Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, tells New African’s Hichem Ben Yaïche that he will step down at the end of his current term in office, which ends in 2017. “I have no intention to disrespect the constitution,” he says.
Q:You were elected last August for a second 7-year term that will end in 2017.How do you plan to execute your political “roadmap”? Will you make changes to your priorities?
A: Over the next seven years, we will work together with Rwandans to build on our achievements in order to improve the lives of all the people by transforming our country into a middle-income economy based on knowledge and technology.The priorities will stay the same; we will invest more in energy, electricity distribution, and getting clean water to all Rwandans.We will continue to build infrastructure and increase agricultural production including processing, so that Rwandans are able to earn more from their work. We will also build more productive partnerships between the public and the private sector to improve the quality of services.
Q:Will you step down at the end of this 7-year mandate which is effectively your last term in office, as provided by the constitution?
A: Our constitution is clear on term limits. I have no intention, and no desire, to disrespect the constitution.
Q:Your programme seems to concentrate mainly on education, health and infrastructure. Is there a specific reason for this choice?
A: Our people are our greatest resource so we are investing in the areas that will make a real difference in their lives – to ensure that they are healthy, educated, skilled, and able to compete globally. Infrastructure [spending] makes all other development possible. It goes beyond providing essential services domestically, to linking up with other countries in our region, particularly to facilitate increased business and commerce.
Q:Your opponents refer to your style of governance as authoritarian and undemocratic. What is your response to these critics? It is commonly agreed that democracy is about political and institutional forces of opposition. What is your perception of democracy?
A: We would never have been able to make the progress we have made since 1994 without the massive participation of Rwandans. My opponents have a right to their opinions, but what is important to me is what 11 million Rwandans think and want, and it is clear to anyone who cares to see that Rwandans today have an active voice in affairs that matter to them.
We have a constitution that was written after extensive consultations with all Rwandans, both here and abroad. Rwandans make decisions through our decentralized system of local government; they benefit from programmes that are homegrown and owned by the communities they serve; and they can trust the institutions we have built to govern our complex society. The result is that all Rwandans are enjoying increased stability and improved livelihoods. What’s more, democracy and development go hand in hand. It is clear to us that rising incomes foster democratic values. Once a family moves its focus away from survival, they have an even greater ability to improve their communities, invest in their future, and vote freely without fear or coercion. This, in turn, will sustain our development.
Q:Your tenure as president has been marked by the radical transformation of the geopolitical set-up of the country: the choice of English as the language of instruction in schools, regional integration, and a “Look East” policy towards Asia (China, Singapore, India, etc). What factors have influenced this?
A: We look at the available options and choose what will help us achieve our goals most quickly. English is the language of business, science, and innovation all over the world, and as members of both the East African Community and the Commonwealth, we want to ensure that Rwandans are equipped to seize available opportunities for their own development and that of the country.
It is not about looking East or West, rather it is about engaging with international partners, no matter where they come from, to improve our citizens’ lives, through mutually beneficial and respectful partnerships.
Q: Seventeen years after the genocide, what are the biggest challenges faced by the country? Are the memories of this dark period in your history left behind forever?
A: The biggest challenge faced by Rwanda, like the rest of Africa, is poverty and the dependence that comes with it. We are determined to transform the lives of our people, building on the peace and security we now have to build lasting stability and prosperity for our country. Reconciliation has been more successful than we had hoped for 17 years ago. We will always remember our past, but we learn from it and work for a brighter future. Rwandans deserve better than what we have known in the past, and we know that we can get to where we want to be.
Q:How do you consider, as a political leader, the unprecedented revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt which were mainly triggered by kleptocracy – inequalities caused by the concentration of entire sectors of the economy in the hands of some families?
A: Corruption is wrong, wherever it happens.
This is why, in Rwanda, we have a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, and continue to strengthen institutions to check this. Recent events in North Africa underscore the importance of eradicating corruption from government. Economic and social progress must benefit all citizens, and ensuring the participation of all in nation-building should be a priority for the leadership.
Q:Power is highly fulfilling, but it can lead to being power-drunk. How do you fight against that temptation that faces every man of power?
A: It is a great privilege for me to serve Rwanda and Rwandans, and I do not take lightly the trust that has been placed in me. We have built strong institutions that guard against corruption and the excesses of any leader. My satisfaction comes from the fact that I am doing the best that I possibly can to honour my contract with my fellow citizens by contributing to our country’s success.
Q:How are your relations with the DRCongo, Uganda and Burundi?
A: Our relations with our neighbours in the region are better now than at any point in recent history. We are working together in sectors including security, infrastructure development, trade and commerce, both bilaterally and through the East African Community and the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Region.
Q: What is Rwanda’s strategy for attracting investors and tourists?
A: We want to create a conducive environment.We have a programme of reforms to facilitate business and investment, and in the last few years we have been ranked among the top performing countries by the World Bank’s Doing Business report. We also continue to develop our infrastructure and improve our service industry to ensure tourists get value for money.
Q:Are you satisfied with your relationship with France? Are you planning to leave the Francophonie?
A: We have good relations with France. We have always been active in the Francophonie and have no plans to leave it. I may not attend the summits because I don’t speak French, but we are always represented by our prime minister. The fact that we chose to switch the language of instruction in our schools to English for practical reasons, does not mean we have abandoned or banned the French language. We know the value of being multilingual, particularly on our continent.