Geneva, December 12 2008
A United Nations panel of experts on Friday accused Rwandan officials of complicity in the latest eruption of violence in Eastern Congo, and of supporting Laurent Nkunda, the ethnic Tutsi rebel who has captured a swathe of territory. The accusations come on the back of growing international pressure on the governments of both Kigali and Kinshasa to address long standing grievances that led to the outbreak of two previous wars in 1996 and between 1998 and 2003. William Wallis, Financial Times Africa editor, interviewed President Paul Kagame of Rwanda recently in Geneva. The following is an abridged transcript on December 12, 2008.
Financial Times : Do you think Europe has lost its capacity to understand the dynamics at play in this conflict?
President Kagame : I think European countries have lost the capacity to understand but that is also linked with their own failures and guilt about being associated with the causes of all these problems that have evolved. They are always in it but they want to explain it away, because they want to maintain the higher ground, because they are the ones that can bring the solutions. Yet there is always this reminder on the ground that you are either the cause or closely associated with the problems we have here for so many years. In grappling with that they really end up messing up more than even trying to make a good contribution.
But the way I am talking about this injustice and the whole hopelessness of it, in the Congo. This CNDP, and this Laurent Nkunda is a product of injustices and bad governance in the Congo itself. People outside there think this is a Rwandese from Rwanda, who came across the border…
Financial Times : and that you sent him?
President Kagame : This is what some of them say…. He has issues and maybe people need to listen and find where he is wrong and where he is right and address it. But they dismiss it straight away without even listening to his case. Another thing that has created him other than what I have just said, injustices and mismanagement and bad governance in the Congo, is the Interahamwe (responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) who are in the Congo. He is using rightly saying that these people are killing his own people and they cannot live safely there and that even he himself and all those fighters cannot live safely in Congo because the government of Congo of President Joseph Kabila actually uses the Interahamwe in his forces.
Financial Times : Was there not an opportunity lost to deal with this issue lost during the 2006 election, before this cycle of violence restarted?
President Kagame : Absolutely. I have witnessed this and I have said this. And it was Kabila who lost the opportunity. You know before the elections and after we were talking, we were communicating about all these problems and he was seeking our help. And unfortunately he also used us and I have told him this. Because it was like “please help me, let me go through this election.” And he was saying help me because in way we were linked with the other group, the challenger RCD (Rally of Congolese Democrats). And we said look we are really interested in peace in Congo.
Financial Times : So he requested your assistance in security terms during the elections?
President Kagame : Yes he did, in all ways. And even in a way politically to try and temper the RCD to work together so they don’t cause problems. We actually got involved and tried to help. For the very reason that we understood that stability in the Congo would actually translate directly into stability for us in the long term. Much as we have been able to create security in our own country we know in the long term we need to have a stable environment in the region. And we did that unreservedly. In the end this guy (Kabila) after being elected, he changed completely – even the whole discussion, the whole approach and everything.
He said he actually said he wanted to solve the problem of Nkunda and others politically. And we agreed along with everybody, the South Africans and others. And then all of a sudden he said I want to solve this problem militarily.
I think there is hypocrisy when they say the rebels have broken the ceasefire. They know it is the government that has been attacking them. Even when Kabila has publicly said he is going to resolve the problem militarily. He told us. He told everybody. Why do I have to go guessing who has started the fighting?
Financial Times : There does seem to be evidence of cooperation between Nkunda’s forces and people in Rwanda for example through recruitment, and we have heard testimony that active Rwandan soldiers are fighting with him…and the fact that he is able to use your territory and even senior people in his movement use Rwanda to meet diplomats and journalists. This all gives the impression Rwanda reserved its relations with Nkunda in the aftermath of the elections as a kind of plan b?
President Kagame : People should not exaggerate things. First of all it is not true that diplomats have been meeting Nkunda in Rwanda. That’s not true.
Financial Times : Someone I spoke to directly on the weekend saw his deputy commander crossing over the border into Rwanda without any trouble.
President Kagame : That is a different issue. Somebody might have seen him or might not have seen him. But it is different from saying that somebody came and met NKunda in Kigali or Rwanda. You can see the story is changing.
Financial Times : But there is a whole pattern of evidence emerging that suggests a relationship between Rwanda and Nkunda.
President Kagame : The kind of relationship has not been denied. Let me tell you the kind of relationship: when he keeps being referred to as Tutsi, and Munyarwanda and so forth, that is true. It is also true he has relatives. It is a long story. Even say with Uganda. Uganda in the south western district of Kisoro, they have hundreds of thousands of their citizens who are of Rwandese background. And people in Rwanda have relatives across in that part. You find brothers, cousins, aunties and so forth. By this, it doesn’t make these people in Kisoro less Ugandan. No. They are as much Ugandan as anybody else.
It happens with other tribes for example along the border with Kenya. The Bagisu have the same relationship across in Uganda. That is why you had people like Moody Awori, in Kenya, vice president in Kenya, and Agry Awori in Uganda as a minister. They are cousins. They are brothers.
In the same way, this Nkunda has relatives in Rwanda. We have explained this to everybody. Some of them are religious people, some are pastors, others reverends. These are people who have lived in Rwanda and have lived in Congo conveniently – they keep crossing the border. I have never said, and I don’t think anyone in Rwanda would say, that there is no relationship between the people across in the Congo and the people in Rwanda because this speaks for itself. Now, there could be collaboration in the sense of money being sent or different things happening. But there is nothing like for example state support to these rebels in terms of giving them weapons, in terms of training them and so on and so forth. We have told people the officials who have come to see us. At one point we discovered some members of our own army had actually deserted and we didn’t know where they had gone. They were across. What did we discover? These very fellows are relatives of these boys across.
We don’t necessarily sing about this. But we have told people. I am surprised sometimes when they accuse us when we are the ones who gave these people this information, when we are the ones who have voluntarily said “we have a problem.” We have some of our people who have actually deserted, who are listed as deserters. If they come back we will arrest them and take them to court.
Financial Times : There are other patterns emerging of financial support that comes through Rwanda as a conduit.
President Kagame : That is possible. But not Rwanda giving them money.
Financial Times : But could you not do more to secure the border. You have a pretty effective army – we have all seen that.
President Kagame : We could. But let me ask you something else. Why have countries in Europe failed to tame these genociders in Europe who mobilize money and send it to genociders in the Congo. The very German country that arrested Rose Kabuye (President Kagame’s protocole chief), has the leader of the FDLR (Hutu militias) living there. One time they arrested him.
Financial Times : And he is someone who was directly implicated in the genocide?
President Kagame : He was. They are living in Germany, in Brussels, in France, there are some who were living in London. Thankfully we have been working with the justice department in London and they have been apprehended. But they had lived there for years.
It goes back to the same thing. People bring the whole burden and put it on our shoulders but they should be cleaning up something about this problem, and they are not doing it, the bigger part. Doing what you are suggesting is possible. Even if we may not succeed entirely we may try to do something. But the first question I am asking myself, is this the problem? Should I even be bothering myself with stopping money flowing to these people before anybody even tells me his understanding of what these people are complaining about as injustices.
Financial Times : So there needs to be a real political process to get to the root of these issues? And none of the processes we have seen so far were adequate?
President Kagame : No. Absolutely. It is very hypocritical. Somebody prefers to accuse Rwanda that we are not stopping the money going through Rwanda to the rebels. But the government of Congo, in Europe who harbour these genociders I am talking about have not made any effort despite that we have pointed this out for the last ten years. The same people turn around to say Rwandan territory is being used.
But they haven’t found me sending money to them, they haven’t found money from government going to them. It is just these people through their relations sending money to these people as for example we did in our struggle. Can it be compared? And we can only do it if we put facts on the ground clearly. That this group in the Congo for whatever they are fighting that people need to understand, whether it is a just cause or not, that has not been identified. But there is what has been identified that these genociders are living in the Congo benefiting from government of Congo directly. They are benefiting from people living in Europe. We have given names, we have given evidence.
Financial Times : But you haven’t published the list,
President Kagame : We have published this since ten years.
Financial Times : Not the list of people in the FDLR who were allegedly implicated directly in the genocide….
President Kagame : Sometimes people come and we give them names. Then nothing happens. After two years they come back and they say have you ever given names? And we go and pull back these same names, and then they go another two years. It is really ridiculous, honestly.
Financial Times : Can I go back to the identity and relationships across the borders that we were talking about? Did you not yourself create the confusion about this the day in 1996 that you first ordered your troops across the border, you reinforced the confusion about the national identity of the Banyarwanda in Eastern Congo.
President Kagame : I did not cause any confusion. First of all the prejudice was already there before me even under Mobutu, for a long time. But the reason for crossing our border was clear – the main one was for our problem with the Interahamwe that were there. It had nothing to do with the Congolese per se. And when that was said that was going to happen that’s when the government of Congo started targeting Banyamulenge. It would be unfair to put that on our shoulders.
Financial Times : But you would recognize it is a problem now?
President Kagame : It is a problem now. It has been a problem for a long time. But the way it is being handled. The way it is being mentioned, by the international community especially is not helpful. Instead it increases these prejudices.
Financial Times : But doesn’t the presence of a very strong fighting force, under Nkunda, predominately from one ethnic group, does that not enflame ethnic tensions in the region?
President Kagame : Yes I believe it can lead to that sure. Probably that it is one of the things we would address or tell those people we don’t accept because of where we come from. I know precisely that. I would agree. But that is beside the other point, that what they are there for needs to be addressed as well as how they are there and how they exist or what they portray about themselves.
Financial Times : You have known president Kabila for a long time, and your chief of army staff has worked with him, you have a pretty good measure of the man. Do you think under his leadership it is possible to resolve these issues.
President Kagame : It is difficult. Let me share with you our discussion in Nairobi with regional leaders. I told the leaders who were there, and the UN secretary general, I told them wait a minute – I said do we really understand this problem in the same way, because we might be sitting here looking for a solution to a problem which we look at so differently. So can we first do a job to get closer together in terms of understanding this problem. And so I attempted to tell them what I think is the problem. I told them suppose in a country the first problem and main problem is actually its leadership. I am saying this in the presence of President Kabila, in fact I referred to him straight away, as this man sitting with us. And I went ahead to elaborate and I said I don’t like this hypocrisy, because you sit here and you are very angry with these rebels. And I said no, fine, rebels blame them for what they should be blamed for. There is plenty for which they should be blamed for. But if you have a government that has either no ideology or the wrong ideology, the ideology of extremism like the one that destroyed my country.
Financial Times : Is that really the problem? An ideology of extremism.
President Kagame : It is a combination of all sorts of things.
Financial Times : If there is no hope under this leadership, then what can be done? Can the situation be contained with peacekeepers, do you believe Nkunda could go all the way to Kinshasa?
President Kagame : That is the question I was posing. The UN went to the Congo supposedly to deliver a solution and I was asking them first of all do you understand the problem?
Secondly, if you understand the problem and you find it needs some hard answers, are you ready to provide these hard answers? From what I know about you that is not the way you approach it. Because you have failed to deal with the Interahamwe problem, and now you say it is difficult to go around now in the bushes hunting them down. So it seems you are not there to deal with the issues the hard way they should be dealt with. You are just there hoping that God can deliver solutions and you build on it.
Financial Times : But you spent five year occupying eastern Congo and you also failed to deal with the problem of the Interahamwe.
President Kagame : Do you believe that? If I dealt with the problem 80 or 90 percent, then I have really dealt with it. And probably if it hadn’t been the international community which said you should get out and played the card of intimidating us with all sorts of things and promises that they would deal with the remaining part, maybe by now we would have resolved it entirely. But of course we were not even the right people to go there to resolve it. We only did it because there was no alternative, because we are also conscious that it would in the end create another problem. Once you are there in another country trying to deal with your problem there which others have failed to deal with, it tends to give rise to other problems. But I have no regrets about it. Because I think we dealt with a substantial part of the problem and anyway there was nobody else to deal with it, as we have seen and continue to see. There are absolutely no regrets about it.
Therefore I have no solution. I have no answer to other people’s problems. I can only contribute something. But I cannot provide an answer for Congo. And this is what I was reminding the meeting. I said no. First of all the international community, and then the government of Congo should bear the burden of this problem, not us. And even now when they have been accusing Rwanda of all these things, really it is a way of explaining away the blame that should be coming to them.
Financial Times : But isn’t part of the problem your creation. You have created the impression in many people over the border that your real aim is to create some Republic of the Volcanoes, that engulfs parts of Eastern Congo.
President Kagame : I don’t want to believe people are so naïve that people are preoccupied by that. Okay, let’s play devil’s advocate. Kagame has created a problem. How about the other problems we have known that need to be dealt with? I take the blame for creating problems, fine, hang me if you will. But how about the problems we are having on our hands for the last 14 years. The Congo, the international community, everybody, $1.2bn spent by MONUC every year. What is it addressing? Is it really Kagame creating the problems that makes them fail? I will take the blame if I have something to be blamed for, but everyone else should too?
Financial Times : But if there is a problem of leadership in the Congo, could you not yourself be providing more leadership to address these issues?
President Kagame : I wish I could. But how?
Financial Times : But you can’t give up.
President Kagame : I have not given up. That is why we have been having communication with the government of Kinshasa.
Financial Times : Is that making headway?
President Kagame : We are trying. But again the problem remains, the solution does not depend on us. We can only contribute to it. It really depends on the Congolese themselves and I have no power to influence what the Congolese do or don’t do.
Financial Times : But do you foresee a situation where you might have to send your troops across the border again?
President Kagame : I don’t think so. The circumstances are totally different from what they were ten years ago. We would handle the situation differently by taking care of our borders unless something of a certain magnitude happened which I don’t envisage. If there was any forced entry into Rwanda by the ex-Far because they have been armed or something, we would beat them and drive them back, no question. But that is not likely to happen.
Financial Times : I am trying to imagine what a week like this is like for you. It seems almost schizophrenic because here you are at an information technology conference in Geneva, Frankfurt for another business conference a couple of days ago. You have clearly made efforts to rebuild your country but you are constantly flipped back into these darker events.
President Kagame : Yes. That should also help to explain some points that are usually missed. If you visit Rwanda and you know the background and history and you find the kind of progress we have made, why would be going to cause troubles elsewhere. You see I could understand in those old days when things were still chaotic, people could say these Rwandans wanted everyone to become like them, to live in chaos. But look at the developments in our country, doesn’t anybody think that we are doing that with a view to sustain it. People think we now need peace more than ever before, to protect our progress, our achievement, our stability. So why would anyone think the same people doing these things in their country are the same people creating chaos in the neighbourhood, unless we are crazy.
Financial Times : You will need to expand commercially beyond your borders…
President Kagame : But we cannot expand commercially in chaos so even for that reason alone people should see we are also interested in peace. People should not underestimate our understanding of that and even our intention to achieve it if we can contribute. But when you find these and then the crazy accusations against us they don’t match.
Financial Times : But if you look at the history of your movement right from its origins in 1979, the RPF created a strong fighting force that has achieved its aims whenever it has used force. Some people suspect you still have that ethos.
President Kagame : You still need to put up things and create some sense out of what we wanted to achieve from our struggle in our country. What else can we be looking for in this kind of situation. People must be able to read and rationalize what they think we are trying to achieve other than sustaining and continuing with what we are doing in our country. But the question again, there is an old problem here, and people have called it a pretext, but why isn’t even what they call a pretext addressed? Why isn’t the question of Interahamwe addressed? We have tried everything, until a certain limit that was imposed on us. That goes to prove our intention and yet we still have a problem there.
Financial Times : In many ways the problem is graver though for the Congolese.
President Kagame : Absolutely. It is. But still we don’t need that problem ourselves.
Financial Times : Have you been fielding a lot of calls from Washington London, Europe in recent weeks about this?
President Kagame : Not so many but as they come we only realise our situation in Rwanda has changed but the thinking out there has not. Our thinking has changed,. We are moving ahead, but they are still where they were 10, 14 years ago. And really it is unfair in many ways first of all to take the whole load, the Congolese and International community should be carrying and put it on Rwanda’s shoulders. It is not correct. It is not just. It doesn’t make sense.
There is running away from the problem, there are prejudices, the kind of confusion that has bedevilled the history of that region.
Financial Times :Presumably you know Laurent Nkunda. Do you think with the right process there can be a political solution, he can be brought on board?
President Kagame : People should not be obsessed with the name Laurent Nkunda. They should probably look at what he stands for. In fact I was telling the Congolese, I said, suppose Nkunda died a natural death or was killed in battle. Do you think you will have killed the problem? I don’t think so. You would still have the problem.
Financial Times : One of the things that the Congolese need most is a strong army that conforms to certain regulations.
President Kagame : There are two things. If they could have a strong army that would help them deal with some of these groups. Some defence and security capabilities. That is one. But they should also have a political system that works. For the governance of the country. They need to have both ideally but at least they should have one! To lack both is terrible.