Q&A: Rwandan President Paul Kagame

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Dominic Nahr / Magnum for TIME

President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame arrives in Uganda to take part in the a Great Lakes summit in Entebbe, Uganda, Aug. 15, 2012.

TIME: Most NGOs absolutely concur with the right to self-determination. They talk about it all the time. In theory, you and they agree. What happens is that that kind of discussion is naturally quite heated, quite emotional.

Kagame: Yes it’s emotional, it becomes personal. But I just don’t understand how the rest of the world also gets deceived. And I want to say: we are not going to abandon these years of self-determination or self-respect, of survival and living for our people and our country just because there are people who are getting personal. It will come and go. It won’t stop our way of life. If anybody is questioning our determination to stay the course… This is about overcoming our past, having a decent living for our people. It’s an issue of our rights. [After all] what’s the alternative? People who have given up and surrendered and accept being treated the way they are treated – the way people want to treat us – what have they gained from it? We are better off.

TIME: A lot of people ask: “Why react like that?” After all, Human Right Watch does reports on every government in the world and plenty ignore it.

Kagame: These powerful countries can ignore it and get away with it. Nobody threatens them. But for us it is a different situation. They are building on our weak position as Rwanda or as Africa. The issue of aid comes in. We need to explain ourselves, otherwise we end up in very had shape. I’m not saying that if asomebody is doing something wrong, they should not write about it. But if you are seen to be selective and pursue an objective rather than deal with human rights violations, then it will shatter your credibility. People will think you’re not serious. This woman at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, [Navi] Pillay, says: “These M23 are dangerous people. These leaders, they recruit children…” But the FARDC [Congolese army] kill children. They are among the worst abusers. But everyone keeps quiet about it. [And what about these] people [the M23] with legitimate grievances who stand up to their own murderous government, a government which is killing their own people. This is an imbalance in the system.

TIME: I know you realize that if you didn’t react, there would less headlines. But you’re making a point here, right?

Kagame: It is a question of principle. If you keep writing about me in the papers that this is a violator of human rights, and the story of my country and my people is totally different—and it is repeated by people – then it is a question of the right of response.

But it’s not just about principle. This narrative ends up at the UN, even with action taken on it. It turns into a fact and some kind of actionable thing. This has consequences. And I should keep quiet? No. It doesn’t make sense.

TIME: I have a theory: the institutions and structures of world opinion and the international community are set up for an Africa of disaster, of famine, of wars. It’s about peacekeeping, it’s about saving babies, it’s about pointing out where governments are failing. And I wonder whether those structures are poorly adjusted to dealing with a country that demands respect and sovereignty and the choice to tell its own story?

Kagame: You are really putting it in the right way. This is the matter. Look at aid. We agree that it is about helping people to stand on their own. But at the same time [it works out that] they actually they fail to stand on their own. They are dependent.

So you have two tracks. [The international community] talk about self-determination. Human Rights Watch says we are all on the same page. But at the same time it is very clear that you are also creating a situation that undermines all of that. That is what Rwanda is facing. Should Rwanda accept it and say this is the way the international community works and we remain where we are? We say: “No. We have a respect for the international system. But we also have our own self-respect.

Time has already shown the results. You know this place. You know where we have come from. We are making good progress. Even the poorest of the poor will tell you we are in a different place than we were yesterday. From $1 a day we are now $3 or 4 or 5 or 6. And this has happened under this kind of pressure, this jostling between self-determination versus the international system, which says: “There are some people who should stay where they are and we are the only ones who can determine how and why they get out of this.” It’s a struggle every day.

TIME: Are you more able to confront the West as the world becomes less unipolar?

Kagame: Oh yes, absolutely. This old way of doing things is weakening. There are more countries, more people, who are seeing it the way we describe it. And even getting more angry about it and wanting really to challenge. What we are doing, we are not doing it alone. It’s a common thing that’s spreading, particularly among the ordinary people of Africa, civil society and business leaders. They think we are being treated unfairly, we are getting a raw deal, we need to be better than this, we need to be seen to be better and more capable.

I also think we are seeing more centers of strength, political, economic or otherwise. It’s not longer just unipolar, with one part of the world having everything and deciding everything for others. The ground is really being fairly and speedily leveled through innovation, entrepreneurship, technology – all these things are falling in the hands of many, globally. It’s no longer a monopoly of one part of the world.

TIME: One thing that accompanies that diversifying of power is the emergence of the idea that there are different ways to progress. Singapore or China or Turkey follow a different political system to classic Western democracy. Does that apply to you as well?

Kagame: Always it’s a matter of time and process, and an issue of where you start from. In our case, we started from a very low base on everything. We have got to take everything forward and we prefer doing that all together. We haven’t chosen socioeconomic transformation at the expense of democratic governance. We need to make progress on everything at the same time. People imagine that we emphasize one at the expense of the other. But it’s not true. In our case, most of the successes we have had in socioeconomic transformation would not have happened if it was not integrated with the democratic governance that built on people’s right and freedoms. Socioeconomic transformation cannot happen by coercing people to do it. People here tell you how much they are part of the development taking place, how much they are part and parcel of the decision-making, how much they have benefitted. I see no better way of achieving what we have achieved.

When there are reports from outside, there are two messages. That there is significant, good progress, on all fronts. Others see socioeconomic progress at the expense of freedoms. But where are the lack of freedoms? The Western model, whatever it is, I think they are talking about people. If we are doing what people are happy with and are part of, how can what is happening here be without freedom?

TIME: You do draw a line, on political freedom with people who might want to start another genocide, though.

Kagame: In any country, even if it is an advanced democracy, everything is contextual. What was happening in America 100 years is not what is happening there now. If you look at America today, some people have become disillusioned and skeptical. They say: “Phurr… politics! These leaders of ours.” They talk about “Washington.” Even the leaders from Washington are bashing Washington. Sometimes they don’t even want to cast their ballot.

In 2003 or 2010, [in our elections], our turnout was 96-97%. Why? The West says: “These fellows must be on the backs of people.” But can you imagine somebody in hospital begging and saying: “Please bring the ballot box here because I want to vote?” Somebody going to the polling station holding their IV drip because he has the urge to vote? By midday it was all done, 100%. How do you equate that with “Phurr… Go to vote? Why?” You cannot expect things to happen in the same way there as they happen here. It does not make sense, it has no logic. There are different stages. However, there are principles. If you are able to say that you are answering to the wishes of the people, is it the best thing for them at this time, then you have reason to believe: “Yes. This is how it should happen.”

TIME: What do you make of the aid cuts that have come in the wake of the Congo controversy?

Kagame: It’s mainly symbolic. And it’s not cuts, it’s suspension. People excitedly are writing all kinds of things and betraying their attitudes and wishes. They are celebrating, thinking Rwanda is now dead. “This should have happened long ago.” But the story I want to talk about is slightly different. How has all this happened?

It has happened on account of the Group of Experts’ report. But look at it. The Group of Experts wrote a report that is entirely one-sided. Most of it is the government of Congo, military leaders, government officials and different groups. They wrote a report condemning Rwanda and making Rwanda responsible for everything that went wrong there. The UN hurriedly put it out and Rwanda was crucified. The donors jumped on it. They pronounced the suspending [of aid] – really wanting to punish Rwanda for it.

At the end of it, when things cool down, we say: “Aren’t you being unfair? You hear from one side and then you shift the blame on the other side you have not even bothered to hear from. Is it right? If you really wanted to condemn Rwanda, at least try to disguise it. At least you must be seen to have been fair, trying to ask both sides. Why don’t you give us a hearing? You have already judged us and condemned us.” And they send their experts here but at a time when we have already been condemned and sentenced. What on earth is this? Why do you want to hear from me now, when everything that would have happened has actually happened? The full report is likely to come out in November. But I don’t see this Group of Experts changing what they wrote about us just because they heard from us. I think that what they are likely to do is to maintain that they were right. Because they cannot be seen to have made a mistake. The whole thing is just cosmetic. The whole international system is awash with so many blunders and errors.

This so-called free world of ours… When you see how these facts being ignored –we wonder which free world we live in. You, you want to dig out facts. But probably you might be the only one in a thousand.

TIME: The great joy and sad truth about covering Africa is that getting a scoop is really easy – because nobody’s out there. You’re actually catching Western journalism at quite a weak moment. There are cuts. There are not many people around. Most the stories you’re talking about are done from London or New York, without a single Rwandan quoted or any mention of the genocide.

Kagame: These people were coming to us, telling us we had to stop Bosco Ntaganda, posing as people who have values and want to defend human rights. And I ask: “Do you ever feel guilty or foolish that you come to me to talk about this recent problem of Ntaganda and keep quiet about these murderers of our own people in that same situation? These people are living there, raping there, killing Congolese people every day, killing children. You keep quiet. You have forgotten all about that. And you come to me, telling me to help?” This is just an insult, you know?

In Congo, if you look at the government, the President, his ministers, on the radio urging Congolese to kill these Tutsis. To some people it’s normal. Even to these people who are telling us about human rights. It’s normal because it’s Congolese and it’s normal because it’s against these Tutsis. In the end, those who say they are on the side of the victims have turned into perpetrators. It’s pathetic.

From our side of things, there are things we want to live for and are ready to die for. There are things we cannot deviate from. The issue of our rights. We have sunk to the lowest level, we can’t go lower. You cannot threaten us. There is no threat anywhere that can change our minds about how we should be and how we should fight for our rights. People can threaten this or that but we have had worse things. We will do what we feel and what we believe. We cannot be diverted. We have not offended anybody. We haven’t fought anybody’s interests or rights. It’s just about how we survive, how we live on. And nobody is going to do it for us. Nobody is going to do it for us.

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27 comments
Deo Koya Ntarugera
Deo Koya Ntarugera

When hell was let loose on Rwanda a couple of decades ago degenerating in what was termed a major genocide of the 20th century,  the UN and the international community stood by idly aiding and abetting a national government that had become utterly morally/politically bankrupt and irresponsible. Paul Kagame was then a young man in his mid thirties commanding a rebellion battling to stop a genocide unleashed by a government gone mad and an irresponsible UN amp; international community. A repeat of same has been happening in D R Congo where the national government has over the years been referring to their Tutsi folks as dirty vermin to be cleansed. The world has seen defenseless Congolese Tutsi men, women and children massively killed and on occasions burned alive in great numbers in Congo! These glaringly genocidal acts are still unfolding today, and the UN mission, so massively present in Congo, has never filed a report of a genocide in the making.  Apparently, in this world gone berserk and lawless, the Congolese M23 rebellion alone must shoulder the responsibility to stop genocide in Congo just  as the Rwandan RPF rebellion assumed responsibility to put a stop to genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Rwamugabo Frank
Rwamugabo Frank

Your Excellency, we are all indebted to you.

Very smart on body and in mind indeed.  I reckon Rwanda is a threat to all doom sayers and genocidaires. If it means tightening our boot straps to confront this world order of injustice, we are more than ready.

Mr. President, keep up the fight after all 11m plus people are the most beneficiaries and of course neighbors that benefit indirectly.

We will support you come what may, shine or rain.

Long live PK, Long live Rwanda and long live Rwandans.

Rwamugabo Frank
Rwamugabo Frank

Big up your Excellency.

I wish other African leaders could pick a leaf from him.

Let's just not lend our all ears to this hullabaloo that is raising dust and wants to push it to our door step

Rwanda will endure in peace because we came to know how international Community works.

Congo should take a bull by its horns otherwise, its reaches will be feasted on by those claiming to be their mouthpiece.

Long live our PK, long live Rwanda and long live Rwandans.

Long Meingfah
Long Meingfah

Keep flagging it and I will keep posting it... what is it? No room for intelligent discussion and argument?.... oh dear it feels just like we're in Rwanda... no freedom of expression...

Once again:

Alex Perry's Qamp;A reads like a press release from Kagame's well-oiled PR machine (Racepoint or BTP advisers couldn't have done better)... Kagame is never really challenged on anything attributed to him... and when an attempt is made to challenge him, it is a suspiciously superficial line of questioning... what a joke.

Mr. Perry as the icing on the cake you should've dedicated your piece to the following Journalists who have either been killed or disappeared in Kagame's Army State:

 Journalist Manasse Mugabo, journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, Reporter Dominique Makeli (who survived abduction in Kampala), Charles Ingabire (editor of Rwanda’s Inyenyeri news gunned down in Uganda), and Idriss Gasana Byiringiro (who was arrested probably these past few days while you were pampering or being pampered by Mr. Kagame.

Now you Kagame goosn go ahead and flag it, suppress it, just like it's done back home.  Show Time's audience how tolerant of dissident voices you really are.

Zaberra
Zaberra

If only there was more open-minded coverage of this kind in the media, the DRC would have far less pages to hide behind the fact that it refuses to take responsibility for its many failures. Not only that, but that it instigates the very conflicts that have cost far too many innocent lives.

How do you explain that a "sovereign" country endowed with such phenomenal natural resources fails to achieve any kind upwards trajectory in their development? Could it really be that a tiny neighboring country is sucking its lifeblood, ALL of it??Or could it just be that corrupt officials will never have to answer to their people, as long as the international community continuously provides a cover for the insane amount of illegitimate business deals taking place in Congolese government offices? 

How else could so many foreign investors be active and thrive in a war-torn country?

I wish the voices of those who suffer most from the ongoing senseless conflict could ask the tough questions in a very public way...

karamaga
karamaga

I find the interview complete rubbish. He is attacking, lamenting, incoherent, repetitive and incoherent. That is his real level. Rwandans are really unfortunate!!

karamaga
karamaga

I'm really disappointed with  President of Rwanda. It is so embarrassing when you read this interview and see how he responded to the questions, it is like primary school teacher who did not train properly. No wander Rwandans are suffering  under his rule . Rwandans deserve  better !!!! I find the interview complete rubbish. He is attacking, incoherent. That is shows his level.

Long Meingfah
Long Meingfah

Alex Perry's Qamp;A reads like a press release from Kagame's well-oiled PR machine... Kagame is never really challenged on anything attributed to him... and when an attempt is made to challenge him, it is a suspiciously superficial line of questioning... what a joke.

Long Meingfah
Long Meingfah

Alex Perry's Qamp;A reads like a press release from Kagame's well-oiled PR machine... Kagame is never really challenged on anything attributed to him... and when an attempt is made to challenge him, it is a suspiciously superficial line of questioning... what a joke.

Long Meingfah
Long Meingfah

Alex Perry's Qamp;A reads like a press release from Kagame's well-oiled PR machine... Kagame is never really challenged on anything attributed to him... and when an attempt is made to challenge him, it is a suspiciously superficial line of questioning... what a joke.

yasmine malika
yasmine malika

Truly refreshing interview that redefines the argument on

Africa’s place in the world and shows the kind of resistance experienced by

Africans who decide to do things differently from hypocritical international

systems that are themselves lost. President Kagame is right – no one has the

monopoly on solutions for Africa’s problems, least of all organisations like

Human Rights Watch or the UN which has failed spectacularly in the DRC with

MONUSCO, after messing up with tragic results in Rwanda in 1994. No one should dare undermine current regional efforts to find a solution for a regional problem that has lingered way too long.

Nkunda Rwanda
Nkunda Rwanda

Sounds like a crazy dictator on the loose. After reading this interview, I am convinced of one thing. Human rights in Rwanda (and the region) will only deteriorate. This man has no basic decency to admit his mistakes--and there are very many. His bloated ego, saintly pontification will continue to work as a stumbling block to peace amp; reconciliation. There is need for humility, I think.

And, as for military liberators turning into dictators and right's abusers, there are way too many accounts. Every human being given absolute power has the capacity to do evil. Ironically, he does not see any problem in a fascist arrangement. The former rebel army controls the state, the businesses... and this is, according to him, how the West functions. What a deluded leader!

Sekomo Jean-luc
Sekomo Jean-luc

 be serious man,where are u to help yr people?i can imagine hidding in europe doing what?garuka iwanyu and stop blaming other people because of yr failure

rurangwa janvier
rurangwa janvier

hate him or love him,we all agree Rwanda is better off  than any Rwanda before him

facts are there:

-less corrupt

-women power

-health for rwanda citizens

-educations

-infastructures

but all of these for me are less than self respect,determination that president Kagame has taught rwandese all over the world,AGACIRO my fellows africans means the reason you have been blessed with conscious,minds to decide what is best for you with whatever you have.enough of lectures from washington,Paris,london.Dignity

Long Meingfah
Long Meingfah

No we don't all agree... - and no... Rwanda is not less corrupt.  Police, Government officials, and the such are easly bribed like everywhere else... Corruptions is just as pervasive as elsewhere is just that those who are corrupt know how to hide from the outsiders.

- Women in numbers but with no voice.  It's a PR and Photo Op... just that.  Just look at Victoire Ingabire (as well as the women journalists who have been harassed and arrested) and one will realize how a woman with potential power will be treated in Kagame's Rwanda.

- Health, Education and Infrastructure works for those with money to pay for it... if you don't have money these services are substandards like everywhere else, unless of course is for PR or Photo Op purposes.

AGACIRO is just starting... whereas I doubt anyone will challenge Kagame on how the money will be used, I have a pretty good idea who, in the end, will benefit from such entreprise.

Joseph Karangwa
Joseph Karangwa

U buze icyo atuka inka aravuga ngo dore urucebe rwayo! Ntagitangaza kuba Long saying that because I think u're just wrong no clear research u've done! and then even Jesus turned back to heaven without convincing Abafarizayi! kuko he wasn't there to convince them but doing the will of his Father! then even our his lovely EXCELLENCY is not there to convince the enemies of RWANDA but doing his best for rwandes!

God bless Rwanda  and God bless all of u enemies of rwanda may u know in ur hear that u're in the wrong side!

blessings to U my EXCELLENCY! Pray 4r u all d time!   

yasmine malika
yasmine malika

Very telling that the one woman Long Meingfah mentions here is terrorism suspect Victoire Ingabire - why don't you tell us about her side-kick Joseph Ntwangundi, a self confessed genocider killer who murdered students at his school. Or Ingabire's mother, famous in Butamwa for killing pregnant women at the health centre where she worked during the genocide. We understand your angst - your are concerned about your illustrious friends.

Gahangwa Papicooler
Gahangwa Papicooler

 your brains are so short to make any sense !!! u shouldn't post anything in the first place ! yr name is opposite of  your thought !!

G
G

Well i don't know what you read and where you go it from but one things for sure that he metnioned was people with a mindset like yours... and I understand because what you want to think of Rwanda the region and the President himself is what you are talking about... Talking about Humulity I think that should Apply to you too how you use your words and and how you present your views. I wonder what Nkunda Rwanda means but from my point of view your name should never have anything to do with Rwanda becuase just like you said if given power you destroy the entire region.

Imenagitero
Imenagitero

Congratulations to TIME and Mr Perry! I wonder why other western media fail to make such an effort to get the other side of the story and feed us with a cocktail of lies about Congo- Rwanda.

I think Africa needs Presidents like Mr Kagame who works for their population (I just read that the children mortality in that country has been reduced drastically while the DR Congo takes the last place in the world in the matter). Keep up the good work Mr President, for sure, you'll get out of this mess strengthened! 

JJ Okonda
JJ Okonda

You can only congratulate the Time because he fails to ask some logical questions. you only have to come from Mars to ignore the implication of Rwandan government in Congo's soil. The government of Kagame is beneficiary of the war the in the Democratic Republic of Congo to boost his economy.  

"The Rwandan Government has constantly denied that Congolese resources are being plundered, but a letter from the National Bank of Rwanda sent to the author shows that Rwanda last year exported seven times more coltan than it produced. The same is true for diamonds and gold, and the author estimates that Rwandan forces last year earned at least US$ ¼ billion from the exploitation of Congolese minerals." This is the fact not the assertion!

Kagame is happy to see Congo in trouble for his self gain, but I assure you things are going to turn around for the people of Congo.  I wonder why Kagame is so supportive of M23.  Further more, you are talking about of Genocide in Rwanda but what about the 8,000,000 of people killed in the Eastern of Congo?  Kagame is in a hot sit, soon or later is going to pay it all.

Check the new link: http://www.reuters.com/article...

PHMUTMAN
PHMUTMAN

 Mr Okonda, Rwanda is not pillaging DR Congo. It is Kagame, and his clique who are pillaging nad perpatrating attrocities tantamount to covert genocide in Congo, as well as in Rwanda. The only people who are benefiting from that shame are  Tutsis mainly from Uganda and backers of Kagame's ethnocentric dictatorial regime. Even Tusi survivor of genocide are being impoverished, without saying horrible poverty hutus are surviving in due to ethnic impovershment policy of Kagame and RPF.

To Imenagitero, Rwanda is not experiencing any economic growth. If you are familiar with Rwanda poverty is raging. rwanda is under voodoo economic growth and reports are only sexed up. if Rwanda is economically growing, why Kagame refused to WB in 2010 to conduct independent investigation?

 Umukobwa
Umukobwa

this article really is a pleasant surprise - it is extremely rare to see a mainstream publication like TIME give an African leader space to express his views and share information that hasnt been confused or shaped by ppl with interests that arent very clear but certainly dont favour the ones being discussed. i have gotten alot from the perspectives shared in this inteview - a job well done i think, would like to see more of this!

but one thing - why the title "The Iron Man" in the print edition? i see nothing in the interview that justifies this headline???