Rwanda hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is an opportunity for the country to get closer to countries with which they have no deeper historical ties, according to President Paul Kagame.
He was speaking during an interview with Kenyan journalist Zain Verjee on the sidelines of the second annual Qatar Economic Forum held on June 20-22. In the same interview, President Kagame spoke about the UK-Rwanda migration deal, RwandAir’s partnership with Qatar, the impact of Russia-Ukraine on Rwanda and CHOGM, among other issues.
What’s the latest on Rwanda’s deal with Qatar regarding developing your aviation industry?
Just a bit of background; about 20 years ago we started an airline and this was part of our strategy to make Rwanda a global destination for tourism as well as major conferences and meetings.
If you look at our geography and the state of the global economy, it’s clear that services are going to be a big part of the economic future. Therefore, RwandAir has since become an important airline, connecting not only Rwanda but other parts of Africa to the world as well. As it grew, we needed to expand the airline and build a new airport with more capacity.
When we looked for a strategic partner for that, Qatar really stood out and that’s how we became partners in aviation with Qatar. We are very happy with the outcome and the growth we expected to see as a result. So far so good.
Let’s talk a little bit about the UK Rwanda migration deal. The European Court of Human Rights halted the deportation of asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda. Do you think that an agreement is still feasible?
Well, I think the agreement is still on, maybe will be implemented as well, but just a bit of background; it’s not an issue that is hanging out there without a history or background. Rwanda has been hosting refugees for decades. So we are not new to this problem. In fact, most Rwandans have experienced being a refugee at some point in their lives. We know what it means and we are doing this for the right reasons.
Before the partnership with the UK, we began receiving vulnerable migrants evacuated from Libya by UNHCR and giving them safe haven. More than 1,000 so far have been processed through that effort. The arrangement with the UK is really connected to that experience. There is no doubt that the global asylum system is broken and it needs innovative solutions and we are happy to be part of contributing to those solutions.
When this issue was brought to us, we talked about it and looked at all the merits, we thought it was something we could try to help out on as we have done in the past in other cases.
Do you see an agreement of this nature as a model that can actually be replicated in the future between developed and developing nations?
I think so. We need to try something new because what has been in place has not worked very well, that’s why people are complaining about all kinds of things and seeing an increase in migrations. I think we need to really take a new look at this problem and find solutions. This could be one of the ways, but if there are other ways, then still they need to be looked at because the problem has been running for a long time. It hasn’t been sorted out.
Your Excellency, how are you going to de-escalate tensions with the Democratic Republic of Congo?
I think it’s a matter of dealing with the real issues underlying this. This is a conflict that has run for decades and keeps coming back. There are several things that are very mixed up. One, if you look at in the DR Congo, the Congolese of Rwandan ethnicity, and how that issue has been handled in the DR Congo, needs more attention and serious attention. If that was to be addressed and it can be addressed, there’s no question about that.
If you look at the rights of people, fixing their problems is a simple matter. So I don’t see why DR Congo has done so. When the international community got involved, they ended up being part of the problem.
In DR Congo there are these groups that are Congolese of origin, even though they have Rwandan culture, heritage, and background? Then you have these groups, the people who committed the genocide in Rwanda, who have been there since 1994, causing problems against Rwanda and within DR Congo itself. So, when the UN came there and they were supposed to deal with this matter, they actually did not; so much has been spent on them, tens of billions of dollars for so long and we see no solution.
In fact, recently in this new fighting, we found that the DR Congo forces FARDC and MONUSCO which is the UN force, and these FDLR that committed genocide here is Rwanda, were working together. So, how did the UN force that was supposed to go fight these people end up actually fighting alongside them and against the so-called M23, which fights for the rights of these Congolese of Rwandan origin, and now they become the target, they become the problem.
The President of DRC is actually accusing Rwanda of supporting those very rebels that you mentioned, what would you say to the President of the DRC right now? What would be your one message?
I would tell him, and I have told him before several times; making those accusations is simply running away from his responsibilities as the President and leader of that country.
Why he should not address the problems that are internal to the DR Congo, of these people and how he fails to also address the FDLR that is based in the DR Congo and crosses the border and attacks our people, and then they make it worse, recently, when there was fighting between the UN, FARDC and these genocidaires together fighting the M23, they decided to actually to bypass the M23 and started shelling the territory of Rwanda, killing people and destroying property. So, we have had conversations; we’ve been talking.
It’s not that we haven’t been addressing the right issues, but implementation. And for some reason I don’t understand, president Tshekedi has chosen a completely different direction. I don’t understand what that is going to give us, but this has been communicated directly to him several times. Now, we are having different efforts trying to help and de-escalate and resolve the problems. One is the effort to buy the Angolan President João Lourenço, who is the chair of the International Conference of the Great Lakes region.
And then the other effort is by President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the chair of the East African community. We are going to have a meeting this coming Monday, so hopefully we can find a way forward and address the real issues. But we need to attend to the real issues and stop pretending or mixing up matters.
With the war in Ukraine, Africa has essentially been collateral damage in many ways, particularly with the impact of sanctions and all the supply chain issues. How has Rwanda been coping from a financial standpoint? And how do you think we should see what this means for Africa and its position in the world?
Well, the war between Ukraine and Russia affects everyone including Rwanda. You see it in terms of oil prices, food prices and shortage of fertilizers that many countries were getting from that place.
So to summarize, there is no justification for the invasion and there is no question about who attacked and who is defending themselves, and that’s all okay. I think people understand. Right now the real problem and we see it from afar, right now we have everyone taking sides. You are either on the side of the one who thinks they have been wronged so badly and then others think that the other part that wronged the other is doing it with justification. So, there is no clear process of peace that we can look forward to envisioning the end game.
How do you have the end state created where you have a polarized situation where one is on the other side and the other one on a different side and everyone is obliged to take sides so, who is left in the middle to steer things in the right direction?
This is a question I would pose and I am sure many people are having that on their mind.
You are hosting a number of leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) this year, what is the value for Rwanda that you see in being part of the commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a productive community of nations that is particularly relevant in helping direct attention to the challenges facing small states and developing countries, notably with climate and really builds this mindset to deal with many challenges.
For Rwanda it brings us closer to the like-minded countries in the parts of the world where we do not have historically extensive ties such as the Caribbean or the pacific countries.
We are looking forward to welcoming the commonwealth heads of state and governments and various commonwealth organizations to Kigali for meaningful meetings and of course we hope they like what they see and keep coming back in the future.
Credit: The New Times