Africa Confidential, October 2002

RWANDA | CONGO-KINSHASA
Interview with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame
Patrick Smith, Editor of Africa Confidential, and William Wallis, for the Financial Times, spoke to the Rwandan President, General Paul Kagame, at the Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London, UK, on 18 October 2002, about the Report of the United Nations Expert Panel on the Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of Congo

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Question: How did talks with the Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, go yesterday?

Kagame: The discussions went well. We were primarily doing relations and what has happened over past years, both here and in Rwanda and in Uganda so that we can continue to advance activities to improve our relations. I think the discussion largely went very well.

Q: These allegations that both sides have been arming opposition groups, have they been laid to rest now?

A: They are still going on but on a lower scale than before. I think we were helped by the verification committees which have made 20-plus visits to different spots that were talked about to verify the allegations and nothing has been found true. The findings that there is nothing on the ground there are scaling down the tension and the situation keeps improving.

Q: Is there any objection from President Museveni to Rwanda hosting political allies of Dr. Kizza Besigye [who ran against Museveni in last year's presidential election]?

A: From the beginning, that was an issue we had to discuss but it wasn't just an issue about Dr. Besigye's allies in Rwanda, it was about Rwandan citizens living in Uganda being used by the Ugandans to destabilise Uganda. All along, the discussion has been aimed at solving these problems. And what we had agreed much earlier on is that these people should be relocated to other countries and we think that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been involved in this exercise to look for places to remove these people so they are removed from both Uganda and Rwanda.

Q: Did the discussion turn to Congo-Kinshasa?

A: We did talk about Congo and Burundi as well. We had a common understanding that what was happening in the Congo is not a good thing and it contravenes all the agreements we reached with Kinshasa, both the Lusaka agreement and then Pretoria and then the Rwanda agreement with Kabila, so I briefed him about what was happening on the ground. Some of the information they had already known. I told them also how worrying it was for us that as usual you can see that somebody . . .

Q: Does this mean there's going to be a repeat of Bunia, where Uganda pulls out and chaos ensues so they come back?

A: I think it's a different situation. In Bunia the chaos was there even when the Ugandans were there. In our case it is outright violation of the agreement we had with Kabila, where he has now unleashed the ex-FAR [Forces Armées Rwandaises, government army at time of genocide] and Interahamwé [militias] who have been at the centre of our conflict and whom he had promised to disarm and repatriate to Rwanda following our withdrawal, so we have to review the whole situation and we will act in whatever manner that will help us deal with this situation.

Q: What would the immediate consequences be, for example, if this fighting spread to Bukavu? Is it possible that Rwanda could act militarily very quickly?

A: Well before you come to that, if you look at the consequences in terms of what the ex-FAR pose as a security threat not only for eastern Congo but particularly to Rwanda, whatever measures we take will be only on the basis of what the consequences are of letting them do whatever they want along our border. I know people are looking for the hot news that we are going back. They are not even saying why we are going back. People miss the point. The point is that there is a huge force of ex-FAR and Interahamwé building up along our border. For me, the logical thing would have been for the international community to act, one to actually straight talk to [President Joseph] Kabila to inform him that what he is doing is wrong and unacceptable to them; secondly, maybe it would have been to act themselves to stop the problem.

Q: Do you have any evidence Kabila and Kinshasa are directly instigating the latest fighting?

A: There is evidence but for those who don't want to hear the evidence they will not see it. But for us, we have evidence. Kabila has not started working for Interahamwé yesterday. It's a whole history of collaboration with them and recently just a week before they attacked Uvira, there was a meeting in Lubumbashi where Kabila and leaders of ex-FAR and Interahamwé and Mai-Mai [ethnic militia] and groups from Burundi met and planned to carry out those attacks and how subsequently they would drive these forces into Burundi and Rwanda simultaneously. So we have been aware of that and there have been boats carrying ex-FAR with the support of the government of Kinshasa with Kabila directly involved.

Q: What do you think he is aiming to achieve by that?

A: I wish I knew. I think he relies on ex-FAR because they are better than his own forces or he doesn't have them at all. Secondly, I think his aim is to use them to recapture areas occupied by the RCD [Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie] so that in the end he can dictate fully the terms of the inter-Congolese dialogue in his own favour. Ideologically he sees nothing wrong with associating with ex-FAR and Interahamwé and he has been supporting them all along.

Q: Why has there been comparatively little fighting in the last year between these forces and now it's started?

A: I imagine it was because of our presence there.

Q: Now that 23,000 troops have been withdrawn, what do you say to people who say, 'Look at the history of the Rwandan army and its effectiveness as a fighting force. Why has it been so difficult to round up these Interahamwé and ex-FAR forces?

A: That is a multifaceted situation. I would first tell those people the Rwandan army did not fail to keep security within Rwanda. The amount of progress and stability we have had in Rwanda was built on our presence in the Congo, meaning that presence was effective. Secondly, that presence has contributed to the different agreements. It brought a stalemate, if you will, in the fighting that involved seven countries. Our force brought the whole fighting involving those armies to a halt and brought the thing to a stalemate, which resulted in the agreements which we had in Lusaka and others and even accepting on the part of Kabila to negotiate. The other part is a geographical question. It is a question of the terrain, the expanse of the Congo. You wouldn't easily round up such forces in that whole expanse of the Congo and forces that are being supported by Kabila by Kinshasa. The other complicating factor has been the indifference, absolute in my view, on the part of the international community; there has been a lot of talking but almost nothing in terms of helping to deal with the Congo. It's really a multifaceted situation, all sorts of complexities playing in. Overall for us, I think we have obtained our objective and that is the stability we have in our country, in my opinion, hasn't been found anywhere else in the region. And it isn't out of nothing. It is out of efforts to contain complicated issues in the Congo.

Q: Do you feel the effect of the RPA's [Armée Patriotique Rwandaise] presence in Congo has been to damage the RPA as an institution? If you look at various external forces, the ZDF [Zimbabwe Defence Forces] is immersed in illicit diamond trading, UPDF [Ugandan People's Defence Force] ditto, and there are critical reports about your own officers.

A: I don't think so. Not as an institution. It's true some individuals were spoilt in one way or another. We have some officers in custody for being involved in different activities. But the army as an institution, I doubt whether it has had any influence. I would say that for various reasons really. The army wasn't just an army that was lying there, a professional army doing nothing and then all of a sudden it finds itself in the Congo. One has to understand the whole history of our army in fighting almost for the last ten years or so and there's that whole history of how we have managed that institution in relation to the tasks they have had to carry out. That's why when you tell them to walk, for example from Kisangani to our border which is 900 kilometres, they do it in sixteen days without any complaint. For me, that is a measure of how unspoiled they are. If they were spoilt they would have demanded us to bring aircraft to carry them and to keep supplying beers to march. I follow very closely: I haven't seen any of that developing.

Q: You know the United Nations' Report on the DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Kinshasa] is coming out next week. For the first time, it's more even handed; it goes across all the areas but there are some particularly critical issues about the area where your troops have been. One interesting thing they have come across is a letter from Jean-Pierre Ondekane, leader of the RCD, in which he addresses ANC [Armée Nationale Congolaise ­ RCD-Goma] troops and requests their cooperation with their Mai-Mai and Interahamwé brothers on the ground as a political strategy and also to cooperate in terms of what he calls sub-soil [mineral] exploitation. That paints a picture of your main political ally in eastern Congo actively collaborating with your avowed opponents in exploiting the wealth of the Congo. I wondered how you'd react.

A: I have very serious doubts about that letter. I wouldn't believe it. Maybe you don't know. At least I know, I think, the whole commission that carried out the investigation and wrote this report is not free of politics. We received the report and we'll remain undaunted over what has happened and it will not divert us from pursuing our own goals of achieving security for our country and in whatever modest way we can help the Congolese situation to improve. I have my own personal disrespect of the whole aim behind this report and the forces that were behind it. That is in a personal sense. It doesn't stop it from being damaging as far as creating a bad image for Rwanda or others is concerned.

Q: You've read it. Is everything in the Rwanda section not worthy of discussion or are there issues actually which need to be investigated and looked at?

A: I haven't read it. I have just heard about it. I wouldn't mind. I can't say Rwanda is perfect and everyone there does things perfectly well. There are people with all sorts of frauds they get involved in. But I think it is important in analysing a serious situation like that one to keep in mind the context and different reasons for different things happening. You have to have a correct interpretation of that. So my view is that I think it is wrong. First of all, they overreact when they should not be overreacting. The focus should be what is the origin of what is happening in the Congo. If we can agree on that, then we could be helped to deal with the root cause of the problem.
The second part is if people have been involved in any wrongdoing while they were there, then to deal with that particular problem separately. If so-and-so owns a mine in the Congo and they are exploiting the wealth of the Congo, that's a serious issue and it should be handled. But does that answer the question of the ex-FAR and Interahamwé who committed a genocide in Rwanda and are based in Congo and are being helped by Kabila: that should be dealt with. Not at all. And I don't see why they should overreact like that. Does that explain the indifference sometimes bordering on irresponsibility on the part of the international community? They should be coming in to tell Kabila that he has no point in associating with ex-FAR and Interahamwé supporting genociders and you should be serious about the inter-Congolese dialogue so you can bring together the Congolese and you have your own administration to run, your own affairs so that these people get out of the Congo and so on and so forth.
So if there are issues based on facts and concrete information that attack Rwanda or attack individuals in terms of leaders or commanders of the army, then those are of interest to us. We would very much want to pursue that, find out what is wrong and what has happened.

Q: The thrust of the report is making allegations that it is not so much individuals but systematic and state sponsored economic activities that are going on in the Congo. The accusation is against the Rwandan state, not individuals.

A: If those are facts that can be substantiated, then we are interested in actually having the state explain its case. I am agreeing to whatever can be substantiated on our part, to look into that and talk about it. But what happens? The context is important. What if there are companies from the USA and Belgium and France that are actually involved in doing business in that area? Why is it correct for them to do that and therefore they pass unscathed and yet they target Rwanda for what they yet have to substantiate on that? Secondly, the other part of the context is actually the business that has gone on in that region for decades that is legally covered in terms of the Lusaka peace agreement, the arrangement that was there where business can be carried out by nationals of those countries without recourse to governments or states. How about the actual legitimacy the DRC government has within the framework of Lusaka?

Q: Your view then is, 'Fine, all companies should be judged by same criteria' but if individual army officers are engaged in business activities, you would disapprove of that and disciplinary action would be taken?

A: Absolutely.

Q: You may have heard the report mentions by name several senior officers, including your own Chief of Army Staff, James Kabarebe.

A: I would be very happy to know the truth about it and on the basis of the truth, we will judge how to deal with the problem.

Q: So you would take such accusations seriously?

A: Very seriously indeed.

Q: You know the Ugandan government has set up its own commission of inquiry under Justice Porter. If you consider these accusations to be serious enough, would you consider doing likewise?

A: I have a different opinion on this issue and I have my own serious reservations. What has come out of that process? I can only tell you that ultimately there will be nothing come out of that. In the end, it becomes a whitewashing exercise. That's why I have a problem myself.
It's like people are saying, 'this report has been written, why don't you put up something that will cleanse you'? Even if actually you did what was said, as long as you can be cleansed through this process, then it will be okay. This is what the international community wants the whole thing to be done. It's like 'But oh, you should do what the Ugandans did'. I am waiting to see what the Ugandans did, what the outcome is. If it is that kind of thing, the whole thing is nonsensical as far as I am concerned. But certainly if we had some of these facts coming out... I would be very happy to take up these issues and find out whether so-and-so are involved and I would not hesitate to take measures against such officers.

Q: In what sense, do you mean with a court martial or judicial procedures?

A: It depends on the seriousness of the charges. We could also take internal actions based on the internal procedures. But for example if we found somebody was involved with killing people, that would have to be a court martial. We have done that for cases we have found out ourselves. And if we found that a senior army officer owned mines or did some risky trade while on duty. On this one, we will take measures. It doesn't matter how senior the case is. So it depends on the nature of the case whether it warrants going to court martial or whether you take disciplinary measures.

Q: Another point they are raising is the presence of criminals such as Viktor Bout and Sanjavan Rupta, claiming that they cooperate with the Rwandan army. Have you heard those claims?

A: Yes, I have heard of that. Again, I think it is a question of not getting facts right. Viktor Bout was even at one time in Rwanda, he used to come through Rwanda. He used to go through South Africa, he was in Angola. In Angola, he used to work with both the government and UNITA [União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola] ­ I don't know how he managed that. We got to know about his activities. We learnt about that from friends in Europe ­ we took measures and told him never to come back to Rwanda. I think he last stepped there in the year 2000. Now, at the same time when we learnt this about Bout from some of these friends in Europe we offered to arrest him, because they were the ones who said he was a criminal, they didn't seem to be ready for us to arrest him. We didn't understand that but anyway we cut off relations with him. This could be a man with a hand in all sorts of underground networks. You can't be sure when dealing with an aircraft leasing company under another name, a Congolese, Rwandese, Zambian, you can't be sure he is not behind. But with Viktor Bout and his group... we have said, 'We are not having anything to do with you' and we have done that effectively for two years. If there was any creeping back of some of these people in a disguised way, they could only have acted without our knowledge.

Q: He's now in Moscow. What about Chris Huber and Eagle Wings? He's been declared a criminal by Kazakhstan?

A: That one I don't know about.

Q: The thrust of the report is saying Rwanda is using the security threat as a pretext, evidenced by the fact there hasn't been much conflict, and according to the Report, the RCD is collaborating with the Interahamwé. What they are saying is that the RCD are getting rich, the Mai-Mai, the Interahamwé.

A: The RCD are not rich at all. We have been wasting resources feeding them, clothing them. Secondly some of those are tricks used by people which may be complicated for you to understand. In any case, if security is a pretext, let somebody come out and say... I went to the Security Council; I was straight with them, last year; I told them 'Here are you, Security Council, be straight, tell Rwanda they have no problem in the Congo, there is no reason for them to be there, this issue of the ex-FAR and Interahamwé doesn't exist, this is what we have found out, leave Congo and put it in a resolution as the Security Council, we shall oblige. Now if you don't do that, if you know there is a problem, say what it is. Either you say there is no problem and we will be obliged to leave the Congo, because there is no problem as seen by the Security Council. But on the other hand, you actually admit there is a problem of ex-FAR and Interahamwé, then define how you are going to deal with that problem and let us know. Thirdly, at least do me a favour, tell Rwanda that "Okay, we know there is a problem. Just leave Congo because we think you should leave Congo. If anything happens as you pull out of Congo we will be on your side, we will defend you". Just a statement of commitment and we will pull out our forces. But you can't.
'Say, "We know there is a problem, we are not going to do anything about it and therefore you should do nothing about it". This is simply an unacceptable proposal. Either you say there is no problem and you know there is no problem and commit yourself and put it down. Or you say it is there and this is the best way to deal with it. But you can't say there is a problem and nobody is going to deal with it'.
So this is why I hate this overlapping of issues. Now they turn around and say these people are not fighting so maybe there is an understanding between Rwanda and Mai-Mai This is just nonsense. Why should intelligent people keep playing around with nonsense talking about ex-FAR, saying, 'Well, you see Kabila is weak, he can't deal with them, maybe Kongolo is dealing with them'. You find the whole world wasting time on nonsense. But the problem is there. There are thousands of people. You can see even these Americans who are saying they have put up 5 million dollars. They have put up $5 mn. to do what? Who is going to take that 5 mn.? You know these [Interahamwé suspects] are people protected by a government. Suppose a citizen comes and tells you, 'I have seen so-and-so on the street of Kinshasa'. How does that help to get that person when he is being helped by the government to hide? Why doesn't the USA go straight to Kabila and say, 'Kabila you must stop this or we are going to close the taps of finance to support you'. Instead of saying, 'We are putting 5 mn. to help capture so and so'. How will you do it when you have a whole government involved in supporting the ex-FAR, Interahamwé and their leaders. This is not serious.

Q: But if you are not persuaded by that, why did you pull out?

A: Pulling out should not be misconstrued to be giving up on the issue of our security. It was to deal with this nonsense of the perception growing that we are there for this or that. Let the same people go there now that we have pulled out and identify which mines we owned or which forest we owned where we are cutting timber. Maybe when we were there, we could have been accused of preventing people to investigate properly. Let them go. So pulling out is still in the context of our security concerns. If you have the whole world simply not understanding the very simple thing on the ground and they think that we are the problem, at a certain point we had to prove that we are not the problem and we had to do it at a very high cost of pulling out and then, ex-FAR following us, and coming and then we have to fight again. It is a very expensive exercise for us. But we have to do it. We have to manage the problem on the ground. We also have to manage the perception. Really, the enemies of Africa, in my view, who simply don't understand what is going on and are simply indifferent to the whole thing. Going back. We might go back. I don't rule that out and we won't ask anybody for permission. The only thing that will dictate what course of action we take will be facts on the ground.

Q: So if things deteriorate in Uvira?

A: Can there be an alternative? What would be the alternative, if you were in my shoes? Look at ex-FAR units gathering at the border with Rwanda, armed and being supplied by Kabila, and we are there being seen as nice boys by a world that doesn't care and by the same people who are accusing us of exploiting mines in Congo and timber, and you think that will put us off dealing with that problem? That's a joke!

Q: So there's no question that pressure from the US and Britain led to your pull-out?

A: There is no amount of pressure that will let us not deal with that problem. We are dealing with a rock and a hard place. The choice is simple. There was no pressure. Let nobody theorise that it was pressure. It was our decision. And it will be our decision when and how to act.

Q: You have come out publicly in favour of a multi-party system as opposed to a 'Movement' system as in Uganda. Is that still the position?

A: Some people believe we don't believe it but we mean it.

Q: How will this play out between now and the elections next year?

A: At this stage, we are still working on the constitution. Let me say, by the way, the commission that is working on the constitution was formed from people who compose these other parties. Every party in Rwanda now has someone on the constitutional commission. Secondly, every party has written a paper on their views of the constitution. All these views have been brought together and deliberated. So the process has been deliberate. So there is going to be a debate on the outcome of this and a referendum and then there will be elections. It will be decided along the way how many months will be given for people to prepare to participate in elections.

Q: So elections next year?

A: Most likely in the last quarter.

Q: What's your own preference in terms of constitutional form? Do you favour devolution or centralisation?

A: I favour decentralisation, which we have already started.

Q: What is the position of [Rwandan former President] Pasteur Bizimungu and the others who have been detained?

A: That I haven't followed closely. It's still in the courts.

Q: Presumably, this whole process is going to open up politics quite wide. His own position argues against the reality of liberalisation, if he remains in detention?

A: He's the one who created his own situation. Where he is, he decided to go there. If you ask me personally, I have no sympathy. It has more to do with him as a person than what is happening generally in the country. Maybe if he had just waited, he would have achieved what he wanted. He decided to stir up things to the extent that in the end, he got caught.

Q: Are you saying you can't envisage him having any role in the future of Rwanda?

A: It's dependent on two things. The outcome of the court case and on himself. I think he makes mistakes which in the end will destroy him, instead of playing it in the way that he gets what he wants.

Q: In terms of how the parties will operate, a lot of people are a bit sceptical about untrammeled multi-party politics in Rwanda. Most obviously, in many other parts of Africa parties have become ethnic rather issue-based. How could you operate an open system without politicians appealing to ethnic sentiment?

A: This must come from the parties themselves. At present, we are trying to manage it by the political parties forum. That innovation was very useful in a way that people sit down and discuss what is in everybody's interest and guard against what might not be in the interest of the country. That also is the importance of the constitution, that we can also have mechanisms and safeguards where political tendencies can sit down and say there are certain things they need to do and certain things they must avoid doing. And I think such discussions are very important because they bring everybody's views on board but they also guard against what might destroy the country. With the constitution and these other forums which can bring people's views together, you encourage the setting of the rules by which everybody should play and then you also guard against what is not in the interest of the country. That is the manner in which I think we should move along.

Q: For the last eight years, the overwhelming perception is of a tightly controlled political order. If you go for the wholehearted liberalisation you are talking about, how are you going to stop the wheels falling off?

A: It is a question of separating what is realistic and what is idealistic. In our situation, you don't expect everything to be rosy overnight. That's why in some cases, this becomes the responsibility of the leadership. If the leaders have problems, they will create problems. But if they intend to do things right, they can be helpful. And sometimes decentralisation and other programmes arise out of policy. If you expect the local population to be the ones that formulate that policy, then I think one has put things upside down. So when we initiated decentralisation, some people said, 'But you are guiding people which way to go!' But that is indeed the responsibility of the government and the leaders. You can start a good idea maybe in a not so perfect way but with time for example, with our programme of decentralisation, we are finding weaknesses at those lower levels. The expectation is that people get together, conceptualise what is good for them; we have discovered, unfortunately, that there is a very clear lack of capacity down there for people to plan on their own. So you have to marry that with some capacity borrowed from the centre and help people think out their programmes. With time, you expect people to develop their own capacity. But that takes time, organising, training it might take two years, three years. But if one came and expected decentralisation to be working perfectly, everything going right, you would be disappointed.
Sometimes the tendency would be to say decentralisation is not working or is being destroyed by the centre when in actual fact, it is this problem that needs to be addressed with time. One has to properly analyse it and understand that things don't develop by accident. They are made to happen and that is our responsibility as leaders. So we have to set sometimes the agenda. If we had waited for people to demand decentralisation, maybe it would never have come.

Q: How do you see the evolution of the FPR? [Front Patriotique Rwandais or RPF, ruling party]. Will it stay coherent?

A: For me, it remains coherent and strong and will remain a big force in the country.

Q: So it will transmute into a registered political party?

A: Yup! That's what's going to happen.

Q: Do you accept there are different currents of thought in the FPR?

A: Isn't it proper? It stimulates good debate. It is creating tension that is very useful.

Q: Some voices say, 'Speed up!'...

A: That's okay and those who say, 'Slow down!' have their own arguments. You always get the best outcome between these opposing forces.

Q: Where do you stand in the debate?

A: For me, I know where I want to be and I know where I am now. So I have to cater for this gap that is in between. I don't jump from where I am to where I want to be in one day, so I have to plan for the whole process that takes me there. So my tendency is to put all these factors together that dictate the pace at which we move. There are areas where we need to move fast, so we move very fast. If it is to take certain precautions, so that you move slowly but surely, that still is dictated by the analysis of the situation. There are issues where we need to go fast, others slow. But those are tactical and strategic issues. On issues of principle generally, there is agreement ­ if it is decentralisation, political parties...

Q: What happened in Uganda, a lot of people feel there is a stalemate, there is no apparent mechanism for succession. In a sense, that seems to destroy a lot of the legacy of the Movement system. Are you concerned about that issue arising in Rwanda? Moving from a military based to political system?

A: For us, we are far ahead of where people think we are. If you look at RPF, not many of these other organisations do that, including the very old ones, for leaders of RPF are properly and freely and confidentially elected. Recently, we had elections of the leaders of RPF. First of all, the RPF agrees on the structure, we vote on that and agree on it. Second step: election of the chairman of RPF. Whoever wants to stand, stands. No question of saying, 'It's only Kagame'. We register and go for secret ballot. Then to vice-chairman. Whoever wants to stand, stands; then we vote. Then secretary general commissioners the same. While in other parties the chairman appoints who becomes his vice, for us, we vote. There are not less than 1,000 people representing different constituents sitting down to vote. You can't have a more democratic process than this one. When it comes to succession, we will say, 'Kagame's time is over, we need another candidate'. Five names or ten. I won't dictate who succeeds me. But I will give my opinion. And that will be agreed or rejected through the secret ballot.