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: How have the talks gone?

Kagame: It was a good meeting. It was a really good meeting. That the region is taking its place and managing our affairs is important. People are taking responsibility for what they should at least in principle and concept. The practice [of this] is a different issue. Here the international community just parachutes in and meddles in things they do not understand. It should start with national responsibility and governance, then regional. What happens in Congo, good or bad, relates to the region. If it’s bad, it spills over; if it’s good, it benefits us.

We were trying to create that responsibility. That’s the major problem. It has been lacking from the beginning, from when we have had the U.N. force in Congo. What are the responsibilities of this force? What did they come to do? If they came to help the country to exercise its responsibility and resolve its problems, I have not seen it. What we have is precisely the absence of responsibility and governance. It’s dangerous, the way the international community behaves. They give a false message: as if they have come in to address all the issues and the government can sit back since there is someone seemingly higher to deal with their problems. And then the international community does damage.

TIME: How much appetite did you find from African leaders here to take charge of African affairs?

Kagame: We have not got quite to where we should be with those that should have responsibility in Congo. I am not sure the government of Congo is thinking like this. Their arguments are still about how the international force should come in to fight their enemies for them. But that does not solve the problem, it only postpones it.

What has come out has been to agree to set up a community of countries, represented by the ministries of defense – Uganda, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and the DRC. They have to make an on-the-ground assessment, come up with a report to clear state what needs to be done – whether to have an international force or not, and if it does go there, to do what? They will report in another two weeks; and in another two weeks after that, we will have another summit. On the humanitarian situation, there is a possibility of contributing money towards that.

The region is really taking back responsibility, and that’s the best way. We remain with one problem: having a government in Congo that is more responsible, and more responsive to our problems. They want the force to monitor what is coming from Rwanda, and not even what originates in Congo and affects Rwanda. And they want the force to fight the M23 for them. That is what they are really saying.

TIME: How do you think the international community will react?

Kagame: The international community is definitely going to react negatively. They already did that. They think this is their part. We say: ‘You have been there for 12 years or more and we are not seeing anything. The failure is self-evident and it’s an indictment.’

The international reaction – it’s really amazing. It’s like one bloc against the other. Have they all turned critics? It’s like Ken Roth on behalf of Western countries against Rwanda. It’s madness. It’s an attitude problem. There is always this assumption: ‘These people do not know human rights. They do not know what is good for them.’ What are human rights? Do human rights not mean something to me? Do I need somebody to educate me what my human rights are? Do I not know what it means to be free, to express yourself, to have justice, to be treated fairly? If all this is external to me, I have a serious problem. If Ken Roth is the one who feels everything for me, then he has taken away my rights. Is it not wrong to assume that we the leaders of our countries are simply violators of human rights, that we are just there to be violators of human rights? Where does it end? They think this is their territory, that they are the ones who are right and the ones who must shape things. They inflict harm too.

All my life, through the injustice that forced me into exile and to become a refugee, then another life in the liberation struggle, then another life as a government leader – for anybody to feel that they can equate all this with simply being a violator of human rights and this whole history just comes to zero, it doesn’t add up.

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