Nations across the world can do more to achieve peace if Western countries ceased to adopt a moral superiority approach and rather seek to understand Africa and other developing parts of the world, President Paul Kagame has said.
Kagame was Tuesday delivering a public lecture at the Coca Cola World Fund Lecture at Yale University in the United States, where he travelled for the ongoing 71st United Nations General Assembly.
The President said that, at the moment, there was growing pessimism about the international community’s ability to deal with peace and security related challenges, such as state collapse, extremism and forced migration.
This, he said, was largely due to moral and ideological confusion both within nations and in the mechanisms of international cooperation.
The world’s ability to deal with such incidences, Kagame said, depended on having a common vision, shared values and value based solidarity.
“Nothing done against the wishes and expectations of citizens is sustainable. Supporting the persistence of the outdated norm that some can decide on behalf of others is a source of tension in international affairs. It is not right and it doesn’t work,” the President said.
Kagame spoke out against the manner in which some international decisions were arrived at without the engagement and consultation of the concerned stakeholders. “The manner in which decisions of war are arrived at is truly chilling at times, as if real people don’t live in those places. It is better to work patiently to facilitate change in society and build new consensus, while containing negative effects, rather than engage in slash-and-burn democratization.”
“We can’t pour gasoline on volatile situations, light a match, and hope that the fire will cleanse and renew. Countries are not national parks and people are not trees,” he said.
Underscoring the importance to learn from past errors in judgment and analysis, the President said that it was unfortunate that there was little effort to correct the course which maintained the instability in the world’s affairs that posed a danger to everyone.
The state of affairs, especially in Africa, he said, has been worsened, to a large extent, by the “negative assumptions and negative perceptions widely shared across governments, media, and academia”.
“America and other major countries have the power to shape the world according to their designs. However, there is an additional power that comes from working respectfully with others and valuing the input and contributions of friends.
“When it comes to Africa especially there is a great deal of continuity with certain negative assumptions widely shared across governments, media, and academia, not only in this country but more generally.
Rwanda, for example, Kagame said, “has experienced many contradictions in its relations with counterparts. Perceptions often loom larger than facts, and continued engagement is conditioned on accepting erroneous perceptions as true, even when everyone involved agrees they are not”.
“This is not diplomacy; it is a demand for submission. But Rwanda did not survive by giving in. If provoked, we prefer to stand our ground and defend what we know to be correct, even if there is a price to be paid,” Kagame said.
This, he said, was not out of pride but rather belief in being straightforward.
“This is not just a reflex of pride. We just believe that being straightforward is the best course, especially among friends. After all, a willingness to obey is a poor predictor of reliability or virtue. Submission produces clients, but not partners,”
By undoing the culture of making up one’s mind about Africa by borrowing “assumptions, prejudices, and judgements”, the President said that the world can build strong relations to deal with peace and security issues among other challenges.
“For centuries, the West has preferred to relate to Africa and similar places from a position of moral superiority… But let’s agree that it reveals a stunning failure of moral imagination and human empathy, apparently so profoundly embedded that it requires no further justification, even as it implicitly guides both foreign policy and higher education.”
The responsibility to change status quo for the better, he said, partly lies on the young people who ought to resist easy superficiality.
This is possible by getting to know the world directly to have better understanding and remaining open to views and the aspirations of others and their contribution to peace efforts, Kagame noted.
“Get to know the world directly. Don’t just read an op-ed or sign an online petition and assume that that is the end of the story. To lead the world and make it better, you first have to understand it. Be as humble, as you are curious. Be contrarian where needed, and ready, where necessary, to fight for what is right,” the Head of State advised the students.
Coca Cola World Fund Lecture was established in 1992 by former Coca Cola CEO Roberto Goizeuta to support endeavours among specialists in international relations, international law and the management of international enterprises and organisations.
The lecture attracted over 400 students.
Previous editions of the Lecture have featured international figures such as Prince Moulay Hichem Ben Abdallah of Morocco, President Mary Robinson of Ireland, Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve bank of India and Mo Ibrahim.