Nkunda, Kabila, France and himself
With Rwandan troops having just completed their withdrawal from Kivu and the country preparing to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide, President Kagame makes his point; With no ambiguity.
There are two ways to view Rwanda. Through the tragedy of the genocide that took place fifteen years ago, and the shadows of a past that refuses to fade away. Or through the success story of a country that runs like clockwork and registered a record 11% economic growth rate in 2008.
In order to reconcile the two images, one needs to visit the country and observe the daily austerity – a very Asiatic, very moralistic (in the manner of Lee Kuan Yew) style of governance which has imposed on 10 million Rwandans an orderly society with no smoking, where plastic bags are prohibited, helmets and safety belts are strictly compulsory; where ministers have no government cars or houses; and where people go to bed early, wake up early, and work with as much diligence as they did when they were killing each other in another time.
Paul Kagame, 51, head of state since 2000 (but de facto boss since 1994) and henceforth CEO of “Rwanda Inc”, believes in the power of wills and resoluteness in politics. Whether it is a question of replacing French with English as the language of business and instruction in schools, of intervening in Kivu to “eradicate” the rebels, demolishing an entire neighborhood in downtown Kigali to make way for new buildings, declaring that by 2015 the country will dispense with foreign aid, dropping a former ally who has become too much of a liability or to giving a three-hour press conference in which he explains how corruption is the worst evil, this leader, in a class of his own in Africa, does not believe in fussing or wasting time.
In a salon in Urugwiro Village, a one-time hotel turned into the Presidency, in the heart of what is without question the safest capital in Africa, this serious and sober man, whose only distraction is tennis, confided in JA. In English of course, and with no prop except for a glass of water.
JEUNE AFRIQUE: The “Umoja Wetu” operation –“our unity” in Kiswahili – that you carried out in North-Kivu jointly with the Congolese army against the FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda) Hutu rebels, ended on 26 February after five weeks of fighting. Are you satisfied with the result?
PAUL KAGAME: Yes. First of all because the joint operation shows that, between Rwanda and DR Congo, it is time for cooperation, mutual trust and a joint solution of common problems. That is what is most important. On the military front, we crushed the backbone of FDLR, at least in North-Kivu, to the great relief of the local population. But there is still a lot of work to be done.
The results in figures seem small: 150 FDLR killed and 1300 disarmed out of a total of 7000 to 8000 men…
That is not what is most important. Compared to what I have just explained, that is a small matter, a simple question of statistics.
The bulk of the FDLR scattered in the forest and most of the people who have been repatriated are women and children. Aren’t you worried about that?
When you flee into the bush, it means that you are weak. When those people try once again to recapture their strong holds, I doubt that they will find it easy faced with the Congolese army and the people.
Now, it is the turn of the Congolese army and the Monuc (United Nations Mission in RD Congo) to “complete the work” and to take charge. Do you have faith in them?
I don’t know what MONUC is capable or incapable of doing in this domain. On the other hand, I think that the Congolese authorities have taken stock of the problem and are determined to solve it, whether it is on their own, or in cooperation with us. This is completely new and crucial.
Are you ready to send your army to Kivu once again?
If the leaders in Kinshasa think that they still need to work with Rwanda to solve the problem once and for all, Rwanda is ready and willing, within our means.
Did the Americans exert any pressure on you and President Kabila so that you work together?
I cannot answer on President Kabila’s behalf. But as far as I am concerned, the answer is simple: it is no. In general, you should know that Rwanda is not motivated by pressure.
Are you suggesting that the December 2008 UN report, alleging that you provided military and financial assistance to Laurent Nkunda’s Congolese rebels, played no part in your decision to drop him…
Why would we need external influence to carry out a joint operation that we had been demanding for years? It is absurd. The government of the DR Congo requested us to take part in that operation and we gladly accepted because it is in the interest of our two countries. That is the truth. Dropping Laurent Nkunda? This presupposes that we supported him in the first place, which has never been the case, contrary to what that UN report claims.
As a result of that report, Sweden and the Netherlands suspended aid to Rwanda. And Great Britain was preparing to do the same. All this amounts to pressure, isn’t it?
That is irrelevant. It is a permanent problem. Any donor may decide overnight to stop providing aid, for whatever reason. It is their right and we are very much aware of that. It is Rwanda’s interests that guide our decisions regardless of those kinds of threats against which we have no power. External aid is important, but it is not everything. Moreover, we must learn to exist without it.
How do you describe your relations with Kabila?
They are good.
It was not easy for him to have his idea of your troops’ intervention in North Kivu accepted. Do you acknowledge some political courage there?
Any leader worthy of the name must be courageous. A leader is known by his ability to assume his responsibilities, especially when the going is difficult.
What do you think about the criticisms that were expressed in Kinshasa against your intervention, especially by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Vital Kamerhe?
This is a characteristic of Congolese politics, which are often complex. I read in Jeune Afrique what Vital Kamerhe told you and I found it difficult to understand. He was for an armed intervention against the FDLR, and, when President Kabila decided to move, he was against it.
He is the same person who, again in Jeune Afrique, accuses us of illegally exploiting Kivu’s mineral resources and going after the land. What is he talking about? What is his evidence? Rwanda is indeed a small densely populated country but this type of gratuitous statements only serves to create a totally erroneous impression of this region being only about riches and looting. Yet, and Vital Kamerhe knows this very well, the problem facing Rwanda in North-Kivu has nothing to do with that. It is a security problem, brought on by a historical conflict that everybody knows.
Why did you arrest Laurent Nkunda?
The problem of North Kivu consists of two different aspects. That of the FDLR, which we have to a large extent solved in collaboration with the Congolese army. And that of Nkunda and his CNDP, which essentially concerns him, and the DR Congo. As you know very well, after the Nairobi negotiations at the end of 2008, the majority of the CNDP decided to rejoin the government camp under the leadership of Bosco Ntaganda, leaving Laurent Nkunda on the sidelines.
His intransigence had finally rendered him an obstacle to peace and was likely to compromise the entire process of regional cooperation. Driven against the wall, Nkunda and his group crossed the border in Gisenyi before surrendering to our security forces.
Some of your close collaborators assert that you lured him into a trap…
It is wrong. And it is not our style: we fight, we win or we lose, but we don’t resort to tricks.
Other people add that you may have manipulated Bosco Nkunda to weaken his boss.
That is also wrong. The truth is that Nkunda surrendered to us. He is currently detained under house arrest. We are discussing his fate with the leaders of his country, the DR Congo, and those who were escorting him have already returned home.
Is it true that his arrest gave rise to protests within the armed forces general staff?
That is not correct. And moreover, I don’t see why…
Because Nkunda is Tutsi. And the Rwandan and Congolese Tutsi must support one another.
We are talking here about serious issues that concern the security of neighboring countries. The rest is just myth and cultural approximations.
People say also that Laurent Nkunda has secrets that might embarrass you.
Really? Which ones?
Wasn’t he a member of the Rwandese Patriotic Army, your army, from 1991 to 1996?
Absolutely not. I even read somewhere that he may have helped us to liberate Kigali in July 1994. It is all rubbish.
But he is the one who says so!
I repeat: it is all rubbish.
Isn’t he your friend?
I don’t know Laurent Nkunda. I have never met him, I have never seen him anywhere apart from the television, and I have never spoken to him on telephone. I hope that is clear.
Another sensitive issue: your relations with France. You have met Nicolas Sarkozy on two occasions, in Lisbon and in New York. Would you say that reconciliation is on course?
The fact that we met, means at least that we talked. Not to say nothing, but basically to discuss the status of our relations. I think that we are moving in the right direction.
At the end of March, on his visit to Kinshasa, President Sarkozy intends to propose a plan of cooperation for the Great Lakes region. Are you aware?
I must confess that I don’t understand what it is all about and I await with interest the explanations that President Sarkozy will give on the subject in Kinshasa.
I am haven’t requested for any plan for the region and I don’t know why Rwanda is mixed up in this. In short, I would like someone to explain this to me.
According to hearsay, this plan focuses on the common economic market, on the Rwando-Congolese cooperation and on regional cooperation…
All these are the things that we are already trying to establish through the East African Community and the Economic Community of the countries of the Great Lakes.
But why not?
All suggestions made in good faith are most welcome and we are open to discussion. On condition that we do not forget that the problems that arose fifteen years ago between Rwanda and the DR Congo are essentially political and security-related.
For Nicolas Sarkozy, Rwanda is “a country with a small surface and a dynamic demography”, and the DR Congo “a country with an immense surface and an asymmetry in cross-border riches”. Do you share this point of view?
What President Sarkozy is right about is the complementarities between our two countries, but Rwanda’s demography should not be regarded as an obstacle. If wisely led, supported and governed, the people are our most precious wealth. Besides, reducing the relation between two neighbors to a mathematical formula is rather simplistic.
Many things, in the development of your relations with France, will depend on the outcome of the case of Rose Kabuye, your Director of Protocol, in court in Paris in the context of the investigations on the April 1994 attack.
Of course, it is obvious. But beyond Rose Kabuye’s case, we must answer this overarching question – can any country, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, assume that its system of justice is superior and that its laws take precedence over those of others? We, Africans, firmly refuse to be treated like that.
The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, has just been subjected to violent criticism in a book written by Pierre Péan, mainly because he might be your friend. Is it correct?
I have known Bernard Kouchner for the last fifteen years. We have met several times, we have worked together, and I think that he knows the problems of the region better than most Frenchmen.
As for the rest, I think that he should be proud to be attacked like that by people, always the same ones, who have made a business out of hatred, deliberate ignorance and misrepresentation of history. It is a tribute to good from evil.
The Mucyo commission on France’s role in the genocide submitted its report in August 2008. Do you intend to issue international arrest warrants against the twenty French individuals mentioned in the document?
There is no special urgency or pressure for that. When the time comes, we shall make the most appropriate decision.
Almost half the budget of the Government of Rwanda depends on external aid. And, yet, you never stop calling on your countrymen to do without that aid. Why?
Because this situation is unhealthy. We cannot continue for eternity depending on other people’s charity, the taxes that they pay and ultimately their good or bad faith in helping us. It is humiliating and we must do all we can to win our economic independence as soon as possible. We must work much harder, organize ourselves better and rely on our own resources. It is a matter of dignity.
Donors acknowledge this; that you don’t tolerate corruption. Since 2003, 180 civil servants, ministers, secretaries general have been sentenced because of that. Nobody is safe.
Nobody. What is important in our country is that this struggle does not concern only one person, in this particular case, myself. It is the entire system that is anticorruption. We have increased awareness training, created an Ombudsman’s office purposely for that, increased penalties, and published names of the culprits to shame them.
Of course there is still a long way to go and we have to remove pockets of corruption from our law enforcement agencies and the Gacaca courts for instance. But for a country which, in this field, started from zero, the progress achieved is impressive.
Rwanda holds a double world record: that of the percentage of women in Parliament and within the magistrature. As well as one of the highest ratios of women ministers. Are you proud of that?
Of course. Here also, in order to understand and take stock, you need to see where we are coming from. In our history, this otherwise indispensible part of our society was left behind and deprived of their rights – this is not good for any society.
It is our role as leaders to put things right. It was our responsibility as leaders to launch that revolution at all levels: legislative, economic and social…I must say that we have encountered little resistance from men. Most of them understood perfectly the importance of that struggle.
The 1994 genocide was officially renamed “genocide of Rwanda’s Tutsis”. Was it really necessary?
It was not renamed we just completed and clarified better what it was. The genocide is the planned extermination of a specific ethnic, tribal or religious group; it is not a civil war. In Rwanda, the targeted group was the Tutsi, exclusively. The Hutus who were killed in 1994 were not victims of a deliberate genocide but were killed for other reasons. Everybody can understand that.
Will you be a candidate to your own succession, during the 2010 presidential elections?
In principle, there is nothing standing in the way. But you never know: the RPF, my party, may decide that they have seen enough of me in this position and that someone else should take my place.
A probable assumption…But, as far as you are concerned, have you set yourself a deadline?
That is set by the Constitution. Two consecutive terms of seven years.
Will you really abide by that? In ten years time, if need be, can I ask you the question again…
You will have an answer long before that.
Are you still a fan of the Asian development model?
Without any doubt. Half a century ago, countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, China and India were at the same level of development as Africa. Today, look at where they are and where we are. We have a lot to learn from them.
People say you are an admirer of Israel…
It is not a question of admiration. I can see that Israel succeeded in several areas and has been able to confront the challenges, especially in terms of security, in a very interesting and instructive way for us.
And then, you are two countries born, in a way, out of genocide…
Perhaps - but circumstances, on both sides, are different. In many ways, our experience is unique.
The International Criminal Court has just issued an international warrant of arrest against the Sudanese President, El-Bechir. It is well known that you are against the ICC. Do you therefore support impunity?
I would like people to understand this very well. I will not enforce the warrant of arrest against El-Bechir and I will not sign the ICC statutes. Not because I am opposed in principle to international justice, nor because Heads of State are above the law, nor because El-Bechir would a priori be innocent of the crimes he is accused of, but because I have no faith in the ICC.
It cannot render impartial and equitable international justice. The problem is not that up to now only Africans have been brought before this court. That is on the periphery. The problem is that, since the beginning, we have been able to see, feel and detect, in its very selective way of working, a mixture of political agenda and manipulation by the rich against the poor.
I support specific international criminal tribunals under the UN, like that of Arusha on Rwanda, that of Sierra Leone, that of the former Yugoslavia, and why not tomorrow on Darfur. They, at least, have clear terms of reference and know, in principle, what they are taking about. But I am against the ICC’s omniscient and omnipotent magistrates.