FRED SWANIKER: The moment that we have all been waiting for. We have a chance to engage with one of our greatest leaders of our current time, a man who has led tremendous growth in this country and is an advocate for gender equality and environmental conservation, innovation, and prosperity on this continent.
His Excellency Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, please join me on stage.
President Kagame, thank you so much for making the time to have this conversation with us today, and all the young people in the audience, and our viewers on YouTube and members of the room who are joining us from around the world — Some people are in the US at 2:00 AM, at 3:00 AM and they are very excited to be in this conversation with you.
When I asked you to have this conversation, you graciously agreed but on one condition. You said that you wanted me to come to Rwanda and to have this conversation with a group of young people.
And, throughout the years that I have known you President Kagame, I have always seen how much you believe in young people, you know, whether it is investing in education, you know —
Many of your own ministers in the cabinet have always surprised me how young they are, the people who work in your personal office, very young people, who are guiding you and working with you on a day-to-day basis, yourself personally as a leader. And, even investing in things like Kigali Sports Arena to ensure that young people access to sports.
I remember attending a concert there, once, I cannot remember if it was Neyo or Pantoranking from Nigeria and thousands of young people who had gathered. And at some point, I could not tell who the star was because you came in the room and you went down to the floor and everyone started, you know, cheering. But, it is very clear as well that young people really also enjoy their interactions with you.
So, I just really want to start with understanding with why young people matter so much to you? Why do the young people of Rwanda especially matter so much to you and then also when you think about the African continent more broadly what do you see as the potential of young people and also the challenges of young people in Africa?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Good. Thank you, Fred. That time we met, not only was I enjoying the company of young people, but also enjoying the music and dancing.
So, to your question: We all, when we are lucky and happy to be living, many times we live in the moment. We make sense of that moment. But at the same time, there is more sense to be made based on that moment for the future. It is the moment, it is more so the future.
When you are talking about the future, you are talking about those who are going to be in that future or to actually build the future or live those moments of the future. And you are necessarily talking about the young people of now.
And that also means the life of a country. The country in the future is to be shaped by the very young people of today. So, if their thinking goes like that then that is the sense it makes to be thinking about the young people, today, but more so thinking of them for the sake of the future.
So, that is my thinking. I guess it is the thinking of many people who see the value of the young people and the need to invest in them and they know they are investing in the future when they are investing in the young people.
FRED SWANIKER: Just a follow up question to that, Mr. President. Why do you think that, you know, when you go beyond Rwanda and you look at the whole continent, the average age of an African as I mentioned is 19.
Do you believe that your fellow leaders on the continent, whether it is leaders in business, leaders in government, what more should we be doing to really open up opportunities for the young people of Africa?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Well, every leader, I guess, they do things differently. But for every leader or leaders of a country – there are many different levels.
There are things you want to build, that form a foundation. A foundation on which generations will take turns building different things for themselves, for the country, for the population.
In Rwanda, that is where I am used to things we do here, I am a participant, we try to concentrate on investing in our young people, in technology, on which they can build to help them move forward, the infrastructure, the institutions that hold the population together. If you take just that as an example, I imagine that is what different societies and countries try to do as well.
And maybe sometimes, we do things differently, people succeed and others not as well as the others have succeeded, and that is due to many reasons, depending on the conditions in which different people operate. But I always hope that again as we started earlier, people’s responsibilities do not get lost just in the moment and they concentrate on that and stop thinking about the future.
So, leaders, therefore, what I know we are all supposed to be thinking about, is about what we have, what we see, what we hear in the moment, but take it and project it so many years ahead. And you really cannot do that without investing as we have repeatedly said in the young people and providing these opportunities, we understand, that shape them and therefore they also help shape the future.
FRED SWANIKER: So, for you it is really about that long term view, recognising that young are the future and if you want to build a society that is stable and prosperous and that actually thrives in the long term then you have to invest in young people?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: There is no doubt about that
FRED SWANIKER: Your Excellency, here in the room, we talk a lot about doing hard things, we challenge the members of the room who are very influential and very successful to, you know, use their privilege to do hard things because we believe that the only way they can justify their privilege is by not solving small problems and easy things but by doing hard things to really change society and to create opportunities for others, like the young people that are in the room today.
Now, you have done some incredibly hard things. You transformed Rwanda into a fast-growing economy after a devastating genocide, and today you have also led the reform of one of the most difficult institutions to reform, which is the African Union.
And Rwanda is now one of the first countries on this continent that is going to be manufacturing its own vaccines. In fact, last week Tuesday, I interviewed on this very show Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, from the World Trade Organisation, and she was very passionate and complimentary about the work you are doing of manufacture of vaccines in Rwanda.
These are some of the most difficult things that one could choose to do and yet you continue to choose to do hard things. Why do you do this time and time again, do you choose to do some of these very difficult things?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Well, to begin with, those hard things must be done, first of all. Somebody has got to do the hard things. While I would look at myself as one not to be among those doing the hard things, I would not have a good reason. So, I do that.
But I also want to say that it is not just doing those hard things. In fact, it starts with doing even simple things. Sometimes people take things to be so simple that they do not pay attention to them. Yet, cumulatively they really add up to situations that will require you to do the hard things.
So, you can make the work of doing the hard things much easier by paying attention to the simple smaller things in time so that the whole movement – I liked the way you called things here the pathway. The pathway can be very difficult or can be simple depending on how you paid attention to the simple, the easy, but also the hard things.
So, it is not just going for the hard things necessarily, but the hard things also have their time, especially like the example you have just given. We reached there and when we look back at the moment of doing the hard things, you look back and you say, well we have lost time. If we had done a few things properly, or the right way, ten years ago, maybe these hard things would not be there today for us, you know, to immerse ourselves and start doing them. They would be simpler, because we would have laid the foundation, we would have put the infrastructure in place to deliver on them. Sometimes, they become hard things just because they were not paid attention to in good time.
FRED SWANIKER: So, what you are saying is that on the journey to doing hard things, the destination might be a very difficult thing to imagine getting to that top, to that mountain. But sometimes, doing hard things requires doing simple things in the beginning and it is a cumulation of all those simple things. Like the Chinese say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Can you give us an example of simple thing that others may have taken for granted, but that you thought was important and that you saw as a key ingredient, or as a step towards achieving a much more difficult thing.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Well, let me give you an example of a city, of Kigali. Where it was twenty years ago and where it is now, are completely different worlds. So, when you look at the city now – the infrastructure, the cleanliness, traffic lights – you know, everything almost in place, you would say doing these things was very hard. Right?
But the journey started twenty years ago. And starting with what you can do – just do it right. I remember having a discussion with fellow cabinet members when this whole thing about keeping our environment clean, and sustainable. The beginning of the conversation was, do we need donors to give us money to keep our homesteads clean? To even ourselves, as tidy, and safe, and healthy as we can. There are things we can do, we do not have to wait for somebody to hand to us the means to do that, because we have the means within ourselves.
So, I said why don’t we do what we can at this moment? Why don’t we just pick the litter and put that in the right place where they belong? And then with time, as the economy grows and does fine as revenues grow, of course as donors, you know, donate to us what they can and usually do, then we shall from these means acquired start investing in the things that we were not able to do because we had no means for that.
So, the simple thing therefore…that looks simple. Just for a light moment, I will say, sometimes when that exercise started, I would be driving in the city. When I saw the litter around: plastic bags, paper thrown all over, I would literally stop my car, convoy, and that tended to also stop the traffic.
But the purpose would be, I would get out with my escort guards, and we would pick that litter. Why would I pass and leave the litter there?
FRED SWANIKER: A president of a country picking up litter?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Exactly.
But that has an effect, even starting with my entourage. They started thinking, well we should not leave this whole thing here. First of all, why do people go throwing litter around?
And at the same time, the traffic that has come to a halt, because I think they would even start saying, what is this man up to? What is wrong with him?
When they see me do that, they start thinking about it. Why would the president, as you said, stop and do this? Then next thing you say, maybe I should also not just pass by this and do that.
These are simple things. You do not need to pay a lot of money, you do not need to be paid a lot of money to do that. This is a simple thing.
But that in combination now with the investments that are to be made ahead, now for the hard things to happen. You see, one thing leads to another but they also, are complemented. If you waited to go for the big thing and the hard thing and then you leave these small things here and there, without paying attention to them, then you probably miss the point, and in the end, you do not arrive at the good results you want.
FRED SWANIKER: So, you have touched on a few things. You talked about the importance of leading by example, you know, you getting out the car yourself, and picking up your litter. You are talking about self-reliance as well. Not waiting for donors to give you the funding, so you can clean up the streets. Get going! You also touched on what that does to the psyche and then also, in terms of work the ethics that it creates, and the standards that you set. To say that it is important enough to keep our street clean, and therefore this sets high aspiration for the country and then people want to do more.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: And it is important enough for the President to get out of the car and pick…
FRED SWANIKER: So, if you he can do it, you have no excuse to not do it yourself. Excellent!
Mr. President you make a lot of unconventional decisions. For example, Rwanda was the first country, I think in the world, to allow blood delivery by drone with Zipline. In the early stages after the Genocide when you were thinking about rebuilding the economy, you prioritized sectors that others would have thought, you know, this is not the most important.
You decided to invest in the environment, and you prioritized conservation and tourism around the gorillas, as one of the keys first things to really rebuild the economy.
You built a national airline and created this world-class Convention Centre at a time when most people could not imagine Rwanda as where they would go for their conferences. And finally, today, Rwanda is the first African country to brand two football teams, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain.
Again, people would not think, why is an African country investing in branding European football teams.
So, when you make these decisions, I can imagine that they might not be popular, either in Rwanda and even around the world. What gives the courage to make these decisions when others do not believe in what you are proposing and how do you bring people along to achieve these great things?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Well, that is the most difficult question perhaps, but also experience. And in most cases, there are things that have been talked about: you give to young people, you give them an education, you give them advice, you do also all sorts of things.
But at the end of the day, there are things only these young people can give to themselves. You may give them everything you can give them, but there is that thinking in them, they have to undertake, to say, what sense do I make with all this that I have acquired?
I have I acquired education, I am healthy, and I have been advised to be a leader. You do not become a leader, or you do not develop a vision by just going to school, no. You build on what you have acquired and then there is something that only you can give to yourself, and that is what you do with yourself.
So, let me go to the bigger question you raised.
For example, when we arrived here in 1994, almost of half the population, a big part of it dead, a bigger part of it displaced, others in the old problems they had anyway. Because this was, has been a poor country and feeding on what is given to us and so on and so forth. That is the story.
So, when we took over in 1994, with all this devastation, you are challenged to say where do I start from, what do I do? You have no means, you have no people, even the people you have, everyone is just grieving and does not know where to start from.
In the end, that is how actually people start blaming each other for their misery. It is like you think when you are having a problem, it is somebody else who caused it. And everybody thinks like that, and it goes around to the point that … So, in situation like that you have to do some hard thinking. You talked about doing hard things. The hard thinking is what do I do? How do I move on? Where do I start from? You are challenged to think beyond what you are used to, because you might have a textbook that tells you to build an economy, to do this, you follow this path, you do this, you do that. It does not work in that time.
FRED SWANIKER: It is not in the textbook.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: It just does not. Textbook is probably ten percent. The rest is that hard thinking and thinking out of the box. You no longer have to say, you know to achieve this… For example, we also had another big problem. We had cases in the hundreds of thousands of people who have killed their fellow Rwandans. Forget about whether anybody had justification or that, no, let us put that even aside.
And in that situation, you are going to necessarily have those who have lost and are aggrieved, those perpetrators and then, there is trying to settle it the way they can.
If somebody lost a family and is thinking the other one is the one responsible, they will not wait for the textbook justice. They will want to go for that one, and actually sort it out for themselves and say, “you killed my brother, I will kill yours or you killed my father, I kill yours, and so on and so forth”.
And on that scale the things were here, there was no rational thinking to an extent. Everyone was just affected by what they have seen, what they have experienced, what has happened to them and so on and so forth.
To the extent, you look around for the textbook that can give you a pathway from that point to move on, you will not find it. Therefore, it is that I was talking about. It is that, that is in everyone, that they can look up to and say: “what do I do in this moment?”.
My personal experience – people made contributions with different experiences, and it all came together to give us what we were later to achieve. But mine was, first for example, I was leading an army that fought and secured the country in the end. But those fighters I was with, many of them had lost their parents, their relatives, they were left alone.
And you imagine this person has been fighting for something to liberate their country and finds nothing about their family. Stopping that person to take it upon themselves to deal with the matter the way they understand it, it is difficult.
It has to be outside of the textbook or the conventional thinking, but we had to do that, we had to say look, what we have done is much bigger than ourselves, we have secured our country. It is true and it makes sense the way you are aggrieved, it is justified and even what actions you can carry out, maybe actually justified in that sense.
But, if we allowed ourselves to be carried away and do that, which we think and which might be justified, what is going to be the end? It is just going to create a cycle of violence that will actually even consume the lives of those who are still living, all of us.
So, we have got to create a starting point and the starting point is: let us try and live with our pain and manage it and then create space for a movement forward, create stability, create a sense of security, and start building what we can build in terms of institutions and then we can look back and start delivering what we were not able to deliver at the beginning.
You know what developed, like in terms of justice, Gacaca and so on… Gacaca was just soul-searching, because you knew if you had to take hundreds of thousands of cases to court, which courts? First of all ,the courts were not there, even if there were there, anywhere, wherever they have working courts and built a lot of capacity, even if even you said please come and help me try these cases, they would not manage. It would take hundreds of years to do that. But you cannot wait for hundreds of years to live our lives of the moment.
So, we had to keep finding ways out of the conventional methods that we know. So, that is really how we, we were more less, other than even the fact that originally, we set out to liberate our country, therefore, we had a mission we understood very well, and we knew it had a lot of problems, but not as difficult or as many problems as we later on came to meet.
So, using that background and at the same time challenging ourselves to how we can deal with new situations that we cannot find examples of anywhere to address and that we, ourselves, were the ones to deal with that. So, that challenge that was you know, we were really pressured cooked, we had to find a way of surviving that and that delivered in many ways for us but it had to take some rational thinking to get out of that and apply different means that people may not be used to, whether ourselves or others who saw it from outside, but managed to come out like that.
So, I cannot say there is any magic that was applied. It is what is possible with people, we did what is possible, as human beings. I mean our story tells the two parts clearly, one part about human beings is how destructive, even self-destructive, we can be.
But on the other side, part of our story, which is the one we are living today and interesting, is also how human beings can reach within themselves to do the very things that in the end may look like a miracle.
So, it is all human beings, it is all within us and it depends on … that is why I’m saying you probably do not go to school anywhere for it but we have it within us, and where we go to school and the education we get, of course can be helpful, it informs you better but there is that part only we and others can do for themselves.
FRED SWANIKER: Again, coming back to that point about self-reliance, and that there are certain things that you really cannot be taught how to do, so you touched on two things.
One, is the importance of learning by doing, right? Because one thing we share with our young leaders at African leadership academy and African leadership university, that to effectively develop yourself as a leader, only ten percent of the skills can be learned in the classroom, twenty percent comes from developmental relationships with your mentors and peers and coaches and seventy percent comes from experience, you learn by doing, you have to try things and fail and keep going.
So, as much as important it is to get education, you are not going to be able to solve… you need perhaps, more important is to learn how to become a problem solver and then with those problem-solving skills, when you meet new problems that you have not identified before in the textbook you can then solve them.
And that is one of the things we really try and embed in our students to enable them to become problem solvers not simply people who have memorized facts and figures.
The other thing that you talked was, something that I always personally believe in is about how constraints drives innovation.
And you were faced with a lot of constraints, as you mentioned it would have taken a century to take people through to the normal court system after the genocide, so you had to think about a different way.
You did not have many resources to develop the country, you had to think a different way. And so, in theory Africa therefore should be the most innovative continent in the world because we have a lot of constraints, and it forces you to re-imagine and to rethink, you cannot do things in a conventional way when you have all these constraints, you have to re-imagine and re-invent, and that is what you have done
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Yes, absolutely.
FRED SWANIKER: My last question before we take a break…
PRESIDENT KAGAME: In other words, just small thing before we leave, to add on what you have said, the young people here, only thing you can learn as a person, first, before you go to another for help, make sure you have challenged yourself enough as to how much you can do for yourself. Then, after that you can reach out to a friend and say … but if you do it the other way around, it does not work well. If every time there is a problem, “Fred help me”, that is a big problem.
But I will definitely come to Fred when I have really tried and convinced myself that probably I need help, then It is right, it’s ok to go for help.
FRED SWANIKER: People help those who help themselves, so get started. I hope you are listening, young people in the room.
My last question before we go for break. Here in the room, we are an African organization. We have global plans. And the reason we are building a global network is because we believe that it is important for these African talents that we are developing to access global capital when they start their businesses and to be able to access global markets, if they are trying to export and so forth.
And also, one thing that COVID has made possible is that now it is possible to work globally without the brain drain. You can be sitting in Rwanda as a software engineer working for Siemens in Germany. You can be a designer in Nigeria working for Zara in Spain and today COVID has actually made companies a lot more open to hiring talent around the world.
So, we thought that we need to build a global platform and let the world know that we have top talent in that platform and that allows us to export African talent, but without brain drain and to really create opportunities for young people on the global scale.
Now I have seen you engage a lot on the global stage as well. I remember in 2019 when we still used to travel, I went to San Francisco, and I went to the headquarters of Facebook, and they said President Kagame was here last week. And then I flew to New York, and I met up with a friend and an investor Matt Harris, I think you know him, and he said I just hosted President Kagame for a dinner. We have met several times at the Milken summit in Los Angeles, and so forth.
So, you clearly engage globally but yet, you are proudly African. So why is it so important for you to engage on the global stage and how have you leveraged those global relationships to drive Rwanda’s progress and development?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: By the way, I should have done that earlier or I have done it before anyway, let me thank you, Fred. Thank you for being the idea behind this African Leadership University.
It is really Pan-African. And it also gives us pride to be one of the hosts of the African Leadership University. There is a lot of work to do here in Africa, but it is always going to serve us well if we move, not only in the right direction, but move properly, in the right manner.
The right manner I mean is, there are things we need to address here in Africa, ourselves. We have the talent, the young people, the numbers speak for themselves in comparison, you said it earlier, with the rest of the world. So, we have to be organized. We need to get organized.
How do we, therefore, if we have the talent, we have the young people, such a huge population. how do we get them organized in order for them to gain from the opportunities available and develop, but also maximize on that talent pool and how we can tap into it ourselves for the African benefit.
But then from there, you know, it is not just start with Africa and end with Africa. Africa is part of the world. There are things other parts of the world have that we need, either because we do not have them or because we need them to develop ourselves to the levels where others are. So, therefore, how we get linked to the rest of the world is important and that is how what you referred to, has been happening.
Not only am I trying to contribute to having the Rwandan talent pool, the African talent pool develop with what we have, what we can put in place at that moment, or what is available to us, but immediately I have to think about how do we connect this to the outside world because we need the outside world for different things that are very vital to our own progress and that is how exactly what you said has been happening.
It is other talents that exist that you connect with, it is capital that we need that we have to link up with, it is technology that we need so that there is that link between Africa, Rwanda and the rest of the world and that will speed up our own progress. That is clearly what I have in mind.
FRED SWANIKER: So, Africa is part of the world, and we cannot develop without engagement. We need access to capital, access to technology, access to talent and access to relationships that can really allow this part of the world to benefit. And it is not only for Africans, but for the rest of the world, they also benefit, because they also then get access to talent, to markets and things like that, so it is win-win.
M.C (ALICE): Welcome back Your Excellency and Dr. Swaniker, we will proceed to the Q and A session.
FRED SWANIKER: Thank you very much Alice and I hope you were able to get some refreshments and get some good bathroom breaks, for those of you online I hope you are still with us and we are now going to go to an interactive session with His Excellency, the President.
We are going to start first with a couple questions from our live audience, who are joining us from different parts of Africa. The first person who is going to ask us a question is joining us from Ghana. Her name is Mrs. Margarine Nkrumah. She is the former CEO of SOS International and she also started SOS international school. Can we have the question please?
MARGARINE NKRUMAH: Naturally, you have a great deal of negative press from certain western countries despite visible and tangible evidence of your achievements. How do you deal with these accusations and vilifications, both publicly and internally? Thank you very much.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Thank you! I think that is really a good question. There is only so much that one can do and at least from my perspective, you always do what you can do, and do the right thing and do it the right way.
So, the negative press, especially from the western world, it is not new. It has been there for the last twenty-seven years since 1994, I remember. There is not much I can do about it or any of us can do about it here in Rwanda because it is from the other end. That is how they see things, whether correctly or not, but that is how they want to see things.
There is how you see things, but there is also how you want to see things. I think, in this case, maybe it is both but from the other side, ourselves, there is no way I can change easily how someone wants to see me, or sees me from their own perspective.
Sometimes, they must be looking us through the lenses of their own, where they come from, where things really might be different from our own.
So, the first thing that comes to my mind, what we can do in Rwanda is take stock of what the press is saying and try to analyse it and say, well is this thing right about us? Maybe, it is wrong or does it have a basis? Maybe you may learn something, and it may help you to correct something you can correct if you really discover, maybe they make sense.
So, that is where we concentrate. First, what we do in Rwanda and what we have tried to do for so many years now, is really our business.
We think what we do is our business, before it becomes somebody else’s business. And we do it for ourselves and we try to do it the best way we can because we are the ones who benefit from it or lose from that, if we do wrong things.
So, that interaction between what perception is about you from outside and what you think is right for you to do for yourselves, really, I think may help lead even to getting things better, but the concentration should be more on doing what you think is the right thing for you.
We concentrate on saying whatever angle they attack from, criticize, insult, do things, and misrepresent us, we still want to look at, could there be something maybe we need to pay attention to and bring it back to what we all along have been trying to do for ourselves? And then see if it can improve us on many things, one thing or another, and then we move along.
That is the only option we have really to deal with that, otherwise, it would take a very long time for me to go into details of what I think about that. So, I just maybe confine myself to these few important remarks I have made.
But, we also know that we have to deal with the world, and here this is Africa, this is Rwanda, there is, from the outside, the western media and others, well even sometimes the politicians from there, they really think they are entitled to present us as they want us to be, not as we want ourselves to be.
So, they will always make that judgement, saying: “what is he doing, but what is he doing about this or about that?” – is from how they would do them in their own place or sometimes, in fact, not consistent. Sometimes, they may criticize you for doing what they do just because they think you are actually not entitled to doing that.
“You can’t do that, that’s not for you, it is for us”. There is this back and forth that goes on forever. So, in order not to be distracted and keep answering yourself on everything or being dragged to think like other people think and not think for yourselves about what you should be thinking and doing, you just concentrate on understanding on what your problem is, and trying to do the best you can do to address it, whether there are small things or the hard things holistically but keep hearing, listening and learning maybe one thing or two.
It does not matter, it will not do any harm for people to listen and say, does this really merit criticism? Maybe, it does. And if you find it does, then you address it, but always keeping in focus what is for you. Because we are not supposed to be people just answering to others all the time, framing our lives and our thinking just along the lines set by others. No, that is not for me, that is not for Rwandans.
FRED SWANIKER: So, you are saying, you do not ignore the criticism, you listen to it. You see what merits, what is valid, and what you may learn from it and how you might improve some things, but then you are also very capable of separating that from criticism that maybe you feel is unjustified and you also have your own standards. One thing that I love, as well, very often the spirit of Agaciro that you talk about here in Rwanda: believing in ourselves and self-sustenance, and I think that is a wonderful spirit that others in African can also borrow.
Our next question comes from another member of the room, his name is Kenny Njoroge, he is joining us from Nairobi, Kenya.
KENNY NJOROGE: Good afternoon, Mr. President, my name is Kenny Njoroge, I am an entrepreneur based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Over the last eighteen years, I co-founded and built a fintech company that expanded across Africa. We have 18 offices across Africa, serving 35 countries. We employ about 450 people, about 90 percent of them are young people between 25 and 30.
We have been a proud member of the room and a good partner to the AL group. We sponsored six students throughout the university program, and recently we took another six in a graduate management program. The plan is to hire about 6 to 10 ALU students from the different campuses, Mauritius and the campus in Kigali.
I have been a fan and a big follower of your leadership journey over the last three decades from the early days of the liberation struggle to the current social and economic transformation of Rwanda. When I look at that journey, I see hope for the continent and my question is to you, your Excellency.
What will Africa and Africans need to do about the next two, three or four decades to be able to mirror the kind of growth and transformation that Rwanda has and for Africa to earn its place in the global stage? Thank you, Sir.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Thank you for your remarks. First, the conversation that we have had here was about different growth paths we see in Africa or can take, in different parts of our continent.
I guess the problems of Africa or Rwanda’s, and where we have come from, we need, one, to understand that business should not be as usual because there are comparisons to make. You look back in history, where we were 40 years ago and now, we are talking about 40 years ahead, and see where others were at that time, that were maybe equivalent in terms of the standing in a socio-economic development.
The last part of 40 years, we found those who were like different parts of our continent have moved ahead so many times and left our countries of the continent behind or even where we were at that time, we have declined instead of…
At the same time, like Njoroge again has just explained, what he is doing, what he is able to do, that means we actually can do certain things. We are able to do a number of things that contribute to raising our economies to the social economic development to a much higher level than where are now.
Maybe, we need to be a little bit better organized on our continent and be deliberate, and treat what we are doing with a sense of urgency, that there is a serious problem we have to address.
Not just for individuals. Individuals on our continent, many of them solve their problems. They are aware of what to do, they have been educated, they do business, they are entrepreneurs, they are innovators. So, at individual levels, we are doing fine. Well, but that is also a small number, it should not be exaggerated, compared to the rest, if you are looking at the whole population of our continent, which is now getting over 1.2 billion people.
Now the others, let us say, the 80 percent of that population, and then the countries of our continent that should serve our own people, there has been of course in the past this migration from rural to urban areas which has both sides, very good side of it. There is also the downside to it, in the sense that these migrations are really deliberate and are happening on the basis of the movement of talent and skills, and so on and so forth, no. How about those who stay there, at what level do they stay, of this social economic standing? You find there is a huge disparity.
So, I think, the next four years we should be addressing this problem where Africa really, I mean, we see the examples, we need to develop. Different levels of our society need to be part of it and benefit as well so that development you see in my country is not the ten percent who are doing fine and then the ninety percent…and then we count the wealth of the ten percent and say, Rwanda is doing very well.
No, Rwanda is not doing very well when you have ninety or eighty percent left with nothing. So, this is the problem we have to address, building on for example of the contributions that can be made by such companies as Njoroge’s Fintechs in the financial sector, financial services and then you can move to any other sector and look at what is there, what I need to do to fill these gaps that remain, that are huge between these different levels of our society as far as the social economic indicators are concerned where Africa really is way behind the rest of the world.
For Rwanda, therefore, and as part of Africa, Africa generally, we have some similarities in terms of opportunities as the well as the problems we have before us that we have to manage.
So, it is organization, it is…I am hesitating to say, it is also largely political, politics, the political economy of our countries need to be sorted out or looked at differently, so that it is about uplifting everybody, it is about actually properly utilizing the immense resources we have.
The analogy that has gone around several times where, it is like you have everything in your backyard and then you leave it there, you go begging. Or something else, sometimes you have everything around in your backyard, somebody comes and helps themselves with it and then you run after them to say, “give me something”.
This is something that Africa needs to change, and we are capable of doing it. The person who asked the question, Njoroge is one of those who, and so many of them like him, are capable, if our politics allowed us to scale that up and spread it, and everybody, these young people who get educated come up, have that thinking of saying no, it is not just for me, it is for my family, it is for my country, it is for my continent, we can work together.
All these things like the African Continental Free Trade Area that has been put in place, you know the story about it. First of all, we thought about it too late already, it should have come twenty, thirty years ago. At the same time what does that mean, it means that our own countries are not trading with one another like other countries in other continents do.
So, it is like we are just small silos on our continent. We need to break these barriers deliberately and also really treat what we are doing not as business as usual.
FRED SWANIKER: If I can synthesize what I heard you say: to really move Africa forward in line with Njoroge’s question, not doing business as usual, so going back to your conversation earlier about thinking unconventionally about recognizing what you have in your own backyard and not just waiting for someone to come and find value in your own richness that you have.
It is also about Pan-African collaboration and breaking down barriers like what the African Continental Free Trade Area is trying to do. And it is also about leadership, and political leadership that ultimately prizes creating opportunity for the vast majority that do not have and not simply enriching the few that already do. That is the blueprint for the Africa, people.
We are now going to take some questions from the audience in the room, and I am going to invite Alice to take us through this part.
ALICE: Thank you. So, we will now take a few questions from the room. Please remember to introduce yourself, your school and followed by a question. Please raise your hand high, so I can see you, be clear and concise when you are asking your questions.
So, we are going to take the first question from this side. Please, go on.
JOEL TWAGIRAYEZU: Good afternoon again, your Excellency. My name is Joel Twagirayezu and I am from the African leadership University, pursuing International Business and Trade in my third year.
My question goes: After the liberation war, in 1994, you had a mindset of saying let us work together, let us put aside vengeance and you had to also work with people who were in the government of the overseer of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
So, I wanted to know what was the mindset as one of the persons who were affected directly or indirectly by the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: In that case, we had to, sort of, put aside a little bit our personal grievances that actually rose to the national level, because there were so many involved. But for a reason, for a reason of reality, that there is nothing you could do at that moment or even any other moment to reverse what happened. You could only manage it, and try to come out fine in the circumstances. But you could not, as a country, we are not going to be able to recover what we lost. We lost people and there was no way of returning them.
So, one, you have to think about how to manage that. Second, you also have to find a way of managing the future, and more importantly the future, those who are still alive and those who will be there tomorrow and the country and so on and so forth.
So, where we had to start from was to try and hold the country together. In fact, at one time, we had a mixture, even in the government, as you mentioned, where even in the government there were people who also sympathized with even the perpetrators of that genocide or even who are being accused actually. But we were looking for evidence. Some people were being accused of actually having participated, but they were sitting in cabinet. So, you see here, you try to transcend almost this impossibility of saying: “how, but this man is a killer, is suspected to be a killer, there are signs that you…How do you have him in a cabinet?”.
The answer quietly in one’s mind is, yes, you have such people in the cabinet at that moment, so that you can secure the future. You remember one time on these commemoration days, a young woman asked me a very touching and maybe complicated question when she asked me publicly and said, “President, it’s like why do you keep burdening the survivors with this weight of reconciliation, so that the country moves on?”.
In other words, she was telling me, actually every burden about that is just loaded onto us, which I thought was true, I mean which was true, which is true. So, I was not really so much prepared for that question in that moment. It’s like “Why you are always telling us forgive, do what and this…”
So, it is like, everything happened to us, but you still come to us and say please, allow us to move on. So, I anyway quickly thought, it almost caught me unaware, but I quickly learnt or remembered something that I had to tell the woman:
– You know what, we burden you with all his responsibility and the weight of everything because you are the ones who have something to give.
Because what I meant was, we need sort of reconcile the extremes. There is the extreme of the victims, who suffered to the extreme, and then there is the side of the perpetrators, the extremity of what they actually did.
I said, the only person that I can turn to and go to and say please forgive and ask for forgiveness or to give the other forgiveness, is the victim. I cannot go to the perpetrator and say, and say what? If you went to the perpetrator, what do you ask him to do? Just say, “oh don’t kill again next time, you know, you see”. No, this is not an issue to beg from somebody just, if you were thinking of doing it again you need to be put in the right place.
So, therefore, the burden ended up being on the side of the victims because they are the ones who had something to offer, to give to society. And that is something very difficult, to go beyond your pain and provide something that can help address the stability of our country for the future.
For the perpetrators, there is little or nothing to be able to, you cannot just go begging them to be better citizens next time. No, that is not…So, what was on our mind were all these things, the complexities of our society, of what happened and how to get out of it. So, one way was to have these people represented even in cabinet, and then allow time to deliver also on some of the means and capacities to be able to address the many grievances we could not address because we did not have means or institutions to take care of that. So that is what happened.
ALICE: Thank you very much. We would like to go at least to the other side of the room. Yes please, at the top, down there a little bit.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: They are in the room.
RONALD MUGABO: Your Excellency, the President of the Republic of Rwanda, I am Ronald Mugabo, a student in level four pursuing law. I am currently the guild president of the University of Rwanda, Huye campus, and the guild president of the University of Rwanda.
I am very thankful to the President’s office, which gave me this opportunity of meeting my role model of today. So, I have a question. For myself, I am going to be specific to my university because there is a problem we have.
There is a problem. Agriculture is contributing out of the country’s economy, but students from Masters from University of Rwanda, College of Agriculture Animal Sciences and Veterinary medicine, programs of crop science, agribusiness, agroforestry, soil management and animal production. After being allowed to Masters programs, they are facing a problem of lack of tuition fees and living allowance from 2009. As before, and some other programs, they are being catered of and they are being given those scholarships bursaries.
So, Your Excellency we request, if it would be possible, you can take part in that situation and you see if those students can be facilitated also.
The other question we have, we are encountering, there is a problem of these new campuses we are having, there is Rusizi campus…
ALICE: Thank you very much, can we just have one question.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Anyway … the only thing I can promise and say about that is, I have no problem working with those responsible to look into the matter and come out with the best thing we can do for the well-being of the students or even the faculty or the University. On that one, I can promise you, I am sure those responsible might be here listening. So, we will take it forward and see what we can do to address the problem.
ALICE: Thank you very much. We are going to take one last question. Yes, the lady at the back please.
MARTINA ABERA: Thank you so much your Excellency, president Paul Kagame, Doctor Swaniker. My name is Martina Abera Kabagambe. I Am currently a third-year student at the African Leadership University, pursuing global challenges.
So, in 1994 after the liberation struggle in Rwanda, a lot of people were scared, those inside the country and outside the country, and they were expecting a lot of chaos and havoc, but that was not the case.
This country saw and experienced reconciliation and were given and provided hope for a better tomorrow. Now, currently, in this African continent, different country are experiencing coups and chaotic changes or shifts in their leadership or governments.
Now, my question goes to you, your Excellency President Paul Kagame, I would like to ask you, what is the ingredient for a smooth transition that leads to a positive transformation that is also inclusive? Thank you.
PREDIDENT KAGAME: Well, you remember… I was going to say 94 to maybe 99, we were really struggling. There was a lot of chaos or confusion, especially 1994, 1995, 1996… things were not as good as they are today. So, we had our own share of that situation of chaos and confusion.
So, the world sometimes… and we keep seeing this everywhere and we keep saying it, people keep talking about learning lessons. This is something that is common everywhere in the world. They say we will learn from lessons, learning lessons, – it is the UN, it is country x, y – learn lessons.
Actually, the world and countries do not learn lessons. They just end up…, and you wonder why? Even in our situation, in Rwanda, the world said you know Rwanda imploded, and you know, Genocide and chaos and so on, and you had the UN here and you had other people even countries from outside, but still bad things happened, terrible things happened.
They happened at the time they were here, from the beginning, the terrible things you know or problems of managing the chaos continued and the countries were here. And then every time there is that discussion, well for sometimes, academic debate, purposes, whatever they say, “lessons from here, lessons from Rwanda, about this” – but these lessons do not serve anyone, it seems, because people just end up…So, we learned our lessons. There is no question about it. Maybe enough, maybe not enough.
What we learned was to pick our pieces from this tragedy we had in our history, tried mold something out of it, a country that came back to be Rwanda and move forward.
And in doing that, and based on the lessons learned, was to be inclusive to bring in everybody. This is why, earlier we were talking about, sometimes bringing even into cabinet people whose backgrounds were questionable.
But doing it deliberately, so that you give time for healing or for finding the means to deal with the situations that you are not able to deal with at that moment, and also maybe, give an opportunity to this person, either to defend themselves or to better people in future. So, it is about doing everything you can to try, you know bring these pieces together and for the better future.
Now, about the rest of other parts of our continents. If people learned lessons maybe, some of those things could be avoided. I will not have to name names or anything. I will be careful not to do that, because I do not want to be the problem. The problem is already there. So, I do not want to be used as an excuse now, to be the problem.
But you find what leads to some of the coups, maybe not all the coups. But the coups will come out of discontent, political discontent. And in fact, unfortunately, all these things about coups or sometimes even where they have not happened, where you actually say this situation even deserves a coup, but it does not happen. But it happens amongst the elites, the ruling elites. The ordinary people who are the majority, the ones we serve, the ones even that elect us to serve in office, and so on… sometimes, they really have no say, because many times there are situations where they have no say. Even when they go for elections, they elect “Fred and the winner is Kagame, is Paul…not Fred”.
So, somehow Paul, who has been in power, when it is Fred, he says “no, no”, he uses the means of government to make sure that Fred does not go through, and so Kagame stays on the basis of the political power I have in my hands or the military control I have you know, and so on and so forth.
So, in a way, the conflict remains between Fred and Kagame. The ordinary people who were involved to elect their leaders will just go back home, and go to their farms and wait for another call for elections after four or five years or, it does not matter how many.
So, when situations are like this, sometimes people get tired of Kagame manipulating and you know there have been so many attempts and maybe, actually Fred might win several times, might stand in different elections like three times winning, but the results are in my favor because I can still twist them in my favor.
Now, in between, and this a question all of us can think about and have their say on it. When you have these so-called elections that have gone on and the wrong person winning. Suppose some parts of the country, let us say the army, which really should not even be part of the politics but which I used in my favor because I was the President and involved them in the politics, supposed part of it, actually carried out a coup.
We have found ourselves … now the problem here again is sometimes they may not carry out a coup in favor of the person who actually won elections. And say, you see we followed, we knew you cheated, you did not win, it is Fred who won, so we take over and they give it Fred. No, they take over and take it themselves.
So, you have three people among the elites who are disgruntled, and who are fighting each other. It is me, it is Fred and it is the army, the part of the army. As you see, this really does not involve adequately the people we lied to and said they are going to choose their leaders.
But this takes me to another point. So, in this case, if the coup happened, we have now gone to a point where we ask ourselves if it is a bad coup or is it a good coup?
Originally, all coups are supposed to be bad, isn’t it? Yes, coup d’états have no place, ordinarily, in our society or in our politics. The army should stay out of politics, that is what we know and that is the ideal situation we know.
But then we have started having these realities where … you know in politics then comes corruption, then comes nepotism, then comes all kinds of things. And I am sorry to say, you see it in more than one places on our continent.
You see, it is just, so you are ruling? Then, the family, the tribe against others. This is not good politics. This can lead to anything, now …especially corruption.
This is where, now, these people are going through to carry out coups. And in the end, you get confused when you say, “Oh, In that place, there was coup” … then deep in your heart you can say “well, I saw it coming”…Because you saw what maybe the leaders were doing. But otherwise, leaders are supposed to have been elected leaders, who should not be touched. But because of these realities on the ground and things as they developed, and maybe the mistakes they made, and the tribes and the corruption and all kinds of things, one or the other happens. And when, we say, “No, no,this coup should not be there, should not have been there, you saw everybody out, and so on and so forth”.
Well, the reality is increasingly turning out to be different. Sometimes the people with Fred, now get an opportunity, and say no, but what are you talking about? Maybe these coups makers are ok, because after all even the one who has been there you are saying the coup has been carried against him, is not the one we elected. We elected Fred, so they will go out on the streets celebrating… right?
So, it throws everything in turmoil, in chaos, even people start saying, “yes, but what are the people saying?” People are saying, “yes” … they are happy with this. Even if you say, the coup-makers making a coup is bad…but there is an argument, people will say,
“no, but these are bad, but the one they removed are worse”. So, which way do you go? You just go for the bad or for these ones who are worse? So, this is what we are… it is a problem that really needs to be looked at critically… yes?
Because, if I am going to entrench myself, no matter what people say…I lose and Fred is the winner and I say, no I am the winner, then you start losing legitimacy. There is no question about it. And if a coup happened, then people will say, “so be it”. Of course, you know we are very polite when it comes to that, or diplomatic, I do not know how to call it. Nobody will really come out and say, “this coup was justified”.
They will always say, “No, no, you see, you know…. What is African union saying? What is so and so saying?” … and nobody will say anything. So that is where we end.
So, my friend the question is as loaded as you can have it.
ALICE: Thank you so much for these questions I’ll now hand over the flow back to Doctor Swaniker for the firework.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Are there people who… I can give you a bonus of a few more questions.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: One or two.
DIANA UWAMAHORO: Thank you your Excellency. My name is Diana Uwamahoro. I am a student , at the university of Rwanda.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Just be short, to the point, and somebody else, and will cover three instead of one in the same time.
DIANA UWAMAHORO: Thank you, my question is we have seen our country trying its best to deal with the pandemic, I mean the Covid-19 pandemic, and we have also seen the government doing its part.
Then my question is what do we need to do as youth? I mean as young people, we have been hearing, saying that we have to be doing big things and also taking care of the small things for their attention. Then what do we need to do, be it now, be it Rwandans and Africans at large? Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: So young people, first and foremost, take care of yourselves. That is number one. As much as you can.
Like, you are putting on the mask, and you know, keep your hands clean, do not go into congested areas. I know you have given up being in nightclubs, or other places. So, keep trying.
Especially for us, we have to even take care of ourselves more than others, because while others are vaccinating, we have in most cases been left without vaccination. So those vaccination… the vaccine has its own protection it gives to people, so that one we have lacked largely. So, we use all other methods science tells us, to try and protect ourselves. So please, start with that.
The second is, ourselves really means each other. Do not protect yourself and think it ends there, no. Protect the one next to you, as well. That is what putting on mask means. In fact, it is not just protecting yourself. It is also protecting the other one, next to you.
So, once the message is clear, the understanding of what we need to do in this problematic situation of a pandemic like this: there is what you ought to do to protect yourself. There is what you sometimes do to protect others and contribute to… for example, in the lockdowns and working from home… yes quickly learn how to work from home and as productively as if you physically went in person to the office, or to other places of work.
There are these limits that are set. We quickly understand them, we quickly understand why they are there, and then we conform to that but trying to do our best to maximize on what we can have in the situation.
So, always being proactive and responsive and when we happily get vaccine, to vaccinate people you should be one to go in front of the line and be vaccinated if the vaccine…well, I am not going to preach to anyone, but there are people who start having ideas, you know, either conspiracy theories or some … I don’t know… say if they put this thing in me and… you know there is a friend of mine I got to know who was not going to be vaccinated.
So, when I met her, I said, “why don’t you take vaccine?”. Then she told me her thinking, that she has been told by some scientifically aware people that vaccines are actually bad. They leave some bad things in our bodies which may affect us. Even in a long time, even if maybe in thirty years and so on, you end up in a bad shape.
So, but that person is almost my age. I asked her, I said, “What if you got the virus, what chance do you have?”
I said if you got the virus now, and you are not vaccinated, the chances are not plenty. I said, while if you got vaccinated, like me now, you are telling me I have thirty years to worry about the problem? I think I will go for that one, I will go for the worry of the next thirty years than just be knocked out in a week.
So, young people you just need to be properly engaged and responsive and taking care of yourselves, and contribute to the well-being of the nation and among other things.
ALICE: We will go to the other side of the room, please.
JAMES ABRAHAMS: My name is James Abrahams. I am a Kenyan from Kigali Independent University. My question is touching on the integration in East Africa basically, and the promulgation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.
As young people here today, we are gathered to get your knowledge on this and in your experience as the former chair of the East African Community. What are some areas in which we are not performing to the best of our ability, that can help us integrate better and do trade with each other, basically us? Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Good, you start from home. Let us, say even here, before you cross the border to anywhere. Just make sure that we, as a system, a country, we are trying to do the best. We are productive, we are working with each other, we are building capacity to compete in the market place on anything. Start with that!
And second, yes, look for opportunity beyond your borders, because there is a lot more in actual fact. So, the Continental Free Trade Area on our continent was created so that there can be this free movement of people, of goods, of services and so on, so broadening not only the market but of course, for the sake of those who are serving or working in it.
That should be the thinking and everything else will be coming straight to you. What are you doing? Internally here, what are we doing? What are we building? How competitive are we here? Even satisfy our market, and then work beyond that market, small market of Rwanda, to neighbors. I am sure the same thing is happening with others, across borders, from the other side of the border. People want to come and do business with you and invest with you. So back and forth, competition, innovation, delivering on the market what you think you can produce competitively and sell it there.
So that is really what we need to be doing, and as young people you need to master this sort of thinking and do not pity yourself, work hard, put every energy you have into it and be able to move.
ALICE: You can have the floor, please.
MANDER: Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Mander. I am from Djibouti, and I am a graduating student at the African Leadership University.
At the African leadership university, we are taught to dream big, to dream bold, and my question is, is Rwanda capable to welcome the World Cup and if yes, when do you think it might be possible?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: First of all, I agree with what African Leadership University is teaching – thinking big and dream big. I entirely subscribe to that. That is for me, the starting point.
The second is about the world cup, right? You see, I am lucky because there is no threat that I might have it tomorrow, because it is already booked for…. the countries are known for maybe the next twenty years. So, I have myself to prepare for the next twenty years, right? So, you never know.
ALICE: Yes please
PRESIDENT KAGAME: There is advantage of being in front here. So, I saw that, he started from the beginning, putting up his hand … and maybe you can prepare one there, only one from there, you agree which one, choose one from among yourselves and then we will have you also.
TUYIZERE FABRICE: Thank you Your Excellency for the bonus. My name is Tuyizere Fabrice. I am in school of law, at the University of Kigali. My concern goes to Doctor, the CEO of ALU. Sir, you have said that if you want to get an opportunity, please join the room, and then my concern is that sometimes you find that in that particular room there is a lot of persons with different positions, so it was like what are some criteria that one may follow as in to know the right person to go to. Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Maybe I answered earlier, even some of your questions, I do not know. There were coming to you, and I assumed they were coming to me.
FRED SWANIKER: I thought you were the guest of honour, but I will answer your question very quickly.
You know my advice to you when you are in a room with people who have opportunities, is to take time to build relationships with them and you know one of the … I described that there are four steps to building a relationship, right?
So, when you meet someone for the first time you have a connection with them, maybe there is some chemistry, you have something in common, you exchange some ideas, they give you their cards, they give you their phone number, that is the first step.
Then, the second step, you get to continuous interaction. You exchange emails, you meet up for lunch, you take WhatsApp messages you spend time together, and through the continuous interaction the person gets to see whether you are someone who is a doer or just a talker.
And they get to understand, “Are you a person with integrity, or not? Are you someone who has the skills you are saying you have?” And then they start to really form trust with you, which is the third stage.
And then only when you have trust, you get to fourth stage, which is collaboration. That is when you now can do something together. You get a job, you get venture capital for your business, you get funding for your non-profit, whatever it is.
So, the mistake I see so many young people doing is they meet someone today and they expect something from them tomorrow. And you have not done the work to show that you are someone, like the President was saying earlier, that you also are using the little that you have to get ahead, to do the best you can and that you are someone that can be trusted and then that they can invest in you. So that is my advice for you, is take time to build relationships just for relationships sake. Do not just be going and getting things from people.
The final thing I will say is you need to think about relationships building like a bank account. You cannot just withdraw from it and take… take… take… You also need to give, especially, if you are a leader. Your role as a leader is not just to get stuff, is to give, and create opportunity for others.
So, just as you are in the room and you are getting opportunities, you must be creating opportunities for other people, and if you do that then you will find that you will succeed.
ALICE: Thank you very much, so our last question.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Quickly here,, we finish and take one from there if they have sorted themselves out, and then we see.
BENI ISABANE: Thank you excellency! My name is Beni Isabane, representing Davis College and Akilah.
Well, Mr President as someone who has always been the key person behind the Rwandan development. I would like to hear from you: What is the one key thing that guides you, and makes you capable of doing all the things you do, in such a unique way, as you do. Thank you, sir.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Well, I am not sure but I thought you were going to tell us about yourself.
For lack of better ways of putting it, first of all, there is something I am not really very responsible for: nature. Nature shapes you the way it wants, sometimes. Maybe your genes, or something. Then, there is also the nurture, the environment. For every human being, by the way, I am not talking about myself.
The environment shapes you, combines with the nature of the person. Then, in the environment you learn things, you are attracted to some, you reject others, you want to do things, you develop interest, because of what you have been exposed to, and so on.
Really, for me, what I have done, or contributed to for this country and with others, comes from sort of that background. The environment I grew up in, and then probably part of me, that I cannot say I determined on that.
It is like, I did not determine what my height is, or what my big size is. These are things that happen to you, and you are not responsible, but then once you are there with that… for me thrust into the world of Rwanda and in politics and the history of Rwanda, I have benefited in one way or the other from this compression of nature and nurture. That is how I happen to be doing things the way I do.
Quickly, we go up and maybe we need to wind down.
ALICE: Have one from here then.
JINIUS BUNU: Thank you, His Excellency. I am Jinius Bunu, from Carnegie Mellon University Africa. I wanted you to tell us, we have seen what has been done by you and your team regarding digital transformation of Rwanda. A lot of countries are still trying and I want you to tell us the key ingredient of such a successful digital transformation and if you were to give an advice to an aspiring African future tech leader, what would it be?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: I wish you had asked the person who is next to you, she is responsible for things digital.
But I think it is like many other things. One, it is about people, you have young people. As I said earlier, most things are driven by our political thinking as well, but you have the people, you have the thinking and then the rest is to be organized and put the tools in place, which are in the end part of the investments you make in people, infrastructure and when these things have happened they start producing what encourages other people…If you see how digital technology drives businesses, drives services, as we said even during the pandemic, I think to a decent extent we did fine because the thinking, the infrastructure, the people, the tools were already in place.
So once people said, “no going back to place of work, nothing, you need to work from home”, it is like people woke up and said, “actually it is possible because we already have this, we were only going to do it in the office but you could do it from here, using these tools we have”.
So, the investments never go wrong once you have invested in people, in policy, in infrastructure and then the politics of it will drive it. But more so, it will be accelerated by what you see is already the outcome, what starts happening that you find is beneficial.
FROM AUDIENCE: Advice for an aspiring tech leader…
FRED SWANIKER: Advice for an aspiring technology leader. He wants to be a technology leader in Africa and he is asking what advice would you give for someone like him.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Oh! You grasp those ideas and find your place in the middle of that. Ok. But for any more advice, please, you knew her? All around she was sitting next you and you did not… she is the minister of IT and plus, plus, plus. (Applause)
FRED SWANIKER: Should we have the last question?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Up there, we agreed, up there.
DANIELLA NGARAMBE: Morning! My name is Daniella Ngarambe. I am a Masters student in electrical and computer engineering at CMU Africa. My question is despite being the lowest emitting continent in the world, Africa is facing a lot of repercussions in terms of climate change and my question was how can the youth contribute to slowing down climate change in Africa and improve intercontinental relationships to fast track this agenda? Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: I will need to write a book for the answer. It would a long answer, but I think, I understand what you are saying.
Africa being more at the receiving end really of the climate crisis and, yet not contributing as much as… so what we need to do is to start early, ourselves, not to solve the problem… so we have to leapfrog, not to start solving the problem by going the route of those others who are meeting and trying to reverse and then trying to reverse that ourselves in the long run. So, we have to leapfrog, it is adoption of these technologies that are green in their nature.
Also, trying to think hard about the very policies that can…. because like now we are developing in many ways. We are starting from a low base. If we start adoption of these technologies, for example, and developing that way, we have a chance, first of all, of managing our situation the way it should be ourselves but also use that as basis for the others now who even are polluting the world more than ourselves and making certain demands so that maybe in the future people start paying for their level of polluting our environment.
So, you will be on good side of that… but this requires a concerted effort, it requires all of us to understand and it does not matter which field you are in. It is about the thinking so that you contribute to the future well-being.
So, somebody else there, I told you to choose one but I can still see 5. Sorry moderator, I took over your role
ALICE: Yes, you can have.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: You and the one behind you, one in the light blue shirt.
MUHAMMAD HUMA: Thank you Mr. President, I am Muhammad Huma. I am from Sudan. I study at Carnegie Mellon. My question is, you have made a strong point on addressing the African context and grassroots solutions, but I also recognize that this is a very common political talking point for many African leaders. I would like you to tell us from your long experience
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Fred, addressing what?
FRED SWANIKER: African context….
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Oh alright!
MUHAMMAD HUMA: Yes! As I mentioned, it is a common political point for many African leaders. And from your long experience, and because I truly believe that you are the only President I can trust to actually answer me transparently about that.
What do you think is the African context? Because of course it is not just development. The global south has very similar social illnesses and economic illnesses to Africa.
What makes Africa unique? Is it just a political talking point, to pass on things like native and local policies, without being bothered, and how can we use this knowledge of really addressing and knowing what exactly you mean by the African context in developing and creating truly African, truly strong, truly effective institutions, technological frameworks, and solutions to build the Africa of tomorrow? Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: You see, the African context, if you will, really means the African story, because Africa was not born yesterday.
Africa has been there for a long time, and then we have seen how things have evolved over many years. In that African story and context, if you will, there is the African itself, context, and how it interacts with external factors or actors. So, these have come together.
So, what I mean therefore, when I am talking about the African context, the way I understand it, is these two things as mashed together and so from the perspective of the African, what do you want?
You may not say, “no, I am going to be the African of 18th century or 17th, that is the original, the real African”. That evolution and the interaction between the African story and externalities that affected it have formed a completely different context or evolution where we find ourselves and in that there are things we have to accept and others we have to reject.
One simple thing, the mentality of it. If there is any notion that the African story has to be shaped from outside, it is what the outside tells us to do that you do, I will say no, that is not correct.
I will say at least the minimum, we should talk about it. You see, you give me a chance to interact with you on what you think is good for me, that is the minimum. And that is different from saying “no, don’t talk to me, don’t say anything to me, leave me alone to my African context as I explain it, as I think it is”. Because in the end, we do not think about that the same way, even as Africans.
So, there has got always to be that back and forth. It is like, no, give me a moment. If you are from outside, and you say, no, you should be doing this, you do this. I say, no this is Africa, you are from somewhere else.
And I know, I am conscious, that the African story is this meeting point of the Africa itself as it has always been and has been evolving, but also with the interaction with the rest of the world, because there is not going to be that without that interaction.
Now, that is for me the African context I am talking about, and we should be able to explain it. You see, I think that point is very good, but very broad in a sense. You see, It is like, in a country, you find a country in Africa, X, or let us even call it Rwanda. The politics might be wrong or go wrong – it is not serving really the interest of the people of Rwanda, or the leaders may be the wrong leaders, who even do the harm to their own people, the people they are supposed to lead, including sometimes killing people, your own people.
There is no such a situation that is going to justify that you are going to do these wrong things and people should keep quiet because this is your country, this is your Africa, this is your country. No. The African continent or the African country also has certain standards, has certain values, has certain minimum.
You see, it is like even in our own country, in 1994, when genocide was happening. Actually, there were all kinds of arguments across the world, including at the U.N.
By the way, when it happened, at the U.N Rwanda was holding a non-permanent seat at the U.N security council and the ambassador who was there at the time really was arguing. It was like telling people off. It is like what we are doing in Rwanda is our business. You see what I mean, so it is like, no, this is the Africa, this is the Rwandan story, leave us alone.
When it crosses a certain line, it is no longer just Rwandan, it has become internationalized. It is to be looked at in the very wide context of the world standards, and what is expected of you.
So, we have to be careful so that indeed people do not abuse the African context. The African context, if properly defined and described, has nothing wrong with it. If you take care of all these needs and parameters that have to be driving our politics and our development and that context.
So, to the African Union, therefore, African Union is a structure that is in place that brings together Africa, through which we can bring these ideas, or grievances or any misunderstandings and different ideas we do not agree on and try and narrow the gaps that are there and see if we can make… so, that is why people sometimes are in or out, saying this or saying that, when a problem happens and say, the African Union needs to intervene, some Africans themselves may be uncomfortable and say, “oh you know, I don’t …”.Because, then you realise something wrong because why would you be afraid of the African institution getting involved?
That trying to run away from being able to come up front and explain what you are doing and say there is nothing wrong, in other words, you are just fearing accountability or being held accountable and that is why you are avoiding it.
Otherwise, and if the institution of the African Union was going to do something and there is something wrong, there are also ways of checking it and say no, no, no, this structure that is supposed to be serving all of us is not actually serving all of us, it has gone astray.
Then there is somebody to come up and say no, no, no, we can check that excess if there is. But there can be excess with the country or with the institution. So, but voices should come up and say what they want to say about correcting something. But the African context is there and exists and should be actually strengthened, but bearing in mind of this interaction.
On the final point, on that, I really find it problematic in that interaction that somebody believes they have the right and the power and everything, to say something about you, and even be consequential about that, when you cannot say anything about them.
I would not mind if you would come to me and say, this is wrong, you must change. Then ok, I will look at it, but you should accept that at one time, if you are doing anything wrong, I should be able to point out and say “Hey, please what is going on?”.
Otherwise, we would have such a bad imbalance where it is like everyone right here, East, West, North or South, I always hear people talking about God, right? When they are talking about God, it is like God, is God for all of us. I do not think God would have made one part of the world more important than the other part.
Somebody behind you, and maybe we end there.
KHALIL: Thank you Mr. President. I am Khalil a Tunisian student in Carnegie Mellon Africa, focusing on IT entrepreneurship. I am totally amazed by how Rwanda is now trying to be a business hub. So, one of the questions that I want to ask is how today Rwanda is trying to support to build start-ups here and also to expand them?
Meanwhile, also how to support African start-ups to also come to Rwanda, and by support it includes programs, tax reductions, financial support and everything. Thank you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: You have said it all, you have actually answered the question, that is exactly what you want to do.
KHALIL: The timeline, because I saw start-up act, which have been already a work in project, but I guess it got postponed, Thanks.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Yes! Timeline , it should not go beyond the next three years actually, but if we can do it in one year or less, that is what we will do. It is a journey we are walking, knowing that many things we do not have in place but we are trying to put in place as quickly as we can but I should say ,I will be more comfortable from now going forward we should see a lot of progress and there should be no questions in the next or beyond two, three years.
FRED SWANIKER: Great, well. Thank you so much for all those questions from the floor and thank you Mr. President, for your generosity in giving us this extra time and for giving the bonus questions to our audience.
We are about to wrap up now. To wrap up, Mr. President, we will just take five minutes we are going to do something, that is my favourite thing to do on this pathway, called the firework.
So, for this part of the conversation Mr. President, I am going to ask you a series of questions in a rapid fire session.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Rapid fire is something I experienced more than [laughter], it has been a while.
FRED SWANIKER: This one is more friendly.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Like thirty years ago.
FRED SWANIKER: I am going ask you to respond to these questions in seven words or less. Sometimes it will be even less than that, I will let you know, but maximum seven words.
So, the first question is name one thing many people do not know about you, just one thing.
FRESIDENT KAGAME: Everything is known about me.
FRED SWANIKER: Describe your presidency in three words.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Opportunity to serve.
FRED SWANIKER: Wow! Brilliant. Opportunity to serve. That is perfect. I wish more African Presidents would see their job that way.
Finish this sentence again in less than seven words, Rwanda is…
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Your Home.
FRED SWANIKER: Your home, alright, thank you!
What is one thing you have learned from being a grandfather?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Age.
FRED SWANIKER: Age! Okay.
Name one item you could never live without?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Information.
FRED SWANIKER: Information, Wow!
What did you want to be when you were a little boy?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: A pilot, I wanted to fly planes.
FRED SWANIKER: A Pilot? Ok.
Where do you go to think?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Anywhere.
FRED SWANIKER: Arsenal or Paris Saint-Germain?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Both.
FRED SWANIKER: Education or Leadership?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Two sides of the same coin.
FRED SWANIKER: What makes you smile?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Family.
FRED SWANIKER: Best basketball player of all time?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Steph Curry.
FRED SWANIKER: Stephen Curry! Alright.
What three words would first lady Mrs. Kagame use to describe you?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: You better ask her.
FRED SWANIKER: So, the final question Your Excellency of this whole interview, this whole conversation, and this time you do not have to limit yourself to just seven words. What are you parting words to our audience, to everyone who is in the room, to the young people in the room, to the room members listening online on zoom, and to everyone watching on YouTube, what are your final parting words for everyone that has joined us today?
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Young people you have opportunity. Just take it and run with it.
FRED SWANIKER: Great.
So, there you have it. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been a truly remarkable conversation with one of greatest leaders of our time. To the young leaders in the audience, I hope you are leaving some powerful nuggets of wisdom that you will use on your own journeys of impact and to everyone who has joined us in this conversation, I hope you have seen a remarkable example of someone who is doing hard things and of one the things Mr President that really struck me was your point about how to do the hard things sometimes, you have to just focus on the simple things and the details.
You can dream big, think about having grand ambitions, but also be detail-oriented at the same time, and I think that for me is what I am leaving here today, is just really the importance of not forgetting the small things, getting started and that is how we all are going to begin to transform this continent. Thank you, Mr. President, it has been such a pleasure having you.
PRESIDENT KAGAME: Appreciated, much appreciated. Thank you.