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‘Rwandans understand the greater goal

President Kagame in interview with Financial Times

President Paul Kagame has told the influential Financial Times that Rwandans know what is best for them.

The FT reported that Kagame made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview with the paper’s journalists; Lionel Barber and David Pilling.

The FT in a story titled ‘Interview: Kagame insists ‘Rwandans understand the greater goal’ noted that Kagame runs what is arguably Africa’s most orderly and disciplined society.

But it focused on trivia (immaculate flowerbeds) and misrepresentation (villagers wear shoes by decree).

Even Kagame emphasis that leaders at all levels meet agreed targets, whether raising cassava yields or reducing maternal deaths, was describes as a “strain’.

“It is that mixture of planning and improvisation that underpins what is probably Africa’s most daring experiment in nation building and social engineering, one that has born tangible fruit but has bitterly divided opinion outside Rwanda — and occasionally within, although outright dissent is rare,” the FT noted.

“It is not that we developed or grew up under normal conditions,” Kagame is quoted to have said in the three-hour interview on the eve of his inauguration for a third presidential term.

It was conducted in the presidential mansion.

Kagame had just won an election with 98.7 per cent of the vote but the FT describes it as a “pulverising — sceptics say unlikely — victory”.

In the interview, Kagame flatly told the journalists that he brooks no criticism from westerners who, he says, abandoned the country in its darkest hour and who fail to understand that pluralist prescriptions could be fatal in a country where the majority recently attempted to expunge the minority.

They quote Kagame saying foreign critics can “go and hang.”

“I’m not British. I’m not American. I’m not French. Whatever thing they practise, that is their business. I am an African. I am Rwandese,” he says.

Attempts to impose cookie-cutter forms of liberal democracy on countries from Afghanistan and Syria to Libya have proved disastrous, he adds. “You think these countries will be countries again? Not maybe in our lifetime.”

He rejected the imposition of western democracy.

“Is there something called democracy without putting the ‘western’ thing [first]?” he asked them.

The President explained that his government is creating a participatory system rooted in tradition. Rwanda has been a sophisticated centralised state with its own tax and legal system since the 16th century.

Several ministers also spoke to the journalist about regular consultations with citizens and target-setting for officials as evidence of a consensus-driven system.

“Nothing is perfect,” says Mr Kagame, “but I find [here] the principles and ingredients of a democratic society that answers to its people.”

The journalists who appear to have interviewed other Rwandan government officials as well say they were told that in Rwanda, as in other poor countries, democracy is more about access to calories, schooling and healthcare than about periodic voting exercises.

The journalists also spoke to Stephen Kinzer, who wrote a Kagame biography.

Their central question to him was whether, as Kagame who is 59 embarks on a new seven-year term, the system that so apparently dependent him as one man is durable.

They note that Kagame has indicated that this should be his last term. “Even admirers wonder whether he might be Rwanda’s equivalent of General Josip Tito, who kept Yugoslavia together only for it to shatter after he was gone,” the write.

“That’s the central question that envelops Rwanda,” Kinzer tells them, “It is the question that divides the people who support Kagame and those who oppose him in the outside world. Some think he is laying the foundations for peace, others think the opposite.”

What remains unsaid in the story is how Rwandans are addressing that issue. It also why President Kagame tells them that Rwandans know what is best for them.

Kagame tells them that he finds it “bizarre” that analysts personalise the issue and quotes an anxious Rwandan businessman exhorting him to stay on because the social trust created since the genocide could evaporate without him. “If you go too early, I’m afraid things will fall apart,” the man said.

The president insists it was never his intention to stay on, but the party and population insisted. “We are not saying, ‘We want you forever until you drop dead,’” he says, imitating the voice of the people. “We’re only saying, ‘Give us more time.’”


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    21st August, 2017

    There are times when you can beckon
    There are times when you must call
    You can take a lot of reckoning
    But you can’t take it all
    There are times when I can help you out
    And times that you must fall
    Three new blue stars rise on the hill
    Say no more, Just be still
    All these trials will soon be past
    Look for something, Built to last

    Mwaramutse Rwanda:
    The verse I have recited is from a song entitled, ‘Built to Last.’ Two score and three years ago, I and other batch of young men won a battle by changing a smudge that had for long tainted the picture of this beautiful country. A new nation was conceived of a true heart and spirit, and dedicated to the proposition that Rwanda was big enough- where we could all live together, happy and free. Today, we all gather here at Gisozi Memorial site being called upon by the voice of my country to vow my allegiance as the President of this Country. But far from this noble call, we have yet again met to dedicate a portion of that promise to those here who gave their lives that that nation may prosper. It is all importantly fitting and proper that we should do this.
    In all my public life, first as the vice president and minister of defence and in the later, as the President, I have always tried to do what was best for Rwanda. Throughout the long and difficult seventeen years of my Presidency, I have felt it was my duty to preserve and make every possible effort to serve my country.
    I want to thank all Rwandans, and in your humble capacities for overwhelmingly voting for me in the concluded Presidential elections. It was a true sign of confidence in me, a sign of maturity in yourselves but above all, a resolute signature to transform your country for a better future. However, in the past few days, it has become more clearer to me that my conviction is ever reclining for me to continue serving as your president. With these lingering thoughts, I feel to do otherwise and continue serving as your president, would be unfaithful to the spirit of the constitution and a dangerously destabilising precedent for the future of our country. We would all love to consecrate the place that we have all gathered today. But largely, we can only do this by respecting and reminding ourselves why all these people had to die. I would have preferred to carry on to the finish line because I am not a quitter, but the fear of our tragic past and the sense of respect for our nation forbids it.
    By ending the 1994 genocide, we as a country ended humanity’s saddest war but in seeking for lasting peace, the goals ahead are even more greater and more difficult. We must give our full devotion to the complete picture of true reconciliation and total peace. so that it may be said of our generation that we did not only end a war but that we prevented even future ones.
    I, therefore, shall resign as President effective this afternoon and the Prime Minister with immediate effect, be sworn in as President. You presented me the honour of serving as President, it is this and with great sadness that I will not be in that office working on your behalf to achieve those goals. But let us all turn to that direction and serve the Prime Minister with dedication. And also do so with the profound sense of the weight and responsibility that will fall on his shoulders going forward.
    As we look to the future, let us first begin with healing the wounds of the Nation, by putting the bitterness and divisions of our past behind us. Let us rediscover our shared values that lie at the heart of our strength and unity as a loving and free Nation.
    I deeply regret, the injuries that my decision may have caused. To that I would say that if my judgement was wrong and it could be wrong, it was made in what I believed at the time was best for my country.
    I say goodbye to the Presidency of Rwanda, I salute you all for having given me the opportunity to serve as your President. I ask you to welcome me home in this new role as a fellow citizen. I see hope, I see buildings and cities sprouting out from Kagitumba in the North to Akanyaru in the South, I see happiness and love from Gisenyi in the West across Kibungo in the East. Let us all dance to the Intore and clap to the Ukurambagiza. Let peace and prosperity reign on our hilltops and valleys too and let the Glory be to God. Let it rain and let it shine, Let it rain and let it shine, Our Peace is Built to Last.
    I thank you.

    (Sorry, that’s what I thought President Kagame should have done on the 21 August, 2017.) But Kagame as he wont, chose the narrow path of self over country, let’s hope it won’t lead us in another tragic end.

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