12 October 2009

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has defended the economic expansion of  emerging countries like China in Africa. However he blamed Western development aid policy. The Aid commitment of Western countries didn’t help in Africa. In his interview president Kagame speaks also about the struggle for resources, the prospects of climate protection and the greatest danger to the stability of the continent.

Handelsblatt: Mr. President, from all over the world the interest has awakened for Africa. Why?

Paul Kagame: It was bound to happen. Africa was neglected and even exploited for a long time. But now we have decided: We don’t want this anymore, we want to have fair relations with the rest of the world. The odds are in our favour! There are new players,  developing countries like China, India, Brazil and Russia. That opens new possibilities for new relationships. Suddenly, the Americans and Europeans discover that they don’t want to be left out.

Handelsblatt: But many EU-governments warn that, especially the Chinese, want to exploit Africa.

Paul Kagame: In fact, Europeans and Americans accuse China of coming to Africa without asking for human rights or without respecting environmental standards. It is true that Europeans are asking more questions about human rights. But did it support Africa’s Development? If the relevance of these questions would be so important, Africa would be better off.

Handelsblatt: Sounds like bad experiences.

Paul Kagame: Anyway, the European and the American commitment didn’t help on Africa. Our resources were exploited and were used by others. Western companies have polluted Africa and it is still happening. Think of dumping nuclear waste near Cote d’Ivoire or using Somalia as garbage dump by European companies. The Chinese bring along what Africa needs: Investments. China invests in infrastructure, like building roads. The human rights concern shouldn’t be an excuse for capital not to be mobilized. The new competition is very healthy for Africa, it helps us.

Handelsblatt: Do contracts signed by Africa give rise to a new form of colonialism?


Paul Kagame: Why new colonialism? The old one by western countries hasn’t stopped. If it is a question of colonialism, it is  an additional one.  I say it clearly: It is up to Africa to accept this or not. We have to clarify our interests.

Handelsblatt: Is this possible when Africa is strongly looking for investors?

Paul Kagame: Exploitation is not a problem instigated (forged) by China. The responsibility is carried by weak governments who tolerate  foreign countries and governments that ensure resources for bad conditions. We have seen it in Congo – but the contracts were signed with western companies. African governments have to act  firmly against corrupt officers and put in place  a system to prevent oppressive contracts.

Handelsblatt: Considering the abundance of natural resources, will Africa be a mere supplier-continent for the industrial nations?

Paul Kagame: It has always been like that. But it shall and will be changed. African governments have to make sure that the processing of raw materials will be happen on our continent. We are looking for real partnerships with foreigners who have the know-how and capital to share with local companies.

Handelsblatt: In recent times even in Rwanda, raw material reserves are discovered like cobalt, tin and tungsten. How will you ensure that there are fair contracts? Is it by establishing government participation?

Paul Kagame: Our approach is to  encourage partnerships and try to attract more investments in areas like mining. We have to ensure that contracts give advantages to both our country as well as foreign partners. Transparency is the key to guarantee that a country won’t be exploited.

Handelsblatt: Isn’t it rather the case that raw material resources are a curse to development instead of promoting it like the unstable situation in Congo shows?

Paul Kagame: This is exactly the case in Congo. However, exploitation dates back 100 years ago, to Belgium king Leopold. Nowadays, however, it is presented as a conflict between two different tribes.

Handelsblatt: Apart from the unstable Congo – what is the greatest danger to the stability of the continent?

Paul Kagame: The greatest danger comes from  weak political leaders who don’t have any strategic vision for the development of their countries. But it isn’t only about people.  Governments have to put in place  the right institutions to enable sustainable stability.

Handelsblatt: The Europeans give their development aid on conditions of “good governance” in Africa. Is this the right way?

Paul Kagame: There is a fundamental problem concerning development aid. It leads to dependence and the wish to control the recipient nations – it is a vicious cycle . This development model needs urgent review, or at best, to be done away with. We need self determination and dignity. I wish that the western world would first invest before giving development aid. Development aid is necessary but it can also be used better to enable trade and enhance self sufficiency.

Handelsblatt: How should this be achieved?

Paul Kagame: It would be reasonable to develop a private sector, for example. But what do charitable organisations do? In many countries they provide water for free. The intention is good but this stifles business prospects for small local companies and businesses. It would be better to support the local companies and businesses instead. It is very easy in fact. For the rest, it would help Africa a lot more if we could get the same trade laws as the industrial countries.

Handelsblatt: So is the fixation of the international debate on wealthy countries to pay 0.7% of their Gross Domestic Product as development aid a clever idea?

Paul Kagame: Not without fail. Africa needs money to stand on its own feet. However, aid should be directed to help countries toward self sustenance and self sufficiency. This can be achieved with investments in the energy sector, the water sector, in education and health.

Handelsblatt: There is a discussion in Europe on whether the money for the classical “development aid” should be better used for the campaign against  climate change. You are speaking for the whole of Africa at the upcoming Copenhagen UN Climate Change Conference/Summit. What is your point of view?

Paul Kagame: Climate protection is important and urgent. The developing countries have to work harder  towards  “green increase” as best as they can. We have the advantage that we can leapfrog some levels of development. The money should enable us to use modern technology. But they can’t repackage the money for the development aid. We need additional help.

Handelsblatt: How should that help look like or what should it be?

Paul Kagame: Rich countries pollute the environment much more than developing countries do. But even these countries need to be encouraged to consider alternative means to economic growth and development, more green ways, if you like, with much less impact on the environment. You can’t coerce them with pressure because the industrial countries have a long tradition of environmental pollution. But there is immense pressure and it’s mounting. Mozambique for example, gets problems because of its coal-fired power station for aluminium-melting. There is an increasing threat to cut the development aid if the country sticks to its plans. It would be much better to give an economic alternative.

Handelsblatt: What do you mean precisely?

Paul Kagame: The system of carrot and stick has to apply to all countries. The financial penalties from polluters should be used to reward non-polluters. Both developed and emerging countries have to be involved in this emissions-trading system. In this way, you can at least identify those that don’t do enough for  climate protection. This market mechanism is much better than the call for the western world to pay an additional 100 billion annually for climate protection. We need a system in which the industrialised countries pay more because they are the bigger polluters and because they have the  capital. On the other hand, those countries that try to produce less CO2 emissions during the process of economic growth should be rewarded financially for their effort. By the way, statistics have shown that every US citizen produces 23 tons of CO2 per year whereas a Rwandan citizen produces only 0.3 tons.

Handelsblatt: Will the UN Climate Conference in December in Copenhagen become a success?

Paul Kagame: Maybe there won’t be a contract, but I’m sure that a way to an agreement will be decided. I am optimistic because climate protection is an interest for all. The negative effects of climate change will affect everybody. Africa is very afraid of the fact that the polar ice caps are  melting. The deserts in our continent are spreading out down to South. Other regions of the world are suffering under increased tornados and hurricanes.

Handelsblatt: Why is the voice of Africa very hard to hear in the climate debate?

Paul Kagame: You can’t hear the voice because the reporting about Africa is affected by stereotypes. It’s all about crises and problems not about our opinion on global matters.

Handelsblatt: Maybe it is because the African Union doesn’t have a joint position concerning Climate Policy as does the European Union.

Paul Kagame: I don’t think so. It seems like the European Union doesn’t have a joint position, either . The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown sounds different from other EU governments. Let’s turn the tables: So; do you believe in a successful Copenhagen Summit if Africa doesn’t attend? No. The conclusion is that Africa isn’t the problem.

Paul Kagame: Conciliator or cleaver?

Controversial head of state

There is scarcely a president in Africa who is as controversial as the 51 year old Paul Kagame. Many regard Rwanda’s head of state as an ideal modernizer and conciliator, others as a war monger and an autocrat. The undisputed fact is that Kagame stopped the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. While the world stood on the sidelines, more than 800,000 people, most of them Tutsi, were murdered within 100 days. It is Kagame and his army who stepped in to halt the genocide and, in effect, toppling the government of Hutu-extremists.

Own political approach.

Disillusioned by the failure of the UN and of the African states to respond swiftly to the genocide, Kagame, pursues a rather new, and suffice to say, his own political approach. He cultivates relationships  with western heads of states and business leaders but on a more mutually beneficial platform. The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of his advisers. Many donor countries regard Rwanda as a flagship state, as a lighthouse in a continent which falls back sharply.

Nevertheless, the negative connotation stays because Kagame let his army march into Congo manifold and, allegedly, let them plunder the resources of the country. Furthermore, his pathetic critics accuse him of turning Rwanda into a police state. They often refer to a lack of freedom of press and that he, Kagame, doesn’t allow official opposition, saying to defend the country’s reconciliation efforts in a country that suffered ethnic tensions. Although the difference between Hutu and Tutsi has been abolished by decree, the animosities still exist in practice.

Economic success

With a growth rate of 8.4 % in the last five years, Rwanda rose above more than the rest of Africa. A country with the highest population density in Africa (325 people per square kilometer) has been lauded as the world’s “Best reformer” by the World Bank in its “Doing Business Index” report published just recently – leaping from 143rd position to an impressive 67th position within just one year..
Furthermore, Rwanda is among the very few African countries that have demonstrated to be on track to achieving UN’s aims of Poverty Reduction.