African Supreme Court or an African constitutional court that could regulate issues such as legitimacy in the aftermath of flawed elections?

PK: Yes. It is possible. Absolutely. That is what we are driving at.

Q: What are Rwanda’s prospects in next few years?

PK: Let me first give the background. For the last seven years Rwanda has registered on average seven percent growth in its economy consecutively.

The foundations are laid of bringing stability, stabilisation settling people and creating institutions. The next years what we are working hard on is to focus on a number of things. On infrastructure development, that is energy, roads. We have projects of a railway to Dar es Salaam.

Q: To reduce dependency on Kenya?

PK: Yes so we have alternative routes. We have plans under way to develop an oil pipeline to extend the existing one from Mombassa to Eldoret. And many other projects.

Q: Is the fact that you are promoting this railway project a sign you are concerned about Kenya’s future stability or did the events in Kenya give you a shock?

PK: In fact we were already talking about this railway many years before these problems in Kenya. The more options we have the better.

We are actually looking at another route along Lake Tanganyika connecting with Southern areas for a rail line. We are also thinking of another route through Congo, possibly to Matadi if ever it is stable enough.

Q: Are you expecting growth to continue at 7 percent given oil and food price rises?

PK: Food prices are high but they are giving high returns to us too because we are investing heavily in our agriculture. For example this time around we haven’t had ourselves any food shortages as have been experienced elsewhere in the region.

And so our farmers ought to be able to get a little money for themselves. On the one hand globally it is a problem. However, it is also an opportunity for us.

We have also invested heavily in telecommunications and IT projects not only in the capital but have also extended fibre optics to the districts.

That lays the ground for our country to become a hub for IT and financial services. Then we are creating an airport for the region.

They are private companies we are working with and public private partnerships. The challenges are still there and there are no grounds for complacency at all.

But we are thinking we can continue with that growth and even higher growth particularly if we solve our energy problems.

We are investing in methane gas we have under Lake Kivu. We are converting that and making use of that to produce electricity.

Q: Presumably the day Rwanda will really take off will be when you truly have stability and growth in your neighbour, Congo?

PK: Yes that would be of tremendous benefit. The situation has largely improved. It is much better now than it has been in the last 14 years. There are still outstanding problems but they have not stopped us continuing to develop.

Q: Does Rwanda retain the option to send its troops back into the eastern DRC?

PK: Well I would not want to see that as headlines given all the good things we have talked about. I would say as we make these investments for our development we also make investments for protecting those investments. Always at the back of my mind is how we protect our gains?

Q: Do you think the world has come on at all in responding to man made disasters in Africa since the genocide?

PK: Not much.

Q: You must be bitterly disappointed that the AU force in Darfur that Rwanda was involved in  was not better equipped and funded?

PK: Unfortunately it hasn’t been sufficiently supported to deal with what it was committed for and you can’t fault the Africans for trying, but you can blame Africans for the fact that Darfur is in Africa and that it is a problem.

Q: Rwanda has reduced deaths by malaria by two thirds. What has been the key in turning the tide? And can it be sustained?

PK: We have been very successful and that figure is just for one year. There are a couple of reasons. One we have got good support from the international community and institutions.

But in terms of strategy it was to do with the spraying, use of mosquito nets. Many other countries have tried that but they have not had the same success.

The additional thing I would say for sure is that in Rwanda it has not been like in other places where people are given mosquito nets and they go and use them for other things, they use them for fishing or they keep them in their houses and they don’t use them.

Others they find their way across borders and it becomes another form of trade. In our case that has not happened and for the reason, we have other institutional mechanisms we have put to good use like for example the decentralization that has taken place in Rwanda has been very effective.

We have performance contracts: the mayors, the councillors and different leaders at different levels all have signed performance contract. In other words every quarter everybody is evaluated for what they have done.

Under this arrangement these leaders have assured that they have gone to families, and sensitized and not only that but they follow up to assure that mosquito nets are used. And it has certainly brought this wonderful result.

So you are saying can we sustain it? I think we can. There are other things. Mosquitoes have breeding areas, and even because of sanitation and other arrangements we have had for cleaning up have been adding. All these things are growing as a culture in the way we handle the disease.

Q: In another couple of years there will be an election. Are you going to run for a second elected term?

PK: I have two years to think about it.

Q: I was talking with the foreign minister of Senegal, and he was saying that when there is a very narrow election, Africans do not have enough faith in institutions to accept results.

PK: My view is there. It is written on the wall.

Q: You were elected with around 80 percent?

PK: People are at different stages. What would they have imagined to have an election in Rwanda just nine years after the genocide? The consideration of what people want is different from what people in other countries would worry about.

In 2003 when people voted they were voting for peace, for security, for national unity and for social and economic development. Those were their worries. It could even have been 100 percent.

I wish you would also consider the turnout. It was 96 percent and the efficiency with which they voted was 100 percent. People on sickbeds in hospital, mothers who had just given birth were walking to polling stations. Ten years after, fifteen years after these changes, there will be a big difference.

In the west some countries will go to vote and they have 30 percent turnout. People are not interested and you get some small percentage of that. And as a result the west wants to make this the standard. So they say how can you get 80 percent. I don’t buy this. It doesn’t make sense. You cannot take things out of context.

Q: You made a statement during the Kenyan crisis earlier this year suggesting the Kenyan military needed to step in. Parts of your government said it was misconstrued. Were you calling for a coup?

PK: People were making all sorts of interpretations of what I said. What I said was that there seemed to be no single institution in Kenya that would protect people. I was only seeing the military as the only institution in place to protect people.

For me I was seeing protecting people and stopping violence and stopping death as priority number one. Then people can go into debates and negotiations and all sorts of things about what they have as a form of government.

My statement has not changed. I would repeat it a thousand times. I don’t mind that people misunderstood it because I think it helped the process unintentionally.

Q: Coming from you President Kagame I think people took it rather seriously, given that you have a record of projecting military muscle in the region.

PK: That is why I am saying I don’t mind. Probably even the mere mention of it brought some good results. The heart of the matter for me was who was going to stop this violence?

I was thinking about the Kenyans. I wasn’t thinking about Raila Odinga or president Kibaki. These fellows could one day go to the airport and disappear. I was saying somebody needs to take care of this.

In fact if the Kenyans had said help us. “send people to work with us to do it,” we would have considered it certainly and mainly in the interests of these people who were being killed.

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