"Our relations must not be polluted by the past"

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is not making an apology from Paris a prerequisite for establishment of new links. Following Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Kigali in February 2010, Paul Kagame arrived here Sunday to seal the reconciliation with France, which is accused by Rwanda of complicity in the 1994 genocide.
President Kagame was received by Sarkozy
President Kagame was received by Sarkozy

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is not making an apology from Paris a prerequisite for establishment of new links.

Following Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Kigali in February 2010, Paul Kagame arrived here Sunday to seal the reconciliation with France, which is accused by Rwanda of complicity in the 1994 genocide. This is the first visit by a Rwandan president since the killings, which resulted in around 800 000 deaths of Tutsis and opposition Hutus. The visit has ruffled feathers in France, where the military have never accepted the 2008 report of a Rwandan investigation which states that the French army was involved in the training of genocidaires and even accused its soldiers of having directly participated in the massacres. On the French side, arrest warrants were issued against Kagame’s colleagues, which led to three years of ruptured diplomatic relations between Paris and Kigali. In a long interview with Liberation, the Rwandan president stressed the need to turn the page.

Q: During your visit, you said you wanted to escape the weight of history. Does this mean that you have given up on an apology from Paris regarding the genocide?

A: We must not allow ourselves to be trapped by history but, rather, forge ahead. We must build a new bilateral relationship between the French and Rwandans. Everything else will flow from this ability to make new connections. Without creating this link, nothing will be possible.

Q: Can this, for example, lead to the establishment of a joint commission of historians to examine each one’s responsibilities?

A: This is exactly what we can do if we are able to first build the new relationship that I hope for. This commission would function as a platform. The past is the past, we cannot go back. In this new development, we are driven by pragmatism, without forgetting the past, but without rehashing it either.

Q: Why is it that, what is possible today between Paris and Kigali that wasn’t yesterday?

A: It takes two to move on. I am working with Nicolas Sarkozy who is as pragmatic and forward-looking as I am.

Q: What will happen to the Mucyo Report [the name of a Rwandan commission that incriminates French politicians and military officials for their alleged role in the genocide]?

A: It is not for me to say. Justice must do its job. At one point, this work was deemed necessary. Today we have entered a new phase.

Q: How do you explain that France, the country most involved in the Rwandan crisis, refuses to apologize, while the Belgians, Americans and the UN have done so?

A:  I will not comment on the attitude of France. What seems clear is that no one can force someone to apologize. It is not for me to get into such an undertaking, it would be a waste of time.

Q: An investigation by Judge Marc Trévidic is currently ongoing on who was responsible for the attack that claimed the life of President Habyarimana in April 1994, triggering the genocide. Are you worried about it?

A: I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the report. I notice that he came to Rwanda to document this case better, which seemed logical and necessary. We will comment when he has finished his investigations. But I would like to remind you that we ourselves have a justice system. We did not sit back and wait passively for a foreign magistrate to judge us and tell us the truth. As for those who fired the missiles and their methods, the facts speak for themselves.

Q: Your visit has evoked virulent reaction by certain French military officials and politicians...

A: I am aware of it, but it seems to me that there are more people in our countries who are interested in and who support the normalization of relations between France and Rwanda. We should not forget that reality.

Q: The head of French diplomacy, Alain Juppé, made sure not to be in Paris during your visit. Are you bothered by this?

A: Not at all. It is not him who invited me, but the President. Alain Juppé is not my counterpart.

Q: But his absence goes against the diplomatic norm...

A: Again, what matters to me is the future of our relations. They must not be polluted by the past.

Q: What form can this new cooperation between the French and Rwanda take?

A: France can invest in a range of sectors: energy, tourism, infrastructure... We need everyone to help us improve the lot of the population, which remains very poor.

Q: The cooperation you wish for, could it also be military?

A: Why not? Nothing should be ruled out; we shouldn’t limit ourselves a priori. France has a role to play, especially in the social and economic field, and even in the military and security sector.

Q: Are you worried about the security of your country?

A: Let me say that Rwanda is the safest country in the region and even beyond. But we remain very vigilant as regards what can happen in our neighbouring country, the DRC.

Q: You have criticized French intervention in Ivory Coast...

A: All interventions are not equal in terms of legitimacy. But outside interference results primarily from the inability of Africans to take charge and solve their own problems. The African Union will have to build the capacity to handle peacekeeping operations in Africa.

Q: France is said to have intervened in the context of responsibility to protect. What do you think of this concept?

A: As leader of a country that has suffered genocide, I can only support the concept. But at the same time, one cannot help but wonder why intervention happens in one place and not another. What are the criteria that determine the decision?

Q: Do you agree with the intervention in Libya?

A: There was a real risk of massacre in Benghazi. In this sense, it was necessary to intervene. But, in retrospect, we discover the hidden agenda of each of the players, the fact that they also defend their interests.

Q: Human rights organizations severely criticize the situation in Rwanda...

A: There is a lot of condescension on their part. They do not investigate in the field. They should just ask the Rwandans, listen to their voices, and they will see for themselves what it is about. The debates that cause a fuss in some circles abroad are at odds with the daily reality experienced in Rwanda. I would like to hear constructive debate based on today's realities, and not condemnation. The Rwanda of tomorrow that we are building gives the same opportunities to its people and supports the neediest. 

Q: The opposition figure Ingabire has been thrown in jail...

A: I find it difficult to understand all the fuss around this woman. As if she could be a threat to me. It is not the case. She herself acknowledged breaking the rules of our country. We have institutions; justice must do its work in all transparency.

Q: You got 93% of the vote in the last election. Where is the democracy in that?

A: But you ignore the particular context of our country! We are the product of a very specific history, marked by genocide. By voting for me, people choose security, economic development. They talk about lack of human rights. But over 90% of children attend school, and 92% of the population has health insurance. Is this not human rights? Voters are free to put blank ballots in the ballot box. But, obviously, they do not. In fact, some people abroad would like us to remain at a level below theirs. But we are developing. They have a negative bias against us. Moreover, Chirac won over 80% of the vote in the election of 2002...

Q: How do you explain increased criticism from traditional allies, the British and the Americans?

A: This must be weighed against the facts. The British are about to increase their aid. Americans know that we can account for the use of every dollar received. We welcome this support. But we haven’t asked for any favours. I hear that we look to France because “the Anglo-Saxons have turned their backs on us”. It's ridiculous. We do not beg.

Q: The United Nations has produced reports highly critical of your role in eastern Congo, accusing you of massive crimes and plundering the mineral resources.

A: As if the problems of the DRC were linked only to Rwanda. For decades violence has prevailed in the region. As we speak, atrocities are being committed against civilians. And we have absolutely nothing to do with that. We are interested in the stability of Congo, and we remain vigilant.

Q: Will we ever see a Hutu run your country?

A: And why not a white man? You, westerners, reduce everything to a tribal issue. Look, I was elected with over 90% of the vote. Rwandans vote according to political criteria. We must move beyond this tribal reading.

The original version was published in French in Liberation on September 14, 2011.



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