President Elect Paul Kagame is scheduled to swear in on Friday August 18, 2017, if the plan remains as is. No much has been talked in local media on post-election atmosphere. However, in the midst of living-rooms and social settings, a lot is being debated about the conversation president Kagame held with Uganda’s NBS TV host, Samson Kasumba, right after the election.
In the exclusive interview, Kagame speaks about succession and weather Rwandans are ready for change. He says the mood is much better than towards the previous years. “I can see the people, I can see it, I can hear it, I can fell it that the people of Rwanda are ready and if we don’t, we shall only have failed ourselves, but I don’t think there is going to be such kind of thing.”
Below are the excerpts of the full interview.
Kasumba: Mr. President, you have been out there on the campaign trail for some time and your tenacity has been tested. It is not the first time, but what has this particular campaign taught you about yourself, Rwanda and Africa that you did not know hitherto?
Kagame: Most of the things I knew very well. It is not that there is anything particularly new. It is a continuation of a number of things we have all along intended to do during the previous two terms, we were rebuilding our country; a shattered economy, a society in fact that has been torn apart by the tragic history we experienced 23 years ago. But with time of course we learn, we get better, we do things better. There are always challenges as we overcome the old challenges there are always new ones coming in. We find this still a lot of work to do. This time around, in fact, as you know probably ordinarily I would have ended my time of office this year 2017. Two, three years ago there was a demand from the population that I continue. Personally, I was actually ready to end my service in this particular way of leading the country. When those demands came, we had to take them through a process. First, there were petitions, millions of them, then later on, there was a referendum as provided by the Constitution when it comes to tampering with it. And so we went through that and enough to fact I was pushed in this.
Kasumba: Are you disappointed you were pushed?
Kagame: I think I would not be doing justice or service to what we normally stand for when it comes to business like this. This is a country, a nation, these are people who have to live certain lives and make choices and do things the way we want as a nation. So, it means over time maybe my judgement that things would have just wound up by this time didn’t happen. In as far as that is concerned, what I thought was going to happen didn’t happen then. And it happened for obvious reason that I understand. Then I can manage that. I don’t find too much disappointment. We are here where we are today because of certain changes in what nobody would have expected, but life is like that you don’t expect for always his black and white. Things change and you have to adjust and cope.
Kasumba: We were right here when you were accepting this responsibility and you spoke of a deal. The room was very silent when you were talking about transition until you said you had accepted, then the applause came. It seems as if you have, if you want of better language, flirtations with transitions, very unpopular in this place. Does that concern you?
Kagame: It concerns me in as far as it is a problem we have to address, we have to manage and we will do that. From the beginning, as I said learning lessons before, I became president during the time I was President, I learned that leadership is a very difficult place to be. Nothing comes easy. Nothing is going to be the way you expect it to be all the time. This is unpredictable sometimes. There are difficulties and challenges. So, I am not surprised, and I am not also disappointed. I think we will manage it as it comes. I am sure people may want me to keep going until I do not know when.
Kasumba: Are you going to work hard to stop them from doing what you spoke about?
Kagame: Yes, there are certain conditions you create. And as far as you are doing it with them. That is why I put it to them. I was preparing them for a task they will be concerned with and they will be the ones to carry it out. They have asked me to continue, I have agreed continuing but they should not expect it to be like that all the time. I wanted to tell them that they should also be prepared for a time when change ought to happen it is going to happen.
Kasumba: Is Paul Kagame walking out of this love, also on the table?
Kagame: Not really. In the first place that is why I accepted because I engaged people at different levels and I could see. I knew many cases. It is not a situation I am strange to. I fully understand our situation, our history, where we are going and the difficulties you have to face together as a people of Rwanda. I know it is also my responsibility to really not only prepare the minds of our people for what adventure might come. It is also to keep working with them so that as I said we develop these conditions that will allow us to move into a new thing. And I will continue by the way serving. There are always different capacities in which I can serve my country when I am not President. Much as I used to serve my country even before I became president.
Kasumba: You have won an election and we know from studying how government works here. You work with those in the opposition. We have seen a coalition of each party. Is there space to work with Dr. Frank Habineza and Mr. Philippe Mpayimana?
Kagame: Yes, I think there is room to work with everybody. There has really been room to work with everybody in the country. Absolutely.
Kasumba: Three or four things that you think that you want to put your mind to. Specifically, because you said that this time one you are going to double your efforts.
Kagame: We will have to continue. First of all, we will have to look at what has been contributing stably and relative to our economic growth which we have also desired and made sure that it is inclusive. The growth of economy has to be that which contributes to reduction of poverty, to prosperity of our people. And as I kept saying during our campaign process, we want to leave no one behind. And that is what we mean. You have to find investments in places that are productive that provide employment for people that is; continued investments in infrastructure, in agriculture and also investing in our people so that we make sure that the skills required on the market are available and we even keep re-skilling those who have had skills previously to meet the new demands on the job market. This is what I have in mind. The governance part of things. Making sure that accountability is not taken for granted in our system to continue the unity of our people and then to continue seeing far ahead where the country is supposed to be so that we arrive there at the same time building on the efforts of our people which is so going to be how much how people are going to be employed are going to be able to have the opportunity to realize their aspirations and dreams.
Kasumba: The big concepts here, UBUDASA and AGACIRO, that you have entrenched in the population. Do you think that as you project those Rwandans across the world understand that if you are for UBUDASA and AGACIRO you are going to take hit from the world? Are they ready for that?
Kagame: I think they have been ready for that. And I think they have proven that. You saw it the people, you know, in one of the songs they sing in Kinyarwanda where they say there is no fear in them to be involved in any battle just because of those two things. I would say that. They are the ones who really crafted that song and it is based on the belief that for our dignity and for the very fact of uniqueness of our history, culture, values, where we have come from. We faced a lot of challenges and they have really been formed and shaped by that. I think I can see it. Maybe you must have seen that the people are ready. So my task now and the task I have had before has been to instilled in our people that confidence, that belief that they can reach for themselves. They do not need to wait for people to come and address their problems. People can support. They can give a hand and help. But ultimately, when it comes to serious issues that matter really, as we have learned again in our history, you are there on your own and for yourself. When the genocide took place here, everybody had to distance themselves from us until it was stopped. That is when they started coming but I don’t think there is a better lesson for us. We have learned that. So when you hear some of these people all over the place talking about all kinds of things, it is all just nonsense. It is meant to divert us from this belief. I don’t think anybody will succeed.
Kasumba: Does it bother you that some of these people come from the East African Community?
Kagame: I don’t think there is much coming from the East African Community. We can always believe that we are friends and we are going to work together. That is what we want and that I what we asked of our brothers and sisters in the East African Community region. For us we believe in working together in cooperation. But if anything comes up in the area of thinking that anyone can tell us what to do they will make noises about certain things that we believe we should be investing in or doing, you just know that it is a waste of their time.
Kasumba: Enigmatic leaders like yourself created by circumstances and contexts. Do you think that post-genocide Rwanda has the context and circumstances to create another Paul Kagame?
Kagame: I think so. I think they are there. We will maybe know about them more in detail when Kagame is no longer in place. These people show up maybe they’re there you cannot easily predict but when you have done all the preparations and when you have created an environment where people are able to prepare themselves, this messaging, these discussions these conversations. When people are talking about UBUDASA, AGACIRO, things like that and these things always coming up in conversations you know that people are being prepared. I think they will be there and they will be different people. They may do whatever they are supposed to be doing differently from how Kagame has been performing, but they will be there.
Kasumba: Without giving names, when you move about, are there some people you have seen who can lead this country very well?
Kagame: Yeah, in the whole crowd, even tonight (during RPF congress). I have a sense they are sitting there. Some of them I am not even able to identify, but I have a feeling they are there.
Kasumba: Now there is an election in Kenya happening. Does Rwanda have the position that they would rather work with so-and-so or are you of the position that whoever comes will work with you?
Kagame: I wish Kenyans good elections and I wish them happiness in the process of choosing their leaders. They should have the leaders they deserve as Kenyans, and I wish they are able to do that peacefully and probably leave the country more united than divided.
Kasumba: I was speaking to the election observers, Head of the East African Community and election observers. His Excellency Moody Awori, Vice President of Kenya. Another team from COMESA, they were saying that the East African Community and the world should learn from Rwanda how to conduct an election. Is it fair that you are lauded here how you do democracy?
Kagame: We are not doing anything here to be appreciated or to have lessons learned from us. We apparently do things just because we have to do them or we need to do them. Primarily it is ourselves and some of these things that happen to be good have good results, our circumstances we should be sharing with others. If there are things that can be learned about that, we are happy to share with our brothers and sisters across the world. But if there are none that work for them, in their own situations, we are happy as well that they can find what works for them and all we want is for us to be able to develop together and we wish East Africans really as much as we wish for ourselves for the future that you are moving into. I think we look at cooperation, and you can learn one thing with other from them as they may learn from us.
Kasumba: How is this region going to be like in the next 10-15 years?
Kagame: I think the region is going to be more stable. It is going to probably increase our cooperation and I think this is the region that has almost everything that, anybody, any country requires for development. I do not see why we should fail to in another 10-15 years together and be a very vibrant region and with its people happy to work together towards prosperity.
Kasumba: Does that suggest you have never been more excited in being a president of an East African Country (community)?
Kagame: Laughs! I am not lookingfoward to that, absolutely. If you are talking about an East African country, if Rwanda is the country, I am. But if it is East Africa that has turned into a country, then I am not looking forward to that.
Kasumba: Is the East African Community ever going to be one country?
Kagame: You start with one step and maybe it will take a hundred or a thousand steps. If you look at how we are coming together, it doesn’t give you the time around which this will happen, but it gives you a sense it can happen. You already see the customs union, we are trying to make this a one market of 150 million people, people are looking for a way of creating one currency that can operate across the east african region, there has been discussion of creating a political federation of these East African countries. The fact that there is this conversation and looking for possibilities of that happening, I think we can take some comfortable in that there is a possibility. How long it will take is a different question.
Kasumba: What are parents failing on to raise children like yourself?
Kagame: I don’t want to fault parents. Some of them are operating under dificult circumtances to a point you wouldn’t say why didn’t you give this to your child. Sometimes they havent even been staying together for various reaosns. Every child has asipirations. The most important thing for the parents is to tell their children that there are going to be opportunities; so can you sieze the opportunities and move with it. There are also going to be challenges. Can you face those challenges while you don’t lose what the society believes in; in other worlds, values that guide us in our lives. One has to tell the children that they can struggle, sieze orppportunities, but they should remain anchored in something. What is it? Like it is your family, then it is going to be your country and it going to be your continent as it has been the case for some of us.
Kasumba: I am 43 years today. I will be a 50 year old man in 2024. Will I sit here interviewing Paul Kagame after another victory?
Kagame: Lets talk about the victory we shall succeed in achieving for the seven years we are going to run. I think we are going to do our best. What has taken us through these last 14 years and the progress made, I think we are now better positioned to achieve even more because in some of the problems we have addressed we have also acquired more means and we have more people coming to play their part, ably, because of the capacities they have been building over years. I think we will succeed and continue to move forward. The mood is much better than towards the previous years. I can see the people, I can see it, I can hear it, I can fell it that the people of Rwanda are ready and if we don’t, we shall only have failed ourselves, but I don’t think there is going to be such kind of thing.
Kasumba: Does that suggest that I will be seated face to face with somebaody else from the RPF?
Kagame: Most likely. I wish that to happen that way. And most likely it is going to happen that way.
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