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: We were talking yesterday about the storm of accusations that Rwanda has faced…

Kagame: Is this how you are going to run the world?

TIME: … and you have a summit on Tuesday and Wednesday in Kampala at which African leaders, the Great Lakes’ leaders, are going to discuss an African force to intervene in Congo and try to achieve peace where the U.N. has failed. Do you think you can succeed in Kampala?

Kagame: I am trying to figure out, with all this noise, where are we now? Is Congo any better off? Is anybody better off? Are we in a better situation than yesterday? All this misrepresentation… Are we any closer to dealing with the problem, any closer to a solution? Maybe we are actually worse off. Not Congo, not us, not the donors, not the internationals who make so much noise. I do not see anybody who benefits from this. Nobody.

And the problem of Rwanda, which for many years has been one of security, these murderers who live in Congo, this problem never features. We should not just be used to find solutions for other people’s problems when ours has been forgotten. So I am really taking a back seat in this. Rwanda is not going to be unhelpful. But we are not going to be forced to take the lead. If anybody though that accusations which falsely blackmail us was going to make us more useful, they got it wrong.

The idea of a regional force came up in Addis Ababa [at a previous International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in July] but then it’s a regional force to do what? Congo thinks it’s meant to help those opposed to them. Congo thinks the world owes them a solution, that someone will just come and provide a solution. They think it’s meant to monitor allegations of Rwandan support to the M23. And while that has never been the case, one would want to know why such a force would not be also monitoring support by the government for these genocidaires.

But in the end, this is just diversionary. A solution at the end of the day is political, not military. If the government of Congo is not going to do things to bring about a solution, and bring about some understanding, to what are very serious and legitimate grievances… I do not think you can shoot your way to a solution. They’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked. You have a whole army of tens of thousands collapsing because of a few hundred rebels. That tells the story.

My relationship with President Kabila has been gradually eroded by things that have happened in the last few weeks. Kabila is used to playing games and the international community entertains that and plays games with him. They tell you one thing and mean something else. We have been talking and trying to find a solution. At the same time, he was sending emissaries all over the world to abuse us. He says we can be part of the solution and at the same time he is making very serious allegations against us. The relationship has been affected.

TIME: How has the recent storm of controversy around you affected your family?

Kagame: We try to keep them out of it as much as we can. They don’t need to be part of it. They’re better off leaving the burden to us.

TIME: You’re a very close family.

Kagame: Sure. That’s what we want. We like it. It works very well for us. We are closer than even you have been able to see.

TIME: You met Jeanette in 1988. Is it her, and your family, from which you draw so much of your sense of purpose?

Kagame: I really find a lot of strength [from them]. My moments with my wife and my children have the highest value of any moment for me. I take some relaxation from it. It takes away any bad days I have had. It’s very refreshing. I can start all over again. It’s been that way right from the time we built our family, and it gets better every day. We go out together in town to restaurants, to meet friends. I try as much as possible to give them a normal life.

TIME: Are you working 24/7?

Kagame: It comes close to that. Either working or thinking. [But] it turns out to be some kind of fun, also. It’s like you cannot do otherwise so you try to enjoy it, try to find some life in dealing with complex issues. It just becomes a way of life. People look to you got a way out of this mess. And you enjoy that responsibility in the end. At certain times you do.

That’s what I am required by Rwandans to do for them. The good thing is Rwandans are very, very responsive to the needs of a situation. They play their part, I play mine and that’s how we manage to make good progress even under such pressure. In the outside world, a number of times I have met people who say: “The whole world has descended on Rwanda! The country is being torn apart!” And they find people here are still in one piece and they get surprised.

TIME: There are few greater contrasts in the world than crossing the border from Rwanda into Congo. In one, street lighting, smooth roads, law and order, development; walk a few feet and it’s unpaved and potholed, there’s rebels waving AK-47s around, there’s refugees, there’s no power and terrible poverty.

Kagame: And that contrast is taken is a negative. We are held responsible for this difference. No. Compare us with ourselves. Look at our history and see where we are now. That’s a better comparison than comparing us with Congo. The two are different and have different histories. For us, we are doing it for ourselves, not as compared with Congo or anybody else.

It should be the same in Congo. If you look at the size of wealth of Congo, the question is why should it be like that? Why does Congo look like that? It shouldn’t. [Comparing us] becomes the false basis for making a judgment against us. Some people try to explain the difference by saying Rwanda must be exploiting the wealth of Congo. Do they think that’s what lights our streets and puts up all these buildings in our city and builds our roads? That’s a very shallow way of thinking.

Maybe people who raise these issues should be asking themselves a simple question: why does Congo, that has this wealth, not thrive on it?

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