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An Interview with Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Aired March 15, 2010 - 16:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we have an exclusive with the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. He's taken his country from the aftermath of mass murder to an economic miracle, but at what cost?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our program.

From the depths of Rwanda's bloody nightmare, Paul Kagame dragged his country up to become one of Africa's major success stories. Sixteen years ago, up to 1 million Rwandans were slaughtered in 100 days. It was one of the quickest genocides in modern history.

When the world refused to intervene, Paul Kagame led his Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory over the extremist forces who were carrying out the killings. And afterwards, he brought reconciliation and rebuilding to Rwanda. And today, according to just about any indicator, whether it's health, the environment, the economy, women's rights, Rwanda is the envy of the region.

But it has come at a cost, say his opponents. They complain about an autocratic, one-party political system, and Rwanda's role in the devastating war in Congo.

We spoke about all these issues when he sat down with me for this exclusive interview earlier.


AMANPOUR: President Paul Kagame joins me now in the studio.

President Kagame, thank you for joining us here.


AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about some important matters here, and let's talk about the business situation in Rwanda. In the last post-genocide era, Rwanda's business and economic potential has really grown. And now you've got -- you've got the first country to become the top of the World Bank's annual list of ranking reformers. That is Rwanda in sub-Saharan Africa. How did that happen? What exactly does that mean?

KAGAME: Because we've put the private sector and its development and doing business at the top of social and economic transformation, we tried to look at what is necessary to be done in terms of regulations, in terms of laws, and other ways we can make it easy for people to do business.

AMANPOUR: You talk about dependence. Many countries are dependent on foreign aid, but I hear you sort of giving it a negative connotation. Do you just want Rwanda not to be dependent?

KAGAME: There are cases that you need aid. Rwanda has needed aid. It has received aid. What we are saying is, what we need aid for? What we need aid for is to -- is to deal with the problems that are current that we have, but it is also to build a foundation which we should be able to build on ourselves and stop needing aid. It's a process.

If you look at in the last five decades or so, Africa, my own country, has received a lot of aid. But in many cases, you don't see anything for it, what that it has left behind.

So, therefore, it raises the questions: Is there another way of building on aid so that you stop needing aid in the future?

AMANPOUR: In many of the social and economic indicators, Rwanda is ahead of many of the countries in your region, including in terms of women's political involvement and empowerment. And, in fact, Rwanda's is the only parliamentary house in the world where women hold the majority. Is that by dictate or is that elected? And what decision-making differences does it make to have women in the majority of parliament?

KAGAME: It is a combination of factors. One, the government made sure that, one, we recognize this as a factor of development. It's one thing we need to be aware of, that in our case, 53 percent of our population are women. You can't just shut them out of economic development and think that is very wise. So the more we bring them in, the better off we are.

Second, it's an issue of rights. I think, why shouldn't women enjoy same rights, education, to doing business, to decision-making like anybody else? So this is our decision, and it's our choice.

AMANPOUR: You talk about rights. And obviously, there are political rights that we need to talk about. And there are many, many people now who, on the one hand, admire what you've done to bring Rwanda out of its post-genocide disaster and its nightmare, and on the other hand, are very critical about your what they call increasing authoritarianism, the shrinking space for any kind of political opposition, and that this is becoming more and more of an issue.


For instance, you know, you've been elected, but some people say it's just too authoritarian and too much like a dictatorship, that despite the facade of occasional elections, you know, there's just so much power that's held by you personally and by your party. What do you say to that?

KAGAME: What I say to that, there are things that don't add up here. We have, what you say, elections. We have (inaudible) 11 million people going out there and deciding for themselves who their leaders are going to be right from the president to members of parliament to mayors to different leaders.

Now, the second is, you cannot at the same time have this progress we are making, whether it is in education, in agriculture, in health, in investment, in everything. This cannot be done just by one man dictating that it happens. It involves the population.

AMANPOUR: But let me break in there, because let's just take a couple of cases. In the upcoming elections, for instance, the Green Party wanted to contest the upcoming elections, and you, Rwanda has been praised for its environmental responsibility, for its green policies, and yet it seems authorities are now blocking the Green Party from contesting. Will the Green Party contest?

KAGAME: First of all, there's nobody blocking the Green Party from doing...


AMANPOUR: Will it contest the elections? Will it be allowed to?

KAGAME: If they qualify. Of course, there are qualifications to go through.

AMANPOUR: But so...

KAGAME: This is through the constitution. The constitution outlines what you need to do to qualify.


KAGAME: It's not just doing anything anyhow. We also have to be guided by the rules.

AMANPOUR: But many are saying that...

KAGAME: There are rules. There are laws. They don't make laws (ph).

AMANPOUR: Yeah, but many are saying that those rules are sometimes arbitrarily enforced or they take the very real issues that you brought out, which is to stop any kind of hate speech or movement towards another genocide, of using that as an excuse.

KAGAME: But I'm asking you -- I'm asking you how this possible that me would (ph) decide what the 11 million people do and do it -- they do it so well, they participate, and I'm the only person dictating that that happens. That doesn't make sense.

Secondly, when you say "people are saying" or "many are saying," who are these people you're talking about?

AMANPOUR: Many people in the country. Many people in the human rights community.

KAGAME: It's -- it's not true. If you're talking about people in the human rights community from outside, they do that, and I have issue with this, because you tend to make a judgment of a country, 11 million people, on what a couple of people have said and don't take into account what Rwandans say.

Nobody has asked these Rwandans I'm talking about. It's as if they don't matter in the eyes of the human rights people.

AMANPOUR: I know that you have an issue with the international...

KAGAME: I have an issue with that, yes.

AMANPOUR: I know you do.

KAGAME: And we Rwandans have to be given peace to make our own decisions. It's our own decisions in the end.

AMANPOUR: Right. Let me just quote...

KAGAME: It's our leaders. It's our choices. It's our democracy. It's our processes. And for one person, a journalist or a human rights activist, to think that we sit there (ph) and dictate what Rwandans should do, I say I don't agree with it.

AMANPOUR: I know, and I've heard you say that many times. But I want to keep pushing you on this, because it's fundamental...


AMANPOUR: ... because it goes to the very heart of your legacy, as well. On the one hand, you have so much credit for doing what you did to bring the country out of its post-genocide reality.

KAGAME: But -- but...

AMANPOUR: But hold on a second. You say it's up to the Rwandan people. Here we have the Green Party leader, Frank Habineza, who used to be a member of the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front. Now, he's talking about death threats. He's talking about harassment. He's talking about a newspaper that had a headline that said, "Frank Habineza to be Killed in 60 Days."

He also has said, "I am scared, but I still believe a government should protect its citizens. I'm not a criminal. I just have different ideas."

KAGAME: But -- but, Christiane, you will have individuals saying anything they want to say depending on what or where they stand on issues, but you don't have to believe everyone who says whatever they want to say.

AMANPOUR: All right.

KAGAME: You have to go further than that and investigate and find out whether this person is even saying the truth.

AMANPOUR: But I guess the question I still am trying to probe is whether there can be space for political opposition in President Paul Kagame's Rwanda.

KAGAME: Oh, yes. That's why...

AMANPOUR: And so far, it seems that it's very tough. Let's take Victoire Ingabire.


KAGAME: No, before we leave that, that's why the Green Party is there. That's why this person you're talking about is there saying what they are saying. Now, if this person says the government wants to do this, why hasn't the government done that, if that's what it wants to do?

AMANPOUR: But he's saying that he's being prevented...

KAGAME: But he's there. He's there...


AMANPOUR: So will he be able to contest the election...

KAGAME: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: ... in safety and security?

KAGAME: Yes. But as I told you, all of us play by certain rules. There are issues of accountability for all of us, even for me, the president. For an individual, for a citizen, there are issues of accountability. That's why it is law. So if he follows what the measures of accountability are requesting, why not? Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: But I guess what people are saying is that the goalposts keep shifting, that the level playing field...


AMANPOUR: Well, let's take Victoire Ingabire. Now, she's the president of the FDU Inkingi (ph), and she says she's faced a very intense public campaign of vilification. Basically, you have openly warned her that she could face prosecution under Rwanda's genocide ideology laws.


AMANPOUR: And people are saying that you used those to quash political opposition.

KAGAME: No, I don't think -- it's just an insult to us or to the nation.

Let me talk about Ingabire (ph). Ingabire (ph) came to Rwanda. He was not in Rwanda even during genocide. He's been away from Rwanda for 17 years. He arrives. He comes -- first of all, he asks for (inaudible) passport. The government gave him a passport. She comes to Rwanda. She wants to contest.

The very day she arrived, she starts talking about (inaudible) genocide. She starts taking (ph), oh, this genocide of, you know, the Tutsis (inaudible) genocide of Hutus, and almost the same language -- the old language of incitement. This is on the record; it's not something I'm creating.

Now, of course, if you incite, if you are talking -- if you are denying genocide, if you are trying to create your own...

AMANPOUR: Is that what you're saying she's doing?

KAGAME: It's what she's doing. And I'm saying those who defend him - - or defend her, this woman of the other party, may find one day they've been defending the wrong person.

AMANPOUR: Hold that thought. We will be back with much more with President Kagame in a moment.

And we leave you now into the break with a look at that moment in 1996 when Hutu and other refugees first returned to Rwanda after the genocide.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Now some of the killers are coming back. People here recognize them. They're no longer in uniform. They're mixed in with the crowd of real refugees.





AMANPOUR (voice-over): Rwanda has made reconciliation a centerpiece of its recovery with clubs and re-education camps. I met Efoginia (ph) on a beautiful Sunday morning in church. After mass, she invited me home. There, in her unadorned hilltop house, no electricity and no running water, I saw something extraordinary: Efoginia (ph) was preparing a plate of food and serving it to John Bosco Bisimana (ph), one of the men who murdered five of her children.


AMANPOUR: That was from my documentary, "Scream Bloody Murder." And so does that spirit of reconciliation live on in Rwanda? Joining me again is President Paul Kagame.

President Kagame, is that working still, reconciliation? Is it key (ph)?

KAGAME: It is working. It is working. It is deep. When I see the country stable as it is, when I see the citizens going out there to work on their farms and going to school together, addressing different programs together, I think it is working.

Now, but whether you are telling me that in 15 years we could erase some of the scars left behind by this tragedy, I think that would be probably expecting too much, but significant progress has been made, obviously. And that's why the country is stable. That's why the country is moving on. That's why the country's developing.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask you this, though, that many people have asked, and it's an important question. It's a philosophical question. In order to get this kind of reconciliation, does it require an authoritarian hand? Does it require you to be not as democratic as some people expect you to be?

KAGAME: No, I think you just need to be clear-minded and single- minded about getting the results, in terms of stability that is required in the country. And for people to -- and we have encouraged debate. People have been debating for the last 16 years. People talk about issues underlying genocide. They talk about difficulties over reconciliation. They've been talking about issues to do with justice and cutting all of those (ph) justice, reconciliation all together and economic development.

The difficulties involved are very obvious. People discuss that, and it's on that basis that we make progress. But there has to be leadership to make things move in the right direction.

AMANPOUR: So you've had to move things in that direction?

KAGAME: There's no question about it. People sleep few hours. People spend sleepless nights thinking about what to do and getting ahead and doing it.


KAGAME: So it takes a lot of energy. It consumes people.

AMANPOUR: Now, Joseph Sebarenzi, who was the former head of the Rwanda parliament, was on my program a few months ago, and this is what he said about the genocide and about the reconciliation. Listen.


JOSEPH SEBARENZI, FORMER HEAD OF RWANDA PARLIAMENT: The reason that the genocide took place in Rwanda, it was because we had a president with too much powers, ministers with too much powers, so those powers had to be diverted into other institutions.


AMANPOUR: So he's talking about the pre-genocide presidential system, where there was too much power concentrated. He's talking about having to -- you know, have a more democratic distribution of power, again, coming back to you on this issue.

Shouldn't there be a more democratic distribution of power? Let's just take power of the press. Unfortunately, Rwanda has just been named, you know, about 157th, in terms of on the freedom of press level, way down at the bottom of the list.

KAGAME: There are things I don't agree with, Christiane. Freedom of the press or democracy or economic development or dealing with these issues that we have had to deal with are a matter of process. You don't wake up one morning and have what you want to have.

Now, the issues of the press, freedom of expression, democracy have been in Rwanda. We started at a very low base (ph) on everything, including that one, and you have had to go through and we'll have to go through a process of development.

If you look at the -- for example, in Rwanda today, we have about two dozen private radios operating. We have tens of newspapers written, including those on the outsiders say call independent, that are always threatened, that are -- they're also there. They exist.

But just because they are always negative about government or about everything being done so the outside call -- will call these independent, fine, but they exist. So there is a process of development that takes place.

AMANPOUR: I'm going to ask you...

KAGAME: And what Sebarenzi is saying -- which should take much of my time, really -- it wasn't an issue of power. It's an issue of wrong or right. It's if you have leaders in place who cannot give value to their own people they lead and they can easily kill them like they did in the genocide, it isn't an issue of power. There is no conflict of power at the time before genocide.

There was a Hutu leadership (inaudible) and the Tutsis were not in any position of power, of responsibility, so there was no conflict.


These fellows (ph) had power in their hands, but they simply excluded one section of our people on the basis of politics of extremism.

This has nothing to do with just power. It has more to do with having (inaudible) bad leader, bad leaders in place. That's all.

AMANPOUR: Let me -- let me get to the issue of leadership again, and this is about Congo. Africa's world war, millions of people have been killed there, mostly out of sight, and many say that Paul Kagame's troops bear a lot of the responsibility, that you sent the troops into there to keep back the Hutus and the extremists, you know, and more than 5 million have been killed.

KAGAME: Do you know the history of Congo?


KAGAME: The problems of Congo are more than 60 years old.

AMANPOUR: That's true. That's true.

KAGAME: So let's not...


AMANPOUR: But this started in 1998 (ph).

KAGAME: No, the problem started before I was born. We had Leopold...


AMANPOUR: I understand all of that, and all of the colonialism.

KAGAME: So why do people keep all that quiet, lock it up, and then start saying the problems of Congo, it is Kagame, it's the troops, it's the...

AMANPOUR: But just...

KAGAME: And let's talk about, also, how those who committed genocide in Rwanda went and lived in the Congo, how they benefited from the international community that were feeding them, spending $1 million every day feeding mothers, feeding people who would want to come back and kill people in Rwanda, and people want to keep quiet and say, "Oh, Kagame sent troops," as if there is no context for that. It doesn't make sense.

AMANPOUR: So when will...

KAGAME: This is an issue I have (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: When will those troops -- I mean, clearly, you have a reason for doing it. Some people say that it's a reason -- also an economic reason that you have a good, you know, hold on an area which is very rich in minerals, which is very beneficial to Rwanda.

KAGAME: But, first of all, where are the Congolese (ph)? I cannot be blamed for the problems of Congo or any other country. There are -- the Congolese, who have their own country, who are supposed to manage it, who are supposed to govern it. It has nothing to do with me.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you a final question about Laurent Nkunda. He had been armed by you. He had been, you know, an ally of yours for a long time. And then last year, he was arrested, and you agreed to that. Why?

KAGAME: Well, first of all, again, it's building on falsehood that is paraded by people, I don't know from where.

AMANPOUR: So you deny that?

KAGAME: About what? The issue of being allies with Nkunda is not there. Nkunda is Congolese. They had issues with their own system. And what we did ourselves later on, because we interested in a peace in Congo, because it results into peace for Rwanda (ph), we worked with the government to really target those specific issues that needed to be addressed, and that is pacifying the eastern Congo and making sure that we don't have (inaudible) crossing our border and killing our people (inaudible) former genociders who were involved in the genocide in Rwanda.

Now, when the government agreed to work with us, to address our security concerns, as well as, by the way, security concerns for themselves, of course, were also affecting the Congolese, we went ahead and dealt with them.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you...

KAGAME: But Nkunda is a Congolese problem. He's not our problem.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask -- let me ask a final question. The elections, which are scheduled for August, will they be the last elections that President Kagame contests?

KAGAME: Well, we are going to have elections coming in August, and there is a constitution in place. Rwanda has a constitution. And I have respect for the law and for the constitution. So let's wait and you judge me when it comes to that point, when you don't need to see me there (ph), and probably won't see me (ph).

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

KAGAME: Thank you.

AMANPOUR: It was nice to have you.

KAGAME: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: And earlier you saw some clips from the documentary "Scream Bloody Murder: A History of Genocide." You can watch the entire film on our Web site at

But next, our "Post-Script," where we will tell you more about one of the secrets of Rwanda's economic success.



AMANPOUR: And now our "Post-Script."

As we mentioned earlier, Rwanda is one of Africa's economic success stories. One powerful reason is the involvement of its women, in the workforce and also in politics. The genocide had altered the country's population dramatically because many of the men were killed in 1994, and afterwards, women made up 70 percent of the population.

And today, the Rwandan parliament is only parliament in the world where women are the majority. It's 56 percent female. And many social commentators say that you can measure the health of any society by the health and the empowerment of its women. Many of Rwanda's succeeding businesses are led by women, as well, so Rwanda is a good example of how women's empowerment does contribute to the success of a nation.

And that's it for now. We'll be back tomorrow with an exclusive interview with Ai Weiwei, China's best-known artist, blogger, and critic of the government. Until then, check out our podcast on For all of us here, goodbye now from New York.