NTV’s Smriti Vidyarthi recently interviewed President Paul Kagame of Rwanda. They discussed the country’s development agenda and progress, regional relations and integration and how leaders can make countries better.
Rwanda recently hosted a large number of international conferences and exhibitions and there are plenty more to come. What is the ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal is to create an environment in our country that is welcoming, and to host big gatherings such as conferences and other events for people to come and feel comfortable, and do business. It (environment) will benefit our people and the country.
Are you succeeding in attracting the investments that you are looking for?
So far, so good. There is continued growth in the number of events, the number of people doing the events. The country’s hotels benefit with the numbers going up.
And are these the relations that you are trying to boost with other African nations because we know that you are creating very strong ties with Qatar for example?
How you relate to people, begins with the domestic situation. How people relate with each other is important in our country, and how we relate with our neighbours in Africa and beyond is always very important. When you are doing business to attract customers, good relations come with a lot of benefits.
Speaking about relations, let us now focus on the region and the East African Community in particular. Recently you said that integration is a necessity, it is happening, and will continue despite people’s differences. No doubt there have been differences amongst the East African countries, which of course is expected in any sort of a relationship. At this point, how healthy would you say the East African Community is?
Overall, the East African Community and the people of East Africa are making good progress in many ways, even with the setbacks that one can see, hear of and talk about or experience.
Some events or things happen in spite of your best wishes and intentions. There will always be ups and downs, but you keep an eye on the overall situation.
Does the East African Community have the mechanisms to resolve these disputes?
There is always one mechanism that is simple and straightforward—and that is people reaching out to one another saying let’s talk.
So at least we have that. When there is a problem, there is always that channel to start with.
Do you believe that the EAC has reached the intended level of integration at this point and time?
The progress made over the years is significant. For example, East Africans move freely, they do business with one another freely.
There are certain guidelines and rules, that have been put in place that help us conduct different businesses the right way. Maybe we aren’t at 100 per cent but at 70 per cent—we need to do more.
Just a moment ago, you talked about ”reaching out” as a mechanism to resolve certain disputes. This now brings me to the differences that Rwanda has been having with Uganda. Now, the two nations did have a meeting under Angola’s leadership and a second meeting did not materialise. Tensions between the nations also led to some border points being closed. This has affected both nations, how would you describe your relationship with President Yoweri Museveni?
Well, you have already described it.
From your point of view, because, from the onset, this is what everyone believes.
I will just add a few things by saying even before we had meetings in Angola the two countries brought their official leaders together.
We had been meeting bilaterally, directly discussing some of these things. Then came this other framework in which we discussed that is ongoing.
There’s a meeting which will take place on the 18th of this month; it should have happened earlier but there are always reasons why things don’t happen as planned.
The intention is that we will meet at some point to see if we can iron out issues.
And you are optimistic that those issues will be ironed out in a harmonious manner?
I have always been optimistic. It is good to be optimistic that things are going to work out.
If things were addressed properly and issues resolved, it would be for the good of everyone. Everyone benefits, so why not remain optimistic? At some point, things will work out the way we want them to.
And ultimately what do you believe it will take to normalise the relations between Uganda and Rwanda, because the issues are sensitive?
You can call them sensitive if you will, but these are not issues that cannot be addressed. To begin with, there’s nothing too complex that people can’t talk about. We might find a way forward. But what’s very important is to have good regard for each other.
And do you believe that both nations currently have that for each other?
It will come.
Ok, let’s have a look at the continent at large now. Africa has its fair share of challenges as do all countries in the world. What do you think African nations need to do and focus on to overcome their developmental challenges?
First, we need to understand what it is that we haven’t been getting right for all these years in terms of development.
Africans have to make a decision and a choice. Are we comfortable being where we have been for decades?
Two, is it possible to change that situation and work towards what we want? There’s something we want that is right for us, and that we deserve.
Three, what are the tools we need to use to achieve that? I imagine one of them is being driven by mindset of choices.
It starts how? Govern ourselves and build on lessons from elsewhere so that politics is about achieving the best we can for our people.
Political will, of cause is key.
It is very much needed.
It is indeed. What’s your comment on the ugly monster that is corruption that bites not only in Africa but the world over?
Corruption is actually part of the governance I was talking about.
Good governance is broad—the rule of law, expecting things to happen the way you want them to.
Coming up on December 8 and 9, Rwanda is hosting Nation Media Group’s inaugural KUSI Ideas Festival and you are a key note speaker. KUSI Ideas Festival touches on various themes and ideas. What do you think Africans should dwell on to shape their future?
Well, there is always going to be a point where you start with yourself.
First, have confidence that you can do something for yourself and maybe for others. Second, direct your mind towards what addresses your problems or challenges.
I am sure KUSI Ideas is about that. It is about governing and mobilising African talent and ideas and to address the African challenges.
We have to keep talking about challenges and opportunities.
I think this moment we should reflect on what really needs to be done, not just saying it.
Looking at history, so many statements have been made and intentions declared and frameworks created and policies formulated.
You have to have outcomes that people are going to point at and say that this is what we wanted and this is what we deserve.
You have led Rwanda for almost 20 years now. What is it that drives you?
I grew up as the son of a refugee family, among hundreds of thousands of others trying to make sense of what that life meant.
As I grew up there were certain ideals that appealed to me, that addressed the problems around me.
My drive has always been an aspiration to address the challenges people face and tapping into opportunities that they can have access to. And then do the best I can to deal with whatever that I have to deal with.
Where do you think you could have done better and have you surprised yourself by being so successful?
Maybe that complicated question is tied into the history of our country.
Sometimes it is difficult to isolate me as an individual from the overall situation of the country.
I wouldn’t talk so much about failures. I always want that part to be talked about by somebody else who has been impacted by my failure.
But I could talk about what is pleasant for me and is in-line with the aspirations that I was talking about, and where we started from and where we are today.
You can really see where we want to be. We are not there yet, there’s movement towards that but also in the real sense you realise that some things are dictated by factors beyond your control.
This is the nature of things, life and processes. It is always going to be collective effort, it’s not as easy as touching buttons and things happen the way you want.
But regardless, you aren’t stopping or slowing down anytime soon?
With all the mess one has to deal with or go through, all the kinds of arrows fired at us, we keep going.
This is a redacted version of an interview that first ran on NTV