1 February 2013

Rwanda: Mushikiwabo's Statement to German Parliamentarians


Yesterday, January 31, 2013, Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, Louise Mushikiwabo, delivered a statement to the chairpersons and members of the Committees on Economic Cooperation and Development, Foreign Affairs and Human Rights & Humanitarian Aid in Germany's Bundestag, the country's legislative assembly.

The minister, who mainly dwelt on Rwanda's resurgence following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, as well as recent developments in the region, particularly the DRC crisis, and broader international issues, also responded to questions from the German lawmakers.

Below are her full remarks:

Please accept my thanks for the opportunity to address not one, but three, esteemed committees of the Bundestag today.

First and foremost, this offers a unique forum from which to convey to a broad cross-section of Germany's political leadership the warm appreciation of the government and people of Rwanda for the support and generosity your country has shown ours over many years.

A spirit of constructive engagement and cooperation has been, and continues to be, the hallmark of Germany -Rwanda relations. It is my sincere hope, and that of my government, that this spirit lives on - up until, as well as beyond, the point at which Rwanda has reached our desired goal of self-sufficiency and independence from aid.

Beyond donor and recipient, Rwanda looks forward to an enduring partnership with Germany built around trade, education and cultural exchanges, as well as collaboration on the international stage where our interests coincide, whether on climate change, the rights of women and minorities, or the promotion of peace and security wherever and whenever its absence threatens vulnerable populations.

Let me directly address the question that has complicated relations between our countries since last year, namely the ongoing strife in the eastern DRC. In June last year, the Group of Experts on the DRC included an addendum to their regular report to the UNSC Sanctions Committee that contained a series of claims of Rwandan support for a mutiny by the so-called M23 group.

On July 28th 2012, on the same day my government issued its rebuttal to these serious, but seriously flawed, allegations, the government of Germany announced its intention to suspend aid to Rwanda. In so doing, Germany joined a number of countries and multilateral agencies whose understandable concern about the grave situation in the DRC expressed itself by suspending or delaying the disbursement of development assistance to Rwanda.

While the Government of Rwanda is disappointed that some development partners took such courses of action, especially based on such flawed and flimsy evidence, we also fully respect their right to do so. Rwanda is a grateful recipient of donor support, as evidenced by our judicious and transparent use of such funds, but we do not take it for granted. Indeed, events of last year were a stark and timely reminder that, in order to build a sustainable and prosperous future, Rwanda must first secure self-sufficiency. This is not to deny or dismiss the critical role development partners, none more than Germany, have played in Rwanda's journey post-1994; it is simply to recognise that true independence will remain beyond our reach until we have built a society and an economy capable of sustaining itself.

With regard to the specific allegations made against Rwanda by the Group of Experts, I am more than happy to field as many questions as you have.

The bottom line for Rwanda is this: our national interest is not served by conflict or instability at our borders; indeed, the opposite is true.

A secure and stable DRC is vital for Rwanda's own economic prospects. If we can play a role in helping build a lasting peace in the eastern DRC, Rwanda will do so. As clear evidence of this, Rwanda stood ready just a matter of days ago to add its signature to the UN framework sponsored by the Secretary-General during the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa. Due to reservations on the part of other member-states, the fate of the proposed framework remains somewhat unclear; what is crystal clear, however, is Rwanda's willingness to take part in a constructive solution. At the same time, we continue to urge our friends and allies to look beyond sporadic flare-ups and quick fixes, and instead examine the underlying causes of conflict and resentment among the disparate populations of that long-troubled region.

Resilience, resourcefulness and optimism

Notwithstanding the DRC crisis and the impact of aid decisions on our national budget, I can report that Rwandans are realistic about the challenges that lie ahead for our country, as well as unwavering in our determination to meet them. Resilience, resourcefulness and optimism: these strains of our national character have sustained and nourished us in the eighteen years since tragedy brought Rwanda to its knees.

Last year, Rwanda was able to report on progress of our national strategy for economic development and poverty reduction, known as EDPRS. Apart from the widely reported fact that one million Rwandans have been able to lift themselves from poverty since 2005, the results of the EDPRS point to progress across a broad range of indicators. As such, we see no reason to deviate from our stated goal of achieving middle income nation status by 2020, and no reason to doubt we will achieve it. However, there remain areas of concern to the government, including: an inadequate supply of energy; insufficient private sector investment, and stubbornly high incidence of malnutrition among Rwandan children.

With the targeted contributions of GIZ via sector budget support and pooled funds, Rwanda can point to significant gains in the areas of HIV-AIDS treatment, family planning, and the national health insurance scheme which now covers 91 percent of the population. Indeed, health outcomes in Rwanda continue to improve rapidly across the board:

• From 2005 to 2011, deaths from malaria dropped by 87.3%.

• Between 2000 and 2010 the country's maternal mortality ratio fell by 59.5%.

• The probability that a child dies by the age of 5 years decreased by 70.4% between 2000 and 2011-falling below half of the regional average and approaching the global mean.

Harnessing the power of women

As reported earlier this month by the journal of the British Medical Association, if such progress continues, "Rwanda will be the only country in the region on track to meet each of the health related millennium development goals by 2015".

Given the emphasis of successive German governments, over many decades, on health policy and service delivery in Rwanda, each one of you - and the parties you represent - can rightly feel you have played a part in enabling the dramatic improvement in the health status of the Rwandan people.

Beyond healthcare, we were pleased that GIZ in 2011, after consultations, identified private sector development and vocational training, along with decentralisation, as key focus areas for assistance. Our efforts to further reduce poverty and expand opportunity face derailment if we return to sluggish rates of GDP growth. And maintaining current momentum demands we continue public sector reforms while at the same time expanding and diversifying the role of the private sector. A further benefit of decentralisation is that it enhances the ability of Rwandan citizens to take part in the economic and political decisions that affect their lives, thereby helping expand the political space.

Another key priority for Rwanda post-genocide has been to harness the power of women to lead the nation through a critical period of reconciliation and rejuvenation. It is often cited that Rwanda, at 56 percent, has the highest proportion of women in any national parliament -- but that is merely the tip of the iceberg. Seven of the country's 14 Supreme Court justices are women. Across the public sector, we have easily exceeded the constitutional benchmark of 30 percent participation of women in leadership positions. Decentralisation policies have also greatly empowered women at the district, sector and village level. Increasingly, also, women are embracing the opportunities offered by a growing economy - notably, more than 30 percent of cooperatives are operated by women, and the government is actively promoting female entrepreneurship through low-cost loans. Most importantly, the prospects for Rwanda's girls looks even brighter - we have already reached the MDG target for 90 percent enrolment in primary school among girls, and the participation of females at every level of education is increasing.

Finally, let me touch on Rwanda's recent election to the UN Security Council for the 2013-14 term. Rwanda faced a choice in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, during which the international community -- most notably the United Nations -- failed to act. Will rage at this historic transgression turn us into an insular and embittered nation -- or can we transcend anger and instead seek more and better engagement with the world? We chose the latter, opting for a path of reconciliation both inside and outside our borders. Since then, we have become the biggest single African contributor to UN peacekeeping and policing efforts, from Darfur to Haiti. Drawing on our painful experience, we have led the debate on Responsibility to Protect as well as post-conflict peace building. Rwanda co-chairs the UN Secretary-General's MDGs Advisory Group, as well as the Broadband Commission which aims to bridge the digital divide in poorer countries.

As we work with fellow members to advance the cause of peace at the Security Council, we unapologetically offer the perspective of a resurgent continent. For the first time in modern history, hope trumps heartache in today's Africa. With this newfound optimism comes confidence that we are ready to face not only our own challenges, but our fair share of the world's, too. We are ready to play our part.

Question and Answer

What is the status of media freedom/reforms in Rwanda?

It is important to understand that one legacy of the 1994 genocide was to make Rwandans highly sceptical, if not hostile, towards the media. This was because of the central role media outlets, most particularly radio, played in propagating ethnic hatred and inciting genocide. The cautious approach the Government of Rwanda has taken to reforms of the media sector must be understood through that lens.

However, we are currently in the process of undertaking significant media reforms, in particular the self regulation of the sector. This has come along with a greatly enhanced access to information law which was passed in 2012 by parliament. Over the past few years the number and diversity of media outlets has greatly increased but capacity remains a challenge. For that reason, we have reformed the Media High Council to direct its efforts towards capacity building and media advocacy.

One extremely positive area is social media which Rwandans are adopting with great enthusiasm which is challenging the influence of traditional media. Twitter and Facebook are emerging as vital tools for citizens to hold leaders and institutions to account. The President, as well as the Prime Minister and several senior ministers, are among the most avid users of social media platforms as a means to interact with citizens -- including through weekly and monthly questions and answer sessions on Twitter.

The availability of Twitter and Facebook via SMS extends the reach of these platforms beyond those who have access to the internet. In 2012, 53% of Rwandans had access to mobile phones while 26% can access the internet.

What is status of political freedom/reforms in Rwanda?

The limitations on participating in the political process in Rwanda are clearly spelled out in the constitution; namely, that political parties cannot be formed around ethnic or religious identity. This reflects very strongly the collective will of the Rwandan people which is to build a society around shared national identity rather than outdated or toxic divisions.

Evidence from the Rwanda Governance Board suggests that participation from political parties is on the rise, especially at the local level, after a period where political activism was subdued, again as a result of factors arising from the genocide.

Another positive indicator is the rapid growth of civil society organisations, not only in terms of sheer numbers, but also impact and capacity. There are currently between 500-600 civil society groups, increasing by dozens each month.

Another key priority for reform is further decentralisation (which has enjoyed the support of the German government), which means that increasingly policy and budget decisions will be made at the local level. We have every reason to believe that this will further open the political space in Rwanda. It is impossible to imagine the degree of progress we have made since 2006 without decentralisation as a core priority.

What is the status of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda?

My understanding is that the party is currently in the process of registering as a political party, and beyond that there is no barrier to their participation in the upcoming parliamentary election. Ultimately laws governing electoral matters fall to the independent National Electoral Commission. If they are successful they will join at least nine other parties of which six belong to the governing coalition and three who are not.

There are reports that an official with the Greens has disappeared. What do you know about this?

My understanding is that the individual concerned failed to turn up to a meeting with a colleague. If this constitutes a "disappearance" then, by that standard, a very high proportion of Rwanda's population goes missing on a daily basis. There is no evidence that anyone has gone missing. No missing person report has been filed. I gather the person concerned has been active on Facebook and has been answering phone calls. These reports have come up on blogs who make their name from spreading rumours like this. The police do a very good job of following these claims up, and when there is substance to them they investigate accordingly. The Government of Rwanda cannot be answerable every time someone fails to show up to a meeting, or wants to make a splash on negative blogs. We welcome the Democratic Greens into the political process and, as long as they complete registration, they will be in a position to present themselves to Rwandan voters in September.

What is the situation with FDU-INKINGI?

The Rwandan constitution precludes the formation of political parties based on ethnic lines. Separately, there is a law prohibiting ethnic divisionism or genocide ideology. On both counts, FDU-INKINGI has disqualified itself as a legitimate political party in Rwanda.

Can we expect to see more openness in terms of political participation in the September parliamentary elections?

Rwandans love to vote and you won't see anyone at a polling place after lunchtime because everyone has already done their duty. Whether Presidential or Parliamentary, participation in elections is incredibly high by international standards and our elections are overseen by an independent electoral commission.

Does the government of Rwanda intend to open dialogue with opposition groups overseas?

We engage actively with Rwandans abroad on a regular basis, some of whom have criticisms of the government. However, like any other country, if they want to participate in the political process, they would need to come home first.

Can you appreciate that it appears to development partners that the arrest and conviction of Victoire Ingabire was a heavy handed move that undermines Rwanda's stated intention to broaden the political space?

It's not for me to comment on any specific trial or case, but I invite committee members to take the time to examine the case against her. If you were to do so, you would discover that this is not a case of political repression as it has been characterised by some in the media, but rather a matter of national security that rested in large part on evidence provided to the Government of Rwanda by the Dutch police.

What is the status of the Kampala talks (between the DRC government and the M23 rebels)? Are you optimistic that they will lead to a lasting solution?

Of course Rwanda is not party to the talks in Kampala and I can offer no special insights. What concerns Rwanda is that whatever deal is brokered, it should include laying stable foundations for long term peace and stability in the region. The only country that suffers more than Rwanda from persistent unrest in the Kivus is the DRC itself. Some sections of the media seem unduly impatient for a quick outcome in Kampala. My own view is that getting it done quickly is not nearly as important as getting it right.

There are conflicting reports about the current status of FDLR. Some point to an increased likelihood of attacks on Rwandan soil while others suggest mass demobilisation. What is your understanding of where matters stand?

There has been a noticeable increase in FDLR combatants and their dependents returning to Rwanda over recent weeks. At the same time, there are reports of FDLR regrouping and planning attacks. These two things are not necessarily in conflict. The FDLR is under pressure on many fronts, including from other armed militia groups in the region. While some may take the path of demobilisation, others may choose to fight on. It is worth noting that more than two million Rwandan refugees have returned home since the genocide. The vast majority of them have reintegrated peacefully into society, were able to reclaim their land and property and contribute like any other Rwandan citizen to the country's development. I have no doubt this will be the case with any other demobilised combatants who choose to come home. Germany has made a significant contribution to demobilisation and reintegration of combatants and for this we thank you.

Rwanda has held the position that its national interest is not served by conflict in the eastern DRC. However a number of reports, including from the Group of Experts, contain claims that Rwanda is benefiting from conflict minerals in the eastern DRC. What do you say to these claims?

Unfortunately the moment instability rears its head in the DRC, stories about Rwanda "looting" Congolese minerals proliferate across the internet. The truth is that Rwanda has led the region on a mineral tagging regime to curtail and eventually stamp out the trade in conflict minerals. Furthermore, as neighbour to the DRC, Rwanda would benefit greatly if the Congolese mining sector were properly licensed and regulated and the wealth more fairly distributed among its citizens. This would generate a boom in cross border trade as well as contribute to stability across our border, not least because it would enable the Congolese government to fund the basic services its population needs.

Rwanda is on record criticising MONUSCO over many years. Do you have any evidence that MONUSCO has improved its capacity to secure a lasting peace in the eastern DRC?

MONUSCO has operated in the region for almost thirteen years. It is an extremely costly exercise at approximately 1.4 billion dollars annually. As to whether it has successfully achieved its stated goals, I think the evidence speaks for itself. However, we maintain a constructive relationship with MONUSCO and continue to hope that they, along with the government of the DRC, address the causes of conflict and unrest and not just the symptoms. Insofar as we can help them do that, we will.

Undoubtedly, MONUSCO faces a crisis of confidence among the Congolese people themselves. Too many atrocities have occurred under their watch. Similarly, their selective focus on M23, while ignoring the threat from Mai Mai, Raia Motomboki, the FDLR and other militia groups, is cause for concern.

Can you elaborate by what you mean when you refer to the underlying causes of conflict in the eastern DRC?

We believe that as long as the government of the DRC fails to deliver basic services and security to its people, sporadic flare ups are inevitable and the situation will remain largely unchanged. Under this scenario, MONUSCO would need to maintain a presence in the region for the foreseeable future.

The national army is unable to contain dozens of militia groups who roam the region with impunity and, furthermore, when confronted with crisis, always to opt to blame Rwanda and play the ethnic card rather than address their own inadequacies. They need a better army and a better police force but they also need to create the conditions where young men see greater possibility for their lives beyond joining militia groups and wreaking havoc. The international community and the region have a role to play because the DRC faces a uniquely complex range of challenges resulting from its difficult history. But, ultimately, the Congolese people and its government must take responsibility for securing the county's future.

Do you believe that aid cuts will slow down the rate in poverty reduction in Rwanda or otherwise damage the country's social and economic progress?

Obviously the aid cuts are unfortunate and have forced us to adopt a number of austerity measures. However, as much as humanly possibly, we are determined that programmes that deliver essential services to the population remain fully funded. It is our hope that aid will be restored, but we have also prepared for a worst case scenario. Our assessment is that while the growth rate will slow somewhat, the country can remain mostly on track to meet its social and economic goals articulated in Vision 2020.

Do you believe you have responded satisfactorily to the UN Group of Experts report and are you confident that future Group of Experts reports will exonerate Rwanda?

Absolutely. We responded point by point and in great detail to the Group of Experts reports. We have copies here and you can find it easily on our website. As far as the incoming Group of Experts is concerned, we can only hope they return to the fact based, rigorous methodology that characterised earlier reports and avoid the political posturing that took place under the leadership of Steve Hege. The 2012 report was an aberration in that the GoE showed little interest in consulting with Rwanda or considering any facts or evidence that did not suit their predetermined conclusions. Earlier groups had not acted in such a way. We hope and trust that the new members will return to form and we look forward to working with them constructively.

In light of your position on the UNSC, what is your take on current developments in Mali, Syria, Central African Republic and other key conflict hot spots?

First and foremost, Rwanda will work closely with our colleagues at the UNSC to confront these and other challenges in a way that minimises conflict and maximises the prospect of peace. Of course, each case is different and requires a careful, tailored response by the international community. As a matter of principle however, Rwanda is an unapologetic advocate for the Responsibility to Protect doctrine and we will speak out and urge action whenever citizens come under threat from their own governments.

In addition, our experience as a significant contributor to peacekeeping efforts has been that regional solutions offer the best hope for success. This was certainly the case in Somalia and Sudan.

Are you concerned that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, while widely supported in theory, will fail to live up to expectations in practice? (i.e. Syria)

We are determined that this will not be the case. Since 2011, Rwanda vocally supported the invocation of R2P in Yemen, Côte d'Ivoire, Libya and South Sudan and we will continue to do so whenever and wherever vulnerable populations are under threat.

As a strong proponent of greater regional integration, is Rwanda concerned that progress has stalled?

Rwanda remains committed to greater regional integration and progress is being made. The Common Market Protocol (CMP) matrix shows that Rwanda has implemented 29% of 59 commitments, as at October 2012. Much of the implementation progress is being held up by the slow progress made in partner states - e.g. use of electronic ID cards (only Rwanda and Kenya are on track in this regard) and having borders open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

One upcoming priority is establishing a monetary union and for this, negotiations are on-going and set to be finalised this year. Negotiations for creating a Single Customs Territory are also underway and may result in some customs collections within EAC but outside Rwandan borders. Other initiatives including a single tourist visa will support the free movement of goods, people and services.

Rwanda's public position on drones in the eastern DRC appears to have shifted quite dramatically. What is the reason for the shift and what is your current position?

Along with several fellow members of the UNSC, we expressed reservations on the legal, technical and financial implications of using drones as part of a peacekeeping mission. This was misconstrued by the media as outright opposition which it was not. What President Kagame has subsequently said is that Rwanda is comfortable with the use of drones if that is the will of the international community.

Can you update us on genocide fugitives residing in Germany and what frustrations, if any, do you have with the German justice system in assisting with this?

Generally the German authorities are working well with Rwanda and we are happy with the progress made to date. German courts are trying both genocide related cases as well as war crimes against members of the FDLR.

Does Rwanda support binding targets for developing countries on climate change action?

Rwanda's national interest is served by meeting the environmental challenges brought about by our unique geographical and ecological features. Like all nations, climate change poses a significant threat to our way of life, none more so than the 80% of Rwandans still living off the land. The principle of differentiated responsibility remains central to our national policy on climate change. Developed nations have a key role to play, in not only reducing their own emissions, but supporting countries like Rwanda to build environmentally friendly economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Can you please update us on the regional peace process for the Kivus as well as the outcomes from the AU summit?

Rwanda is supportive of any and all efforts to stabilize the eastern DRC, including through the international Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) which is currently hosting the Kampala talks, as well as UN and AU initiatives.

The proposed framework for the neutral force was stalled at the last minute during the discussions held on the sidelines of the weekend's AU Summit. Rwanda and the DRC were both poised to sign the agreement sponsored by the UNSG, and we may yet do so. Whether through the ICGLR process or the UN framework, Rwanda is eager to support constructive initiatives aimed at calming the situation down in the Kivus. We will not stop reminding people, however, that treating symptoms is no substitute for addressing the causes.

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