On March 23, President Paul Kagame sat down with Francois Soudan for an interview that first appeared in Jeune Afrique magazine on March 29.
The debate on the amendment of the Constitution is now an open and public in Rwanda. Particularly Article 101, which currently limits Presidential terms to two, which rules out your candidacy in 2017. You say that you are not concerned but, as you know, everything revolves around one person: you.
Kagame: That’s right. But what is interesting, meaningful and in the end embarrassing is that this debate on 2017 was not started by Rwandans. Since three or four years ago, the international media, consulates and NGOs give the persistent impression of being obsessed by this question, as if internal matters of this country concerns them more than the population itself.
Now, it is true that time has come for us to debate on that issue democratically, calmly and independently. Conclusions will be drawn by Rwandans and only them.
We don’t have the pretentiousness to tell France or the United States who should lead them; the same principle should be applied to us.
Is that your answer to those who, like President François Hollande or the US Secretary of State John Kerry, request African Head of States not to amend their Constitutions to allow themselves to run for another term?
Kagame: Absolutely. In fact, we don’t feel concerned by those kinds of lessons. It goes without saying that nobody can dictate our actions.
If the majority of Rwandans ask you to run for another term coming 2017, won’t it be a failure on your side? Why weren’t you able to groom a credible successor, or why didn’t you let a credible successor rise?
Kagame: I have trouble following your point: what you are advocating is simply anti-democratic. Where have you seen, in a democracy, a President fabricate, groom and then impose a successor? That is applied only in monarchies and dictatorial regimes. Rwanda is neither one nor the other. It is not up to me to appoint my successor; it is up to the people to choose. We cannot be lectured to abide by standards of democracy and at the same time be accused of violating them. It is absurd.
For many observers, the programme is as follows: the Parliament will abrogate Article 101and then Rwandans will decide though a referendum. Is that right?
Kgame: I have no idea and you are asking the wrong person. 2017, I repeat, is the People’s business.
At some point, it will be yours too. You will need to decide.
Kagame: Yes, but that time has not yet come and other factors will have to be taken into account. My wife and children for example, would like me to be closer to them. They think this job is consuming and that it is time for me to be more present at home. I don’t blame them, especially because, if it were only up to me, my life would have taken a completely different path than the one that led me here. But history and circumstances didn’t want me to be confined to my family only. There are obligations that one cannot and should not escape.
If your decision is to run for another term, you know very well what the opposition and a section of the international community would say. That all these debate were manipulated and orchestrated, that you had no intention of stepping down…
Kagame: Whether my decision is that one or the opposite, it would not change anything. Those who think that they have been given the mandate to manage Rwanda on behalf of Rwandans have decided long ago to fabricate their own history and elaborated their own scenario. Let’s imagine that I don’t run in 2017: they will say that people rejected me that the situation was no longer bearable, that I fled, I was afraid, and who knows what else. Let’s imagine that I run: it will be a proof that I am an autocrat. In one way or another, narratives made up externally are and will always be negative. But those narratives don’t matter. What matters for Rwandans, is progress, the quality of their life, good governance and the vision that their leaders are capable of. All the rest is trivial.
Interviewed some months ago by Foreign Affairs magazine on the possibility of amending the Constitution in Rwanda, the billionaire Philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, answered this: “Kagame has really managed to bring the country to the foreground and he has developed it. People admire him for that. That should be his legacy, and I hope he will make the right decision.” According to you, what did he mean by that?
Kagame: The right decision will depend on circumstances and will not necessarily be what Mo Ibrahim has in mind. Mo has many good qualities, but he is not Rwandan and I am not a candidate for an award that is given only to Africans for the accomplishment of having stepped down even when they have accomplished nothing else for the people.
The award I am looking for is the one Mo Ibrahim would give to Rwandans for having achieved so much progress in such a small period of time, after surviving the brink of annihilation.
Do you consider yourself as a strong man, a statesman, or both at once?
Kagame: I am a man who gave his life for the cause of his people and his country. So I’m not exactly reducible to a man off the street, I agree. For the rest, call me as you want. You can even ignore me, I do not mind.
The interview was also republished by The New Times, Rwanda