First, I would like to thank the new ministers who have taken their oath. I do not doubt their willingness, ability and other qualities needed to serve the country and Rwandans properly. Usually, when those who serve the country want to facilitate the work, things go smoothly. If they decide to complicate matters, things get difficult, and problems arise.
It gets complicated particularly when people focus on their own benefit instead of working for the country or those they are supposed to work with, and those they serve, so that things go well for everyone, and we can advance. But I assure you that the good will is there; if you are ready to work together with those around you, and others who may join later, everything will work out.
Those who have been sworn in today are going to the Ministry of Health, a ministry that has an important role in people’s lives but also in the development of the country. If people’s health is good, they can fulfill their roles and the country will develop – we know this from experience, from our history and what we are facing, including various epidemics, currently Covid-19, but there are many more.
I think that those who have taken the oath will work well, and we will accompany them, as we also carry out our responsibilities, so that we confront these problems, overcome them, and move forward.
Apart from that, I would like to take this opportunity to say something about the wellbeing of our country, not just the health that affects life in different ways, but politics in general: where we come from, where we are, where we are going. It’s always about three things: remember where you came from, know where you are, and focus on where you are going.
I would like to take the time to thank the leaders who are here: ministers, legislators, those who serve in the judiciary, leaders of the high institutions and others who are here with us, for the way we continue to work together to build our country.
What we achieve together as a country enables us to share with others on our African continent, and in our East African region, so that we can all move forward and solve the problems facing us.
That is the reason I want to tell you that apart from what we all already know about the work of our army and police in Mozambique, Central African Republic, in South Sudan and elsewhere, within the United Nations, there are activities handled bilaterally like we do in Mozambique.
In Central African Republic we have two missions: We are working with the UN, and separately, working directly with the country. The two missions are complementary. In South Sudan we are under the UN mandate.
In all this, Rwanda is not a rich country at all. We are rich in other ways. We are not rich economically, but we are definitely rich in heart and determination. That is why we can solve our problems – as we keep looking for more solutions, because we cannot finish them at once – and collaborate with others to find solutions for their problems, which are often similar to ours, so we can move forward together.
On Mozambique: I have to say it here because some people get confused. We have around 2500 of our soldiers and police there. Even yesterday we added more troops because since we arrived there are many problems that we have solved together with the Mozambicans. There is also SAMIM, the army from Southern Africa, which came to help Mozambique. In the areas we were assigned, we have tackled all problems we had. But the terrorists have been moving to other parts of Mozambique, so we have not been able to reach every corner. It would not be possible without the cooperation of Mozambique. They also have their own work to do. It appears that the terrorists have been moving from where we were working, to other places. We agreed with Mozambique that we are going to track them where they are. That’s what we are going to do and this is why we added those forces.
Since we arrived in Mozambique, no country, no organisation has given us money for that work. It’s your money, it’s Rwanda’s money that we use. The little we have, we share with others.
There are those that could help. There are those who tell us that they will help and we are waiting. If they really help us, we will thank them as befitting. It should have been earlier, but it is never too late to help, so we will thank you.
I would like to get that issue out of the way because there are those who think that someone has secretly passed funds to us, but no one has. I am putting this out there, and if it is not the case, I welcome anyone to correct me. I wanted to clarify this falsehood.
We have offered the limited resources we have, and even Rwandan lives, because those who go to fight in wars like that, do even lose their lives. This means that we, alongside Mozambicans, have given our children’s lives, as well as the little means we have, to save that country. I would like to thank you for finding it important to do this, and you didn’t object to it.
In Central African Republic, there are two separate missions: one under the UN framework, and another under a bilateral agreement. The bilateral one is similar to Mozambique. We also share our resources with other fellow Africans. We don’t whine too much that people haven’t helped us but if they are interested, they are most welcome. We are working together with the Central African Republic to bring about peace. That is why they were able to hold their last elections. If we hadn’t gone there, they may not have been able hold the vote. Perhaps even the capital Bangui would no longer be in their hands, but in that of those their attackers.
There is a reason we did it that way. We have troops in Central African Republic under a UN mandate, who follow UN rules. They cannot work contrary to the mandate of the UN, which has its own way of working. I’m not trying to be critical; I’m telling it like it is. With bilateral agreements things are done faster because we make the decisions. When you are deciding, you do what must be done, your own way, as you see fit. When you work for others or they take the lead, they have their own process. The way they see things is often different from you, or they don’t match.
We asked the Rwandan troops in the UN to follow the rules of the UN. The troops we sent under the bilateral arrangement have instructions to cooperate with the Government of the Central African Republic. It’s different but I think it’s complementary.
Sharing the little we have with others has been in our top priorities, and this for a long time.
Our troops under the bilateral agreement deployed in the Central African Republic are paid by the Rwandan government. Their wages are deposited to their accounts here in Rwanda and will be there when they finish the mission. In addition, they also share wages with those under UN mission who are paid more. For example, if someone in the UN mission is paid one hundred dollars, he shares with the one under bilateral agreement, did you know this? This is solidarity. This is how we live. We are not high maintenance, we are low maintenance people, low maintenance country. We do more for less, and that’s a culture we want to continue.
Let me put that aside and come back to another question: the problem of our neighbors in the DRC. I don’t normally have time to argue with them, they say whatever they wish about us.
But I want to take this time to say something in response, speaking to all those who are connected to this issue. It has been a while, that’s why I today want to go into enough details because I have been holding back for some time. I hope that those I am addressing are listening.
The DRC problem is multidimensional; DRC, Rwanda, M23, FDLR, MONUSCO, the international community, envoys…
First, it should be a shame to all these people that we are so many, have so much in terms of means, claim to want to resolve this problem – and it is simple to resolve in my opinion – but it has never been solved for decades now.
There are problems of DRC before this, Zaire and so forth, but I will focus on the last few decades. I will not go into the 60s, or the late 50s, I am talking about the last nearly 30 years.
People should be asking themselves how these problems that relate to Rwanda, that relate to DRC, that relate to all these groups I am talking about, that relate to the whole region, that relate to powerful countries that talk so much about humanitarian crises and human rights and really insist on wanting to resolve all these issues, stay unsolved. Yet they sit with this situation and just keep massaging it, blaming everybody else except themselves.
It has become so convenient for so long that all problems are put, heavily, on the shoulders of Rwanda. Rwanda is always the culprit. It’s not the FDLR, it’s not the government of Congo that should be responsible of its own problems and people, it is not the UN, it is not the powerful countries, mainly America, UK, France, etc. It’s Rwanda all the time, and it’s M23 because of Rwanda, so it still comes back to Rwanda. It is not the FDLR, remnants of people who carried out genocide here. It is not the Government of Congo for many reasons.
I started by saying that we don’t have means but we have ways. We don’t have means, that’s why in comparison, between Rwanda and Congo, there is more, much more that DR Congo offers to these people than Rwanda. So naturally, these people must tread carefully when they are dealing with Congo’s problems. They must even assist Congo to alleviate their pains by transferring the blame they should bear and put it somewhere else. And the easiest place to put their blame is Rwanda.
In Kinyarwanda, we have a proverb, I want to explain it in Swahili. In Swahili, do you know a banana plantation? There are bananas trees and there are leaves, and there are short stems and taller ones. In Africa, banana leaves are useful in various ways, especially for preparing food. When you go to the banana plantation, the leaves that are cut are those of the short banana stems, because you cannot reach the tall ones.
Now these people think that we are the banana with short stems because of geography – we are a just a small country, or with few minerals or other assets. While others have much, we don’t. So, they would rather go after the short banana stems. But they are really deceiving themselves.
In our shortness, we do not have means, but we have ways. And we are strong, in ways you can’t understand. To those who think they can keep cutting our banana leaves because we are short stems: you don’t know how much you have deceived yourselves.
We are even accused of stealing the wealth, minerals of Congo. One thing we are not – we are not thieves. We work for what we have and what we get. In fact where we are today, shows decent progress, not really too much, because we still have a lot to do. By the way, we are also where we are on account of the support we get from these people who accuse us, or who claim that we actually do this, these powerful countries.
They actually give us a lot of support. If they took time to scrutinize, because they support other countries as well, including the Congo where we are accused so much for what is happening, they will not find a place which gives more value for their money than Rwanda. I can bet on this. For every dollar they spend on us, or they support us with, we will show more for it than anybody they give their money to. It is deliberate, it is not by accident. It is who we are, it is who we want to be, and nobody will take it away from us.
But when it comes to trying to cut the banana leaves because we are short stems, they will discover that we also provide value for money, meaning it will actually be costly for them.
Now let me add to that: the FDLR and their affiliate groups, RUD-Urunana, and so on. Affiliate groups also means some individuals who are either here in prison, who were brought from outside, or others who masquerade as so-called the opposition, who we have just left free to mess up themselves.
Why do you think this problem of the FDLR has been there for the last nearly thirty years? Why? Because it’s too complicated a problem to resolve? No.
I am beginning to believe something I never believed. That I suspected but I had no proof, and I don’t want to believe it. But it’s been so many years, that if you can’t find another explanation, then you have to believe it. You can’t disbelieve that actually, somebody somewhere wishes this problem to be there forever.
One, it is maybe to check these stubborn troublemakers, the short banana stems. So there is always something maintained there. Then it spins around – the crimes associated with these people of our history, of our tragedy in Rwanda in 1994 and the history before – they start associating us with the very crimes of these people.
It’s like they exist because we are doing something wrong, in actual fact maybe we share in the crime they committed. In other words, as if the perpetrators and the victims of our tragic history were the same – there is no difference.
Isn’t it the narrative since 1994? How we in this country are known for stifling freedoms of people, violating human rights? Sometimes when they talk about violating human rights, they point to the people here, who they have labelled opposition leaders, who are associated with this history, as those who we are the violating rights of. The very people who are associated with genocide who are here, many of them outside there. Who they have even sometimes refused to try for their crimes, because they say that they can’t return to Rwanda as they will be denied their justice, their freedom, their human rights.
We have responded to these people and said if they can’t be given to us, here is the evidence, try them in your courts because you are better than us. And they still don’t do it. What does that mean? What would that mean for anybody who wants to think? You don’t want me to try them for reasons you are giving, whether false or true, then how about you? How about you try them? You mean you are questioning your own justice system as well? But on top of that, they still come and point fingers at us.
Sometimes there is poetic justice. Some of those who refuse to send people back to us, even after begging and showing them their crimes – in some cases, these fugitives have gone ahead and committed crimes in those countries. There is a case where one was being accused of killing somebody else. I think another case raped somebody. Prompted by that, they start the processing, to send these people to us. The first crime of genocide carried out here was not bad enough, but they are reminded by somebody violating the rights of one of their citizens. This is what I am calling poetic justice.
For the last twenty years this problem has been there, and for the last maybe twenty-two years, the UN force was sent to Congo to deal with the situation, at the top of the list being to deal with FDLR and these other genocidal groups. There is not a single day that I know of, maybe you do, that these forces ever fought FDLR to try and remove them. But they have been so keen to fight the notorious, or famous – I don’t know, M23. That’s what happened in 2012. We warned these people that you were dealing with half the problem, the other half will come back to haunt all of us. This is not a military issue; this is not a problem you want to resolve by force of arms. It is largely a political problem you need to attend to, and maybe help the Congolese government to address this problem. They ignored us.
Ten years later the problem has come to haunt all of us. But of course the easy way is to blame Rwanda for the problem. That solves the problem. That’s where we are now. But why wasn’t this problem resolved in the last ten years?
Those M23 who fled and came to Rwanda were cantoned in a camp in Ngoma, former Kibungo. We disarmed them, gave the arms to Congo, and they took the arms. I am talking about the facts here. We always gave access to the officials of Congo to go and talk to these people every time they came here, like twenty times.
The last I heard was that they wanted to talk to the representatives of these people and others, the majority of them had gone to Uganda. They took them to Kinshasa and were supposed to talk to them and resolve their problems. These people they took spent months in a hotel where they put them up, and for those months not a single government official came to visit them or talk to them, until they decided to, whether it was to escape, or whatever, and left.
Now the problem comes back to be Rwanda’s problem. When they started fighting, don’t ask me how, where they came from, we had a moment to discuss this openly in meetings of Heads of State in Nairobi. It had been clearly demonstrated to the Congolese leaders what had been going on, and the only thing they kept telling us was that these people must go back to where they came from. And then where did they come from? Or at what time do you mean? Because even if you assumed they came from here, where did they come from when they arrived here?
I said we would be wasting our time if we do not answer this question: Are these people we are dealing with Congolese, Ugandans or Rwandan? Fortunately, the Congolese leaders answered that they are actually Congolese, and I said okay, now we can have a conversation because my impression at first was that you were saying that these are Rwandese because they speak Kinyarwanda, because there are some Rwandophones, I hear some people call them that. But they are Congolese, these are citizens of Congo. They have their ancestral homes in Congo, not here. Here they are refugees. We have over 80,000 of them as refugees in the camps.
So how do we deal with this issue? How does this become Rwanda’s issue? Just by being associated? For convenience? This problem, in my view is not too difficult to address. We have to do the right thing.
I want to remind people that they have to think about how to address the FDLR problem, it’s been there for too long. Forget about stories being created, that they are no longer there, or they came to Rwanda and then we sent them back.
But in the records of UN there are those who have been repatriated over time. We received and integrated them. That is why there is that centre, Mutobo. The records are there. So that problem has to be looked at.
The other problem is this so-called M23, or other groups. By the way there are over a hundred rebel groups in Eastern Congo, armed and fighting for all kinds of things that I don’t know about. They can’t all be existing because of Rwanda. Certainly not. If it was because of Rwanda, maybe they would be together. That problem needs to be addressed in the right context. Those problems are not Rwanda’s problems. But we can help because we are interested in a stable neighbour.
Peace in Congo or Eastern Congo is peace for us. We cannot be questioned about our desire to have a peaceful country and region. Even for those who accuse us of stealing minerals, if that were to be true, I think we can do better by having peace. Because when you have peace then you don’t even need to steal.
I was talking to some very senior people recently from somewhere who told me that Congolese are saying that we steal their coltan, their gold. There is something that I know: some people come from Congo with minerals, whether they smuggle or go through the right channels, but most of it that goes through here does not stay here. It goes to Dubai, to Brussels, to Tel Aviv, to Russia – or it used to go to Russia, I don’t know if it still goes there.
I asked them: Are you on the list of those who are stealing minerals of Congo? Because they end up with you. They go through our country, and they accuse us of stealing Congolese minerals – how about the destination? And if we deployed everything, every effort, to stop this thing flowing, the accusations would be even worse. They will be seeing no more gold coming through here going to them and say these people are causing problems. So what are we supposed to do?
Then I have heard of hate speech. Of the things I was saying that need to be paid attention to, one of them is hate speech that goes from Eastern Congo to the Western end. Recently some very powerful people who have some good ideas of how to resolve the problem started saying hate speech must be stopped on both sides. Does anyone understand what that means? I don’t. Which both sides? There is hate speech in Congo and there is hate speech in Rwanda – this what they are trying to say. Has it been going on? Have you been involved in hate speech?
These are people supposed to be helping to resolve the problem so they must give part of the blame to Congo and another part must be carried by Rwanda, even if both of us have not been doing the same thing.
I am saying the problem is simple to resolve because it is about avoiding being neither here nor there. You have to address the problem as it is. You have to deal with facts. You have to deal with evidence. You have to deal with doing the right things.
As for how our name keeps coming up, it’s not because we have solicited or created in any way, shape or form, for war to happen. We never asked for war at all. We don’t create grounds for conflict. Not at all. We are interested in building, and building, until we are where we want to be.
We know what war means. I have heard some interviewees in FT, France 24, TV5 or elsewhere, somebody say “I don’t rule out a war with Rwanda”. You know when I used to talk to this person who keeps saying this, I used to humbly advise him that we are actually tired of war. We need to be working together and creating peace between our two countries. Because if you are looking for somebody who knows a thing about a war, come to me please. I know something about it, and I know how bad it is. And I know how you cannot have anything better than peace. So, this problem can be resolved.
If one country headed for elections next year is trying to create grounds for an emergency so that the elections don’t take place, not that he won the first elections as we know, or if he is trying to find another way of having the next election postponed, then he would rather use other excuses, not us. We have a lot of problems of our own, we don’t need to add other people’s problems.
I don’t know how it comes to be that everybody – the opposition and so on – think putting problems on Rwanda seems to buy them votes. Why should having problems with Rwanda earn votes for people? I see politics heating up in DRC and everyone who has something to say, it’s “Rwanda has invaded”. Since when?
If you think that we are there, even if I were to believe it, I would still proceed by asking myself, why would Rwanda be in Congo? Maybe you will find an answer. Because there is a possibility that can take us there.
For example, you remember 2019 when FDLR invaded and attacked Kinigi, nearly shutting down that place where tourists go? We started seeing some messages from all over the world saying don’t go to the northern part of Rwanda, there is insecurity. Maybe this is what some people want.
We cleaned up that mess and then this year, in the first half and mid-year, you remember the bombings that took place. The firing from across the border with heavy artillery. That makes it very attractive for us to actually cross the border, there is no doubt about it.
We asked the DRC several times, we asked the president to allow us to work with their people to deal with FDLR, and they refused. I kept asking why they would refuse. I asked them to just be with us, and we will do the work of dealing with the FDLR. Literally, they want to preserve them. In the end, when they started firing across our borders, I told the President of Congo that is enough invitation.
While initially, I was seeking an invitation to work with them to deal with the problem, firing artillery across the border into our territory is sufficient invitation. That statement still stands.
We have been keeping quiet about some things, violations. The statement you see everywhere saying the territorial integrity of Congo must be respected – I totally agree. But so must Rwanda’s territorial integrity be respected. Violating territorial integrity is not just a soldier setting foot on the ground of that territory, it is what you send over as well, while standing on your own territory. If you fired artillery shells across the border into Rwanda while you are in Congo, you have violated the territorial integrity of Rwanda, that is the interpretation. I don’t know any other interpretation.
I gave more than you wanted or expected, but I thought I needed to do this. So be clear when you see things happening. Know first, that we are not going to engage in skirmishes that could have been avoided. We are not going to violate anybody’s sovereignty or territorial integrity; these will be respected. But we also demand that this happens in our case as well, so along the border people can go to bed at night knowing they will have security to sleep through the night. Short of that, we will make somebody else spend a sleepless night.
Thank you very much.