Turning Rwanda into a self reliant economy remains Kagame’s dream

President Paul Kagame on Sunday appeared on CNN’s GPS talkshow hosted by Fareed Zakaria where he talked about a number of issues related to Rwanda’s achievements over the past 15 years.
President Paul Kagame
President Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame on Sunday appeared on CNN’s GPS talkshow hosted by Fareed Zakaria where he talked about a number of issues related to Rwanda’s achievements over the past 15 years.

The interview also touched on Rwanda’s leadership path that seems to take a different direction from that known of most African nations.

The New Times EDMUND KAGIRE followed the interview, below are the excerpts.

Fareed: Mr President, thank you very much for joining us. Many people look at what’s happening in Rwanda as a miracle, 15 years ago you had this extraordinary, horrific genocide and now Rwanda is one of the most stable African economies but what am most struck by is that you have done this with a very strange kind of process, why is important not to punish the killers?

Kagame: First of all we realised there are many killers. There were hundreds of thousands because the genocide that took place in our country involved a huge percentage of our population both in terms of those who were killed and those who killed them and if you went technically to try each one of them as the law may suggest, then you would lose out on rebuilding a nation and bringing people back together.

That’s why we had to say lets categorise responsibilities, let’s look at the masterminds of this genocide, people who were behind it, the architects, the leaders, I think these bare the biggest responsibility. So those ones we had to take them to the ordinary courts of law. But there was this big number of people in rural areas who killed too.

People really thought justice had to be done and it could be done in a sense of saying if you got involved in anyway, contributing to loss of life directly or indirectly, you need to be tried, you need to be sent to jail and that’s how it started.

We had about 130.000 people in prison, and there were many more outside that we couldn’t find jail for, who had this responsibility as well.

Then we started thinking and said no, we must get out of this problem. We can’t get stuck with this problem, we have to move on. We have to build our future; we can’t just get stuck in problems created by our past and by our history.

We have to find a formula to get out of this but at the same time create an opening for people to live a new life, so to speak giving them a chance to understand that this was wrong and there is a future for them and the country in which they should participate. That’s how really we modelled it.

Fareed: But now you are a leader who happens to be Tutsi, the Tutsis were the victims of the genocide; do you not have important segments of your community who say how can you do this? How can you make these people pay no price?

Kagame: Absolutely that’s the point, it happened. People who have been victims, there others who are perpetrators and in the process of justice, you want to bring them back together, work together and make them accept each other and value one another.

So to speak there is a conflict here and you have to manage but it is so complex and the only way we could get out of this was in such processes like Gacaca and people would really come out especially the perpetrators and feel remorse and apologise and confess or even give information that people didn’t have, like what happened and who was involved and to what extent, and then on that basis people would forgive.

Even people sitting there in the courts after hearing the testimonies given by various people would decide to forgive.

Fareed: But this process is still very fragile because you know that these people (the killers) are now back in these villages living amongst people whose relatives they killed and there is favourable biography of yours (A thousand hills by Steven Kinzer) even there Steven Kinzer says you get the feeling that these people (the killers) are mouthing platitudes about reconciliation but they don’t really believe it.

There is another writer Philip Gourevitch of The New York Times who writes about asking this guy who killed about 6 people whether he enjoyed killing these people and he says ‘Yes I enjoyed it’ and he is back living with those people.

Is this (reconciliation) being held together but very fragile bonds?

Kagame: I think there are many more cases of people who regret what they did. These ones must also be heard and infact they contribute a lot also to this future am talking about.

There are many more cases of people who come forward and repent and feel remorse and it’s like even psychologically they have been affected.

They are really at a loss as to how to lead their lives. We are also trying to manage that kind of situation and probably there are many more people in that category than even those who find nothing wrong in what they did.

So there is a balancing act to do here but we are still better off with this situation than either doing nothing or pursuing other alternatives.

Fareed: When you look at what a lot of other countries do, for example in Iraq one community came to power and felt that it had been prosecuted by the other, a lot of vengeance and all that, you look at the Balkans, much retribution. Do you feel like those are not the best that will work?

Kagame: I think facts on the ground will speak for themselves but in most cases if you pursue things like that you will not end up with good results at least that is a lesson we have learnt from our own situation.

I don’t know whether it works for other situations but I can speak from my own situation. It has worked.

It has worked better than anything else I could have thought of. Even today we don’t see people giving us the alternative. We have heard people criticise all this we are doing that has made sense for us, it has given us good results but we haven’t heard from them alternatives that we should have pursued.

Fareed: You don’t like the International Criminal Court indictment of Bashir in Sudan, Many people look at that and say this is the height of hypocrisy, here is a man who desperately sought international assistance against the genocide and when the government in Sudan seems to be perpetrating something that can in some ways be seen as similar, you are standing on the sidelines and you are saying you criticize the process?

Kagame: Precisely I criticise the process because I understand better, probably than anyone of these people how international justice is flawed.

First of all Rwanda has 3200 in Darfur. We were the first country in the world to respond to the Darfur call almost when every country in the world was not willing to come in, and even when we were there we are not being supported or used properly to help the people of Darfur because of the politics being played between AU, UN and different countries.

I have been arguing for fair international justice not selective justice, that is my point.

I welcome indictments of these people who are guilty and who ever indicts them. Whether countries doing it on their own or international institutions, they must be indicted, that’s what it must be. My point is we cannot carryout selective justice.

Fareed: This is the argument which many of these people who didn’t want to get involved in Rwanda gave, saying that these problems are all over the world, we can’t selectively get involved in one place.

The fact that you cannot have universal justice still does not argue that wane cases of where there is real guilt as that of Bashir and the Government of Sudan, you cannot focus on them and by doing that you are eluding the moral authority you have?

Kagame: But my point is, the moment you encourage selective justice you are doing more damage than you actually know you are doing, and I drew the distinction like I said in the case of Darfur I have told you what Rwanda did, so we cannot be accused of even being insensitive at all.

Fareed: But it’s not even very effective without real pressure on the government because at the end of the day there only so much what these peacekeepers can do as you know?

Kagame: Well it is even not effective when these peacekeepers are actually not supported (laughs) to be effective.

Fareed: Now as you rebuild your nation, you are about to embark on a path that will turn Rwanda into an economic role model, self reliant economy based on entrepreneurship and you have sided with the book of Dambisa Moyo who has actually featured on this programme, which talks about cutting aid to Africa.

Do you think you be able to achieve zero aid within your presidency which has another 8 years to come?

Kagame: I think this is where the point lies; the emphasis is not on giving it a time limit as such. I think we still have time talking about the principles, the processes that must be carried out.

I whish I could do it sooner, I wish I could realise it in my term of office but maybe it will come after, but I have to make sure that in my term of office the process is on and is effectively on, so that the one that comes after me may finish the job.

That’s it. Aid is about supporting socio and economic transformation of the people and in supporting them; aid must do those things that will eventually see people wind-off aid dependency. That’s when you can say aid has worked.

Fareed: So the plan is to get people completely off aid?

Kagame: Absolutely

Fareed: But you know a lot of people will listen to this and say, but Africa is different. Why is Africa so screwed up in the minds of many people?

Kagame: (laughs)….. It’s absolutely screwed up.

Fareed: So much poverty, so many wars, so much corruption, so many corrupt leaders who loot their countries rather than building them up. Many people point to you as an exception but you are a lonely exception, there are not so many like you?

Kagame: I think there has been a bad start for Africa for many reasons. Some of them historical, people talk about colonialism and so on and so forth and I like what President Obama has been saying like in Ghana.

People should not just talk about that as if it the only explanation of our failures on our continent but that one has to be factored in as part of it but we shouldn’t dwell on that.

We should now shift to our own selves and what we need to be doing indeed to get Africa out of this situation. The process is on and I think in many parts of Africa today you will realise that the progress made, if you look at the past couple of years before the current Global Economic Crisis, Africa was growing at about an average of 5 to 6 percent per annum, now that is expected to decrease.

Fareed: Some of that is from the high prices of commodities of commodities which Africa has in abundance?

Kagame: Absolutely, which means there is also more work to be done.

Fareed: You are now somebody who the Americans really love and you have great relations with CEO’s, the American government wants to give you a lot of aid but then I read that you have a new building complex for your foreign Ministry which was entirely built and paid for by the government of China as a gift.

Is China’s influence growing rapidly in Africa and should we worry about this in the United States and the West?

Kagame: (laughs)…I think China’s influence is growing globally. America itself is hand-in-glove with China and is rushing there for business, that’s why the whole of Europe is rushing there for business. The whole world is embracing China for business.

Fareed: But are there any strings attached when the Chinese build your foreign ministry? It seems very symbolic; it seems to suggest that they want to control your foreign policy

Kagame: Why should there be any strings attached? No. If they control our foreign policy, that will be another problem. If they have control over our foreign policy it will not be their problem, it will be our problem and it will be our failure.

You just said a while ago that we are friends with Americans and others, fine, but are the Americans controlling our foreign policy? The answer is no.

May be it happens in other cases but in our case we do not want anybody to control us, nobody owns us. We have a right to conduct business that is in the interest of Rwanda and those we want to conduct it with regardless of where they come from.

So when China offers something like that, we will take it. It has nothing to do with controlling us.

Fareed: You have a lot of faith in your people, you talk about self reliance, building them up as entrepreneurs but you don’t give them much political space. Let me read to you what The Economist Magazine “Kagame allows less political space at home like Robert Mugabe does in Zimbabwe, he maybe planning to get Rwanda out of poverty but his prime goal is to maintain his Tutsi Government in power.

Anyone who poses the slightest political threat to the regime is dealt with ruthlessly.

Kagame: People today talk about Rwanda as if it is Rwanda of 15 years ago. Some people want to paint Rwanda as if nothing positive has happened. But really the political rights are there to speak for themselves; we have built institutions from nothing.

We have a judiciary that has been built with contributions from the best judges and lawyers from the US and Europe. They have helped build our Judiciary.

We have trained lawyers. I don’t need an economist to come and tell me whatever he wants and rubbish everything and say nothing is working.

The freedom of press they are talking about, the issue is not freedom, that’s why CNN, BBC or others will come, and work there do whatever, turn things upside down as they want and leave. So how can we say there is no freedom of press?

But the problem is in Rwanda itself, institutionally, yes, we started from a very low base on everything including the press in Rwanda and actual practitioners. We don’t have them.

The Press is not vibrant in itself and they call it oppression, that’s not true. There is lack of capacity they should recognise.

Maybe they should be doing a good job of trying to build this capacity so that we see more vibrancy in the media and in the press.

Fareed: Do you guarantee that at the end of your second term, am assuming here that you will be re-elected because you won your first election by 95 percent, slightly a strange statistic to people in the West, but assuming  that you win elections next  year, do you guarantee that you will leave after two terms?

Kagame: Yes, but strange why? This is again hypocrisy.

Fareed: The only people who tend to get 90 Percent tend to be out of dictators who come through flawed polls?

Kagame: But we saw in France not so long ago, the President won by 88 Percent. 88 Percent was very high, that was under Chirac.

Fareed: But you know this was in the Second round and…

Kagame: (interrupts) was it strange?

Fareed: In the first round he never got that and then he was up against a weaker competitor.

Kagame: So…? If you up against a weak competitor…you mean only weak competitors appear in Europe and not in Africa (laughs)?

Fareed: Are you going to tell me that you won’t remain in office for longer than the two constitutional terms?

Kagame: I think the constitution is not there by accident, its there for a purpose and am there to serve that purpose so I respect our constitution.

In fact maybe I would also like to leave a gift with my people because most of the things are happening today and that’s the legacy I want to leave behind, where people can leave power and pass it over to other people to run and lead the country and it happens in a stable environment, so that it becomes a culture and norm, probably that what should be able to contribute.

Fareed: Thank you very much President Kagame, it’s been a pleasure hosting you.

Kagame: Thank you.


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