Whether Americans and NGOs appreciate his speech or his methods, that is not his primary concern. For the Head of State, the security of the nation is primordial. No matter the price.
There is one sentence the media will remember from the speech delivered in Kinyarwanda by Paul Kagame on June 5 at the foot of the Virunga chain, once the heart of the "Hutu Power." It doesn't seem to matter that for the crowd of citizens present, their interest laid elsewhere: exposing their grievances, issues of land and cows, access to water and electricity, sometimes expressed in the form of epic poems, to Ministers and local officials summoned by the President to provide tangible answers and solutions.
"We will continue to arrest suspects and when needed kill in broad daylight those threatening to destabilise the country".
Human Rights Watch - with whom Kigali has a longstanding difficult relationship - reported disappearances near Gisenyi, a town on the border with the DRC, of about thirty people suspected of having ties with FDLR (Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda - Hutu rebels). Part of these accusations was repeated in early June by a press release of the U.S. State Department. This is also in the context of the (very timid) disarmament of the FDLR in North Kivu and at a time of renewed tensions between the Rwandan and Congolese army in the Goma region. Paul Kagame speaks to Jeune Afrique's François Sudan about his words and the context in which they were said. The interview took place in Kigali on Saturday, June 7, between two rainstorms in the middle of the dry season.
Jeune Afrique: Your speech at Rambura was interpreted as a response to the release of U.S. State Department statement and the last report by Human Rights Watch, both criticising the action of security forces in the north-west of Rwanda. Is this right?
Paul Kagame: There is nothing fundamentally new in what I said in front of people in Nyabihu district. Development is unachievable without security and stability - our people have suffered enough to know that. But the reason I wanted to repeat this message during the meeting with citizens on June 5 is due to two recent developments. The first is the recent rise of insecurity in the north and certain parts in the west of the country in recent weeks. People were killed, including the child of the Mayor of Musanze [former Ruhengeri] in an attack that was targeting her directly.
The origin of these terrorist acts is of course armed groups operating in eastern DR Congo. The second element, are the statements and reports to which you refer that have been produced without any consideration for the context that I have just mentioned. Let me be clear, outsiders can applaud or criticise us, they can support or seek to destabilise us, at the end of the day, the responsibility for our security is up to us and no one else.
Lastly, my message was to those who operate and control those who throw grenades: we will defend the stability and security of our people in accordance with the law. We know that what we do in this domain is scrutinised by the external world but this will never stand in the way of us being firm, decisive, proactive and determined in the fight that we lead against you.
Does this justify the arrests and disappearances you are accused of?
What are we talking about? Our security forces and our legal authorities have provided explanations case by case, to investigators from these NGOs. Why the arrests occurred? What happened to those who were interrogated? What is the law? Etc. They then decided to publish a report in which we have no right to contribute: it is neither serious nor professional and it is far from objective. Nobody goes missing in Rwanda and no one is arrested without abiding by the law. But it is true that we have become used to unfounded accusations...
When you publicly say that you will not hesitate to shoot your enemies in broad daylight, you know very well what kind of response to expect...
That is obvious. What I meant is that we never hesitate to act decisively and we have been acting in strict adherence of the rule of law. If this is not sufficient to convince enemies of our people to renounce terrorism, then we will move on to another much more serious stage. The opinion of observers or other governments is not what matters most.
I find it quite astonishing that people, who practice executions and whose drone strikes have led multiple times to civilian deaths, feel that they have the right to criticise us on this point. Rwanda had the courage to abolish the death penalty to achieve reconciliation, while our prisons were full of genocidaires who would have deserved death.
Wasn't your speech also a form of warning to the people of this region: "If you help the FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda], you will suffer the consequences"?
What I made clear to the people that day is that they were also responsible for their own security. This of course means that they should in no way be associated with the killers, even if they are close relatives. A recent example is the person who tried to assassinate the Mayor of Musanze. He was an elected local leader of flawless reputation. The police investigation revealed that the man had acted on behalf of one of his brothers who is an active senior member of the FDLR, with whom he was secretly in contact.
A warning, then... ?
So what? Everyone must understand that when it comes to terrorism, kinship does not apply. Nobody should accept to be used. If you lend a helping hand or turn a blind eye to infiltration of terrorists from across the border and these people indiscriminately throw grenades in markets in Kigali, do you really think they will first ensure that none of your loved ones will be among the victims? This is what I said in Nyabihu district: in the face of the fight against terrorism, family is not a consideration because the very people you are protecting might kill your own family.
This is not a threat but a warning: do not stand idly by as if your indifference, or worse, your complicity has no consequences.
At the end of the day, despite reports and critics: you feel it is your right to neutralise anyone you believe poses a threat to your security...
We reserve the right to eliminate those who seek to kill us. When I say eliminate, I do not mean kill anyone, anywhere, indiscriminately without following any procedures. In Rwanda, as in Europe or America, there are laws that govern these extreme cases. So-called experts who clearly consider the Rwandan victims of terrorist attacks as collateral damage and thus legitimise such acts can continue to publish wrongly intentioned reports that lead to biased press statement. But our commitment to protecting our security will remain firm. By repeating this, I do not think I am teaching anything new to anyone.