President Paul Kagame of Rwanda last week granted Monitor Managing Editor DANIEL KALINAKI an exclusive interview in Kigali. In the first of a two-part report, he speaks about ethnicity, the arrest of his political rival Victoire Ingabire and the fallout with his friends, including Lt. Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa. Excerpts:-
How successful have you been in moving away from the ethnic divide to create Rwandans rather than Tutsi, Hutu or Twa?
I have no doubt that we have been greatly successful and huge progress has been made; there is no question about that. But here we are talking about progress. Ours is not a situation where, after inheriting this kind of situation, you will find that in one year or 10 years you have overcome these challenges; not at all.
The challenges left behind by divisive politics, left behind by colonialists and then totally mismanaged by the leaders who followed after independence, are not simple. They will take a generation or more to really deal with.
With the kind of progress that we have made, the mindset is changing significantly; after all, the negative consequences of this past politics have already been tasted and witnessed. The only thing it left us with is poverty, the loss of one million lives of the people of this country. We’ve learnt lots of lessons and we will be only foolish to repeat the mistakes with the same consequences.
Do you feel that the ordinary Rwandan, given the alternative messages of ‘this is how we are as a country, as Rwanda, and this is where we are going’ and given the alternative position of ‘this is who we were, as Hutu, Tutsi or Twa and this is how you could be’, that you have done enough for people to be able to choose nationality over ethnic divisions?
I think we have done more than enough in the last 16 years. What we have been encouraging, discussing and debating is not so much about anybody who wants to call themselves a muHutu, a muTutsi or a muTwa not to do so. There is more substance to this discourse.
What we tell people and what we discuss is; whether you are a Hutu or a Tutsi or a Twa, that’s fine; that’s your business; but you should never use your being a muHutu, a muTutsi, a muTwa to hurt others, to the detriment of others. So the issue is not that people should not have their own beliefs as they want; the issue is your beliefs should not hurt others to the point that you’d have a situation that we had here in 1994.
Last year TIME magazine put you on the cover as one of the top 100influential people in the world. They recently had an article where they asked whether Rwanda’s hero was not becoming its oppressor. Do you feel that these constantly shifting viewpoints, of praise and criticism, are par for the course in terms of international engagement?
First of all, let me say, we don’t do the good we try to do for ourselves so that we please others. For me to be on whichever list, that would be fair enough if it is seen like that at the time it is written but I don’t apply to be put on this list or to be appreciated. I don’t go begging people to be appreciated but the point here is: For example in that case of TIME magazine; we’ve been trying to deal with our issues here for the last 16years.
In the fifteenth year I am appreciated for having dealt with issues and so on, then in the sixteenth year immediately after, I am the opposite. What is it that can make such a drastic shift even in me as a person or in the system and institutions here in Rwanda?
There are influences in these systems. It came following some of the problems that Human Rights Watch faced here in Rwanda relating to one of their employees who had issues with immigration but you see, these people also believe that they are so powerful that even when they are in the wrong no body should talk about it, especially these small poor countries.
How do you respond to criticism that the arrest of Victoire Ingabire has been done to try and prevent her from establishing a political party and running against you as a candidate, that you are using genocide laws to clamp down on political dissent...
First, Ingabire is not accused of having been involved in the genocide because she was not here. She was abroad. She’s actually been out of the country for 17 years but that’s not the problem.
But while she was there, before she came to contest in these elections, she had been doing things that, in the end, would put her into trouble and she knew about it but of course these people always operate under the assumption that, you know, ‘we can do all this but when we come for things like elections in the country the international community will not allow these people to [do anything about it]’ even when they know they have been involved in wrong doing.
Even the UN itself has information; they wrote about this person, giving details about how she was connected with the FDLR, these genocidaires who live in the Congo and who have been killing Congolese and our own people.
On our side we have evidence, which has been brought to her attention, and about 10 things she has been denying. Now she’s saying that seven of them are actually true and this has come as a result of the overwhelming evidence that was put in front of her including the people she was working with, the former soldiers in the FDLR who are here in our hands, who are testifying to these accusations.
What are the accusations?
First of all that she had been visiting FDLR in the Congo just before she came. Initially she had denied, that she only used to just give supportive comments. Then the evidence of these FDLR colonels who are here with us and when they confronted her they said ‘you were with us’ and she said ‘yeah, I’m sorry I visited you so many times’. This is in court of law.
Then they said you were contributing money, supplied money to FDLR she was saying no. In our collaboration in the Congo and so on, through their justice institutions and ours, they now have bank documents which prove that she actually supplied money, not once, not twice, but several times.
She visited them, not once, not twice. When initially she was being accused, she did not know that we had these people in our custody.
When we confronted her afterwards she almost collapsed. This is in broad daylight, in courts of law. This is somebody, a candidate, a so-praised opposition leader, yes, but wait a minute; if there are cases to answer, you answer them. It doesn’t matter how outsiders talk about it and insult us and abuse us and all sorts of things and praise her for being so Godly and being a very powerful opposition leader but there are cases here to answer.
Yes we’ve earned a bad name for no good reason but issues are being sorted out. This woman will certainly be where she belongs. She was charged in the court of law, she’s now out on bail but the matters are serious and are there as a matter of fact. How then do I explain myself or for this country beyond that? Now the outsiders who want so badly Ingabire to be an opposition leader here or later on be our president, well, they may wait for a while.
Let me ask you about your colleagues in the RPF whom you’ve had a falling out with in particular Colonel Karegeya and Gen. Kayumba who have since left the country. When he left Gen. Kayumba gave an interview and he said and I quote, “The regime in Kigali is really descending into dictatorship and you know absolute power corrupts absolutely. So in this case you don’t have to have a different opinion, you’re not supposed to debate and if you’re perceived to have a different opinion on anything then you are an enemy. That’s what happened to me”. How do you respond to that?
People like Kayumba or Karegeya or others who flee the country will always say whatever they want to say in an attempt to absolve themselves from any responsibility. I think for them to escape already there is a responsibility they are escaping from or fleeing from.
But for a person like Kayumba to talk about that, to say that about the government or the RPF; he is just being absolutely dishonest and precisely that’s why he is in a situation that he is in today. There is not a single incident, not a single day he can talk about as evidence that people are not supposed to have different views. Ask anybody whether in RPF or in the army or in government if they ever heard Kayumba raise any issue that is contentious for which he could have been harassed for or anything. There is absolutely none.
All along, the assumption had been he’s been part of this army, which is part of this government: this part of RPF that he’s now saying is deteriorating. Kayumba should have been fair to tell people what really happened. If people in RPF or in the army sat with Kayumba and asked him a few things they had known about him he was doing or they had heard him talk about or tell other people, if they sat him there and asked him to have a say over it and the same night they did it the next day he has escaped only to confirm that probably what they were asking him and what he was denying was actually happening.
If this country was a dictatorship with the government or the leaders and so on what do you think stopped people actually straight away from arresting Kayumba and not having to sit him down and have a conversation? What would he say about that?
If people put this kind of matter to you like that, how do you turn and say they are a dictator and unfair, no. What is he running away from? The government that he has claimed to be part of and served and he talks of the government or the army or anybody doing anything that did not please him, to the point that the system is descending into a dictatorship but he’s been serving so deeply into it? This is in the least to say absolute dishonesty.
Does it bother you that people you’ve been with in government including people you were with in exile are willing to run off into exile rather than have these issues resolved internally?
I have a bit of difficulty for this kind of argument. If you look at the country and the institutions, whether it is the RPF or government itself or others, and look at people serving in them. Certainly you don’t want to get all this and then equate them with one individual who may have their own problems.
There is always a tendency to try and put more weight on some individual than on the rest of the people including the ordinary people who have a say in the affairs of this country as well.
There is something I can’t quite definitively talk about to explain fully this phenomenon. Some of these people get involved with things maybe other people get involved in other countries but we’ve seen people in other countries including our neighbourhood be held responsible for this or for that and they stay but here there’s something I really honestly cannot explain.
Maybe it can be explained from some of the things of the past because some of us were refugees, had run out of our country to our safety, then recently in 1994 we had refugees and later on in government when the government was stabilising itself. This running away started in 1994 with some of the ministers we had incorporated -almost every year has had somebody running away; the list is long but certainly not longer than the eleven million people Rwandans and several others still working in the system but they go at different times for different reasons ;but something I can’t put my finger on and understand it fully is why everyone has to run.
So if running away started in 1994 and continued in 1995 and 96, then I think, if Kayumba’s argument is anything to go by, then they were also running away from him because at the time he was part of the system. He was here from 1994 to the other day, this recent day he ran away. Now unless he is saying the system started turning dictatorial from 1994 and all the time he was opposing it and he waited until this year.
There are many who have run away because they have cases of corruption. When they run away they don’t tell these people that I am running away from the auditor’s report, even if it is not true; they don’t even say that. They’ll straight away say that the government is [repressive]. The explanation is almost standard but the cases are really different.
In Part Two, President Kagame speaks about balancing family and state duties, the leaders who have inspired him and why he is very proud to have his son in the army. Only in the Daily Monitor on Monday.