President Paul Kagame has yet again reiterated that the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is not for Rwanda to blame but rather reflects the failures of Kinshasa to solve its longstanding internal problems relating to Congolese of Rwandan ethnicity.
The Head of State, who was speaking during an interview with Alastair L. Clement at the Semafor Africa Summit on Wednesday, at the sidelines of the U.S-Africa Summit in Washington D.C. spoke about a number of issues including China-Africa relations, DRC crisis and the terrorism case involving Paul Rusesabagina.
President Kagame spoke about the U.S-China divide when it comes to how African countries relate with the two countries, pointing out that Africa can maintain good ties with both China and US and avoid being caught in the middle of ideological differences between the two superpowers.
“To begin with, the problem of relationships with China and the United States is systemic. When you go many years back and the international community was being formed, Africa was not anywhere at the table where many issues were discussed,”
“And from that time, what has been visible is the assumption that these big countries have to decide everything for themselves and for others, even others without participating or having a say at all,” President Kagame said.
He observed that some people call it double standards and he understands them because what is seen a lot is some countries saying ‘do as I say, not as I do’, which is why many people describe it as double standards.
“But with the relationship between Rwanda and China or the US or Africa and the US or China, I will speak for Rwanda, I am sure many Africans have a lot to say, I don’t think we need to be bullied into making choices, choosing between US or China,”
“It is really none of our business. I think we need to have both and others as partners, in as far as they also respect us and understand that we have something to contribute and there is a lot at stake for us, so we can have something to say, we need to have something to say,” President Kagame said.
He pointed out that whatever is going on between China and the U.S and that being brought to Africa, is something the continent needs to look at carefully and focus on minding her own business.
“We have countries to run, we have a continent that should be in this conversation the way it should be. So, there is therefore, on our part, at least as far as Rwanda is concerned, the need to resist being drawn into these big power plays and just associate with anyone who gives benefit to the country or who listens to you and respects you,” he pointed out.
President Kagame said that as a country has focussed on doing things that improve the lives of Rwandans and ensure that citizens make their own choices instead of being dictated upon by anyone.
“Whatever problems Rwanda has, so do these other countries, big or small. They have their own problems. I can’t be dealing with my problems and allow you to bring on top of that your own problems,”
“I have to deal with my problems the way the people or the country have chosen and of course be mindful of the fact that there is no country that lives on its own or stands alone. It’s not an island. We have to relate with others,” he pointed out.
He however said that countries must listen to each other and interact but it should be mutual in nature because small or developing countries equally have a say and a right to make their own choices.
“In that interaction, that’s where we all benefit,” he said, adding that looking at Rwanda’s own history, many of the problems the country faced can be traced to external factors, dating back to colonial times.
President Kagame said that Rwanda has chosen to live that past behind and focus more on the future than to be caught in the past and blame games of who did what and lessons were picked from that chapter.
He said that there are different categories of people who criticize Rwanda, including those who absolutely know nothing about the country but want to have a say while others know Rwanda’s story but they want to impose their own views on Rwanda.
President Kagame said that there are those who know Rwanda’s story and genuinely want to do whatever is possible for them to contribute to the well-being of Rwandans.
“We have to steer through all these different categories and views, but the country has to have a direction and that is the responsibility of the leaders of that country,” President Kagame said.
President Kagame yet again spoke about the case of Paul Rusesabagina, who was convicted to 25-years in prison on terror-related charges by a court in Rwanda but the U.S insists that he was wrongly detained.
Rusesabagina and 20 others, all members of the National Liberation Front (FLN), the armed wing of the Rwanda Movement for Democratic Change (MRCD), were found guilty of carrying out attacks on Rwanda’s territory, between 2018 and 2019.
President Kagame related the issue of Rusesabagina to what was discussed earlier -the case of big countries bullying small countries, pointing out that Rwanda has proved over and over again that Rusesabagina committed crimes in Rwanda which he must be held accountable for.
He said his case is one of those where a big country wants to tell a small what to do for themselves.
“The story of Paul Rusesabagina, the case is very clear. It has gone through the courts of law. With due process, the evidence, the facts about the case were presented in the open. The history of this is also there. It has been told,” President Kagame said.
He said that Rusesabagina was charged along with 20 others, who were also found guilty on the same charges, many of who admitted their actions and affirmed Rusesabagina as their leader.
Disregarding the co-accused, he said some people say Rusesabagina should be released because he is a celebrity and that he is a resident of the U.S and for that matter should be released.
“Some of us have raised this question ‘ok, if we let this one to go free, how about the other 20 who have been in the same crime with him and have actually pointed at him as having been their leader?” President Kagame said.
“What are we going to have to deal with here? There is a serious case here but it will be nullified because somebody in the United States is saying so. Well, some people may find that normal, I don’t. Rwandans don’t,” President Kagame said.
Asked about the advocacy by the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to have Rusesabagina released, President Kagame said no one will push Rwanda to defy a court decision.
“We’ve made it clear. There isn’t anybody, going to come from anywhere, to bully us into something to do with our lives and we accept it,” he said, adding that “you can maybe make an invasion and overrun the country” but Rwanda will not give in to pressure.
He said that there is no way one person can be made so important that they won’t be held accountable, adding that the person in question provided evidence against himself by saying what he said on camera and it is there for all to see.
President Kagame said that Rusesabagina incriminated himself through activities he carried out that claimed the lives of Rwandans and that nobody should think that these actions can be easily wished away.
On the situation in DRC
During the interview, President Kagame spoke about the conflict in the eastern part of DRC, stating that whatever is going on in the vast African nation cannot be put on Rwanda because there are more than 100 armed groups in the country, one of them being M23.
The Head of State said that the M23 was born for the same reasons Rwanda hosts over 80, 000 Congolese refugees for decades, all linked to how the Congolese government has failed to resolve issues around Kinyarwanda-speaking communities.
“What I want to say clearly, this problem was not created by Rwanda and is not Rwanda’s problem. It is Congo’s problem. They’re the ones that have to deal with it,” President Kagame said.
He said that while other people can be helpful, as the East African Community is trying to deal with the matter, it appears the entire responsibility has been put on the shoulders of Rwanda.
“Be it the Congolese government and its leaders, be it the international community, everybody is running away from that problem and they say this is Rwanda’s problem,” he said.
He said the only connection is that the issue is because M23 are mainly Congolese of Rwandan ethnicity and if there was anyone to blame, it would be the people who drew the borders that they found themselves on the other side of the border.
“I cannot be responsible for the fact that there are Congolese of Rwanda ethnicity in Congo who are being denied their rights as citizens. That is not my problem,” he said.
President Kagame reiterated that Rwanda’s problem in the DRC is the presence of FDLR because it threatens Rwanda’s security- an issue which has been regularly raised by Rwanda but even the international community continues to ignore it.
He said until these issues are separated, to know what concerns Rwanda in the DRC crisis and looking at the issues that led to the birth of over 100 armed groups in the eastern part of the country, it will be difficult to resolve the crisis without tackling the root causes.
Watch the Full Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-cf0QKk-C8