The state of the nation
The International Herald Tribune's Ken McKenzie interviewed President Paul
Kagame during a recent visit to Switzerland. Introduction and transcript below:
The Government of National Unity, which has been led by President Paul
Kagame since April 2000, is planning to hold parliamentary and presidential
elections this year. The president, a 45-year-old major general, spoke about his
aspirations and concerns while attending the World Economic Forum in Davos,
What messages have you given to the World Economic Forum?
First, I wanted to talk about the situation in Rwanda, and second to place this
in the context of Africa generally -- how Rwanda and Africa are meeting the
challenges before them and what needs to be done for the development of
Africa in terms of governance and the organization of world trade so that the
continent can fulfill its potential.
In the Rwanda elections this year, are observers right in assuming that you will
be running for president?
This is not a decision for me alone, but for the party I lead. There is a process
laid down for choosing a presidential candidate. It might be me; it might be
There is almost a tradition in Africa of military leaders becoming political
leaders, notably in Nigeria, for instance. Does a military background help --
perhaps in terms of discipline?
Our experience in Rwanda is different from that in some other places, in that
we were involved in a liberation struggle, so that military and political roles
were combined. In my case, military experience has provided valuable lessons
on what leadership is and how it should be exercised.
Security and stability have been largely achieved in Rwanda, but poverty
remains, the prisons are full and international aid is declining. What are your
main concerns after nearly three years in power?
Rwanda has been facing these serious problems since 1994 and before. When
we came to power, there were no illusions that governing the country after the
genocide would be an easy ride. We inherited a lot of problems -- complex
issues that we are attending to seriously.
Our main achievement has been to bring constitutional government and peace,
stability and security as well as improved relations with other countries in the
region. There is poverty, but we have policies for the concentration of
resources on dealing with poverty. It is true that the prisons are full, mainly of
people accused of being involved in the genocide, but we are dealing with that
problem. My main concerns are about these issues, which have been with us
for many years. But progress has been made. There is a lot of hope based on
what we have already achieved.
A speeded-up and more informal way of dealing with genocide suspects --
known as Gacaca -- has attracted attention. What do you think of this, and of
the UN-sponsored genocide trial going on in Arusha?
Gacaca is an attempt to deal with the huge numbers of people involved in
genocide accusations, many in prison. The aim was to set up a place where
people could tell the truth. Justice could then be done, but there could also be
some hope of reconciliation. People are not able to forget, but they are able to
forgive in some circumstances. The process has had success in dealing with
some sort of wrongdoing. It has won praise from victims and the accused.
The UN trials at Arusha have caused concern because of the huge sums of
money being spent and then very few results emerging.
What would you say to foreign investors about the possibilities and risks of
investing in Rwanda now?
I would say that the prospects are good. I think we can boast of more stability
and security than other nations in the region. We have put in place policies of
economic reform, working for transparency and against corruption. Rwanda is
well placed to provide access to countries in the East Africa region and to
other parts of Africa. Rwanda has no great natural resources -- like oil or
diamonds -- though promising discoveries of methane gas are now being
exploited and there is much prospecting for other metals. Rwanda's main
resource, however, is its people, and much money is being spent on education
and training to improve the quality of the work force available to an investor.
Tourism is an area ripe for development.
If peace is maintained in the Great Lakes, what role should Rwanda play in the
region and in Africa?
Rwanda has been mostly preoccupied up to now in setting its own affairs in
order, but it is ready to play its full part in developing and exploiting regional
links, and then in the politics of Africa as a whole.
INTERVIEW BY KEN MACKENZIE, Feb. 5, 2003