23 December 2012

Rwanda: Interview With RPF Chairman, President Paul Kagame


RPF was started from a narrow ethnic group, largely formed by Tutsi exiles in Uganda. When you look back 25 years, how much has this changed?

RPF has completely transformed. Even then, its Tutsi base was not by design. It was by default because RPF was created from outside of Rwanda and understandably started by those who were in exiles--the refugees exclusively of the same background as by social classification. But its ideology and politics were national and Pan Africanist, not ethnic. From the beginning, the ideology and aspirations of the RPF were about the nation of Rwanda and how to liberate it and transform it. It was not about one group -- ethnic, religious or any other kind of social divide.

Today, as you see it, RPF is almost composed of the entire nation. In fact RPF is the majority in a very significant sense when you look at its composition from all kinds of divides -- religious, gender, age group or ethnic. What has happened over the years has made the whole nation of Rwanda RPF, which in the end has created an accusation against RPF as if everybody in Rwanda is RPF. But this is no fault of anyone. If we created a political organization that is attractive not only in its ideology, beliefs and convictions but also at being able to attract most Rwandans, I don't think we should be faulted for that.

What did RPF do to broaden its base which was initially refugees largely Tutsi to encompass other Rwandans?

It has really been our mode of operation and the results of our work. First it has been by serving all Rwandans equally and equitably and being willing to welcome and accommodate new comers including those who previously opposed us.

We have established a clear pathway to the future and also convinced Rwandans that we have the best politics. We have promoted a politics where everyone, irrespective of who they are and where they come from, have an equitable chance to pursue their dreams - whether it is in sports, business or the professions, they have an equal chance.

What are the organisational innovations you put in place to extend this reach?

We have had different kinds of structures that have changed with time depending on what we are confronted with at anyone given time. We have had a National Executive Committee, a Political Bureau and then party branches at provincial, district level and at even sector level. We also have cases where party cadres network in different institutions. These structures have helped us reach the masses of the people.

Previously, we had two branches - the military and the political - that were almost fused. Today, these have grown into separate ways. The army has been fused into state structures, the political transformed from a revolutionary movement into a political party. There are these clear organisational structures that are visible in the ways of doing things. There are others that are not visible that are beliefs in the way we run our national responsibilities.

What are the challenges you faced as a political party in trying to appeal to the vast majority of Hutu masses for example, given the Tutsi origins of the RPF?

The population here had been politically misled; taught an ideology of ethnic hatred. So they were genuinely suspicious of our motives and intentions. They had even been made to believe we from exile, the Tutsi, were foreigners [who] don't belong here. This was a big problem. We had therefore to convince them first of all that we are just as Rwandese as them. We did this by serving everyone equally. Then we would point to the kind of life they are living. People here were very poor and the government did little in service delivery. So we did a lot of political mobilization, sensitizing people that the job of government was to deliver services to the people, not just to promote leaders purely because they share a common ethnicity or background with so and so. When our work began to produce real results that made a difference in people's lives, they began to see our point of view - that leaders need not share a common ethnicity of every citizen to serve the country well. Of course there are still pockets of discontent holding unto old ideologies and beliefs, nursing hatreds and so forth and so on. At the same time I think RPF has done another good thing -saying: look even in our history, there are certain values that are important in any society's existence and development that we need to build on. And people have responded with good reason and have seen really grasped and understood what this really means.

The RPF started as a revolutionary movement. Now it is a political party. Has that change actually taken place?

The transformation has taken place in the sense that RPF has actually allowed itself to be diluted. RPF could have come and taken over everything. But instead we allowed people of different political backgrounds to be part the process.

Today, our constitution is deliberately designed to say that in the executive branch, the party with a majority cannot take more than 50 percent of cabinet. Then you look at the parliament. Much as the RPF has the majority, there are other parties represented. In fact the speaker of the parliament as by constitution has to come from the smaller parties that didn't win the elections.

Previously, the RPF was a political wing of the RPA, now RDF. Has there really been a separation of the two?

Over time, especially after the new constitution clearly there was separation. What used to be military side of the RPF is what constituted the foundation of the national army we created. But the process of transforming the army from being a military arm of the party actually began immediately after we took power. We were only 18,000 soldiers when we took power in 1994. By the end of 1995, we had reached 50,000 largely by integrating ex-FAR - the soldiers of the very army we had defeated. Although structurally and physically they have been separated, the culture of RPA/F and the liberation struggle is really now what forms the DNA of RDF (Rwanda Defense Force). Even if the party is separated from the army, the two still share a common history, common ideology and aspirations for transforming Rwanda.

How does the RPF handle promotions in the army?

RPF does not involve itself in army affairs. Army promotions are the duty of the government. The only link is that RPF leaders run the government.

The RPF has a business arm. Why is the party doing business and how much money does it make?

The money we make is not an issue really. The issue is why we are in business. We set up business while still in the struggle to give ourselves financial independence. During the struggle we had to depend largely on donations from our party members and supporters. Then we used the money to create businesses. By 1994 we had accumulated sufficient funds to allow us open businesses. We inherited a government whose coffers had been looted. So RPF funds were used to fund the government, to buy air tickets and even suits for government officials. Then there are gaps in the market; services that were desperately needed but no one to provide them. We needed to export coffee, to supply water, put food in markets - basic things. The economy, and what existed of the private sector and government enterprise sector, had collapsed alongside the state and its institutions. RPF had to fill the gap. So our involvement in business was born of necessity.

But why do I get the sense that RPF is very shy stating that 'look as a political party; we are involved in doing business'?

I don't know. It might be due to external pressures. Many of our partners don't understand or appreciate our unique circumstances and want to dictate their experience unto our situation. I am sure you have heard about people questioning why a political party should do business. I don't see what is wrong with us being open and explaining the unique circumstances that have made our involvement in business necessary. There is not a single party in this world that doesn't need money, one way or the other. I don't know why people would be shy about it.

How do you control the party business from directly dealing with the state, which is largely controlled by the RPF to ensure that there is fair competition for state tenders for all businesses?

The simplest way to deal with that is for the party businesses not getting involved with government's tenders. They have as much as possible avoided that. If you look at the things they involved in, they do very little business at all with the government. Number two, I try to compare that with the alternative: let's say parties have no business. Individuals who own businesses will finance parties. In many countries, private individuals who contribute to the coffers of the party influence public policy and tenders.

Some people think that RFP has actually swallowed up its own partners [so it remains the only visible and strong part?

That speaks to how powerful or how big RPF is for which I don't apologise because we are supposed to be as strong as effective as we can. Unless you can point at something we do - and do unfairly or illegally - to undermine the ability of the other political parties to build their capacity and exceed our strength.

Some people say the other political parties are almost silent and don't criticise you and the RPF because you have bought them using cabinet appointments.

But that is actually the challenge. Should we then exclude them from cabinet? Should we abandon the constitutional arrangement of avoiding a winner-take-all politics? Should we abandon this power sharing arrangement? If we abandon power sharing, we will create a monopoly of power by RPF and we will be criticised. The power-sharing arrangement is aimed at helping the smaller parties grow. This arrangement has costs of course - and it may make it difficult for these parties to criticise the government in which they serve. But is the alternative - the monopoly of power by one party better?

When you retire as president, would you prefer to remain the chairman of RFP for a while as Nyerere did?

I'm not going to talk about my view on that now. What happens later is not something I would feel comfortable predetermining.

What is the party doing to involve the youth in its activities to ensure that once the current generation of leaders retires, the youth takes over as the leaders and in a comfortable way that will see RPF living many more years to come?

They don't take over as such they integrate and become part of the RPF and therefore there continues to be these overlaps that ensure continuity and growth of the party. The youth have their place in the party; they have representation.

What message would you like to give to the members of RPF on its 25th anniversary?

It's a reflection of where we have come from, where we are, and what has happened between the birth of RPF and now as old as 25.

And also look ahead. What are the challenges ahead? What are the opportunities to make RPF a better political organisation and to make a better country where RPF plays a very big part determining the future of our country?

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