Davos, 28 January 2011
Riz Khan: Mr. President, good to have some time with you!
President Kagame: Thank you
Riz Khan: The anti-corruption watch-dog, the Transparency International, has listed Rwanda as one of the least corrupt nations, saying that corruption there is pretty much negligible.What are you doing right?
President Kagame: Well, first of all we discuss it so that our people know how bad corruption is. It’s a daily conversation, it’s in education. Everybody knows how bad it is; we emphasize that corruption will derail our economy, progress, spoil our politics – it is simply negative to what we intend to achieve. We have also put rules and policies in place to fight corruption. Since we have also created the rule of law, and made sure there is no impunity when it comes to corruption, this has worked and people are served very well.
Riz Khan: What benefits has Rwanda seen from controlling corruption?
President Kagame: Public service delivery is as you would have it.Whether it is buying drugs and taking them to hospital or any other service to our people, it goes there directly. Every penny we spend on the development of our people goes where we it is intended and the benefits are huge. People associate themselves with that and understand the benefits.
Question from viewer, Asfaq Makrani, via Facebook: President Paul Kagame has done an excellent job. Congratulations to him! What will happen when he retires? Is Rwanda going to have the same zero-corruption Government?
Riz Khan…what happens with succession, how do you make sure it doesn’t slip back?
President Kagame: The most important thing is to focus on building institutions so that it’s not the individuals who are good and after that everything falls apart. We are certainly very conscious of that and we have tried, as I said, to build the rule of law in Rwanda. This is reflected in the way we have created institutions; whether it’s parliament, the judiciary…we make sure that they function irrespective of whether there will be Kagame or someone else.
Riz Khan: You have been credited and recognized for creating a very successful path for Rwanda; you have had five years of growth in the GDP, you are attributed to adding more women into the political system. I think you have the largest share of women in Government in the world. There is the question of the election result of 93% which people say is not feasible. How do you address such concerns?
President Kagame: I think people who say this put things out of context. There is the history of Rwanda, where we are coming from, and where we are today and where we want to be. You don’t expect things in Rwanda to be the way they are in Europe or the US or other developed countries. People in Rwanda vote for security, reconciliation, development, freedoms…it all depends on how recently they have come from the tragic history we faced. Look at the turn-out itself…it was around 97%. This shows you that they want something; they want to vote and identify themselves with something…which is new to them because of where they have come from. But when you look at the turn-out during elections in Europe or America, it is at 30-40% because people have given up…They are distrustful of politics. We are in different contexts and we do not to think that there is one formula to everybody’s problem.
RIZ Khan: You have stated that you would not change the constitution to extend your term as President. Is that set in stone or do you leave it flexible for a future time?
President Kagame: I think there is no reason for suspicion. So far, what I have stated is not going to change. I have no desire to tamper with the constitution so that I extend my term in office- I have no reason for that whatsoever. It’s not good for me; it’s not good for my country, it’s not good for the politics of my country.People keep saying that they have seen many other people do that, fine, but why not put the blame where it belongs? You can’t start judging me for what has not happened. People need to trust what we are telling them unless they have good reasons to believe it’s not going to be the case.
Godwin Apaja from Nigeria via Facebook: President Paul Kagame is presently the best leader on the African continent. Leaders should learn from this man – another Mandela here?
Riz Khan: Great compliments for your success there. I want to address the other side where there have been criticisms. One of the things that came up recently, Sir, was those who were in your inner circle until recently – your Attorney General, Army Chief of Staff, Intelligence Chief and Chief of Staff who were convicted earlier this month by a Rwandan court for disturbing public order, threatening state security, sectarianism and criminal conspiracy – these are strong charges for what would have been an inner circle
President Kagame: Being a member of an inner circle as you call it does not absolve one from responsibility where it is due. If somebody close to me, or working with me or in Government, commits a crime then there is law that applies. There is nobody, including myself, who is above the law. This is how you create a democratic process, this is how you create rule of law, and this is how you create fairness and justice and that is what we are trying to do. If I happen to break the law, then the law will apply as it will happen to anybody else. I don’t see anything strange here.
Riz Khan: This happens to be many people at one go now……People say you are a threat to democracy and what would be the reason for this fall-out?
President Kagame: But who says? Because, in the end, when the people of Rwanda clearly, freely, openly express themselves about what they have in their country that they are comfortable with …that they are happy about, who are these one or two or a dozen individuals who want to decide for Rwandans? I think there is more of this noise outside Rwanda than there is inside Rwanda. And this is disrespectful of the choices and decisions of Rwandans. You cannot define Rwanda and the lives of 11 million people on the basis of a few individuals who run away from justice.
Riz Khan: Things that came up in the media included two opposition parties that formed a coalition against you – the Unified Democratic Forces led by jailed opposition leader Victoire Ingabire and the Rwanda National Congress formed by your former allies now living in exile. This is an indication of growing opposition against you. What would be the reason for that?
President Kagame: I don’t know the measure anybody uses to make this judgment. In the Presidential elections we had four Presidential candidates and parties, me inclusive. There are two people who did not make it because they did not play by the rules and what the law suggested. They wanted to play by their own rules, which is not acceptable in Rwanda as anywhere else. In the RPF that I lead, we have different views and argue about it. I don’t expect everybody to agree with me on everything. But there are processes of law that decide things and this is what we should respect if we are going to build long term stability in our country.
Riz Khan: I want to ask you about the argument that too much open political space in Rwanda risks genocide in Rwanda again. I wonder if being more politically inclusive might perhaps help prevent the genocide because you have the debate out in the open.
President Kagame: I think there is a bit of confusion here. When we banned the use of the identities that were used to divide the people of the country – erroneous though, because people think we have tribes, yet we don’t have tribes. We simply have social classes made up of people who were farmers, those who used to keep cattle and those who were dealing in handicrafts. This is how the society is divided. But we said: “You can call yourself whatever you want to call yourself, but you cannot use it against somebody who is different from you. Above all, we are all Rwandans. You can say you are Hutu, Tutsi or Twa – but you cannot use it politically to the detriment of the other one who is different from you.” This is all we have said and this is an open debate and you can’t say better than that.
Riz Khan: You did say to some of your neighboring countries that you don’t want to see them supporting your former allies. Is it wise to bring in these neighboring countries, isn’t it a risk to spread these internal political debates to a regional level?
President Kagame: Maybe I was referring to something that was already there. I am not bringing them in. Maybe I was referring to something that was already happening because when you see some of them moving to places and easily getting travel documents and sneaking in and out of those countries every other day because of associations that were there before or because of grievances arising from different situations …I wasn’t creating anything new, I was simply referring to a situation that was there. I felt that it shouldn’t be taken to a level where it would be detrimental even to people who would be associated with this problem.
Riz Khan: Is there a danger of genocide ideology law curbing freedom of speech which is what Victoire Ingabire says; that it becomes an excuse to use against opponents. How do you achieve what you want but avoid making it an excuse to use against opponents
President Kagame: This is undue suspicion that people have against others. How, for example, do people in countries with laws against racism, discrimination…how do they limit themselves against those cases and not use the laws beyond to deal with other problems? Why should we be looked at as the ones who will fail to achieve that? If you are really bad, you don’t need to create laws because you can use other excuses. People are making an issue out of something that does not exist.
Riz Khan: You have built your campaign on one Rwanda concept, rejecting any division between Hutu and Tutsi. How do you rate the level of tensions between Hutus and Tutsis now? Do you think there is or there isn’t?
President Kagame: The facts on the ground speak for themselves. In the last elections which we had – which people criticize mainly because of ignorance more than anything else – when Hutus and Tutsis stood together and behind a leader, policies and institutions they want ,that speaks for itself and it’s a measure of how far we have come in dealing with different prejudices, different problems and our tragic history. When somebody asks me – is everything OK? Well, I don’t know of any place where you have a perfect situation. But as we confront different situations, we will overcome them. There are now institutions, laws, in place, goodwill. We will deal with problems as they come, fairly and squarely, and achieve our stability.
Riz Khan: You are critical of the UN and the role it played during the genocide. Last year the UN report suggested that your military might have committed genocide during the 1996 – 97 military operation in Eastern Congo. Could you categorically state that that wasn’t the case?
President Kagame: This is an insult to say that our military or any institution got involved in genocide. It’s like saying that there was genocide against the Nazis. It’s a sign of contempt that people have against Africans and Rwandans and this is not proper. Our involvement was clear throughout. People who are making this noise – even some of the authors of this report – are people who have been defending génocidaires who have been harboring genocide ideology.
Riz Khan: One of your former allies, Théogène Rudasingwa, says he used to go to the US State Department and tell them there was nothing going on but now says that there was military action going on in Congo.
President Kagame: You would understand this. This person, if he was a clean person as he claims today, why does he start claiming that today? If he is the clean person that he claims he is, why didn’t he tell them the truth at that time? Why does he start saying these things when he is in trouble with the law? This guy was charged in a clear case of corruption in Rwanda. None of these people you call my allies said anything opposing what we stood for when they were in Government until they got into trouble with the law. When the Attorney General was still Attorney General, as he was investigating a case of fraud in a bank, he started to take money from that bank. This is a fact. When the law started catching up with him, he turns himself into a leader of opposition. This is a ridiculous situation that people fail to understand.
Riz Khan: It’s been very hard to get past this tragic history that Rwanda has of the genocide. What will it take for people to move on?
President Kagame: We are moving on. It is only people outside who confuse the situation. You need to come to Rwanda, talk to people and see what’s happening in the villages, the changes and the progress even in the remotest places. Some people keep thinking that the situation is still that of 15 years ago. Everything has changed – the infrastructure, the people – everything has changed.
K Makgwatane mothapo via Facebook: President Kagame is by far the most intelligent sitting President in Africa. What are his views on Robert Mugabe and dictatorship in Africa?
Riz Khan: I know you have criticized Robert Mugabe in the past and how do you avoid slippage into that situation?
President Kagame: I don’t want to name names but dictatorship is a bad thing wherever you will find it and, sooner rather than later, those who are behind dictatorships face the consequences. There is no question about that. Your people will rise up and confront you – not these opportunistic individual leaders but the real people – and if they are happy, they will show it through actions and the progress they make. In different situations in Africa, there is a mixture of factors some of which are external, but people don’t want to admit. But there is no question; nobody should condone any dictatorship, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else.
Riz Khan: Mr. Mugabe was tough on media and you are accused of being tough on media too. In terms of freedom of media, do you feel you have freedom of the media?
President Kagame: Absolutely. Nobody can accuse me with any facts that I have been against the media. I have not arrested any journalist; I have not caused the arrest of any journalist. If a journalist in Rwanda was caught stealing money in the bank, he will be charged for that and not for being a journalist. Being a journalist does not give him immunity. I am probably one of the people who are more exposed to the media than anybody else. If I hated the media, then you would not be seeing me here.
Soud Hyder: Access to real time information and social media have caused massive crises in Tunisia and Egypt. What is Rwanda’s stance on such tools bearing in mind that Rwanda currently has massive plans on internet deployment in the rural areas?
President Kagame: We will not be deterred by that. We have already made a lot of headway in this area. We have rolled out a national fibre-optic backbone for the whole country. We want all Rwandans connected to information. This is what is confusing to hear that a country is doing all this and at the same time we are being accused of stifling freedom of expression. There is something wrong in interpretation. You can’t have the two conflicting situations. For us it’s not going to stop… We want to empower our people to communicate, to have information and knowledge.
Riz Khan: But you also have to beware that this could be a tool that allows people to mobilize divisions in the country
President Kagame: The remedy does not lie in blocking the tools of communication. The remedy lies in setting very clear and fair rules by which people have to play. If someone is spreading incendiary material to harm people, then the law should take care of this person. We should not mix these issues.
Riz Khan: Mr. Kagame, thank you very much for your time.