Geographies in Depth

Q&A with Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Image: World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

Keith Breene
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Rwandan President Paul Kagame sat down with us for a Facebook Live interview at the conclusion of the World Economic Forum on Africa meeting in Kigali.

Why was it important for Rwanda to host this World Economic Forum meeting?

It was very important because it connects Rwanda to the rest of the world and the rest of the world to Rwanda. That’s where everything happens. When we’re talking about wanting to attract direct foreign investment we’re really talking about connecting that investment, that capacity outside, with Rwanda.

When we have people come to Rwanda we are literally opening the books and saying you read what Rwanda means from the stability of it, what it has to offer in terms of investments and the people.

What do you say to people who say there are more important priorities?

There are many priorities for every country not least for Rwanda and we have learned that you don’t just deal with one priority and keep out another. The most difficult part is always to be dealing with so many priorities at the same time. Sometimes there are so many priorities coming at the same time. For us this was an opportunity to deal with one of the priorities – connecting Rwanda to the rest of the world.


On the theme of connecting, from your perspective, is the Fourth Industrial Revolution a risk, a threat or an opportunity for Africa?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is around the corner. We have to deal with it. The starting point is to deal with the benefits it may have for society. At the same time you also want to say there are risks that you have to take care of. You have to study it and say these are the benefits, these are the risks and then maximise the benefits and minimise the risks.

I think through engagement and connecting with one another we will be able to say ‘this is the best way’.

Africa maybe hasn’t been very successful in previous revolutions and in this one, I think we should not be left behind. We need to be thinking of what we haven’t done properly in the previous ones. So we’re dealing with two industrial revolutions at the same time. The third and the fourth.

What policies would best foster productivity growth and inter-regional trade in Africa?

We need the hardware and software issues to deal with in this case. We need to invest in infrastructure - the roads etc. - then there’s the other side – the people, the understanding, the regulatory frameworks and policy decisions that will allow people to benefit.

Politically we have to understand that it is important and support it.

How is Rwanda going to contribute to sustainable economic growth and wealth distribution across Africa?

Well, we first have to deal with our own situation. We have been doing that by building peace and stability in the country. Investments in our people – education, health and skills. And also embracing the technologies that are there which support innovation. We’ve made good progress in most of these areas.

What is your vision for Africa over the next 50 years?

Fifty years is too long to wait! Africa needs to get together and share best practices to connect Africa. Africans should have free movement. We really have a very interesting human resource capacity which we are not putting to good use. We are finding it serves the rest of the world more than Africa. We have to develop Africa and then connect with others.

You have more women than men in parliament. This is no accident is it?

It is not an accident and it is a very good thing. We have both men and women working together to develop our country. In the past there have been disparities where women have been left behind. For us, we’ve learned from the outset that maybe we need to get the whole society to come together and realise the rights of everybody and make sure we harness everybody’s capacity. You can’t keep people out for whatever reason.

When can we expect the launch of the Rwanda railway network?

Hopefully soon. We are working with our neighbours and others in the region. Studies have been made and money is being mobilised and some financing has already been secured. Within a year we should be able to get started.

Rwanda was ranked 6th out of 145 countries in the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report. What lessons can you share?

Some of the lessons are self-evident! The ranking is not meaningless – it shows how much you have brought women into the mainstream, how much the country is building itself on the basis of all citizens, including women. It’s about inclusion and how that supports development and faster growth, and the stability of a country and society. On that basis we seem to be making very good progress. It’s not about miracles or magic – it’s about people getting together and doing what they think they should do, to be inclusive.

How can Rwanda’s experience prevent genocide elsewhere in the world?

It’s about telling the story as it is – looking at what brought it about, and how we got out of the bad situation. It’s about building stability in a society, about making sure everybody has a stake in it, and politically, doing the right thing and making sure that things like hate speech and other dangerous divisions in society are prevented. It’s also about making people believe in themselves, and that they have a bright future, and valuing one another.

Do you think Africa will develop a common currency – is that a good idea?

A common currency per se may be good in one place or another, but so far people haven’t been looking at a common currency for the whole continent. We thought the process would be served better by looking at sub-regional groupings. If we succeeded with that then maybe we could scale it up to the rest of the continent. For example in the East African community we have four stages – customs union, common market, monetary union and political federation. We have succeeded well with the first two, but we haven’t done so much on the others, even though the intention is there. We don’t want to make blunders and create more negatives than positives. It’s a long process even if it’s a good idea, but we have to be careful.

Who is your role model in life?

I’ve learned more from situations than from just particular individuals. But there are great people out there – in any part of the world – you find wonderful people who have done good things and affected the rest of the world. But my upbringing politically has been that of learning from things happening, the problems and processes and solutions, rather than just doing things like a certain person.

What were your biggest fears during the 1994 genocide, and what was your source of strength?

The situation in 1994 was so bad that it actually drove fear out of us. We were no longer afraid of anything, because we were already in the worst place ever. We just had to give all of ourselves to try and do the most we humanly could. We stopped being driven by fear or worry - we were just too busy dealing with everything that happened. We could have got lost in the worry and fear. But once the genocide stopped, then you started to worry about things – when can I put this into place, etc. But there was a point in 1994 when life here in Rwanda stopped. So when life is being lived the way it should, that’s when worries and fear return. What am I going to do tomorrow to keep life improving?

The source of strength was that we believed that the solution had come from ourselves. The alternative was unthinkable. That pressure – that there was no alternative – is then supported by seeing the progress you’re making. It makes you see that it’s possible to move forwards. And then progress brings more progress and gives more energy.

What is your wish for young people?

Young people should know that trying to do something for yourself or your society starts early. You don’t have to wait for another day to do it. There are many things that can divert young people’s attention from doing the things that make sense for themselves and society. They can easily waste time at that stage. My wish for them is to have fun, but to also have time of serious reflection – and to go ahead and do something useful.

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