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: Very few critiques of Rwanda’s actions in Congo fail to claim that Rwanda has large business interest in the east, including farms and mines. Is that true?

Kagame: I do not know and I really do not care. What right do other companies from China, America and wherever have to be in Congo that companies from Rwanda do not have? There are companies there from all over the world. We are probably the first country in the world to be accused of being guilty of having an economic interest somewhere. That’s common practice. How can we be guilty of that?

The relationship between Congo and Rwanda has been there since time immemorial. Why has it suddenly become strange? There is a lot that goes on between us. It’s not about trade or smuggling. It’s a blood relationship. To say this is all about Rwanda’s business interests is very simplistic. People who go to do business in Congo do not have to ask me, just as people who come from Congo do not have to ask me. They are saying Bosco Ntaganda has a house in Kigali. So what? I don’t know anything about that. But I do know that there are ministers in Kabila’s government who also have houses here. Congolese investment here because it is safe here. We have a lot of foreigners coming here and building houses. Maybe, if you looked carefully, you would find that Kabila himself has a house here. I don’t know. But I would not be bothered. We do not differentiate when it comes to money unless it is money that you killed people for or money that is questionable. But if you invest here, what’s the problem?

Who’s making such accusations? The same people. They say: “That’s how Rwanda earns a living. By being in Congo.” And all along this – mobilizing support for their side, raising money for their campaign – it’s actually an economic interest for them. It’s actually how they make a living. So I don’t even understand the meaning of the accusation.

You see, independence for us is in a very broad, including economic independence. The RPF has companies involved in businesses. It’s not something that started yesterday. It’s something that originated with the beginning of the struggle. We mobilized people, they made contributions towards the struggle, people would give us much as they had or could afford. We said: “We cannot just keep drawing money without making sure we do something to actually multiply this money, making it more dependable and sustainable.” In fact, when we took over in 1994, we ran the government here with money collected by the RPF. There was literally nothing here. That’s how we started created economic activities for the country and our companies improved themselves and made business. Many people have talked so much about the source of our wealth but for us it has that meaning. It may not make sense to some people but it makes a lot of sense to us. We have no apologies for it at all. We only have to make sure there is no mix-up [between] what belongs to the RPF and what belongs to the state, to avoid any conflict of interest. And all along what we did was for them to invest in certain areas where other people were shy to put their money so that we achieve another objective: to really stimulate and start another activity which should benefit the country

And if Rwanda’s interest really is economic, as people say, why not call Rwanda’s bluff? Deal with the security problem. Then Rwanda would have nothing to hide behind. Our problem in Congo for 18 years has been a security problem. You are saying we’re interested because of economics. Deal with the security so that it does not exist and then we can all see what crimes we are committing in our economic interests.

These are things that play into how the international system is built. It’s anything goes. It’s no longer justice, it’s no longer fair or has any level of honesty. It’s just the law of the jungle. I am not trying to say that things are clearly black or white, that the developed world is wrong and that the developing world is right. It doesn’t happen that way. Even with the grievances with how the situation is mismanaged and misdirected, even with all these people to blame, whether in human rights groups or governments or as individuals, I still think there are those who are really doing their best, who are adjusting very well to this new dynamic of wanting to see things differently. People are shifting and looking at things differently.

But there are others out there – bureaucrats – who do not want to step away from the old ways of thinking. It’s that attitude of looking at Africa as people who must get in shape and who must be punished when they try to deviate from what has been established as right. We still have many people who think like this. They are continuing with their way of being influential in terms of decision makers and making decisions. They put pressure on the Prime Ministers or secretaries of development to act against Rwanda, and in some cases it becomes effective.

We should not accept to be treated like this. And the best way to resist is not just saying ‘No’ but also to be doing what is right. That will defend you more than just making claims of sovereignty. We must govern and lead our people and do what is right. We have to put our house in order in order to claim our rightful place. We cannot just claim the place. We have to earn it. We do not expect anybody to hand anything to us, At least, I don’t. And then, over and above that, assert ourselves. If we do not fight corruption and govern well, we have no ground to stand and say: “Do not treat me like this.”

That’s why in Rwanda we can comfortably resist. Our people are with us. When you attack one, you attack us all. The rest of the world tries to create discord. They try to make claims and bring divisions among us along the lines of ethnicity. But they have failed. They do not know how far we have gone in our history. They try to bring the country to its knees but they have not succeeded. When people mistreat us, there has not been much success.

I take consolation from that. What you see happening in Rwanda, it’s part of our struggle and our ideology. Everyone in Rwanda shares the view of how we should lead our lives. With self-respect, and respecting others as well, and knowing that nothing comes easily. We fight these battles together. We are really together in this. I have played a part in this but it has developed its own dynamic, a life of its own – it can continue without me.

And with all these challenges, these injustices, I have found they tend to strengthen us rather than weaken us. Out there people are even angrier. People are saying: “What does the world want with us? Why don’t they leave us alone to live our lives?” So I think we are left stronger.

TIME: How significant are the aid cuts?

Kagame: There has been much excitement in the media. But it’s suspension of nothing, really. The Americans suspended $200,000. And the media blows it up and says: “America has turned against Rwanda.” There is jubilation. They wanted to give the world the impression. “We have got Rwanda where we wanted it.” But it’s not true. It’s $200,000 for one year. This is really silly. In fact, this is money that they owe us because for two sequential years they did not pay us. It’s really ridiculous.

TIME: When do you think Rwanda will be able to leave behind aid and move towards, as you see it, true independence?

Kagame: I can’t put a clear date on it. But looking at where we have come from, in another 10 years we should be close to that. We won’t have achieved it but I think we will be very close. As I said, we are stronger every day.

TIME: And that’s a core objective for you?

Kagame: Yes, it is. It not only makes people more independent, it actually puts them in a position where they are stronger in their beliefs, committed to them, and more advanced in things they demand of us. More democratic governance – it will be more entrenched. Prosperity will be more visible. People’s ability to really determine their destiny will become clearer. It’s very important. It’s not the life anybody deserves to live, a life that is controlled by somebody else or somewhere else.

TIME: Your experience of the struggle, you say, makes you stronger. But such an unprecedented struggle, it must have broken some people.

Kagame: Not so significantly. What I see is actually more determination. You go through rural areas and people say: ‘What is this I am hearing on the radio? What do these people want with us? Why don’t they leave us alone?’ It has this effect. I do not think it’s just me feeling like this. Even if it was, I try as much as possible to transmit it. And I have found a good reception.

If you look at Rwandan blogs, when these aid cuts were announced, they set up a fund to replace the aid. They use SMS to collect the money. We are perhaps running into a few million already. This is just self-generated by Rwandans across the world. It shows you, even if it does not promise much money, the idea is something interesting.

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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???