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: And your relationship with the M23 is what? You’re an interested party? You speak to everybody?

Kagame: Actually it is more in the minds of others. There is nothing like a relationship between us. It is in the minds of the Congolese and the minds of those associating with the Congolese against us. You see, some of these Congolese of Rwandese origin… There are blood relations. People having uncles, aunties. There is no way of policing it. I hear these stories of Afghanistan and Pakistan – it is blood relationships.

When we talk to Kinshasa government, we say: ‘You seem to be bent on wanting to resolve this militarily when this is actually a political problem.’ But in their minds, they were hell-bent on just saying, no, this is a military issue. They had units that had been trained by Belgians, South Africans – they really wanted to overrun. But they forgot: these are their own citizens, their own army. So when they insisted on wanting to solve it militarily, they failed miserably…

If we had not come to their [the Congolese] rescue, they [the CNDP] would have defeated them in 2009. In fact, you probably remember, they almost overran Goma. We thought, and the whole world thought, this is going to be catastrophic, with refugees and all kinds of people dying. [At that time] we really sent a very strong message to them. We said: ‘Look, we really have been trying to keep out of all this. But if you keep continuing to advance to Goma, we are going to step in on the side of government. And work with them to stop you. And actually fight you. Probably you don’t want us on the wrong side.’ And that stopped it.

This time, we stated right from the beginning: ‘We don’t have to come to that point. This is now a political issue that you need to solve politically.’ So when the government was defeated – and defeated by their own soldiers – they started saying: ‘Oh, these people, Rwanda…’ They were trying to find an explanation for this defeat. The whole army crumbling from within. They were saying: ‘No, we couldn’t have crumbled like this.’ They told the world it happened because a hidden hand came in with muscle and created this problem.’

How do you then say that it’s taking a superior force to defeat an enemy that is actually not fighting? It doesn’t take any force at all. The army is just not fighting. It is just running away. You cannot even say they have been defeated because they didn’t even try. People say: ‘Rwanda is supplying arms.’ No. We are not that generous to start supplying arms where they are not needed.

For this reason, we start calibrating our involvement. And pulling back. If anybody thought that by telling lies about us and trying to fix us, it was going to be an incentive for us to help, they got it terribly wrong. We will avoid doing the wrong thing in terms of taking sides in this conflict. There is no way anybody can force us, by saying: ‘You must help.’ We focus more on our problems. And if anybody crosses our border, they will find that we are not very kind.

TIME: Let me pick up on that, in a different context. You’re firm. Opposition groups, exiles make allegations that there are assassination teams wandering around trying to kill them, that when it comes to opposition, whether it’s expressed in journalism or politics, that Rwanda is a narrow space.

Kagame: We have a very narrow space for people who feel they are not accountable. If there anybody who thinks they are above the law, who thinks they are not accountable to the systems and the laws of this country, and if somebody thinks they can use any means for their political ends, they discover very quickly that this is not going to work. Some of things that happened here will never happen again.

Now, unfortunately, while I’m putting it this way, people build on it and say: ‘He is saying something else. It’s political space.’ But let me say this. If you look at all these people who are outside – all of them who are active, whether it is in South Africa, a couple in the US, and the others – there is not a single one who does not have a serious case, a charge here in Rwanda. In some cases, not even political, outright criminal. If we are going to have people out there claiming persecution of some kind but actually it is somebody running away from a case of, say, corruption, how does that become lack of political space? Nobody here who tried to have a different political view was punished for that.

This one in South Africa, [dissident General] Kayumba [Nyamwasa, former Rwandan army chief of staff, now living in self-imposed exile in South Africa, where two attempts have been made on his life] is saying in the press in South Africa, actually I was trying to make a coupe happen. If you have somebody out there saying ‘I wanted to carry out a coup,’ and later on he is shot, maybe he deserves it. Because a coup means he wanted to kill people here. You are really indicting yourself by saying ‘I wanted to kill people in order to make a change happen.’ It’s like you are really declaring war on a country.

Or take the former prosecutor-general [Gerald Gahima] who is in the United States. This fellow was involved in a gross case of corruption. He was a prosecutor general. He was in charge of an investigation of a bank that has serious issues and took money from the very bank he was investigating. The facts are there and in the end when he was found to have done that – and by his own admission, he used his mother’s name and stole millions – he did not even deny that… When this came out very clearly and he had just been appointed vice-president of the Supreme Court, we actually were obliged to fire him. He stayed a few days here and then escaped. And when he reached there, he says: ‘Oh, politics, RPF!’ It has nothing to do with lack of political space. It is lack of space for space for people to do corruption and I have no apologies for it.

When it come to other political activities, the Rwandan people have the verdict. When millions of Rwandans tell you something, there is no reason for you not to believe it. If they tell you: ‘We are happy with what we have and what we are doing, we are doing it freely…’

TIME: A much broader question. I sense in you that through your time in the RPF, then in government, you have become quite disappointed by … people.

Kagame: In a way, I expected things to be worse. I understood society very well from the beginning, I think, from long ago. That’s why I never get frustrated. Some of things that happen, however shocking, I expect them to be that way. I know people. I think I have understood this my whole life. Betrayals, lies, dishonesties.

TIME: That’s quite bleak.

Kagame: Society is like that. It’s not just here in Rwanda. People have asked me before this question of my life, before, as a soldier, as a commander, fighting battles, and my life in politics… and my simple answer is that the former, the soldier, the commander, these are extreme in a sense, they cause death, you can lose you life very easily. But on the other hand, things are predictable. They are clear-cut, you see? I tend to think this is easier to handle, to deal with, than politics, which has so many nuances, complexities, wrong turns. These are things that effect people beyond the borders. And things that if you get wrong, you can easily set the clock back. It’s very complex. You are dealing with the nitty gritty all the time, society, people, social, economic – their every way of life is effected by decisions you make, short, medium and long-term. It becomes more complex, more engaging, broader, it covers every part of life.

I think my think my kind of life has really prepared me for this. I was not meant to run away from problems. I just wanted to get up and move towards them. Not a problem at all.

These are for me more meaningful people than these people who write about human rights. I don’t think anybody in any human rights organization can claim to have contributed to human rights more than me. There is none. I have saved children, I have empowered women, I have actually fought repression and dictatorship and won over it and powered the people…. These people who talk about human rights, I don’t know what they mean. When I have enabled Rwandans to put food on the table and each can fend for themselves.

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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???