The New Times (Kigali)

22 January 2013

Rwanda: Self-Reliance Is Our Priority, Says Kagame

President Paul Kagame yesterday said the biggest challenge for Rwanda this year is to be self-reliant and the government will do its best to achieve this goal.

On donor aid cuts over accusations that Rwanda was fanning the DRC crisis, President Kagame said it is more of a blessing to "teach Rwandans a few lessons and make them wiser."

The President explained that his government will focus on changing the attitude and mindset of the citizenry, building a stronger private sector, and strengthening government institutions in order to effectively respond to the country's need for economic self-reliance.

He was addressing journalists during his first news conference of the year at Village Urugwiro.

The government is currently reviewing its 2012/2013 budget which lost 12 per cent of planned expenditure after donors froze some aid last year over allegations of links to the Congolese M23 rebels.

Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States suspended their support, which is estimated at about $240m (about Rwf152b) in total.

Rwanda vehemently denies the allegations and President Kagame maintained that the donors were still bound to halt their aid to Rwanda even if they didn't have to use UN reports.

"For me this situation is not unexpected. It was bound to happen in my view," President Kagame said, highlighting that the countries that suspended aid did so before the UN's Group of Experts report on DR Congo was adopted at the UN Security Council.

"It would have hurt us more had we made mistakes that led to this situation happening."

The President acknowledged that working without 12 per cent of the planned activities is not a minimal challenge, but he also sounded very confident that the country will bristle through it.

"It is something that can be confronted. We will make some adjustments in many areas," he said.

The President reiterated that the current situation in Rwanda where donors' money is withheld after it were promised can also be described as a blessing since it will teach Rwandans a few lessons and make them wiser.

"I want to see a silver lining around it as well," he told members of both local and foreign press. "Maybe there is a blessing in this as well in many ways. Maybe we will learn not to spend where we didn't have to spend and spend more where we actually have to spend. Maybe it makes people a little bit wiser than they have been, hopefully."

'Rwanda not an enemy of DR Congo

Apart from managing Rwanda's economic development, the relationship between Rwanda and DRC as well as managing conflicts on the continent took centre stage at the briefing.

Some journalists wondered what would be Rwanda's reaction if the UN deployed drones to the eastern DRC. Others asked about growing propaganda in Congo against Rwanda and President Kagame himself, while others asked if it was right for France to deploy its army in the Republic of Mali instead of the African Union dealing with the issue itself.

The President responded to the questions, arguing that everything should be considered in context. On the drones, he said he does not mind what kind of aircraft the UN utilises but the issue remains whether the decision will help them improve people's security.

"I wouldn't mind if they think the drones will help the country or the region where they are taking them...I don't have much to say about this, they can go ahead and do what they want," he said, adding that the drones are welcome in the region if the UN can explain how they will contribute to the challenge of peace building.

On the hostility against Rwanda reported to be growing in the Congo, the President said it cannot be generalised as many Congolese can still see that Rwanda is not the cause of their problems.

The President emphasised that Rwanda cannot wish bad luck for Congo, while she actually benefits from a stronger, stable, and well-governed neighbour.

"Rwanda would wish to live with a neighbour that is thriving, especially the Congo. We would be happy if Congo was making good progress because that translates into good progress for us as well, there is no doubt about that, it's as simple as that," he said.

On France's intervention in Mali, the President said it would be great if African nations could have guarded the country's security, but noted that France's intervention is fair if it means restoring security to the country.

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