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.’”