Kigali, 14 September 2009

Despite the ongoing tensions in the region, President Paul Kagame sees a secure and peaceful East Africa and Africa in general thanks to ongoing efforts at economic integration. And Kenyan politicians will need to display a higher degree of leadership and sense of ownership if the country is to pull back from the brink of self-destruction.

In a wide ranging interview with The EastAfrican, the Rwandan President argues it is not bullets and regional military formations that will bring enduring security to the region but aggregation of common interests across the region that will bring peace and stability.

“Security is not about guns. It is about the sentiments, the attitude, the benefit you get from the other and what he gets from you. Once you allow that to happen, work becomes easier,” he says.

Making reference to the blood relations that cut across national borders in the region and official efforts at achieving regional integration, Kagame says while political leaders matter because they wield authority, it is important to find a point of convergence between the interests and hopes of the ordinary people for the process to pick up momentum.


Says he: “At times, even when there are issues between countries, like we have had for a long time with the DRC, ordinary people will still use informal panya [illicit] routes, they will trade with and visit each other. Even if you sent an army to stop them they will still do it because, for them, it is their life. I think they just fall short of saying, ‘I don’t know what these stupid leaders are doing.’ Maybe they don’t express it out of good manners, but this is what must be going on in their minds.”

On the post-election violence that rocked Kenya and the ongoing debate over whether to try its suspected perpetrators at the International Criminal Court in the Hague or in a local tribunal, he advises caution.

“When I read about the International Criminal Court being used as a stick to whip people into line…. In the world where I come from, I would avoid that because it can be counterproductive. In our [Rwanda’s] case, for example, if we had to strictly say, ‘You did wrong, you must answer for it like this,’ rigidly, we would not be where we are today,” says the Rwandan leader.

“If we were to try everybody who was involved in the genocide and sentence them to hang, well, legally, it would be correct. Morally, it would sound good to hang everybody who was involved in killing people.

But realistically, we couldn’t do that. Not that we don’t understand the importance of justice, but … we understood it to be the price we had to pay for a stable future.

“So there is a tricky, very complex balance between holding people accountable and therefore dealing with the question of impunity, and forging stability by way of a politics that is not always black and white — you kill us, we kill you, you do this, we do that. This is the delicate balancing act we have had to go through.”

President Kagame further says leadership has to start showing up among Kenyans so that they can work towards owning their problem. He says even if a semblance of stability came out of the international pressure as has been exerted on President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the results would be temporary.