INTERVIEW: Kagame believes the Kenyan violence can still be contained

The New Times’ EDWIN MUSONI was part of the team of journalists who interviewed Kagame and below are the excerpts.
President Kagame during an earlier interview. (File photo)
President Kagame during an earlier interview. (File photo)

The post-election violence in Kenya is threatening to spiral out of control and, protests have rocked the country over President Mwai Kibaki’s disputed re-election in the December 27 election. The violence has taken the lid off decades-old divisions between communities over land, wealth and power. The strife spurred by last month’s disputed elections in usually peaceful Kenya has rattled the entire region. With continental and international allies keen to find a rapid solution to the deadlock, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has come out with views on how the situation can be contained. The New Times’ EDWIN MUSONI was part of the team of journalists who interviewed Kagame and below are the excerpts.

Mr. President, what is your take on the current situation in the Kenya that has claimed close to 1000 lives in merely a few weeks and seems to be getting worse?

Well, it’s difficult for me to pass a judgment on things like that because I am not necessarily very conversant with the details especially as regards the origin of the problem. But what I can say in terms of judging the situation there will depend on what I see at least on televisions, read in the newspapers and hear from people.
There is a lot that you see and you tend to imagine that probably things are even worse than we are able to see as portrayed by the news media.
Judging from this alone, one might believe that there is a tragic situation taking place in Kenya, particularly if you consider the reported numbers being killed, how they are being killed and how, despite the efforts you’ve seen by different people from different parts of the world …the international community, African leaders or elders, and others of high a level of dignity and influence…who have been there and tried to mediate the two camps in order  to find a solution, instead the situation seems to be getting worse.
The chairman of the East African Community, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has been there and made effort. I understand he has made proposals on how the problem could be solved in respect of the grievances held by leaders or by different political parties in Kenya.
Despite all these efforts, the situation is not getting any better.
Even though people tend to think that some of the problems we are witnessing are basically caused by certain ethnic groups carrying out killings against other groups. From what I read, I don’t see it as one ethnic group under attack; it seems all of them are involved.
Some say that these problems have been there. What seems obvious is that the current situation has certainly been sparked off by what happened during the elections in Kenya.
There was no that kind of tense situation before elections even though people say that ethnic tensions have been there for long. Or may be there was, but it seems some issues were agreeable and so had not given rise to such a tragic situation as we are witnessing now.
That means that something must have happened during these elections in Kenya, which has sparked off the developments.
Therefore, that needs to be given attention. People may also want to pay attention to why these underlying ethnic tensions were there in the first place.
There are a number of things people have to look at, including the urgent aspect of this situation that has to be addressed – how the killings that are going on can be stopped.

Do you think that this is an ethnic issue or a political crisis that came up as a result of the highly disputed elections?

I really think it is a political situation that developed, but which manifests itself in form of ethnic violence. This is why I said a while ago that we did not have this before the elections.
Much as people might have said that there had been ethnic tensions for many years, Kenya had never had such killings in a manner that they are being carried out. It has only come after the elections that are being contested. The grievances have helped these underlying old tensions to simply surface as a form of expression. This is what it looks like. Therefore something has to be done and the first and main task is really lies with Kenyans.
It must be the Kenyans, with their leaders of different groups, from political parties to ethnic groups, to really come out and contain the situation.
Certainly, when Kenyans are being killed it has consequences beyond Kenya. It touches all of us and nobody wants to see that happening. But we have limitations on how much we can do or what we can do to deal with the situation. That is why I am talking of efforts which apparently don’t seem to be bearing fruit so far, even though they are still going on. I hope it does not happen like it did in our own case.
You know, it starts with five people being killed, then 10 people, then 50 people, then 100, then it is few hundreds, and then it is a thousand. By the time you realize, it has had a dimension that is wiping out entire villages and communities, getting out of hand and the whole political situation in a country is in a mess.
So, we need to attend to this as soon as possible and not allow it to go on, for the good of Kenyans and for the good of all of us in the region and beyond.
We need to support the ongoing efforts by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, working with former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa and others who are well placed to try and help by getting to understand the depth and details of the situation. But everybody’s worry is how long it is going to take to bring the situation under control, with all these many people losing their lives.
So really, back to the question, it is a serious political situation which tends to even deny anybody or leaders in that situation any sort of legitimacy. This is what it means, and relates back to what could be the underlying factors, relating as well to the whole electoral process.
All the same there has to be a solution in one way or the other for the sake of saving lives, especially of the innocent.

There have been many efforts of solving this problem that seems to be persisting. The AU chairman was there, Annan is in Kenya, Museveni was there also, and many others but still the crisis has continued. What do you think could be the missing links or the key to ending?

I think some of the proposals made by President Museveni indicate that examinations have to be made on what took place in the electoral process so that anybody claiming victory has it authenticated and validated by provable facts.
But the way things seem to be running out of hand, nobody is paying enough attention to the situation. Even the other courses of action that would be taken seem to have been left on the way side. No body is paying the required attention, yet all indicators suggest that this is a case of emergency, in which certain things have to be done urgently to stem the killings that are going on.
 There is no time available to anyone to go into the niceties and the debates and other things when the killings are still taking place.
If things continue like this and leaders don’t create a situation that stabilizes things on the ground, may be for the sake of saving lives some stable institution in Kenya should step in and initiate a fresh start. For the sake of Kenyans.

Looking at what is going on in Kenya, do you think Kenyans ought to learn a lesson from what happened here in Rwanda 14 years ago?

The whole world should have learnt a lesson from what happened in Rwanda and Kenyans being so close in terms of distance, they need to prevent that and they need to act so urgently to stop it. We wouldn’t wish that for Kenya or any other country
Kenyans should be on the forefront to deal with their problems and they should be the ones mainly doing what it takes to contain this situation.
It is very pathetic for everybody in the situation to sit back and watch. You have the parliament, there is the judiciary, there is the army and the police and they all start losing the whole essence of being there.
The best option at the moment is the dialogue that is taking place. Yet I want to look further and ask should it fail; what happens?  Are you going to have a situation simply getting out of control and spilling over in different forms to the whole region? Already it has done so in Uganda, Rwanda Eastern DRC and Burundi.
I am sure Tanzania also in some way is having a negative impact, and so we are all being affected.
So, can a situation degenerate to the point that all of us cannot do or say something to save or reverse the situation. Once it reaches that point, I think other workable options should be devised.

Don’t you think the leadership of the EAC should also be condemned for maintaining silence and failing to intervene timely in tabling a solution to the Kenyan violence?

On this issue, I would say yes and no. Yes in a sense that this has now taken a number of weeks because maybe there is nothing concrete that has been done by all of us to stop it.
On the other hand, I would say no because, as I mentioned earlier President Museveni, who is the chairman of EAC has communicated with different leaders in Kenya on the situation right from the time electoral results were announced until recently when he went there and gave some proposals. So the rest of us thought something was being done already.
 Apart from the chairman who was acting on behalf of the EAC, you have seen the chairman of AU, former Secretary General of the UN, former Tanzania President, different leaders in various capacities on our continent who are respected people have been there.
I think that tended to make people believe something was happening and they should give it time. But it did not exclude other options like different parties in Kenya using institutional means that are in place to resolve their grievances. So we thought all these were happening and that they would lead to a solution.
Very obviously today, looking back for the last few weeks, we are seeing more killings going on and that makes people wish that may be more efforts or something better had been done to prevent that from continuing.
In fact the EA ministers met and discussed this problem but the way things were discussed, it created an impression that things were being resolved by Kenyans themselves and they had no reason to doubt Kenyans, until we saw today that things are getting worse. 
So really, you may be right to blame whoever for that, like for me this is the first time I am talking about the situation in Kenya and this is because you sought me and asked me. But all along I’ve been thinking about it and what is happening there and what people can do about it and I have been finding difficulties about what people can do.
Some Kenyans came here to brief the government about the situation there but unfortunately I was not in the country.
Apparently the picture that came out seems not to be the case today. May be things have degenerated indeed.
And I think it would be really absurd that we would keep quiet…it is one thing to fail to do something tangible that would give you results, and it is another to do the simpler thing like speaking out and giving your views and see what would follow, like we are doing now. Probably this should have come earlier than it has, but again the reasons are what I have explained to you.
It is important also to give time and space and also allow efforts that are underway to see if they will work, but it is a process that we have to keep interested in and finding ways of contribution to.

How is this Kenyan crisis affecting the economy of Rwanda?

It is affecting the economy of Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and eastern Congo as I have already said. You know our imports and exports mainly go through that route. You can imagine if goods are stopped from moving; it has already manifested itself in the raised prices of petroleum products and thus hiked prices of other dependent commodities.  Think about transporters who commute the Mombassa route. You hear they have been held in some place or that their trucks have been destroyed. Tomorrow you will hear those drivers or other people doing business in or going through Kenya have been killed or targeted. It is a very difficult situation and this has a tendency to directly affect our economy, no doubt.

Do you think the current mess in Kenya paints an ugly picture on the future of democracy in Africa?

Democracy is a complex thing and in Africa some countries are getting it right, while others are having difficulties or others still getting it wrong all together.
It’s a struggle that continues on our continent. People have to keep struggling to achieve democracy. But of course it can also teach a lesson to all of us, mainly to the developed countries, who tend to always prescribe the standards and give their own formula as to how democracy should look and be practiced like in every situation or in our own countries.
I think democracy has an element that tends to be ignored always. It is the fact that democracy should always be tailored to suit specific conditions, historical or otherwise, in any given situation.
It doesn’t have a one-size-fit-all formula and really these people should be learning their lessons.
In principles that are universal, certainly that we all respect. But there are aspects which have to be tailored to situations of individual countries, depending on their histories, cultures and so on, without compromising or eroding the other universal principles I just mentioned.
The blend of these things is where the trick lies and is where people should not under estimate in terms of the consequences, if that blending is not tenable to a given situation, and there is no shortage of examples.
I think it forms a good intellectual debate and a good reflection and lessons for everybody, and so people have to look at what has happened in Kenya and may be Rwanda too.


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