Ethiopia's decision to postpone its August 2020 elections indefinitely has raised political temperatures in the country, as both the government and opposition parties accuse each other of attempting a power grab.
ITV: Paul Kagame, President, Rwanda (archive)
The Africa Report: On 4 August (2017), Rwandans will go to the polls. You are a candidate, and there’s no doubt that you will get re-elected. How do you explain this complete absence of suspense?
Paul Kagame: Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Rwanda’s singular history and recent past have forged a democratic process and electoral behaviour that are specific to the country. So to judge them against other countries who have not experienced the absolute tragedy of a genocide does not make sense. And as a result, you might never understand what happens here.
There will be other candidates. Are you worried about them?
We have faced more serious and challenging situations than this. Why would you want an electoral contest to be a problem for us? It’s the least of our worries.
What are you promising Rwandans in order to win their votes?
You know me. I’m not the type of person to delude Rwandans or make them empty promises. I’m a realist, not a populist. We know where we’re coming from, what we’ve achieved, what we should and can still do, and also our limits. I would not make any promise I can’t honour, and don’t expect me to do anything other than remind the people of Rwanda that they have to work together for a better future. Another important point is the fact that this election is of concern to us and us alone. The outside world has nothing to tell us.
Will this seven-year term be your last, even if the constitution allows you another term?
I believe so, and I’m likely to clear up this topic soon when I begin my election campaign. There is a kind of contract between myself on one side, the Rwandan Patriotic Front and the Rwandan people on the other side. During the December 2015 constitutional referendum, the people expressed their desire for me to continue as president, which I accepted. But the time has come for them to start thinking about someone other than me.
Is that your answer to those who say you will stay in power until you die?
Those who say this are doing it on purpose, with a political agenda. This claim doesn’t hold water.
But the country’s balance and its entire political system seems to rest on your shoulders.
That’s not the way things work. The important thing is that we have progressed in an irreversible and permanent way, with or without Kagame. The new generations of Rwandans have understood many things and learnt many lessons. The fear you are expressing would be well founded if Rwandan society was static or unchanging. But the situation is quite the opposite. When you look at our economy, our institutions and skill sets, our society is improving through a virtuous cycle. Even if the people of Rwanda decided that I should continue to be their leader for a while, this cycle will not stop with my departure. You can be sure of that.
How do you explain that there is only one authorised opposition party, the Democratic Green Party?
Rwanda has the rule of law. My job is not to create opposition parties but rather to create a favourable environment where different viewpoints can be expressed. Everything else is governed by the law. You should not try make your own definition of opposition a general one. There are too many people giving lectures and too many arrogant Westerners who are drunk on their values and who claim to define – instead of us – what our freedom is supposed to be.
You are often accused of a certain lack of transparency. The latest case being the unexpected sacking of the chief executive of RwandAir, even though its results seemed good.
[You are asking me to] explain what? And to whom?
Explain your decision, to the public.
Was that really the case? That is where the problem lies. Let us be clear, the people of Rwanda gave me a mandate to manage the state in their best interests. If I consider that a chief executive officer, appointed by the council of ministers, has not been able to deliver the expected results in the agreed time frame and that the return on public investment is not at an acceptable level, I have the right and the duty to replace him. We neither have the time nor the interest to launch a public debate on this subject.
Are you well informed about the real situation in the country? As you may well know, power isolates you.
Indeed, I’m aware. But I have a powerful antidote against it. I require that each person accounts for their activities, and I’m able to see the results. Figures don’t lie. […] For example, a health minister can tell me all he wants, but he will be judged based on the infant and maternal mortality rates. The same goes for food security, crime, water, electricity, schools, etc.
Do you regret some of your decisions in office?
No. Never. What use would it be?
But you are bound to make mistakes.
Of course. When this happens, I try to minimise the consequences without delay. I think it’s better to make a mistake than to do nothing.
“There are too many arrogant Westerners who are drunk on their values”
Your African counterparts have asked you to think about needed reforms at the African Union. What are your main targets
I see four areas. The first is how to fix our lack of effectiveness. The second is where to find the resources that will allow the AU to end its dependence on foreign aid. The third is which challenges to prioritise: security, development, youth, food security, health, gender, inequality, employment […]. The fourth is how to speak with one voice on serious subjects like the International Criminal Court, North-South relations, etc.
France has a new president. Do you have a message for him?
The attitude of France towards Rwanda will not change as long as the attitude of France towards the rest of Africa has not changed. The two are linked. We expect something new from President Macron: to usher in a new dynamic and a real break from decades of confusion. What needs to be on the table is 23 years of negative policies targeting Rwanda and 60 years of stale African politics that have not benefited Africans in any way.
This article first appeared in the June 2017 print edition of The Africa Report magazine