President Paul Kagame has said that there is no contradiction between building a strong state and promoting democracy, adding that two are “mutually reinforcing”.
Kagame was speaking yesterday at the Second Tana Security Forum in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, which drew government officials, activists and researchers from across the continent and beyond.
The Forum started with a tribute to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, one of the brains behind the Forum, which was inaugurated last year in the presence of the late Ethiopian leader.
The Forum seeks to promote homegrown solutions to the problems facing Africans and designates peace and security as a collective “intellectual challenge”.
Kagame said “there can be no democracy without development”.
“The question has been raised about whether the emphasis on development and the role of the state in development is not done at the expense of democracy and people's rights… For those who share Meles’s approach to development, there cannot be any contradiction between the two,” a statement from the President’s office quotes him as saying.
The Head of State added: “Sustainable socio-economic development gives rise to greater democracy and political rights can best be exercised and enjoyed in a climate of growing prosperity and improved quality of life.”
He challenged those “who insist on defining what democracy should be for others, emphasing that what matters most are results.”
“Genuine democracy can never be equated to election cycles only. It has a lot to do with the engagement of ordinary citizens in making and implementing the choices that affect their lives,” he added.
Describing Meles as “a colleague, a pan-African, a friend and a source of inspiration for many”, Kagame said the late Ethiopian leader had the “ability to defy convention and prioritise results”.
“Meles Zenawi was a moderniser who dedicated his life to advance the socio-economic transformation of his country and the continent. He challenged and rejected conventional development models where they were not suitable.
“For doing what was right and being true to his vision, values and principles, he earned the wrath of some but more significantly the admiration of many.”
The President added: “Only a man of unusual courage, strong conviction, uncompromising integrity and selflessness could put the widespread criticism in its proper place and focus on meeting the needs of his people.”
President Kagame later joined a panel comprising Charles Abugre, the UN Millennium Campaign’s deputy director for Africa, Professor Akbar Noman of Columbia University, and the former chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Jean Ping.
The panel discussed various aspects of Meles’s vision of governance, economic development and his dedication to a self-reliant and self-sufficient Africa.
“Self-reliance is a mindset. It doesn't mean we don’t want to work with anybody. Talking about aid in the manner that emphasises the need to reduce dependency does not mean you don’t need it,” Kagame observed.
“It means you have an ambition, you have a goal and you want to work towards generating your own resources as much as you can. It is a legitimate goal and ambition by any nation and by any people.”
Former Nigerian president and chairman of the Tana Security Forum Olesegun Obasanjo said of Meles: “Ethiopia gave us history to be proud of. With Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has given us leadership that is exemplary.”
The first day of the two-day forum ended with discussions on the role of African nations in combating various forms of organised crime and remarks from former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Sudanese President Omar al Bashir.