Kigali, 6 November 2015

Good evening to you all,

I would like, first of all, to thank all those who organized this day and giving it its due importance in relating our history and its place in the life of our country. The discussions and revelations about events of the past and those who had a role in them are of immense value on our continued journey as nation.

I thank Unity club for organising this.

Let me also thank in a special way the people who demonstrated extraordinary character in events linked to the history of our country whose heroic deeds have been recognised officially and publicly today.

Let me say that on a day like this we have a lot to celebrate and commemorate, but this is also a great opportunity for us to reflect on our past and make strategies for the future of our great country.

I am saying this because reflecting on our past should be a way to learn from our history and work for a better future.

The heroic deeds we have heard from these great people today, what happened to them, their loved ones and the people they saved should be the basis for us to ask ourselves : Why this kind of tragic past? Why this life where people feel it is normal to kill, the life of shedding blood being our heritage? What was said here is quite minimal compared to what these people went through and you ask yourself: Why this kind of history?

Every time I hear these kinds of testimonies, there’s a lot I learn. When I hear this, I ask myself a lot and I learn a lot of questions, but I get even more confused.

You learn a lot and know more but you still have a feeling that there is a lot you need to know from what you heard or from some questions that have been asked in the past 20 years.

It becomes harder to get answers about circumstances under which certain things happened. We hear a lot, we learn a lot but honestly every time I get even more confused.

You ask yourself: Are we the people seated here and some who are not here really the same people who lived and played part in this kind of tragic history? You can opt to say no, we are not the ones, but the truth is that none other than Rwandans ourselves did it. But you ask: how and why?

To all the existing problems we had as Rwandans and Africans, we chose to add more. Maybe some people may choose to say that this approach was a solution to certain problems. But really, which problem and on which culture was this choice based on? Was this human? If we are really human which kind of humanity can defend what we did?

If we ask this question only – and I always do – none of the questions I have heard and what I see every day give me any explanation whether this was helpful to our future.

The people we recognise here today, these Rwandans, some of us were recognised as heroes before them but sometimes I doubt whether I would have been capable to do what they did.

You heard that we were recognized for heroism but to be honest, I would not measure up to the deeds of these people. People witnessed their families being killed and yet had the strength to assist others around them – this is beyond imagination. That is why I said that people did extraordinary deeds. Our country faced unimaginable atrocities, and it will only be healed by extraordinary efforts. If we choose to do normal things we will relive the things we experienced in the past.

This can’t stop me from thanking all Rwandans in general because of what has been achieved, with the little strength and capacity at our disposal. But we can achieve more. We need to continue that journey. The agony experienced by our people did not prevent them from living on and pursuing a better life and even having the heart and courage to help others.

In order to have a better Rwanda, people learnt from the past and decided to build a better future. The victims of our history decided that what they experienced should not happen again.

If you are killing people in my name, you are my enemy; I have to fight you because if I don’t do so, I would be in support of the killings. Our history should serve as a lesson. We are building a new Rwanda that accommodates all Rwandans, and not a country where some are considered guests. Bad politics had allowed this to happen. My interests are the same as those of anyone else, I want security, and prosperity …Any Rwandan wants these. We will achieve this through our unity. This should begin from the families we live in without exclusion. The benefit of the family should be shared by all family members.

You cannot wish the best for only two of your children and have bad wishes for three others, unless you are sick. So, we should learn that lesson from our own history and make use of the way we have dealt with unusually grave problems to benefit current and future generations.
This helps us to distinguish personal or family interests from collective national interests. Distinguishing these interests is important because they complement each other. When I say distinguishing, I don’t mean that they should be separated. My point is that a person should not feel that the best things should be limited to him or herself alone, or to his or her family and exclude the interests of others. On the contrary, if you try to look keenly, you will find that personal interests, family interests are national interests – collective interests.

That is why in many places, this segregation: ethnic, religious … shows that you do not understand how common interests are. It is even impossible to achieve your exclusive interests if you are not thinking about the interests of other people. Others are the ones who experience the consequences of your interests.

Our politics for example questions us in this way: Can we be rich and live well as leaders when those we are leading remain stuck in poverty? It is impossible. When a poor person is really poor and has nothing to eat, do you know what he eats? He eats the rich. Yes!

When you are very poor and you lack food, you eat the rich; you make him your menu. Oh yes. We have no interest in that. Therefore, while protecting your interests, you have to understand that you have to protect others’ interests as well. Or your interests should be aligned with others’ interests. This is where unity becomes a solution in our country; working together, feeling that we are one.

A family may be composed of so many people with different ideas and aspirations, but they remain united.  Now, a family cannot live on its own, it lives in a country which also actually cannot be on its own. The country also fits in a large community. For example, you know that Rwanda has joined the East African Community; this is a community that has grown bigger. But in order to achieve the interests of a bigger community, you need to value those of a smaller one. That’s where it starts. When we arrive in that bigger community before addressing people – I start by knowing what is happening in my smaller community versus the region. How is the Rwandan community and what’s going on? I wonder what the status of Rwanda’s interests is so that I may combine them with other countries’ interests and therefore we may be able to serve common interests.

When we are done, we can then examine ourselves in our consultations and try to look at how our continent of Africa is – what we can do better, how far we are. But, can I speak for the whole of Africa before putting in order what is in Rwanda? Or can I speak for Rwanda in East Africa, or speak for East Africa before putting Rwanda in order? That’s the process, one complementing the other. But it becomes sustainable when all the interests of the majority are considered, wherever you start from; when your family is well, and when you want to be well and also want other families to be well. You come together and when things improve you move to the next level. And the process goes on.

For Rwanda to become a better country for us and for it to make an important contribution in the world, we have to protect our community, our achievements, our unity, and understanding a Rwandan and that he or she needs to be valued.

But you can recognise how far Rwanda has come in the last 21 years and the good reputation this has given Rwanda all over the world as a model to be emulated, not only among our friends, but among others as well. This comes from our extraordinary efforts and the lessons we drew from our bad history.

In other countries where there are problems, if you look at the problems we have gone through and how far we have come, there are also lessons that we get through observing the world, when you look at what is going on you can’t wait to be back home to Rwanda.

But it requires much from us. It requires much of what we need to give. It demands from us a lot more effort and to do a lot more. It requires us to be less selfish and to work together and be united.

It calls for unity, for inclusive politics, for the dignity we deserve, the politics that pushes us to strive for more. There is much to fight for and achieve. To be a great achiever, you ought to think about your role and that of others too. We came this far because of our tolerance towards each other.

I always laugh when I read things written out there, making claims that there is no democracy in Rwanda, no freedom of speech, no opposition, and no tolerance, that Rwanda is a country hostile to criticism.

But what is it that the opposition says? What the government talks about is inclusion, progress, development and to make sure what happened never happens again. But who wants anything contrary to this? What would they rather do? What should we do?

I’ve been questioned over this. Who are those people who are not free to talk? They say I am not tolerant with the opposition as a President. I normally tell them that if it were true and I was intolerant as they say, I would not be sitting with them and having discussions with them.

We tolerate those who killed our loved ones, live and share with them, and that alleged intolerant government has united us all. Actually even those leaders who were involved in our painful history were once part of this Government, and left on their own volition. How then could we be tolerant with those who massacred our people and yet not be able to tolerate critics?  How can one tolerate people who perpetrated mass killings but not tolerate critics? What critics? What is that supposed to mean?

Someone tell me how in Rwanda we have reconciled genocide perpetrators and survivors and managed to move forward and someone accuses us of being intolerant. That’s an insult. I can be tolerant to critics a hundred times than I would to such people who make these accusations.

They often ask me about the Constitution, succession. They ask me why I haven’t picked a successor yet, and I ask them whether they intend to present my replacement because if this is supposed to be a democracy, if I choose my own successor, will this still be democracy? They even suggest names of people who they think would best be fit to be my replacement in 2017. So I ask them why they should be asking me this because if they have the authority to choose my replacement, they should go right ahead and do it without having to ask me.

I ask them why they believe there will never be a successor because it seems there are two things; either I’m asked to choose my successor or they want to appoint one as if the decision is just between a handful of people. Basically it’s who I want or who you want. What about Rwandans? What happens to their choice?

Could I be standing in the way of a candidate who has been proposed by Rwandans? If that was the case I would understand that. In the event that Rwandans chose a candidate they want to lead them, then I would be guilty of obstruction.

But for a foreigner living thousands of miles to suggest to me a particular individual who they think is fit for the job, I am left wondering how or what  they know about them. Since Rwandans are the ones to choose, why aren’t they the ones suggesting the candidates? What do you know about these people you are pitching to me starting from my own cabinet as if you would know them better than I do?

We were deprived of our humanity and were turned into objects. We are no longer humans, they now think on our behalf. We were no longer what we were supposed to be, what we are, our identity. It is our duty to have that restored as we are all human beings and I don’t see why other human beings should regulate our lives and the way we live. I cannot understand that. Anyone with self esteem cannot understand that. Being told how to live and to believe and accept to be dictated on how to live by another person.

Whether you are white, brown or blue or whatever, you cannot. How can you decide for me? They took away all the Rwandans’ worth and left them dry, and then return to put them on life support through which they administer drops of humanity which they release and stop at will.

That’s how we live. But it is we who plug ourselves on that life support. This kind of life is not a preserve of Rwanda only. This Africa you see… It doesn’t happen to us only. It is common for the whole continent of a billion people. How can you live on drip? We are to blame because we don’t value ourselves and our people.

Look at some of the neighbouring countries. In Burundi the drip has been stopped or is about to be, and what is the reason behind it? The underlying cause is a history that is similar to ours. What type of leadership spends their days killing their own population day in day out? The President is behind closed doors, not talking to anyone. Is that a way to be a leader? People dying every day, corpses being dragged on the streets. Well, with our Africa being on a drip, I know there are people who might not take it well that I could dare make such a comment about another country. Is this what politics and diplomacy is about? But we need to keep in mind that what happens next door bears direct consequences to us as Rwandans.

A leadership killing its own people, corpses floating on rivers, people on the streets…Children, young people, women… And that’s supposed to be politics? What type of politics is that? So who should bear the blame for Burundi’s problems? Can they blame anyone from the outside? Even if as they claim, someone from outside intended to harm them, they would capitalise on your mistakes. Even if Burundi leaders wanted to blame Rwanda as the source of their problems. Hypothetically, if someone wanted to harm them, they would use Burundi’s inept leadership that harms its own people, and maybe add on to it to destabilize the country further. But the root of the problem is in the leaders themselves. They should have learned from what happened in Rwanda. Actually some of those who participated in the massacres here were from across the border. So really what’s wrong with we Africans?

But as I told you earlier, before fighting for regional or Africa’s interests we first fight for ours first. We as Rwandans need first to ensure that all evil is not allowed in our society. We did enough evil; we cannot allow it to happen again.

The President I mentioned earlier, the leaders of Burundi claim to be good Christians, some of them are even Pastors. Which God do they pray? How can they commit such atrocities and still pretend to be righteous people carrying the Bible around?  What type of Bible tells leaders to massacre their own populations? Is there such a type of Bible? You know, even we here in Rwanda, a good part of the people that committed Genocide were calling themselves Christians. And it’s not even ordinary Christians; some of them were religious leaders who killed people.

It is encouraging and commendable to note that some of those who were awarded here today are religious leaders. However, it is also sad to know that there were also some religious leaders who actively participated in the massacres.

I always wonder why people are reluctant to apologise, even in the name of others. This is what I have said. You can apologise for a crime you personally did not commit. You can seek an apology for something committed in your name to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

We have seen many examples. People, under the umbrella of church denominations, have been committing crimes without following teachings of the churches. In such cases, the church leaders have stood up, taken the lead and punished those involved or even paid reparations to victims despite the fact that the majority of members were not involved. We have all read books or different documents about this – we have seen it.

There have been cases of paedophilia committed by some church leaders – you heard of it – they happened in US, Ireland, Australia… church leaders stood up apologised and paid reparations.  There have been 30 year old testimonies from people who said they were abused by some church leaders and the latter were told to repent.

Why can’t it happen in Rwanda? Why should Rwandans keep quiet and nobody is there to say sorry? Is it because we have a black skin? It smells like racism.

Instead, you find that it is actually we Rwandans who are apologetic. How can you be apologetic for a crime committed against you, before someone who offended you? No, they have to apologise too.

You know the kind of battles we are engaged in every day with those countries which were involved in what happened here. It has been politicised. They might even be the ones influencing those churches.  Why?

But let me remind you of a Kinyarwanda saying: Uwigize agatebo ayora ivu (if you become a rubbish basket, you will be used to collect rubbish). But we have carried enough rubbish and we need a break. It is now time to become humans.

The first step in giving value to yourself or after regaining your dignity – is the courage to face what you have to face.  You even have to keep asking yourself what the alternative is. If I don’t confront what I have to – which is risky, of course –I wonder what the alternative is.

What would be the alternative way to go? Do you know of any? I too need to know it. I would be proud to find and follow an easy way out, but I wonder, which one? There is being humble, or appearing as a good person, clapping for whatever is said and you are used to carry rubbish and you accept — but what do you get at the end? What is the alternative? You also need to think about that. There are two complex things of which you may say are not easy to undertake or may make you lose something but which could in the end benefit you. Then you decide to pass around in pursuit of another way. I still need to know that other way and what I could get out of it – if I get or understand it, I would be happy to join.

Let me conclude on.. Because we have entered the weekend and the day after tomorrow will be Sunday …. I will come back to a point I wanted to discuss regarding religion, I wanted to share a piece of my mind with you. People have been asking for my point of view and here it is in a nutshell.

As human beings, sometimes we confuse ourselves unnecessarily. I will explain what I mean by this. The way countries are governed, the Constitutions etc, is all about politics and organised societies. There is a draft constitution that has been discussed for the last few days.

The other day I started hearing through the media and reading about it in the press, no one actually discussed it with me, that there is a sentence from the draft Constitution that is causing debate. The Speaker of Parliament knows what I am referring to, I wanted to clarify things because it seems like people are getting confused.

Originally it wasn’t in the Constitution. It was only added in the current draft Constitution, am I right? The debate is about the mix of religion and politics.

First of all, this sentence “God the Almighty…” wasn’t in the original Constitution, so those who say that we are changing the Constitution are wrong. It was only removed from the draft constitution that is being revised and is yet to be approved.

Second, what we are working on is a country’s Constitution; it’s about governance and politics. We are not writing an evangelical document. That is beyond our capacity.

Third, Rwanda is a free country where everyone is free to practice their own religion. That’s the way it is and that’s the way we want it to be. The Government is responsible for protecting those rights. We do not have divine powers, we are only human. We can only deal with earthly matters.

What we are responsible for is ensuring people’s rights are respected. We cannot start getting involved in religious matters, telling religious people what to believe, remove this, add that, don’t say this… That would be going beyond our limits; we cannot get involved in people’s beliefs even though we are believers ourselves.

We can arbitrate in case of conflicts or misunderstandings, but that’s it. I cannot mix my beliefs with politics, tell other people what to believe or not to believe. My religious beliefs are personal. It doesn’t need to be mentioned in the Constitution. We still mention God in the oath of office that Government officials take, when we take God as our witness during swearing in, and that part hasn’t been changed.

But people have been misguided. I often hear it on the radio, people saying that the Government is trying to seem higher than God, which is completely false. Our Government has never pretended to be higher than God. Rather, we as Government are responsible for making sure that no one thinks that they are higher than God.

We can only be responsible for matters related to our earthly matters, but people should stop confusing things. People should practice their faith the way they want and if anybody tries to get in the way, Government will take care of it. The same applies to those who use their faith to commit crimes. For example, there used to be these religious groups, I don’t know if they still exist, which took advantage of the turmoil the country was going through and started spreading false teachings that were contrary to the programs the Government was trying to set up for the population. They would encourage people to rebel against the Law, telling them to stop drinking tea, coffee, milk, asking them to stop raising cattle, to stop going to the doctor when they are sick …They were about to run the Government out of a job!

Those are some of the issues we need to take care of. So people would hide behind religion and attempt to disrupt progress and when you stop them, the country is considered as repressing religious freedom. We respect religious freedom but even religious groups are not above the Law. You cannot go around telling families to stop taking their children for immunization, to stop giving them milk, all in the name of religion. What does religion have to do with that?

I think those who do such things are trying to pretend to be God. Preaching to believers doesn’t make you God. It doesn’t work like that; we are all human after all. Even preachers can become civil servants if they like, they can work for Government. They can teach about politics and governance, the same way we can reverse roles and go preach in churches. But if I was to become a preacher, I would stick to that, I wouldn’t try to preach to anyone about Constitutional changes.

I would stick to teaching the word of God and if I am a civil servant I would stick to Government work. Instead of mixing politics and religion, both should try to complement each other so that the population can benefit from both because they have a lot in common. So if we all focused on complementing each other, we could fast forward our development pace, positively benefit our population, and all those other things we have mentioned that tainted our history would be left behind. And we would humble ourselves before God. But humility doesn’t apply to religious matters only; it’s a virtue one needs to cultivate on a daily basis. In the case of leaders, we need to be humble before those we lead as well as everybody else for that matter. In fact, leaders should take the lead and be exemplary when it comes to being humble.

In brief, going back to what was said today, there are many people that need to be thanked, and we will keep thanking them. Many people did well, when it was most difficult to do so. Many people made enormous sacrifices. And I am sure this has inspired many of you who are thinking of changing their ways and do good. But rest assured, there is always an opportunity to do a good deed. You can always share kindness. When you feel it in your heart and you help other people, it is priceless.

But when we do good deeds, we need to keep in mind our aspirations for a prosperous Rwanda so that we keep building that dream so that we can achieve even more and reach higher. And I assume that this is what we all want.

Thank you and May God bless you.