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.

[INTERVIEW RESUMES AT KAGAME’S OFFICE]

TIME: One of your innovations is to combine politics and military, to have a politicized army.

Kagame: We really tried to make the dividing line as thin as possible. In our struggle which, in a way mirrors some other struggles – like the one Fred [Rwigema] and I were involved in in Uganda; and also Ethiopia and Eritrea – it combines these two very well. It grows militarily from the masses, from ordinary civilians who from the beginning are part of the struggle. We always try to maintain this. This fighting capability we developed, we shared the lifeblood [with civilians]. One feeds the other.

Again, it’s really part of this whole philosophy of self-determination, being independent, making sure that the whole essence of the struggle is to make people more free, make them feel they participate in the decision-making, they share problems, they share solutions, they share the benefits together, all the time together. Happily it seems to have worked for us.

TIME: Can you see why people might say: ‘Here’s a political party that has a definite military edge. Here’s a political party with big interests in the economy. This looks like Stalinism.’ You’re saying there is a different, pragmatic explanation for this and people have never understood that.

Kagame: They have never understood. Much as we have tried to explain. That’s why sometimes the understanding of these things conflicts. And some of those who criticize, you find they do the same things in the West. I was asking how they raise money for their campaigns. Well, you find they have godfathers in business. Why wouldn’t any say: ‘But these parties are indebted to these individuals? Don’t they behind the scenes have to pay back? Is this any better?’

It all starts with people who think we have no right to be seen to be doing the right thing ourselves. It is like the world has decided to divide itself into two: the parts of the world that whatever they are doing is what is right and must set the pace for the rest of the world; and the rest of the world, which can only be doing the right thing if they are told what to do it by the other. But then this contradiction comes in. When you do similar things to others, for some reason they say: ‘No, no, no, you can’t be doing that.’ It’s as if it’s only for them.

TIME: You’re saying you came up with something new. You worked out what you thought was the best system for the country and the best way to achieve it – and it didn’t fit anything that came before. In fact, it deliberately drew on Rwandan culture and was specific to this place – and people who come here and try to spot another system are going to misunderstand it.

Kagame: Absolutely. We are sticking to what works for us. Sometimes we get caught up in some double-standards and hypocrisy. Some people will just criticize, even if what they are criticizing mirrors something they are doing themselves. They don’t want you to do it. They say it is not for you. Or they think it is not for you to be able to do it unless you have first had clearance from them. We have been very, very careful, building on our cultures and traditions, and also modernizing them.

We are also very, very conscious of the fact that we are not an island, and very conscious of these universal values and feelings.

But the fact that we are firm on insisting on what we are convinced is right for us causes a lot of discomfort for many. There are people who don’t expect us to argue, to present our case, to even try to convince. ‘We don’t expect this from you.’ It’s like: ‘We expect this and when we tell you this, that’s what you must be doing without any question.’ But if you are really talking about freedoms and values to uphold, then why don’t you listen to my viewpoint as well, why don’t you allow me to also express myself, why do you want to cut me short, why do you want to silence me?

TIME: Human Rights Watch characterizes you as a regime that’s intolerant of dissent. You are saying they are intolerant of your freedom to have an opinion.

Kagame: Absolutely. If you want to make me keep quiet, if you want to silence me and you want me to swallow what you are telling me and not listen, then you are exactly committing the same offense you are accusing me of. They say: ‘Rwanda continues to deny this and this. They should accept it.’ We should accept it because they are the ones saying it. In the end, they really indict themselves.

TIME: Can we go very specifically into the situation in Congo and the M23? How would you characterize your relationship with actors on the ground?

Kagame: Our story starts with 1990 when our struggle started, and then in 1994, when we had the genocide and refugees running to Congo. So that period, when Mobutu came in and helped [the genocidaires], from that time Rwanda found itself swallowed into this big mess of Congo. And then you have the history of the international community and how they messed up and meddled and did all kinds of things. They were feeding genocidaires, giving them help and food in camps that were militarized. They were calling them refugee camps and you would find anti-aircraft guns and APCs and all kinds of weaponry in the refugee camps. And the world wants to tell you these are refugees.

This is not something that people need to analyze or think hard about. But they try to convince people otherwise or even ignore. One failure was adding to another. This constant here for us, which always dragged us into this, was relating to this genocide history and the threat that is always there, one way or another, from these genocidaires. Whatever we have done, has been this. Either working with the government to try to deal with this, trying to deal with it ourselves when nobody is listening, the international community coming in and blaming Rwanda for everything – the whole history of Congo.

But of course there is this other angle. There are these Congolese of Rwandese origin. The way it plays out is very complex. I think even under Mobutu they have always been seen as kind of secondary citizens in that country. It’s like they really belong to Rwanda, they don’t belong there. So to an extent, the problem is attributed to us.

And really this messy international system has been part of it. You know, we gather a lot of intelligence on the ground in Congo. And until recently some of these people – in the media, the NGOs – were discussing among themselves and they were saying: ‘We really want to fix Rwanda. But we have failed. We have been failed by Congo. We are helping people who are incapable. We tried to fix Rwanda and do it for the benefit of Congo, but these Congolese they are useless, they run away, they can’t fight.’ Now they are trying to fight it and have another day with us again. It’s no longer the suffering of the people in Congo. It’s just this mess.

We try to manage it by drawing certain lines. Things happen the way they happen but there is a bottom line. There things for our own security, our own existence, we will not have. [In the late 1990s] when certain red lines were crossed, we had to take the bull by its horns, and in a very costly way, in a very, very costly way, with the whole world descending on us. We did what we needed to do and short of doing that, we would not be there today.

TIME: Because the allegations are so persistent, I do need you to state for me in your own words exactly what Rwanda’s actions are in Congo.

Kagame: This situation we are dealing with, we never thought we would have to come back it. We had created a good relationship with the Kinshasa government and, to an extent, succeeded. To a point that they had accepted our forces to go into Congo and work with their forces to eliminate this threat for us that has always been there. That the U.N. and others have forgotten all about, though their presence their today is premised on that.

So this was a very good relationship. This is why we’re really upset, to the point of being seriously offended. Things changed in a matter of days, maybe weeks, but really a very short time. All of a sudden some kind of wedge is being driven between the two countries. [What was a] security problem has grown in other dimensions. It is now political, diplomatic, it keeps feeding into these human rights groups, then the media.

We are trying to stay the course and say: ‘For us the problem has always been that nobody is going to come and sort out this problem. We only have to sort it out ourselves, and especially by working with the Congolese.’ Because we have gone back to almost where we started from. These [genocidaire] groups are now part and parcel of government forces. Yesterday we were hunting them down together, now they are back to the Congolese side. It’s so confusing, it keeps changing. But for us, we stay the course and say: ‘Our problem is this.’ We will work with the government to eliminate this problem. If something good happens for Congo, in the end we also benefit because Congo becomes more responsive to our problems and we work together and so on. But it takes two to tango. You may have the best intentions, you may have certain capacities to deal with issues but if there are issues you share with others people, it is just a 50-50 thing. There is no way you can do 100%.

Take this man, General Nkunda. We took on the burden. And you know, when we held him here, normally human rights groups would be very hard at us. ‘You are violating somebody’s rights, you are holding him.’ But they are quiet. Actually, they are happy. So they are sectarian themselves, in a sense.

[But our actions] can contribute to a bigger problem. By doing what we did, we allowed some sense of stability in eastern Congo and for government to build on from there – which they didn’t do, unfortunately. And they thought this was the way to solve their problems. Before we are done with this case [Nkunda], they want to bring another one [Ntaganda]. And maybe a third. It goes on like this. In the end, we turn out to be a prison for these Congolese which are not wanted by their own government. Why these so-called human rights groups don’t see that as a problem? It just indicts them.

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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???