7 February 2013

Rwanda: Kagame Speaks Out On Third Term, Drones, Crisises

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame recently held his first press briefing since the start of the year, and the Independent's OSTINE ARINAITWE picks out the major themes which the President talked about.

Congolese's hatred of Rwandans

President Kagame denied reports that Congolese hate Rwandans despite the two countries having had a thorny relationship for a decade.

"First of all am not responsible for public opinion in congo, if they decide to say that Congo's problems are a result of Rwanda, then it is up to people to decide whether it is true or not," the president said.

"But the issue is; are we sure that all Congolese are united and all hate Rwandans or that Rwanda is the problem for Congo?

"I am sure there are people who think that and they are many but are they representative of the over 60 million Congolese?"

Kagame said that Congo should not look at Rwanda as the creator of its problems, and added that Rwanda wishes to see Congo stable.

"It is very much in the interest of Rwanda to have a neighbour that is thriving especially Congo, we would be happy if Congo is making good progress because it would translate in good progress for us as well,"Kagame added.

The two countries' relationship was tainted mid last year when the Congolese government accused Rwanda of supporting M23 rebels who operate in the eastern part of DRC.

Rwanda refuted the allegations which had also been made by a group of UN experts in a report released late last year which was used by some western countries to freeze aid to the country despite the government's worldwide praise for the way it manages aid well.

Rwanda is now part of negotiations that are taking place in Kampala between the DRC government and M23 rebels.

Third term talk postponed

Reacting to a question on what he would do if people wanted to amend term limits so that he gets another term of office, Kagame said that such talk is premature and would be diversionary if people started debating it now.

"I can only answer that at the right time, people have a right to express what they want but I don't like that debate being discussed now because it diverts us from doing what we are supposed to do," Kagame said.

The President was urged to seek a third term during his tour of the western province recently but he maintained the same stand arguing that now is not the time to discuss term limits.

Sheik Fazil Harerimana, the Minister of Internal Security and leader of the Parti Democrate Ideal first has been advocating for the removal of term limits and in an interview with The Independent he said his party would move to table a motion in parliament but refused to divulge when they would do so.

The Rwandan constitution currently states that a President serves for two seven year terms which are not renewable.

However the opposition has threatened long legal battles if the constitution is amended to remove term limits.

Frank Habineza of the yet to be registered Green Party says his party will seek a court injunction should such a scenario happen.


President Kagame seemed to take a softer stand on the thorny issue of drones that was proposed by the UN recently despite Rwanda initially saying that it needed more clarity on what the drones would do.

Kagame said that Rwanda does not have the capacity to stop the UN from deploying drones to the DRC.

"I cannot stop them; we can only voice what we think about the issue. Otherwise if they think it can contribute to the peace process in DRC then Rwanda does not mind," the President said. Earlier this month UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous asked the Security Council to strengthen its DRC operation, including by using drones.

DRC is already the UN's biggest peacekeeping mission with more than 17,000 troops. But the forces are spread thin in the huge country and the UN is under orders to cut costs.

Rwanda's biggest challenges of 2013

While as President Kagame says the country's biggest challenges are the same ones that Rwanda has been battling for many years, Opposition leader Frank Habineza says opening up political space and allowing political parties to participate fully is the country's main challenge this year.

"The country will deal with challenges like FDLR, donor aid cuts, but I think the biggest will be allowing parties to be free and compete with the ruling party on a level playing field," says Habineza who is keen to have his Democratic Green Party registered.

Peacekeeping force to Mali

Rwanda supports helping bring peace on the continent's trouble spots by sending troops into troubled like Darfur in Sudan and Mali.

But while as Kagame acknowledges that the country would want to send troops to help Mali, they don't have the capacity to do so.

"Rwanda can't be everywhere. We have home limitations. For Mali we would love to contribute but we are tied up."

Public institutions owning radio stations

The President disagreed with Local Government Minister James Musoni whose docket covers media in the country on Public institutions owning radio stations.

Private radio owners have complained of institutions like Parliament which owns a radio station and other public institutions like Rwanda Revenue Authority, Police that want to set up their own radio stations something that would hamper private radios from getting adverts.

Musoni said that the national radio has to deal with many programs, so that is why such institutions start their own stations to reach to local people.

"It is confusing for the government institutions engaging in this business. If parliament has its radio, the following day, we are going to hear that the cabinet or Police doing the same business; why don't you use the national radio?" he asked.

Since the press briefing, the Parliament radio has been asked to close and instead shift its programs to the national radio. Rwanda Revenue Authority and Police radio stations projects may end up gathering dust on the shelves, according to sources.

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