By Andrew M. Mwenda
On Tuesday August 10th, The Independent Managing Editor, Andrew M. Mwenda, hosted President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on a radio show on Contact FM in Kigali, a day after the voting in that country’s presidential election. Mwenda had started the show titled Rwanda Decidesto promote public debate about the election in the country. Below are edited excerpts of Part One of the interview. The second part runs in the next edition.
Mwenda: You have won the election by 93%. That is an unprecedented figure. Normally it is in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq that a presidential candidate gets such a figure. Your critics are saying that this was a stage-managed election; it was not a genuine election.
Kagame: Well, in some of those places elections have not been taking place at all. So it is different here in a sense that there are different parties already that exist and that participated in this election process. Many of them are represented in parliament. But I want to say that you get 93% because of our context; one has to know where we are coming from. Just 16 years ago nothing existed, even human life was at stake in Rwanda, no institutions, absolutely nothing. So we have had to build from scratch and not only build from scratch. The context involves the fact that there was instability, lack of security, people were desperate, everywhere it was just death and despair.
We have had to build and as we build, people identify themselves with those people or processes or struggle that have impacted their lives and that is how the RPF and Kagame have gained the confidence of the people to that extent that the RPF and Kagame have managed to reconstruct the country, to bring normalcy to the country, to bring back value to human life, to the people of Rwanda and through social and economic transformation, people’s lives have totally changed. There is a saying in our local language here. It means, €˜you thank the one who gave you the cow, not the one you anticipate will give you a cow.’ This is what operates in the minds of the people here; they have got a cow from Kagame, from RPF. So their vote was an expression of that culture.
But there have been concerns expressed in the international media by international human rights groups saying look; in the run up President Kagame created an atmosphere of fear; a leading opposition politician was killed, a journalist who was investigating a story here was killed, a major and powerful political party called the Green Party was blocked from registration; and a candidate who had potential to challenge Kagame and defeat Kagame [Victoire Ngabire] was arrested and charged with divisionism. That in other words you and your government created an atmosphere where any strong and potential opposition was crushed and what remained to be your competitors were actually your allies in government who were just escorting you on this joy ride.
It is not easy to do that and you continue to gain the confidence of the people of a country like ours; it will simply not happen. The story they want to believe is that there is no democracy in Rwanda, that there is repression, and so forth. For example, if you look at the case of the journalist who was killed here, the police investigated the case and the one who killed the journalist was arrested; the weapon that was used has been retrieved; the killer has admitted to committing the crime and given reasons why he did so. And this has been made known to everybody because we all were concerned and worried; this was giving us a very bad name for sure.
This so-called journalist had actually earlier on been charged with genocide. He is well known, he is a former soldier under [President Juvenal] Habyarimana regime. He had been prosecuted in the courts of law as a genocidaire but later on he was released, I think after he served a sentence or something. I didn’t even know he was ever a journalist. All these facts are out there in the public but journalists choose to ignore them because they want to keep the story that the journalist was killed by government; that this was to do with repression, it was to do with elections. It had nothing to do with election.
But Mr President, assuming your critics say that this guy who was arrested and confessed to the murder, he is just a ploy by President Kagame and his government to just create a lie; the boy will be in jail for just a few months and when the story cools down, the boy will be released from prison. So the confession is just forged.But this time they will have evidence, and they will have facts to support their suspicion. They can keep checking on him in jail to see whether he will be secretly released.
Okay, let’s come to the politician who was killed. The blogs, the international media, the human rights groups are saying he was a very strong politician. First of all the government refused to register his party, which was very strong, because you feared his party would defeat the RPF in the elections. The candidate was very well known and a critic of President Kagame and he was killed in the run-up to the election.
First of all, there are lots of distortions and there is no truth at all in that. In fact, this man was not the leader of the Green Party. The leader of the Green Party is Habineza; not Kagwa Rwisereka who was unfortunately killed. But he is said to have been in the leadership of the Green Party. That one I have no issue with. Rwisereka lived in the Southern province, in the university town of Butare. He actually owned a bar, which bar was more known than the man himself. Secondly I didn’t know this man, I had never heard of him until I heard of his death.
The press have suggested that he was a strong and influential politician whom you were afraid of.
No, absolutely not. I am telling you he was not known to me and he was not known to many. If you ask people around, many people had never heard of him. But of course the media there now blows things out of proportion; claiming this is somebody who had capacity to defeat Kagame in the election. This fellow was an unknown entity. He was not even known in his home town of Butare itself. How could I have been afraid of him to the point of killing him?
Have you arrested the people who killed this politician?
I understand there are people who have been arrested; others have been released while others are still in custody, because the police normally arrest suspects and when they do not find sufficient proof of culpability, they release them and retain others about whom there is strong evidence of complicity in a crime. The police is under pressure to investigate and get to the bottom of the matter.
Mwenda: Okay, why did you refuse to register their party?
Okay, now that is a different issue. This is why I am saying some journalists put together all sorts of things that are unrelated but have happened coincidentally due for different reasons and just create a story even if these things are not related.
There are many events that happened in the run-up to the election that seem related. For example, this politician who was killed; it coincides with denying his party registration. Why?
There are parties that were registered but did not front a candidate. There are parties that wanted to front candidates but did not qualify or did not go through the normal procedures. Here are two things; the party qualifies through a process, the party leader or the would-be presidential candidate also has to qualify through another process.
Let me first tell you how parties get registered here: You get 200 supporters, they get together, they form a general assembly, they declare their intention of forming a party, they call a Notary Officer that is the lawyer from the Ministry of Justice to come and witness and endorse that. This goes to the Minister of Local Government who ensures that this has gone on according to the law and procedure and brings the matter to cabinet and the party is registered. This is how all these parties were registered including the RPF.
In the Green Party, they failed to do that. They have had quarrels within the party that neither were they able to bring together a general assembly. In fact what happened when they tried, they were fighting among themselves and they had split. They had people fighting over the leadership of the party. At some point the leaders of the Green Party went to Kampala, Uganda. There was a meeting for the leaders of all the Green Parties in the whole of Africa and they met in Kampala. I don’t know what happened there, but by the time they came back they had internal problems within the party and they said no, this man who went leading us is not our leader, we don’t want this person.
These are things we learnt after the minister of Local Government investigated to find out what was wrong. Later on, the Minister of Local Government tried to help the Green Party, and he said you know what, if you want to run, you better abide by this; sort out your internal problems, get together, form a general assembly and declare your intentions, and then later on you have to front somebody who will qualify as a presidential candidate and it is as simple as that.
So you were not afraid of the Green Party?
Oh my God!
Do you think the Green Party would challenge the RPF
They could not challenge anybody else, forget about the RPF. They wouldn’t even challenge these other small parties.
Mr President, you have a problem in the RPF then. Because if things happen like this, the international media covers a story and the RPF and the Rwandan government are unable to put forth this explanation you have given me. Really, you can’t blame the international human rights groups when you have failed to explain yourselves.
No no no. We have more than explained this story several times with a lot of clarity. We have put together these ambassadors who stay here; American, European, all others. We have taken them through detail by detail. They know it. We have explained it to the media.
So why do you think the international press remains negative?
I will not suggest it is all of them; there are sections of the international press. I think there is a much deeper problem than this. The international press, have prejudice, or even really contempt about Africa, about Rwanda, about these developing countries. In their view nothing good is happening here, nothing good should be happening here. They consider themselves the do-gooders for Africa. So they imagine whenever Africans are hungry we feed them; they are violent, they are killing each other, we must go and pacify them. They think Rwandans have to keep quiet and they will tell us what to do and what not to do. Yet some of these countries where these journalists operate from have been responsible for the disasters that have taken place in our countries including the genocide in Rwanda.
So there is this whole thing about image, perception and prejudice. That is why we are here as you see us, forget the names they call us. We are determined to shape our future, we are determined to decide for ourselves; we are determined to fight for our dignity; we are determined for self-determination, there is no question about it.
I followed you on many campaign rallies and I saw huge crowds. When you see masses of Rwandans, given Rwanda€˜s ethnic configurations and the politics that existed in this country for so many years, do you think those crowds that turn up, the cheering they give is all genuine? Do you sometimes have doubt and say, wow, possibly people are afraid and that is why they are showing up at these rallies?
I have really never doubted my people, and more so in the recent days. I know the expressions they make out there are genuine, are honest, and I think anybody is mistaken to underrate that.
Are you saying that this country, in the 2010, has traversed a long journey away from its politics where one’s ethnicity determined their position in politics; that they would turn up and they cheer a certain candidate called Kagame, [a Tutsi], who doesn’t share a common ethnicity [with the majority Hutu] and be very happy about him?
One would be making a very serious mistake to ignore the level of maturity that has been reached in the process by our people.
What do you think could have caused that?
You see leadership is very important in everything. Leaders led our people to kill each other, to have genocide in this country that took a million lives of our people. But leadership that is determined to change that course will also succeed with the same people, and that is what we are experiencing under a different leadership that values the people of this country irrespective of their background, and rallying them for a common cause of building a new nation of Rwanda. This is what Rwandans deserve, and not a Rwanda of the Hutu, Tutsi or Twa. We have seen it work over the years and these are the results. You are talking about the turnout or the votes? You see you can get even 100% of the votes, but 100% of what? You know the turnout is extremely important.
What is the turnout?
It should be, I guess, about 96-97%.
People will say that President Kagame has a very sophisticated intelligence system and this system has spread its tentacles up to the last village, he has intimidated everybody. Ordinary Rwandan peasants were harassed. So people are just so afraid of this man called Kagame and they have to show up at his rallies and to vote.
Really, there are things you can’t do and achieve unless people are imagining that I am a superman. You see millions of Rwandans, over 5 million Rwandans could be taken, intimidated, confused and manipulated and nobody complains. You could have people on the rally who have been brought at gunpoint and forced into being there, herded there and guarded there. But whether you would also force them to be even happy on their faces and they jubilate and even when they are going back home they go singing, they go running and the next day they come the earliest time to vote, you cannot achieve that.
You know you have achieved many things. You have reduced the incidence of malaria by almost 85%, you have gotten 90% of Rwandans on medical insurance, you have done the roads, you have fought corruption…
Yeah that is true.
So what would stop you from mobilising people through intimidation and fear to come to your rallies? The title of superman seems to confirm everything.
Then I think if that is the way it is, people should respect it for so long as it works for the people of the country and they are happy with it. Even if they don’t respect me, they should respect the fact that I am superman.
Do you consider yourself an overachiever?
No, in fact, I should not be over-praised. This would not work if the people I am leading and supporting through different institutions were not hard working. You see you can be a very good general as a person, but if your army is bad, you will lose all the battles you fight.