Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame sat down with Marc Perelman for an exclusive interview, in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. He speaks on several issues. Full transcript:
Marc Perelman: Mr. President, thank you for welcoming us here.
President Kagame: You are welcome.
Marc Perelman: You met with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Felix Tshisekedi, under the aegis of Angola’s President João Lourenço, who announced that some progress had been made to try to stop the tensions between Rwanda and the DRC. He announced a ceasefire, a road map. Is this a breakthrough meeting?
President Kagame: Yeah, I think to begin with, I don’t think anyone is interested in tensions, or conflicts or whatever crises. So it is on that backdrop that I am happy that we even agreed to meet in Angola under the mediation of President Lourenço, President of Angola and indeed we had good discussions. I think both sides, at least what I assessed it to be, were looking forward to making progress.
Marc Perelman: There have been a number of meetings under different formats, but every time it is a lot of talk. But then the acts do not follow. Do you think that this time it could be different?
President Kagame: I hope so. That is what I think and that is what I want to see happen. Talking is good enough, is good, but it may not be good enough. But it is what you need to start with. So, the fact that we talk, I think, is good and we can build on that for tangible results. This one in Angola is another step forward, I believe.
Marc Perelman: The problem is that when you talk about tangible results, since that meeting a couple of days ago, fighting has resumed in Eastern DRC between the M23 rebel group and the DRC government is already accusing the M23 and Rwanda of not fulfilling what they promised.
President Kagame: Well, I don’t think we need to dwell on blame game and accusations. You find one side accuses the other of something then the other side also accuses the other of something. I don’t think the accusations are just one way. They are general but maybe one would expect that, because much as we discussed and agreed on many things, it seems there are circumstances on the ground where maybe people are not exactly in control of what happens. So the instructions and making sure that they are adhered to might be a problem. Maybe it takes time, maybe it takes a day or two, maybe it takes a week and so on. But the most important thing is at the top. Once we have agreed and are committed, I think what remains is to ensure that these instructions are followed.
Marc Perelman: Right, because one of the points in the 6-point road map that was elaborated in Luanda is the immediate cessation of hostilities by the M23 and their withdrawal from the positions they had taken in the past few weeks or months. Well visibly, they have already said that the meeting was an illusion and that they are not bound by this meeting. So it might be a problem of communication or it might be a bigger problem because they don’t agree with what was decided.
President Kagame: Let me just make a small correction which I thought would have been obvious. In fighting, there are different parties involved. It is not one party. So, talking about ceasefires refers to parties fighting. It is not M23. It is parties fighting. It’s M23 and those they are fighting against or those fighting against them. So that is the correction I thought I needed to make.
Marc Perelman: So, the Congolese military….
President Kagame: That is what it means. And when I was talking about maybe, translating instructions on the ground, why it takes time, is that all these parties on the ground fighting maybe they receive instructions slowly or distorted instructions or…that is why I was saying it takes a bit of time. But I think we need to press ahead and hard to make sure that instructions of having a ceasefire is actually adhered to. In other circumstances, what would happen is to have people on the ground who ensure that what is being talked about is actually implemented. But we don’t have such a situation so that understandably…
Marc Perelman: So, at the top you’re saying when you saw Felix Tshisekedi, you agreed to find a way out of those tensions.
President Kagame: That is what we agreed.
Marc Perelman: Okay, because just a couple of days ago, he gave an interview to the Financial Times and he was asked about a potential war between DRC and Rwanda and he said that he cannot rule it out because Rwanda’s provocative actions continue. So clearly this is a veiled threat.
President Kagame: Well, I don’t feel comfortable so loosely talking about war.
Marc Perelman: Did he tell you that when you saw him in Luanda?
President Kagame: He didn’t tell me. You said he told the Financial Times.
Marc Perelman: But maybe he repeated this to you?
President Kagame: He didn’t but I saw it in the Financial Times but I am just saying for me, I don’t so easily and carelessly anticipate war or even look forward to it. So let us put that aside. And the reason we were in Angola is to make sure that any misunderstanding, any conflict or any tension is resolved amicably not through war or fighting.
Marc Perelman: But he has repeatedly denounced Rwanda’s aggression against his country. The US embassy in Kinshasa said a couple of days ago that it was extremely worried and I quote them, “by the signal presence of Rwandan troops in DRC”. The US is a key ally of Rwanda and when they say that you are in DRC, what is your response?
President Kagame: Well, my response is that I am always surprised that in the conflicts in Congo, people are quick to accuse Rwanda.
Marc Perelman: Even the Americans?
President Kagame: Yes. I mean everybody. We are talking about those who make accusations. But…
Marc Perelman: Are those groundless accusations?
President Kagame: Can you let me finish saying my point?
Marc Perelman: Okay.
President Kagame: Because Rwanda is accused by the US or by anybody but they are silent, deliberately I guess, on the issues of FDLR that have been there for the last 25 years. So you would imagine, in fact, when you hear people say those things you have just mentioned, it is as if Rwanda is just a trouble maker, they went into Congo and started a war and they are doing this. They are even silent on the bombings on our territory by the Congolese army. They are silent about infiltration in 2019 in November of these FDLR who entered in the northern part of our country and caused mayhem. If we are talking about provocations, how do you decide to shell across the border into the population and then you say this is…
Marc Perelman: I understand your point but do you….
President Kagame: Do you understand it really? Or do they understand it? Then you need to help them understand it.
Marc Perelman: But this does not answer the question. Are there Rwandan troops in the DRC? Maybe there are other issues, we will get to that because that is one of the points in the road map. But do you deny having Rwandan soldiers on DRC soil right now as the Americans are claiming?
President Kagame: Well, it is answered by telling you that when you are having so many parties having a problem and you just keep insisting on talking about one, you are the one with a problem. Not the one you are accusing, so that answers what you are asking as well.
Marc Perelman: You talked about FDLR and you have been talking about it for many years. One of the points in the road map is to defeat the FDLR and its splinter groups. Obviously, it has been going on and for a number of years. Do you think on this point, there is real progress or again, it is just talk?
President Kagame: I am looking forward to that progress. This is my main point. But the other point which again we probably talked about a little bit is, I have said yes, I have talked about it or we have talked about it for so many years. But why don’t people listen? Every time it is another problem but not that one. So, did these parties decide that this problem should remain forever and expect there will be no consequences for the actions of this group of FDLR carried out against Rwanda? Is that serious? Do you think these people are serious?
Marc Perelman: What about the repeated claims by the Congolese authorities that Rwanda is backing the M23? They are saying, Felix Tshisekedi said in the same interview that if Rwanda does not admit it then it means there is a hidden agenda.
President Kagame: Well, it is a long story. First of all, M23 is not Rwanda’s problem and these are not Rwandans. And we don’t need them for anything. Second, the history of these M23 people is well known and has been discussed with President Tshisekedi himself and the government of Congo and so far. In fact, in 2013, during that crisis when we had M23 fighting UN forces and fleeing to Uganda, then to Rwanda. These people, if you had wanted to, we would have taken you there and you could have talked to some of them. We cantoned them, we disarmed them, we gave these arms back to Congo and following that, Congo, actually both governments, the previous one under President Kabila and the one of President Tshisekedi, committed to resolving this problem and repatriating these people.
They sent delegations here, official delegations several times, I think like 20 times. They would come and talk to these people. They would promise them that they will solve their problems.
They would go back and nothing follows. So, these people are still here. Now, the ones who are fighting now have been in Congo for some time well before they started fighting. There had been accusations which were verified by the verification team which resides in Goma about where they were first of all and they were in Congo.
And these are not people who came from Rwanda and how Congo makes that problem of M23 a Rwandan problem is something I cannot understand.
Marc Perelman: Well, it is because they are saying that you are backing them financially, militarily and they have much more powerful weaponry, which is also what the UN is saying.
President Kagame: That is what they are saying.
Marc Perelman: Is it lies? Do you deny it absolutely?
President Kagame: What I don’t want us to dwell on and waste a lot of time is in this complex problem which I have told you involves many parties. To single out just one and attach it to Rwanda and make it the issue. How about the other issues?
How about the FDLR we are talking about? How about shelling our territory from DRC by government forces working together with FDLR? How about Monusco that has been supporting FDLR and FARDC knowing that they work together? Why are you not talking about that?
Marc Perelman: I am asking you questions about accusations that have been levelled against Rwanda.
President Kagame: You have not asked anybody else about that, that’s the problem. So, the whole thing is just about Rwanda, Rwanda and M23. This is what…
Marc Perelman: In 2013, if I remember correctly, you got a call from then President Obama talking about the issue. Did you get calls from President Biden, Secretary Blinken to try to calm the situation in recent days or months?
President Kagame: Happily, not. Because it doesn’t warrant it at all. Maybe they should call whoever they want or if they call me, I will certainly receive the call and give them the answers they are looking for. But I am saying even just simple logic, if people try to reason, this problem was there in 2013 or 2012, now it is back 10 years after. What do you think went wrong? I would ask anyone to tell me why this problem, which is actually in my view, a problem that can be addressed very easily.
Why does it go on for ten years and come back? In fact, some part of it has been there for the last 25 years. And the international community, everybody, they’ve spent so much money talking about solving these problems based in the Congo.
And yet we have it visit us again in 2022. Do you really think Rwanda is the problem in that? Can’t anyone see that the problems lie elsewhere?
Marc Perelman: In DRC?
President Kagame: Absolutely. And even in the international community who pretend they are trying to address the problem but even complicate it further.
Marc Perelman: I want to get to another issue that’s been in the news. Rwanda signed a pact with the United Kingdom regarding migrants. The idea is to bring illegal migrants who try to get into the UK to Rwanda. First plane was supposed to arrive here a few weeks ago, it didn’t make it because European court ruling… first of all, Boris Johnson just resigned; does this mean that the deal with the UK is off the table?
President Paul Kagame: Well, what we call a deal it means again different parties concerned with that deal. As far as Rwanda is concerned, our side, the responsibility on that is: we agreed to receive people under certain conditions which we discussed and agreed. So, for us it is to receive. How to send people here is not our problem; we are not concerned with that. The laws, the logistics, it’s not for us how they get here. The only thing is when they get here how we handle them, how we manage them with our partners, UK, that’s what you can ask me. Otherwise, I can’t answer for what happens on the other side much as I am aware of different facts and different circumstances that have made this issue sound like so complicated, so controversial, so many things. But we have a very clear understanding of what we are dealing with ourselves.
Marc Perelman: So, you are confident this will be implemented?
President Kagame: I think so.
Marc Perelman: The head of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees recently told me in an interview that he believes that this agreement was a very bad precedent and that it was undermining the asylum system in the world. What is your response to this direct criticism?
President Kagame: My response to that is that so many aspects of this process have been discussed even in other circumstances. I’ve told people even before we came to this partnership in dealing with this problem with UK, we have many years before dealt with other situations. For example, the prominent one being that of Libya and in which we discussed that with UNHCR. In fact, it is not UNHCR that initiated the discussion or came to us asking. We are the ones who offered because of the circumstances which, again, would take long to explain. But, having people going through Libya intending to go to Europe and they got stuck in Libya and they end up in prisons, and they end up in dying there, and they end up being bought as slaves to take to different parts of the country.
Marc Perelman: Those are very different circumstances Mr President.
President Kagame: Yeah, but I have not finished explaining my point.
Marc Perelman: Go ahead.
President Kagame: Yes. So, we offered to do that… different circumstances, there are similarities in a way. So, we are the ones who offered and said here in Rwanda we can actually offer a better situation where people can come and then those countries in Europe that would accept to take in some of them, they can do it in safety, for these people and also comfortably with ones who are going to take them. So, that’s how these people are brought here and so far, a thousand refugees have been processed for asylum and have been taken abroad to different parts.
The other aspect was: we said for those who will be here in safety and want to go back to their countries, we should still be able to work with UNHCR to process it and take them wherever they want to go. The others who have nowhere to go, we are happy to look for how to absorb them here and still provide a better environment than being in Libya or better than sinking in the Mediterranean. I am saying this as a background, I didn’t say it explains every problem.
Now, for Europe you will have to… for UNHCR, if you will in these discussions. Now, they have to be very clear, and this is an international issue that has to be discussed. Tell me, is it also agreed by everybody that there will be smugglers, people who smuggle others, find some entry point to take them to any country whether it is France, or UK or whichever and just put them there and these countries are obliged to accept them that way; I don’t think so. I mean at least from as far as I’m concerned. Even migration has to follow certain rules, certain norms, certain laws; so, and the ones we are dealing with in this context with UK are those people actually whose migration circumstances are questionable by those who were supposed to receive them so that they have time to sort them out. So, and I am asking myself what is wrong with that? They are not removing… by the way they have also accepted a lot of people before; I don’t think they are going to remove their migration status which was agreed before and send them here. No, that’s not what is happening. It’s those that are questionable. And we can either say no. Everyone who enters any country and is seeking asylum must be accepted; that’s not for me to say. It has to be an international norm or law that is going to dictate to us what is going to happen.
Marc Perelman: Alright. But there is also criticism about the fact that UK is giving you €144,000,000 for that and that essentially Rwanda is making money on human misery.
President Kagame: No, the money that they are supposed to be giving … well UK has been giving us money even before we dealt with them…
Marc Perelman: But that’s for specific purpose…
President Kagame: Why can’t you let me explain? I am saying they have been giving us money before not for doing for them anything, for development; that’s one. This money that is being talked about is not money for the country to just enjoy and absorb and so on. No, it is the money to look after these people who are being brought here; it is very clear because part of the agreement was, if you are going to bring one thousand, ten thousand people and put them here as you process them; who is going to foot the bill of looking after them, their upkeep, their different things that they…? And then they said they are the ones going to pay, this is the money they are paying it’s not the money for us to… we are not buying and selling people, no.
Marc Perelman: Prince Charles called this deal, I quote him “appalling”. He was here recently for the Commonwealth summit; I imagine you had a discussion with him about this and his comment.
President Kagame: No, we didn’t have that discussion because there was no need to have such a discussion. That discussion is supposed to be had in UK not here.
Marc Perelman: When he calls this appalling, I mean…
President Kagame: That’s okay, he is telling his own people or his own government not Rwanda, yes. This is why I said there are responsibilities divided; there is a responsibility of UK and responsibility of Rwanda. That does not fall in the responsibility of Rwanda.
Marc Perelman: Are you negotiating similar deals with other Western countries?
President Kagame: Not to my knowledge yet. But if others come up and suggest that, under the same reasons we accepted this to go on, we might consider it. We have no problem with that. I’ve told you I have handled cases, before it was Libya, it was Israel and then the other day we received people from Afghanistan and whoever is telling you that we are just doing it because we want to, you know, profit from these people is wrong.
Marc Perelman: There is another level of criticism, some are saying that you are trying to buy the good graces of the western world so they stop criticizing you like they’ve done on human rights, on stifling the opposition.
President Kagame: No, but I have my own criticisms against them, I can criticize, I criticize those people like we talked about the situation in DRC. So, the criticisms are going to be there anyway, for anyone, only that some people think they are immune to criticism, or it doesn’t affect them. But why would I… I mean… again like we said during the… I keep bringing back this example of Libya in 2018 that’s when we did it when I was the Chair of the African Union, and I was doing it mainly actually for the Africans who have been… because the main bulk of them were, if not all of them, were Africans. So, you think I was buying the good will of Africans to not criticize me, for what? I mean, it is easy to simply look for all kinds of reasons, but… and then miss the actual substance of what one is talking about.
Marc Perelman: Alright. I mean, you’ve always consistently refused this criticism on human rights, on democracy that’s not exactly democracy; always saying this comes from the west, or western media or western organizations. Don’t they have a point at all?
President Kagame: Wouldn’t I have a point if I criticized the western democracy?
Marc Perelman: Sure.
President Kagame: Yeah. So, what is the problem? If democracy is not going to be perfect anywhere, any way at all as we have seen, as we always see, we see that, you know. What I don’t like is just the hypocrisy. You are so deep in your own mess about democracy and then you think you have authority to come and make criticisms about others and even want that to have consequences on them, it’s just hypocrisy; and am I supposed to accept that?
Marc Perelman: Well, as last question; you were elected in 2000 so 22 years in power, the next election is scheduled in 2024. You haven’t said whether you’d run, but do you consider running or…?
President Kagame: Well, I’ll consider running for another 20 years, I have no problem with that.
Marc Perelman: Really? That means…
President Kagame: We are talking about elections…
Marc Perelman: Yes.
President Kagame: Again, this is contradiction and hypocrisy I am talking about…
Marc Perelman: But there could be a limit on the mandates, right?
President Kagame: Elections are about people choosing, isn’t it?
Marc Perelman: Right, when they are free and fair, yes…
President Kagame: Yes, okay. But, you haven’t, at least of the criticisms you have heard, nobody has said the elections have not been free or fair. But we have heard it in other places that people don’t even talk about, including even people who complain about us. So, don’t you have… right now as we speak, we are having cases in the developed world about elections.
Marc Perelman: Right.
President Kagame: You remember not so long ago, there is a case going on somewhere in very advanced democracy about…
Marc Perelman: …in United States, yes.
President Kagame: …somebody who want to… so, this is… I think people have to decide what they want to do for themselves. You see, you have problems of your own that somebody should be questioning and then you want to, you know, be the one to dictate what I should be doing at the same time even with contradiction. Because if you are talking about elections and an election is about people choosing and then you are saying if it is free and fair; but that has not been the accusation. The accusation is different even the one you started, you are not talking about how free or not free the elections are; you are talking about just having to choose so many times, I think this is different.
Marc Perelman: Right, but people could say, you know, I am not going to be president for life; there should be limits and…
President Kagame: Which people are you talking about?
Marc Perelman: Well, you have debates in many African countries about two terms, I mean we’ve had it, you’re having it in Senegal and Ivory Coast and others; because they say a person after a while in power should leave and maybe…
President Kagame: That’s fine, that’s fine; I have no problem with that, but people can also say a different thing. So, which one are you supposed to accept? People can say that, yes and I will accept it; but if they said the other one also, I would accept it. So, what is the issue here? Anyway, why would anyone be so concerned about our own situation which the people of Rwanda seem to be happy about, that is working for them; but somebody else says no, no, no that should not happen in Rwanda. We haven’t been questioning what is happening elsewhere. As I said if you criticize me, I will criticize you because there are things somebody is doing that are not right even against me and then comes around and starts blaming me for what I am doing that is working for me. For me, I am just even basing on simple logic.
Marc Perelman: Paul Kagame, I want to thank you very much for welcoming us here at the Presidency of Rwanda in the capital Kigali.