Kagame – “We take human rights and democracy seriously…”

Paul Kagame

In November 2009, Commonwealth heads of government agreed to accept Rwanda as the 54th member of their association. In this interview President Kagame explains how he sees his country best benefitting from Commonwealth membership

Global: Why did Rwanda apply to join the Commonwealth and what are your aspirations for this new partnership?

President Paul Kagame: Our vision of Rwanda is of a country open to the opportunities of the world. We are fortunate to be in the unique position of being a member of the African Union, the East African Community, the Francophonie and now the Commonwealth. It is my hope that the Commonwealth will open up new opportunities to support our development, especially in the areas of English language, legal reform and skills development, as well create new networks for trade and investment. I also hope that, as we have done with other international organisations we participate in, we can contribute to the Commonwealth as much as we benefit from it.

What do you think are some of the key challenges for the Commonwealth and how can Rwanda help the organisation overcome them?

The challenges for the Commonwealth are the challenges that its membership faces: poverty, economic and political underdevelopment, environmental degradation. The key for all of us, Rwanda included, will be to bring the collective strength and experience of the Commonwealth family to bear on these challenges. Just as Rwanda can learn from other nations in many areas, we will be able to share the positive lessons from some of our experiences. For example, I hope that while we receive support in strengthening our legal processes, we will be able to offer, in return, our own lessons learned in tackling corruption or peace building.

How do you see the challenges of climate change, and how can the Commonwealth help tackle them?

Before even climate change was introduced into the equation, Africa was already facing massive environmental challenges: deforestation, loss of biodiversity, desertifi cation and so on. But climate change, combined with poverty, population growth and weak or non-existent environmental regulations, has the potential not only to undermine our development objectives but to reverse some gains of the past several years – when stability and peace have meant signify cant growth and development dividends in Africa.

But we need to go beyond simply stating that climate change is a threat and take corrective measures. This is where the Commonwealth forum can help. Among the 54 members are many of those nations whose economies are most at risk from climate change as well as some of those whose economies are most responsible for climate change – these countries need to work together to develop solutions that address both perspectives.

In terms of values and principles, critics of Rwanda joining the Commonwealth speak of human rights issues and Rwanda’s involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). What is your response to this?

The values of the Commonwealth and Rwanda are in unison. We take human rights, good governance and democracy seriously, not only because we know it is the right thing to do but because we know from our tragic past the consequences of ignoring them – something that will not be repeated.

The situation with the DRC is complex, and one cannot just focus on the current situation without fi rst understanding the causes of the problem. Here we had a situation where the forces who orchestrated the genocide in Rwanda were allowed to decamp in a neighbouring country and continue their terror. In truth, the world did not do enough to help tackle this problem and the results have been terrible for the people living in Eastern DRC and for the whole region.

In general, where a country has clear obligations, and is failing on them, then the international community has the right to raise concerns. But it should be understood that the trouble in the DRC is not a Rwandan problem, but rather one which the entire international community has the responsibility to address. Although it is late in coming, it is encouraging to see increased international concern on the root causes of the conflict in DRC. I am also hopeful that the renewed partnership between Rwanda and the DRC will bring not only peace and stability but increased prosperity to the region.

How do you see the East African Community (EAC) evolving and how can the Commonwealth assist in this regard?

Our vision is for an East Africa where individual national interests take a back seat – where we jointly pull together in driving economic development through increased trade and investment, improving the wellbeing of all our citizens and promoting regional peace.

The East African Community has massive potential. We have signed a Common Market agreement, started negotiations towards a single currency and have a deadline for political union of 2015. Most members of the EAC are also members of the Commonwealth. Rwanda actively supports efforts to combine the EAC with other nations within COMESA and SADC. This would create an internal market of six hundred million people and vast opportunities for all our citizens.

About the author:

Paul Kagame is President of the Republic of Rwanda


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May 4, 2011 9:18 am

Thank you Mr president for this initiative to join other country in a big and serious international organization we think that it will help for our development

May 25, 2011 3:27 pm

United we stand – Divided we fall. The six pillar of Rwanda Vision 2020 is “Regional and International Integration”; we are proud to have a visionary leader who realised the need for Rwanda to join hands with EAC – Commonwealth – COMESA – CEPGL – in our quest to catch up with the fast moving world. It is high time Rwandans saw themselves in a global picture.

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