Boston, 27 February 2016

How are you!

Those of you, who have been here for many years, do you still speak Kinyarwanda? I want to speak in Kinyarwanda today; so those of you who understand the language please translate for those sitting close to you who don’t.

I would like to first start by greeting you and also convey warm greetings from fellow Rwandans, your relatives, parents and friends!

I thank you all for your time, for the long distances you have travelled and the cost incurred for you to attend this event. I thank you because you do all of this for the love of your country and have the good will to contribute to your country’s development through discussions, ideas and other ways. Sometimes people take it for granted, but you all know it is a unique thing that cannot be found everywhere, and it has great impact. I thank you for that.

Today I am just stopping by to greet you. We didn’t plan this to be a big event like the ones we usually have that are attended by thousands of people.  We have decided that whenever possible, whoever should be available, it’s good to find time to discuss so that we can go back home with their contributions and ideas, and that’s what we are doing now.

In fact, I came here for other reasons. I had a meeting in Houston, Texas and another one here in Boston. Yesterday it was like that. All this is in the endeavour to build our country.

Sometimes I see some of the people who are fond of wasting their precious time criticizing or shouting wherever I go. I am serving the country. I am representing the interest of the country and Rwandans especially. Those who live to criticise and distort things push me to go beyond their expectations. In fact, if they want, I can always give them my schedule to keep them informed so that they are not caught by surprise.  And still, if some of them want to meet, either for good reasons or bad ones, they will be received.

I think most of you want to know where Rwanda has come from, where it is now and where it’s headed, even though I know for sure that you always follow up on this. Rwanda has reached a good level of development and the future is promising. Even though the world is going through hard times now,  as you all know, still there are people who wish to be like Rwanda.

We don’t deny that we still have many challenges to resolve, and even if we have addressed some of them, we still have other huge ones to overcome. The process used to resolve those problems is what counts. We ensure the problem is identified, map out the solution and get people ready to face their challenges and find solutions instead of lamenting. That is our approach as Rwandans and that is what I would like to thank you for.

The world is currently facing great strains: unending wars, insecurity, economic crisis, falling fuel prices and terrorism where people kill others because of differences such as faith. In view of all this, I can repeat what I told you before: everyone should be grateful for being Rwandan, especially the Rwandan who strives to find solutions to challenges instead of lamenting.

And in our the region, known for unending conflicts for many years, starting  with Rwanda 22 years ago, even though it started well before that and moved from Rwanda to other places of the region, but it still didn’t stop Rwanda from its journey to reconstruction and development. Rwandans value working together with others in the region in order to find joint solutions for regional matters.

Regional Integration, in fact, the [East African Community] has five (5) member countries: Burundi, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and it has a population of over 150 million.

Integration is good. It helps address common challenges, to have one voice in the world. It also helps economically since it creates a wider market of one hundred fifty million people. That is a good and sustainable economy.

In addressing Rwanda’s challenges in particular, we aspire to contribute positively to the region while also getting benefits that are far beyond what we could get if we stayed on our own. By working together and helping each other, we are able to advance together as a region.

This is what happens normally, though you will find challenges here and there, but that happens everywhere. That is why regional integration cannot work, unless every member country fulfils its duties.  There is a Kinyarwanda saying that goes: “ijya kurisha ihera ku rugo” [meaning charity begins at home].  This means that for one country to benefit from regional integration, they first have to address their domestic issues so that they can gain from the integration but also be able to contribute so that all member countries can evolve together.

This is the reason why I always want to meet you, as Rwandans, to pay you a visit and discuss with you – wherever I am, whatever number you may be – so that you can clearly understand that Rwanda doesn’t belong only to the Rwandans who live inside the country. Rwanda is everywhere Rwandans are. We want your contribution, or just to offer you the support you might need from us, for you to achieve greater things. For instance, there are students who are here to pursue their studies. There are potential investors whose business ventures might be more successful if we have good foreign relations.

There are even a lot of provisions within different bilateral agreements on how a Rwandan in the US, for instance, should be treated or how an American investor is treated with dignity in Rwanda. For instance, I reckon one of the presentations made to you earlier today was about the reforms made in doing business environment in Rwanda which have made the country an attractive destination to investors.  By making these reforms, we aim at facilitating these free movements – in and out of the country – while we continue to make profits from it as a country.

There is however one thing you cannot acquire from abroad. We have it in ourselves and we always want to promote it. That is patriotism. By loving your country, you love yourself. This culture that is now engrained in us is not something you can import from outside. It is something that is developed by individuals and Rwandans in general. I want therefore to encourage you, while also thanking you for your efforts, to preserve this culture.

You are aware of most of these criticisms by some people – I will again use a Kinyarwanda saying : “ubuze icyo anegura inka aravuga ati dore igicebe cyayo” [people always find something to criticise, even when there is no clear fault.] That is how Rwanda is criticised. It is actually criticised for what it should have.  Rwanda’s outstanding achievements are the ones being criticised:

Unity: When Rwandans are united, identify themselves only as Rwandans and reject whatever could separate them considering how much they suffered from divisionism; this gets misinterpreted. When did unity become a bad thing? Only that people have missed it, which is causing troubles.  People are fighting, killing each other on a daily basis, just because of the lack of this understanding that despite differences, people need each other.  By complementing one another, everyone benefits instead of feeling that some are born superior to others. Everyone needs to be treated with dignity for who they are. Therefore, if people work together and accept each other while recognising that despite differences, they have also something in common, the whole country benefits and moves forward. This is a fact that everyone understands even though sometimes it fails when it comes to implementation.

I think that as Rwandans we have evolved with regard to this understanding that our differences, such as religious affiliation, origin, or any other difference, should not be a problem, and it certainly won’t be a problem as long as we keep this understanding that working together benefits everyone regardless of  who they are or where they come from. And all we want is to develop. We want to make a step forward. No one strives to move backward. Our past serves as a lesson from malpractices or bad things done to us, but these lessons help us move forward in all aspects of life, so that people can have the decent life they wish  for. This is what you see every day, wherever you are. I think, you envy the development you find in these countries, or it is simply amazing – for both those who live here and those of you who come from elsewhere. If it worked here, why wouldn’t it work in our country? Why can’t it happen at home? But people always have to make choices, choose what’s best for them, because every place has something good to offer. That is what we also want. We want to take what is positive back home and leave the negative behind so that the owners can deal with it themselves. We should therefore go home with what will edify us, what is useful.

For students who are here and for you who have jobs, the most important part is that you do everything thinking about your country, what can build your country and your lives, what can help your families. Those are our wishes for you and this is what we are constantly reminding you whenever we can.

I would like therefore to assure you that your country is moving in the right direction. When you are in the right direction you don’t stop, you want to improve and get better. It doesn’t mean the job is finished but you are required to work harder to sustain and develop the good that you have so far achieved. You don’t build a nice house and wish that it would crumble after two or three years only for you to build another one. No, that is not how it goes. Instead, you build carefully so that you can have a strong and durable house and put the construction project aside and focus on other things.

I would like to thank you and thank the friends of Rwanda present here. I see many friends of Rwanda and I have been told that there are many more others, beside those I already know and those who are present. I thank you very much. I have also been told that there are some people from our neighbouring countries who are present here. I would like to thank you and together we should work at solving our problems. Rwanda’s problems or the good things achieved by Rwanda are not meant to be kept by Rwanda alone, it is better to share them with others and collaborate with them in finding solutions to our challenges.

I would like to end my remarks here but then continue our discussion. I would like to give you time for you to make suggestions, ask questions and discuss whatever point you have. I wish you the best in whatever you are doing in your lives. I wish you all the best and I wish you a good life.

Thank you very much.


Interactive Session

MC: Thank you so much Your Excellency for these wonderful remarks and for sharing your words of wisdom with us again. We are encouraged to hear from you, again, the vision has not changed; it is going to be us Rwandans who are going to chart our own future. It is not going to be decided by anybody else but ourselves. With your permission, I would like for us to enter into an interactive session [with the audience]. Please try to be concise in your questions or suggestions so that we may share with others the little time that we have.

Ignace Nikuze (From Montreal-Canada): I would like to start by thanking His Excellency President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame for this opportunity you are giving to Rwandans so that we may meet again and review how far Rwanda has come in terms of development and what challenges we need to overcome in the future. Your Excellency  Mr President, if I may, considering the number of Rwandans living in Montreal and their commitment to their country’s development, would you please come and visit us for a Meet the President event like this one? We really need to meet with you as well.

President Kagame: Yes indeed, I accept. I promise you. It only delayed. I remember I had promised to come and indeed I wanted to come and at the last minute there were other issues that delayed it. It is not because I didn’t want to come but it was because I was too busy to make it. But I still owe you a visit and I shall come.

[From Burundi]: I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart the way you and your government helped Burundians who fled to Rwanda. We are very grateful. I know that there are many accusations against Rwanda but those who make those accusations are not helping much. And I would like to ask a question. There is a crisis in Burundi now. You have said that Rwanda has clearly developed to the extent that you can advise other countries in the region or elsewhere. I would like to ask you considering the current situation, you know people in this world try to shy away from their problems and say things differently from how they really are. As you said earlier the crisis is in the hands of Burundi and the solution must be engineered by Burundians themselves, but I would like to ask you what should be done so that the crisis may be solved because people keep shunning away from problems and keeping blaming others looking for scapegoats.

President Kagame: The answer is hard because there are no people whose problems are solved by others. Even if we were very powerful, no one can go to Burundi and solve Burundi issues if Burundians themselves are not the ones to take the initiative in solving their issues so that others may come in to provide support in finding a solution. The issue has become more challenging because Burundians who have that responsibility as leaders should be the ones to take a decision and work with their follow Burundians to solve their problems. But when they deny the issues in the first place and blame everything on other people it becomes very difficult. We see it every day, insults, fabrications, lies but we are not moved by them because they have no basis. But we see it as a problem that should be solved by Burundians themselves. But they blame other people instead of working together so that people may support from the region. But due to the current state of affairs in the world as you have said, there are others who travel to Burundi and pretend to make things better while making it worse.  I don’t know if you understand what I mean. Instead of helping [Burundians] solve the issue, they make it harder, tell them sweet words, praise them, pretend Rwanda is the problem and not them. And then they take pictures shaking hands and leave. If such trips could solve issues, the number of trips made by people from all over the world to Burundi would have solved the problem…but that certainly isn’t how things are going to be solved. The root of the problem is that Burundians do not want to talk to each other, basing on who insulted who or who said bad things and who wants to talk to this one but not that one…When you start selecting people with whom you will talk to based on that type of criteria, you cannot solve anything. I think you have asked me what is needed; there is need of leadership, the type of leadership that has people’s interests at heart.  Lies do not rule, pretending everything is okay or being scared to take action cannot solve anything. You can only solve issues when you face them.  We as Rwandans have had our own problems and we are still trying to solve them. We can always be counted on to help our neighbours and fellow Africans, work together to find lasting solutions. Think of us as your brothers who can and will support you when possible but that does not change the fact that regardless of how close we are, we cannot solve your problem on your behalf.

Jean Paul RUDAHUSHA [Ottawa, Canada]: Thank you very much Your Excellency President of the Republic. First of all, I want to tell everyone who is here that our struggle continues. My question is related to what I saw last time I was in Kigali. It’s something that could be followed up by the Ministry responsible for transport. It is about the way people drive on the road, especially motor cyclists. I have seen how they can cause accidents and I do not know if there is a way to change that. I talked with them and asked them why they like to slalom between cars during traffic jams. It is a very complicated issue that needs to be addressed. Maybe one of the solutions would be to have separate lanes. But I’m aware this might not be an easy task as I have discussed with the people in Kigali who say it would be very difficult to make room for another road on the side. The motorists say they slalom through cars to make it to their destination in as little time as possible to fulfil their clients’ requests. So, I guess it is a complex issue.

President Kagame: Let me tell you, things can’t always be perfect! First of all, it is a good thing that those motor cyclists exist. They have jobs and it is good that they wear helmets. The next step will be to do something about their speed. Second, a group of youth put in place ways of preventing accidents using technology. We tried through technology to reduce the accidents that take place due to high speed for both motor cycles and cars. That is another step the people have made. There are so many things which we are still struggling to resolve but regardless of those challenges wherever we go we are still proud to be Rwandans.  If you compare these ones to motorists from other areas; how they are, what they do, how they drive…The situation is much worse. They cross the roads from one side to another, carry almost seven persons on one motorcycle, three persons, four persons and also a goat behind…So, if you travel in those areas and you meet them you will realise that we are better off. But I do not want to dismiss the point you have made. We continue to search for solutions and that requires means, may be it will be possible. Let alone the motors even car traffic in general has become an issue, we don’t have enough roads and those we have are too small. We must plan to expand the roads and build new ones because traffic is growing faster than the roads. We have to find a lasting solution but you are also welcome to give us your contribution to solving this issue.

Alain Ndahimana [Burundian]: Your Excellency, I would like to acknowledge all Burundians who are here tonight. Please stand up for recognition. We are many here. I represent my fellow Burundians who came from Maine and I have been delegated to speak on their behalf. The fact is, we who are here in the U.S have the right to speak. We can speak our mind but there are many Burundians who have no chance to speak and we do everything possible to speak on their behalf because they are our brothers and sisters. We have over seventy thousand Burundian refugees living in Rwanda and millions in Burundi who don’t share the narrative that the issues in Burundi are caused by Rwanda or President Kagame. The fact is that President Nkurunziza has been president of this country for over 10years and he has the duty to find solutions to the existing issues if at all he isn’t responsible for whatever is happening here. The Burundian community in Maine stands with Rwandans to denounce what is not right as brothers and sisters. Whenever there is a Rwandan who is having a problem here, all Burundians will join to find solution and vice verse because we are all the same people. We thank Rwandans and your government for the warm welcome you have given to Burundian refugees. We have relatives and they give us feedback. You received many Burundians from all provinces and all tribes with no segregation. You did your humanitarian duty and we thank you for this. There is also something very important that we are thankful for: the fact that you came out and spoke the truth about the issues in Burundi when the international community had kept quiet just like they did when there was genocide going on in Rwanda. You spoke the truth boldly. History will reveal the truth and we as Burundians will never forget what you did.

President Kagame: Let’s take another question, maybe with [more] gender sensitivity this time.

Participant: This question goes to the president. Mr President I want to congratulate you upon being elected the Second Vice President of the African Union. I have one question: Mr President there has been a number of meetings, hundreds of questions on different issues discussed during those meetings and no solutions have been found by the representations or the Heads of States. What are you going to do Mr President as the Vice President to advise during this year so that the numbers of those meetings are cut to half and more sustainable solutions are found? Thank you Sir.

President Kagame: Well you have asked me an interesting question and you have also given a hint of a response. I agree with you. I would want to reduce the number of unproductive meetings. Absolutely! I wish there were no meetings at all if we can find solutions in other ways because that’s the most important thing. It’s not about the process but rather more about the outcome. It’s true we want to reduce the number of meeting, but sometimes meetings are very important because people exchange ideas and come out with tangible solutions to the challenges we face. So those are the meetings we need instead of having meetings for the sake of meeting without any productive outcome from them. So I agree with you and this is a persistent issue and it is one of the things we have constantly spoken about. We need to find ways to stop wasting so much time in processes and filling forms instead of dealing with substance. It’s a continuous struggle.

Nelly: Mine is not really a question, I just want to thank you. I am one of the students you sponsored to come study here in the states.

President: I hope you are doing well.

Nelly: Basically I wanted to give you a report because I feel that when you sponsor somebody you have no way of knowing how they are doing… There is no direct way for me to talk to you. I graduated with a degree in software engineering and I am a software engineer but even beyond that I was also trying to figure out how I can use my knowledge to give something back to my country. I [created] “Amaturufu” game; it is an app of a card game that everyone can play and this is how I feel I can give back. I hope will have a chance to teach young people of my age to do the same thing because it is turning out to be a business.

President: I am happy that you can do that. Next time you are in Rwanda look me up and we meet. We might find some more things to do.

Samantha Lukin: Thank you Mr President. My name is Samantha Lukin and I am a researcher in the history of genocide in Rwanda. I have a question for you. As a genocide researcher, I am studying for a  PhD at Strassler Centre for Holocaust & Genocide Studies at Clark University. I am a former staff member at Aegis Trust in Kigali Genocide Memorial and also I am on the Board of Trustees of the Genocide Survivors Fund in Kigali, Rwanda. We know that survivors of the genocide are still in need of assistance after 22 years and I specifically work on memorial preservation. So I wanted to ask you if we can expect to see any further attention paid to the preservation of memorial sites before the 25th commemoration, including research about what aspects of memorial sites and commemoration are meaningful to Rwandans who experienced the genocide in order to inform policy. I am wondering if there will be further attention paid to this in order to see further commitment from Government to aiding survivors. Much has been done but I wanted to ask if there will be further commitment before the 25th commemoration.

President Kagame: There will always be. In short, your concern is noted and it is our concern as well. There will always be attention paid.

Francoise Nsengiyumva: I live in Maine and I wanted to ask you about something. Some of our children were born here and we would like to teach them about our culture and values, but due to financial constraints we can’t take them to visit Rwanda. So we brought our children here so that they can come and hug you because of your history of reviving the country. When we see you we see Rwanda.

President Kagame: It would be a pleasure to meet them. We will find the appropriate time for that.

Jacky Rwibasira:  I was born in DRC.. I have been living here for 9 years but each year I go back to Rwanda because I love it. I want to tell all Rwandans present here who have never been in Rwanda: Please go back and see how President Kagame has transformed the country and then you will talk about what you’ve seen. Rwanda has developed and every citizen is proud to be Rwandan.

 Erica: I don’t look very Rwandan but I am a Rwandan at heart.  I know that you have these amazing events like Rwanda Day and Youth Forum. But I really feel there should be events targeting non-Rwandans as well because I want the world, not just Rwandans in the Diaspora, to know the dignity and grace of Rwandans. So there is one event that I would like to invite Rwanda musicians such as Teta Diana and also promote Rwanda to truly represent Rwanda and not just movies that are not depicting it well. So I would love your support…

President Kagame: We will give you support. Anything that promotes Rwanda, you have our support.

Kamatari Murenzi: Mr President, I want to thank the Government, I am one of the genocide survivors who benefited from a scholarship from the government for primary school to secondary. I was 6 year old when the Genocide happened. I didn’t have the required grades to benefit from an international scholarship when I graduated from high school but I got support from Contact FM and Kigali Genocide Memorial to come here to the U.S to study digital media and TV production. I had in mind to come back and help Rwanda TV improve at the time but I can see that they are improving. Nevertheless, I am planning to come back home to support government programs. I thank you for developing the country and supporting the youth. We used to think that for one to work for the government they needed to be 50 years and above. I am glad you have chosen to support the youth because we have energy, we are motivated and we love our country.  I was one of those were supported by FARG and I am happy to report that we have grown up to become men and women.  Unfortunately, some survivors couldn’t finish their studies, some due to trauma, we want to come back and help them develop as well.

Uwitonze: Mr President, I love you but God loves you more. The first time we met it was in  Rusumo, this time we meet outside the country and I am so glad we are speaking  Kinyarwanda. Last year I was in Kigali for my wedding and I saw a lot of development. When I was with my lawyer he looked up Kigali online and he was impressed with our country and said he would like to come for a visit. So please be on standby to receive more of us from Canada and the U.S.

President Kagame:  You are very welcome. We will receive you, Rwanda is big enough.

Nsenga: I was born in Gikondo. I want to thank you for honouring the wish of the people to lead the country again. That showed me that Rwanda is no longer working with western ideas of democracy, instead we are building our own on our culture, our history and on our dignity. For that I thank you. Considering how the world is struggling with the falling price of oil, how can Rwanda make sure that our economy keeps growing since petrol plays such a big part of it?

President Kagame: First of all, I am not or Rwanda is not responsible for bringing down the price of oil, but we are happy to benefit from it even though it hasn’t happened yet. But eventually we shall benefit from it. The reduction of oil prices has not yet resulted for us in the reduction of price at the pump. It will happen and we will benefit from that because we import a lot of oil products so when the prices go down it is good for us and many others but not so good for those who produce oil. So I am sure different things are going to happen that will create a balance where stability will be maintained and we continue our journey for continued growth and development.

Diana Adamson: Hello! I am a teacher here in the U.S. First of all, I am with my colleagues and we have been involved in the Rwanda teacher program. We would like to welcome you to our home, as we have been to your home and we have loved every minute of it. We think you have very committed and hard working teachers who are working to transform Rwanda and they are doing an excellent job. I would like to thank you for your visionary leadership and commitment to education in Rwanda. Thank you.

President Kagame: Thank you Boston, Massachusetts. It has been a home for many Rwandans, so we are happy to be here whenever we are here. We are happy for those who work and live here from Rwanda. In the same way, we will always be happy to welcome you to Rwanda and for you to contribute to the story of Rwanda.

Jean Leon Iragena:  I am a student at Laval University in Canada. Yesterday at Harvard you talked about the energy sector, especially electricity. You said that 70% of Rwandans would have access to electricity within the next three years. My question is: if this increase in access will also impact the power shortages that happen often. As you know we cannot develop if we don’t have electricity, especially in the business districts in Kigali and other cities. Thanks

President Kagame: I talked about those two aspects. I talked about increase in electricity generation as well as increase in access. I thus believe that the problem that you are talking about will be effectively solved.

Marcel Urayeneza: Thank you Your Excellency, my name is Marcel, I came from Chicago this morning. I have this question about education. My question is about the lecture you gave at Harvard University. You said that Rwanda is doing a lot of work in the education sector and you talked about a university that came in Rwanda to support. My question is about some of us who have been involved in education but privately, but we do not have the capacity to get support from outside. I have been working with Gitwe University and I would like to thank you for helping that university in the training of doctors and other health workers in Rwanda. We have had some issues creating partnerships here because we are not completely endorsed by the Government. My question is: how we can tap into the contacts that the government has here to improve our work in Rwanda?

President Kagame: I think that there is a way, mechanisms in place to make these kinds of connections happen. When you have the time, come and see us. We can help you make this happen. Thank you.