President Paul Kagame, says Europe has invested billions in the wrong way, and invited migrants. He considers the European model of democracy inefficient and African elites problematic.
In an exclusive interview with Austrian newspaper Die Presse, President Kagame, who was in the European country for the High-Level Europe-Africa Summit that was held in the Capital Vienna, speaks at length about African and European ties, trade, China engagement in Africa and aid, among others.
Below is the translated version of the article that was originally published in German.
Why has Europe rediscovered its interest in Africa? Because of the migration crisis?
Europe has neglected Africa. Africa should have been a partner of choice on the basis of our common history alone. But Europeans quite simply had a mistaken attitude. They thought so highly of themselves.
Europe believed itself to represent everything the world has to offer; everyone else could only learn from Europe and ask for help. This is how the Europeans have handled Africa for centuries.
And that is changing now?
It is starting to change. Because of certain facts.
Europe has realised that things aren’t so rosy on its own continent. Migration is only part of the problem, only part of what European citizens are unhappy about. Look at all the protests and the changing political landscape.
The anger is being directed at mistakes by the political leadership.
Africa’s population will double by 2050. For that reason alone, many people might push their way into Europe in the coming years.
It is not only a question of population size. It’s about the context in which the population grows. China has 1.3 billion inhabitants. However, legions of Chinese have not migrated illegally to other countries.
Even if the population of Africa didn’t grow, in many places the deprivation would still be so great that people would look for alternatives. Europe has invested billions upon billions of dollars in Africa. Something must have gone wrong.
What went wrong?
Part of it is that these billions had a return ticket. They flowed to Africa and then back to Europe again. This money left nothing on the ground in Africa.
Some of this money may have disappeared into the pockets of African leaders.
Let’s assume for a moment that is the case. Would Europe really be so crazy as to fill the pockets of thieves with money? There could also be another reason why the money yielded no results: Because it was invested in the wrong place.
So where should development funds go?
In industry, infrastructure, and educational institutions for Africa’s youth, whose number is growing fast. That is the only way for there to be a demographic dividend.
China is investing heavily in infrastructure. Chinese firms are building roads in Rwanda. Do the Chinese work more smartly than the Europeans?
China is active in Rwanda, but not in an inappropriate way. The new roads in Rwanda are largely built with European money. Sometimes there are Chinese subcontractors.
Do you consider China’s engagement in Africa a good thing?
It is good, but can also be improved upon. Africans have to work on themselves above all. In Rwanda, we know our capacity and which Chinese proposals we should accept, so as not to be overloaded with debt. But there are also countries who didn’t do good deals and are now getting choked.
These countries stumbled into a debt trap.
Not all of them, but it can happen. It depends on us Africans. Why don’t we know how to negotiate with China? Of course the Chinese are not only here as philanthropists to help us.
So you also see a problem with elites in Africa.
Definitely. Africa has remained a continent to which people simply help themselves.
What country served as a development model for you? Singapore?
We learned a few things from Singapore. We still collaborate with Singapore today. But we have not sought to copy any other country.
What are the key factors for development?
The first and most important thing is to invest in one’s own people, in health and education. Second, you have to invest money in infrastructure, and third, in technology.
We are trying to create systems of value that enable us to be more efficient: Tourism, IT, energy. But above all we want to provide better education to our citizens to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.
Do you have a vision for where your country should be in 20 years?
We started in 2000 with a plan for 2020. Now we have drawn up a new plan from 2020 to 2050, divided into two 15-year phases. Our vision is to build a stable, secure, prosperous, and sustainable country in which our citizens can live a good life in an unspoiled environment.
You have been a general, a defence minister, and since 2000 a President...
I miss life as a military commander and defence minister. (Laughs.) I prefer it to the nonsense I often have to deal with.
The former U.S. president, Barack Obama, heavily criticised you in 2015 for changing the constitution to remain in office longer. Do you consider yourself indispensable for the well-being of your country?
Should something be good or bad just because Obama sees it that way? In Germany, Angela Merkel has contested four elections. Nobody is bothered. I did not propose changing the constitution. I was not involved in it, but accepted the decision. Rwandans appreciate the job I have done.
Clearly you reproach the West for imposing its democratic standards on others.
The hypocrisy of Europeans is stunning. They preach what they don’t practice themselves. Why is there this failure in Europe? Because of democracy? If democracy means failure, then European democracy isn’t something I should be practicing.
How do you assess Europe’s handling of the 2015 refugee crisis?
Europe has a migration problem because it failed to address the issue early. Instead of helping Africa, it further impoverished the continent. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not blaming Europe for the problem of migration.
It is a shared problem. Africans must ask themselves why there is this chaos with people continuing to flee their homelands. Europe can’t be held responsible for that.
But Europeans want to shape others in their own image. They constantly whine that Africa is full of dictators. Which is a way of saying: “We are free, Europe is paradise, come!” That is how Europe has been inviting Africans. Up to today.
Some opposition leaders were recently released from prison in Rwanda. Is expanding democratic space a part of your development strategy?
I am not sure if people have the same thing in mind when they talk about democracy. And what do you mean by ‘opposition leaders’? One of them broke all kinds of rules when she applied to be a presidential candidate.
This story was then presented as if I wanted to prevent her from competing in the election. This woman had zero chance of winning even an election for mayor.
If you are so popular, repression should not be necessary.
What is democracy? Allowing wrongdoing to gain the upper hand? The other woman who was released had been convicted for collaborating with genocide perpetrators. In other countries she would have been executed.
So why was she released?
We have given clemency to many. Our own people take us to task when they see murderers on the streets. It gives us no pleasure to do this, but we want to have a common future in our country.
How fragile is the equilibrium in Rwanda? It was only 24 years ago that 800,000 people were massacred.
We are trying to heal society. Many relatives of victims find it hard to understand. We talk with them. Politics is not a game. It is about people’s lives.