Five days ago, President Kagame addressed hundreds of business executives, academicians and politicians largely from across Africa and others parts of the world who were attending the 24th Annual General Assembly of the Afrexim Bank. After his speech, he sat to engage in an interactive debate about business, policies, the future of Africa, the youth and later on particularly his leadership style. The conversation was moderated by a world renown TV Host Riz Khan. Below is the excerpts of the conversation.
Riz Khan: Mr. President, the ball is in your court to some degree, with the plan to create some series of reforms in the African Union and you have been asked to lead the charge in creating these reforms and I wonder from the perspective where you stand right now, considering everything that has happened. What do you consider to be the biggest challenge, what is the biggest point you have to address when it comes to the AU?
President Kagame: The biggest challenge is always going to be, and for all of us, to shift from doing business as usual and to change how we think through different things to do with policy and above all, implementing and changing a little bit of thinking in terms of what we have been used to in the past, because the present and the future require that we make a lot of adjustments. I had the pleasure of being selected by the African Union leaders when they were meeting here in Kigali for the summit last July. And when I was producing the report of the proposals, I was forwarding to the leaders who asked me to carry out that task, I mentioned a couple of things beyond specific proposals. I was telling them, for me it was the pleasure, but I think I was asked to do the simpler part because it was just getting together a group of men and women who have a lot in their background, expertise and they know Africa, they know your problems and your opportunities and doing it is to put together these ideas; it is a diverse team. I was saying that, this is the simpler part because the task they gave was just bringing together these ideas, but the bigger task, as I was telling the leaders, is theirs. Because if they have agreed, and they did agree to the proposals, the bigger task was the implementation, doing the very things and then surprisingly, they [the leaders] asked me to follow upon the implementation which I again said `well I am again happy to do that because, still it is the simpler part because following up is just following up; I am not going to do for you what you should be doing. You still have to do the harder task and that is to do what we have agreed needs to be done.’ I have been studying, analysing what has been going on across the continent or at the AU and at other areas and I tell them `this is where we are, X has been done, and the other has not been done and so on and so forth. So I was still tell them that this is the simpler part I am happy to go on.
Riz Khan: You said something very key in Europe last month; you said that there is need for mind-set change. Do you sense there is the will, the desire to act those changes, those entrenched ideas and moving forward?
President Kagame: I think so. Even what has been discussed during this meeting, if you look at what is happening across the continent, a number of things are happening and you see that mood of wanting change across Africa. Governments, private sector, men and women of this continent, there is a discussion going on about change. I think we are hard pressed to move faster than we actually are moving. This is where I think the problem is. At what rate are we moving forward and, why is the question very important? First, is the need to actually see fast progress given where we are and where we want to be. We are so left behind if you look at the indicators, the data across the globe. For example, I also mentioned in my speech how 15 percent of Intra-Africa trade is very low compared to other areas. So, why can’t we move faster? The second part I wanted to talk about other than the need, is that there are means and several opportunities we should be tapping to be able to move at a faster rate. And that is why again I was talking about the political will. The political will is not enough. We need to have more political will than we are seeing. Again, I do not want to sound like there is not much happening. I think there is much happening but we need to do much more.
Riz Khan: You have said yourself that you need cooperation with the people. What are your first steps to making sure that everyone is on board?
President Kagame: Two levels. One is within our country ourselves, how we go about things, how we involve everybody, how we make sure that everybody is not only contributing but benefiting as well. That sticks to the governance, politically, economically, how do you drive things to the extent that everybody feels they are part of what is happening, they are part of the process. Then you go beyond Rwanda, there has been the integration process going on within the region, say the East Africa. Rwanda contributes to that together with other partner countries and we are seeing good progress. So we have therefore prioritised, identified which areas that are key that will help us drive things faster. Integration must be allowing the movement of people, developing our infrastructure that connects the region, it must be a number of things that take into account 150 million people in this East African region. This is where we are.
Jalusimi, Nigerian. (Runs a factory in the industry of free zone in Lagos: Your Excellency, what advice do you have for us, as civilian Nigerians?
President Kagame: I need advice from Nigeria too. If I may just answer the question you have asked; You know, Nigeria has everything; the people, the resources, the industriousness of those people, so Nigerians need just to make that work and work for them and work for the whole continent.
King Salomon Adema from Nigeria: How soon are we expecting every African to drop his national passport and have that African Union passport after it was launched last year?
President Kagame: These are some of the things everybody knows would work best for us, and this speaks the point we were discussing earlier, one billion people. So why can’t we build on this size and volume of things across our continent and simple things like those you have mentioned. We need; to allow freedom of movement and I am sure and glad you are here established in Rwanda from Nigeria, you know that we allow all Africans to travel to Rwanda without difficulties to do with visas. It was a conscious decision and we want to see that if all other African countries could allow our brothers and sisters to travel freely, that would be making a lot of sense in that regard. So that is to be followed by the issuance of the African passport, otherwise you may anyway get a passport but you may just end up keeping it in the pocket because you can’t use it. So, a number of things have to happen at the same time. To get the passport, but also making it easy for Africans to travel with these passports and crossing borders. Why we make these restrictions for people to move from one place to another, it is not necessary. What we lose is much more than what we gain by allowing these barriers to be in place. I think, the faster we work together, as we collaborate as Africans, countries and at the AU, our leaders making these right decisions allowing that to happen, I think we can see Africa continuing to rise and not just being a reference.
Kaneza Nassa from Rwanda: We run a project that empowers micro entrepreneurs especially women and people with disabilities within but as we have been running all our project, we have been facing some challenges with urban planners that do not account for micro entrepreneurs working in urban areas, what advice would you give us when approaching the urban planners, the City Council, the districts, because most of micro entrepreneurs have difficulty getting places to work from in their jurisdictions?
President Kagame: First, you have to encourage and support small businesses to thrive, to grow but at the same time, you have to allow these businesses to move freely within and across borders and I think that is the best way to do it.
I think there are many facilities established here in the country but you will find there is always the improvement to be made in terms of communication so that the people who should be actually using those facilities know that these facilities are there. There is always going to be that improvement in communication, in reaching out to the people and actually knowing their other problems that you do not know about, what they are doing for themselves to able to grow their businesses. The advice I would give is one, the facilities around. Two, I am sure that the Rwandan leaders at different levels who are here would be listening and we need to go back and check and see how what we have put in place is actually having the effect we want and reaching the people who need this kind of support.
Collins Mwai, The New Times: Mr President, Severally, you have mentioned that to go beyond the 15% of Intra-Africa Trade takes more than just finances; it is about addressing the political will. So, according to you, what do you consider are the biggest challenges or where does the continent fall back? What are the largest gaps and how will the ongoing African Union changes address that?
President Kagame: It comes back to one simple point. We have had many meetings of this kind. I think we are not short of information, data, knowledge of what we need to do and even how to do it. And leaders are not just presidents, prime ministers and ministers. Leaders really means all of us doing different things in our own right. We just need to work together and build on this huge reservoir of knowledge and information we have of what we can build on, of the facilities out there that we can tap into to be able to do things and go ahead and do it. It comes down to implementation. You can have very good policies, very good messages going on but somebody has got to do something.
Riz Khan: One of the key things you are concerned with in the reforms is to reduce donor dependence and create a greater self-funded system. How are you going to go away from the large amount of funding, over 50%?
President Kagame: It is just to do these things we are actually slow at but, in our case we have seen the external funding from the official aid coming down from 80s to 20s. It is because we have been trying to develop businesses, we have been trying to develop capacities of what we can produce ourselves. Again, the discussion should not be misunderstood. Sometimes when we are out talking about what we need to do ourselves as African countries to reduce this dependency, sometimes the response [from these donor countries] is ‘you will still need our money, you will still need us.’ It is like `tone down your voice calling upon people to work hard, to utilise the very resources we have around and these opportunities we have and raise our level. We do not need to be given aid all the time. It is a misunderstanding. We are not saying it is not helpful; not at all. It is helpful; it has been helpful and it helps even now in governments and the private sector as there are things we have not yet been able to achieve. We still have to keep growing. So those gaps are filled that way. But, we need to also continue to reduce these gaps as there is more we can do because we can. There are people, there are resources, the natural resources, management issues, social and economic activities that we people can do for ourselves and we are experiencing it here that there is a lot more we can do but there is a lot that we have done and I think that if we can keep learning lessons from each other, we can go a long way.
Adeade Fekob, a Nigerian who owns a food company in Abuja: Two years ago, when I was coming back to Rwanda, I coincidently found you chairing a session of something that struck me; `IMIHIGO’, monitoring and evaluation of ministries, districts and you were talking about the fact that it is always important to monitor and evaluate. How well is it working in Rwanda and how can other African countries adopt it, governments and the private sector as well?
President Kagame: You want to monitor, you want to evaluate, you want to see where you are towards the results, because we do things so that we get results, whether in business or in a government; those are the principles. What made the difference for us is that we decided among ourselves Rwandans. We said we are going to keep monitoring, evaluating what we are doing, how we are using the resources, whether we are getting the results and we just structured it in a certain way that all levels are involved. In fact, this is done right from grassroots up to the highest level. That is why you found me chairing the meeting of that kind, which brings about 800 to a thousand people from all works of life. We bring in the private sector, the civil society, people in government structures, and the parliamentarians all involved. That happens at the end of year but we are looking at what has been done throughout the year. And we have a quarter and every quarter we have evaluation to be made. Did the resources come to districts? Did the resources come in time? Did you put it where it was supposed to be? Whether it was education, health, infrastructure. So every quarter, people go there and evaluate and see where we are and at the end of the year we all sit together. It has served us very well and I am sure that whoever would do this would benefit. If you do that, you stand to benefit because this helps you understand what is going on and whether it is giving you the right outcome you were expecting. We call it performance contracts but we have a word in Kinyarwanda that explains that [IMIHIGO].
Adama Waba, the Managing Editor of Financial Africa: Of all African presidents, who is your model? And to you, what is the definition of a ‘leader’ and what is the best leader for Africa today?
President Kagame: I think African leaders are my colleagues, they are my friends. About the model, that is a different issue but we are brothers, we are friends and we work together.
Mary Kamari, Zimbabwe Trade and Development Bank (TDB): This week, we had very many presenters that touched on something that is very important and dear to everyone here; the youth, the future. We had Tony Orumelu presenting about the youth, the support he has been given to the youth who have created the jobs but in terms of sustaining those jobs, it is very difficult. I know you are a strong supporter of women and the youth, what advice can you give to everyone here?
President Kagame: Everything is going to be difficult. I am sure getting that kind of support, initial support itself, that was difficult and you are talking about the sustainability which is going to be difficult as well. There is no question about that. The sustainality of it depends on you and the collaboration between you and others and whether there are those opportunities around us that we keep calling upon to help in what we are doing. But, there is something that is central that must be present. It is you, it is me; it is for all of us to keep trying doing our best. If you reach a point and sit back and hope things can move well, that won’t happen. The central part is one’s own contribution.
A board member of the Afrexim Bank: What do you consider the key attributes that have led you to being a practical leader and what is at the foremost of your mind when you think about the future of the political leadership in Rwanda?
President Kagame: It is a combination of things and I think stubbornness is one of them. At some point you keep challenging not only yourself but mainly what you have to deal with. Sometimes you rebel against what has been established as the norm but which does not give you anything. That is one of them. The other one is I probably have been in problems and have learnt a lot of lessons that come with that, but on top of it, if you develop a sense of responsibility not only for yourself but knowing that there is no individual who is going to live on their own without connection with others. I think that is one of the attributes. For our future leaders, as we invest in our country, we invest in education, in health, almost everything that is about developing people, empowering people. When you have invested in youth, in women and you have invested in communication’s infrastructure, it is to make sure that the people of Rwanda as we move forward in this development, they have these capacities to be able to figure out what they need to do and go ahead and doing it. And that is what produces leaders. At one point in the future, we will be having different leaders and these leaders will have grown through all this. And it is not going to be me to decide who does what. That is the way I look at. Everyone is capable of being a leader as long as some of these investments have been made generally for the population. The rest is the organisation and the politics.
Cecilia: You have talked about the importance of a mindset change. At the same time, Africa is known as the youthful continent, the continent with the youth dividend. How are you ensuring that the youth of Rwanda and then from another perspective, the African youth are being prepared and educated to accept the mindset change. We see a lot of programs outside of Africa but these programs are not necessarily those that would create an African mindset for the future of the continent?
President Kagame: We have young people, young leaders growing into leaders at a higher level. The upbringing matters, the things they see, the things that happen to them and they way they are educated by that about being the Africans we should be. They learn many things, failures, successes, good and bad but they have got to figure out how to come out with a better Africa today than yesterday. Let me give you a quick example of the mindset change. Simple things matter a lot. People come here and ask us how do you keep this city and your country clean and I tell them a simple story of how it came about. We were talking among ourselves and we decided saying, `To keep your homestead clean or our city clean or villages clean is not something we are not going to need donors’money for; it is something we can do ourselves. You do not need to ask people to give you money to clean your compound. There is sticking to these simple things that matter. These young people who are emerging to leaders of the future, this upbringing matters a lot. So all we do is to invest in them and then have this environment. We had another situation when African leaders were invited to one powerful country to see what we can do together but alongside that, they had sent teams around to come and pick some young people from Africa to go and be taught how to be the future leaders and I asked some of the leaders of that country who were carrying out that program and I said these African young people you pick from Africa and take them to your countries to teach them, do you really work together with the leaders of African countries so that it is even coordinated? He said `it is like we do not have to do that’. They told me that they teach them to be leaders but I said you teach them to be which leaders, of which context, of which culture? And I told them if you are taking them to universities, to study, to get knowledge, that is a very good thing but if you want to teach them certain manners, and ways of behaving to turn into African leaders, you need our collaboration. Otherwise, you are making a mess of it.
Musa Faso from Senegal: Africa is only the only place where the language is a barrier in trade. What advice would you give to business and political leaders from Anglophone and francophone countries to make sure that the language is not a barrier?
President Kagame: Language should not be a barrier and it is not. I think we need money. Can people access finance to do what they want to do? We need to move freely. Can people move freely. It has nothing to do with a language. Language is just an imposed barrier that does not make sense.
In our tragic history here, when we were liberating our country; as I grew up in Uganda where they speak English, and I grew up there as a refugee. Some European said we can’t allow these English-speaking people to take over our francophone country. This guy thinks this country belongs to him than it belongs to me. Therefore, in the end the war that was going on here was as if they were fighting English-speaking invaders. And we were telling these people that even these people you are defending saying they speak French, they do not know English and they do not even know French. These are just Rwandese; innocent people who do not know any of these languages. This is how stupid this thing is.
Ghanian businessman: 50 years from now, what kinds of strategies a leader like you have put in place for succession that at the time when you are not there for business, for governance, we can be sure that the good work you have started gets to continue?
President Kagame: I think it has more to do with probably generational succession. If we just talk about individuals and we get lost there, I think I will tell you, well, people may think that this is a problem but I think this is not a major problem for Africa. We are talking about free movement, mindsets change and these are broad issues. But, succession process, for me I want to take it that it should come naturally from the good things being done. And it should also come when people want it. I don’t see it as a major problem that has hindered Africa’s development. If it is a problem, it is a small part somewhere and we may be having that problem because of failure of doing other things that we need to be doing. It is a result of something else not being done. I think the kinds of investments we need to make in our people and apply the political will to develop these things and thinking about our people, what they get, what they participate in, what they contribute to and whether they feel they own all this we are talking about. The failure to reach a good level on that, produces a problem of succession. I think this is the main thing. We should not take it as the actual problem; the actual problem is something else that produces it. I think the moment we have people who are satisfied that they are getting what they deserve, I think the problem is resolved in the end.
Riz Khan: We are living at a time where is so much uncertainty. We have the US putting up barriers, the walls rasing up in the EU and the brexit, how do you remain optimistic in Africa?
President Kagame: By the way, those barriers or those problems we are witnessing have not come as a result of a succession problem. The turn over is so high that if that was the issue, we wouldn’t be having those problems in those places. The problems across western countries are a result of many things having gone wrong about what they have been preaching to others and not doing themselves. I wouldnt celebrate other people’s problems, but as they find solutions for, very good, but there is a silver lining around this dark cloud. It sends us signals, that ‘even when we have been asking you to depend on us, you should remember that at a certain point, you are on your own.’ Better do your thing. At least this is the lesson I get.