On Monday, 21 March 2011, UK national broadcaster BBC, in its program ‘Africa Have Your Say,’ invited its audience to ask direct questions to Paul Kagame, the Rwandan president. He was on a mission of PR in the country, to silence his critics about his human rights record in Rwanda and the Great Lakes of Africa.
It is not every dictator who has access to the platform that BBC has to air their own political views as a leader. The Rwandan president still has some fans in British circles. Racepoint Group, a London based PR company, has also been working effectively for Kagame to open him doors so he can distort the truth about what the international community has now come to accept as the new narrative about his oppressive regime and responsibilities in the crimes committed in his country and the region since 1990.
Knowing how deep are his hands in the blood of Rwandans and Congolese particularly, I couldn’t personally think of what type of questions to ask to the Rwandan president. What can someone ask to the murderer and oppressor of his or her people? The question I had was for the broadcaster. ‘How can Paul Kagame be offered a BBC platform to air his views to a world audience, when we all know about for example the content of the UN Mapping report which was published on 1st October 2010, and details war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide nature committed against Congolese and Hutu refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo his army was responsible of?’ Another question to BBC would have been to ask them if they were aware of all political prisoners, journalists, and other hundreds thousands of innocent Rwandans currently in Kagame’s prisons.
There is a level of cynicism in British society which overlooks political leaders’ elements of personalities, however inappropriate they could be, as long as being on their side brings some benefits. This was the same scenario yesterday with Muammar Kaddafi as long as there were Libyan investments and oil business in the equation. The point here is not to try change society, but to make an objective observation of its characteristics. Paul Kagame is currently being received in a few more western countries with a red carpet, still but not as in the first years of his rule, when he could strongly play on the genocide-guilt of the West. Since the start of 2011, times are changing suddenly for political leaders whose rule has been characterised by corruption, injustices, oppression and general lack of freedom for their populations. As Britain is now leading or supporting actions for change in those places, not necessarily for the good reasons for people there, the time may be soon when Paul Kagame may be treated the same way as Kaddafi is after the vote of the UN Security Council resolution 1973.
As for the questions BBC audience put forward to the Rwandan president, the list is given below.
Abdi wrote: ‘As you share a border with Uganda and Burundi, what do you think of their presence in Somalia? Most Somalis are concerned about their indiscriminate shelling, destruction and killing of civilians. Do you think it is better for the Somalia Hawiye to reconcile and make peace amongst themselves, rather than the AMISOM siding with one side and slaughtering civilians?
Akpan wrote: ‘Mr Kagame, you are known to hold the view that Rwanda cannot afford political freedoms and basic civil and political rights given its tragic history. You have locked up your political opponents, and there are credible accounts of political assassinations of those who have expressed the mildest criticisms of you. Do you really believe that economic development can only be achieved at the expense of these freedoms? What’s your evidence, if so? And what would you say about countries like Germany and indeed, Japan, who have both had a tragic history, but emerged to become global economic giants without sacrificing such rights? Or could it be that you are just another of our old-style tyrants using economic development as an excuse to further your selfish aims?’
Bagz wrote: ‘I can’t agree more with those who think he has put development before democracy and political freedom, he can tout all his post Genocide achievements and economic reforms but until he lets Rwandans exercise their fundamental rights or freedoms, his so called success stories wont count. Kagame has technically been in power since 1994, and today, Rwandans are kind of gagged, they cant freely express themselves, for those who dare to speak up they are dealt with accordingly, many politicians including his former colleagues, and officers in the army have since fled the country just because they tried to question his policies. His government fully controls not only the government media that broadcast and prints or publishes government propaganda, but also all censors and harasses other independent media and journalists, dozens and dozens of journalists have fled his repressive tendencies, and there’s nothing like separation of powers in Rwanda (on paper yes, but in reality the executive controls everything.
What’s Kagame’s views on what’s been going on in the Arab world in general (Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Libya), and Ivory Coast. Does he think Rwandans are happy and contented with all the democratic freedoms and what their government is doing for them or like in these countries, Rwandans cant risk their own lives to speak out against the government, do Rwandans have a right to peacefully protest? Why is that the only protests the government allow are only pro-Kagame government? And finally, can he unequivocally reaffirm his commitment or intentions to stand down when his current term lapses in 2017?
John Mustapha Kutiyote wrote: Mr. President, Do you regret after having promoted women representation in your government up to 30%?
Tom Rizzo wrote: Mr. President, you have done many great things for Rwanda and its people, and you are to be congratulated. Why are you so frightened of political opposition? Rwanda will never grow as a country and reach its full potential as long as you prevent the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda from registering, and you keep people like Bernard Ntaganda and Victoire Ingabire imprisoned for no genuine reason.
The idea that Frank Habineza espouses any ideology that is detrimental to Rwanda’s people is patently absurd. His programme is very much mainstream Green Party, not unlike those pursued by like-minded people in the U.S., Europe, Australia and elsewhere.
I invite every listener to visit the Free Bernard Ntaganda facebook page, and continue to press your government to urge President Kagame to be a true democrat, not merely someone who plays one to rub elbows with the Tony Blairs and Bill Clintons of the world. Rwanda is a glorious country of beautiful people and places and intelligent people who yearn to breathe free air. Don’t let its past destroy its future.
Lubowa wrote: The UN Mapping report released in October last year, accuse your forces of systematically killing tens of thousands of Hutu civilians in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Do you think these victims deserve justice? If so, what steps do you propose?
Nkunda wrote: Ingabire Victoire, a presidential hopeful and leader of the FDU Inkingi party was arrested in March 2010 over her claims that your rebel front had committed atrocities against Hutu civilians. How does this fit with your commitment to democracy?
Habineza wrote: The Economist has written that, “Kagame allows less political space and freedom of the press in Rwanda than Robert Mugabe.” You are listed among the top five predators of the press by Reporters Without Borders. Do you believe that press freedom is an important prerequisite for the democratic future of Rwanda?
Ann Garrison wrote: In then Senator Barack Obama’s 2006 Obama Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006, he wrote:
“(6) Despite the conclusion of a peace agreement and subsequent withdrawal of foreign forces in 2003, both the real and perceived presence of armed groups hostile to the Governments of Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi continue to serve as a major source of regional instability and an apparent pretext for continued interference in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by its neighbours [Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi].”
Could you speak to your “apparent pretext for continued interference” in Congo?
Olaf Bachmann wrote: Dear Mr Kagame, there is something I would like to understand. How do you want to manage the politico-cultural transformation that is necessary to move away from the old African elite (including the Habyarimana/Mobutu etc) regimes’ habit to take the state as a hostage to their personal advantage? Does your nation follow you on this path?
Do you think that the fact that you move away from the francophone political culture of presidentialism helps to open up a path to a more egalitarian/democratic way of thinking? In other words, would the Anglo Saxon Westminster way of thinking better fit to the transformation that you pursue than the quasi monarchist French way of organising a policy does?
Is there a genuine Rwandan way to achieve the formation of a modern democracy or are Rwandan ideas of modernity and democracy very different from what Europeans think?
Whatever your answer, thank you for what you have achieved so far.
John Max wrote: Why would BBC ask Kagame about Libya? He should be the next logical target of a coalition force. The economic development people talk so much about is only seen in the capital Kigali where party elites reside, and where illegal trade of Congo’s minerals is done in broad day light. I have not seen any development in my small town, or any other place in Western Rwanda. Rwandan people are suffering so much under him and his political party. The only smart thing he has achieved is to successfully lie to the West about happenings in Rwanda.
Jobu101 wrote: Mr. President, since the Rwandan Patriotic Front took power in 1994, none ever challenged your regime and not be killed, thrown in prison or goes to exile. When are you going to tolerate any opposing view? Can you please release Victoire Ingabire and other political prisoners who are in 1930 Kigali Maximum prison for simply exercising their basic rights which your regime claims to respect?
I strongly believe that Rwandan leaders need to get rid of demonizing the regime’s opponent if we need to build a better future Rwanda. We are building on the sand like Gadhafi if the economic development becomes an excuse for oppression. Thanks
Veritas wrote: Mr. President, what are you going to do if the ongoing French anti-terror judge Marc Trevidic investigation into the killing of the former Rwandan president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana holds you and RPF responsible for shooting down president’s plane?
Desire K wrote: Burundi, my homeland Country, experienced ethnic violence for decades, from 1965, the conflict left Families displaced internally and externally. With ethnic quotas embedded in the Burundian constitution, a power-sharing between Hutu and Tutsi, some said that this is a democratic solution to the decades of conflict, but I feel that this has created more tension and intensified conflict. I’d choose Rwanda’s political model where every Citizen is seen as Rwandan, I feel that this helps greatly move the Country forward, particularly on unity and reconciliation. When every Family is able to feed their children, send them to school, there is nothing more democratic that this path.
Alex wrote: I am doing my MLitt dissertation on Rwanda as a ‘developmental state’ I would like to ask President Kagame if this is the direction he sees the country going in, how he hopes to achieve this, and what does he think makes Rwanda so different to other African states?
Mwalimu Marcel wrote: HE, First of all I would like to thank you for taking time off from your busy schedule to share with us your insight in current african affaires. I’m a Rwandan-American. I visit Rwanda 3 times a year. Mr. President I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong between you and the gang of 4 (Kayumba, Karegeya, Rudasingwa, Gahima). How did you become enemies’ brothers? Studying your track record from NRA to RPF from Kampala to Kigali until 2005 things didn’t look so bad? You both worked together to reclaim your homeland you are both well connected with various foreign Intelligence services, you hold your old address books. The poor Rwandans don’t understand that. This conflict between brothers has been kept as a family secret. You have advantage on the other brothers. You have provided relative peace and security. The Banyarwanda love you for that and are thankful. Keep reaching out to the poor. You remember during the bush struggle they are the ones who provide intelligence, food and hide out. To the gang of 4. Take your case straight to the Banyarwanda. They are the ones who are capable of giving the grade you deserve. They are the headmaster. The wazungu come and go. Rwanda has been, is and will always be for us by us. Thank you.
Brima Claudio wrote: Mr. President, I listened to one of your interview on Aljazeera stating that you are fighting corruption and that some of your former allies flee from Rwanda because they were involved in corrupt practices. Have you ever declared your assets since becoming President of Rwanda? Secondly, how true is it that you are suppressing your political opponents. If your term ends, will you give up power peaceful to be an elder-statesman or will you change the constitution to grant you another term?
Zachary wrote: In 2010, Reporters Without Borders ranked Rwanda in 169th place out of 178 for freedom of the press, and commented “Rwanda [and others] have joined Burma and North Korea in the group of the world’s most repressive countries towards journalists.”
Do you and your government value a free and open media? Why do you think the Reporters Without Borders review of press freedoms in Rwanda was so damning?
Questions from following people were not moderated nor published on BBC site (they probably arrived late for the preparation of the live interview with president Kagame): Kofi Okwantuni, Elizabeth Barad, Charles Gatare, Eliasbalde, LondonHenrry, Munyaneza, Mahoro, claude2, Munyarwanda, Edwin, Eddie, espe Bundu, Ghost rider, Dean, AfricaResearchInstitute, Vivien, Emab, Boulette, Ndamwizeye, melka18, kalungi, Claudine
BBC has momentarily removed from its site the link to Paul Kagame live interview of Tuesday 22nd March 2011.