Yesterday, the third Rwanda Shima Imana convention brought together Christians and top clerics from over 34 countries, including, Russia, the US, India and China. The highlight of the day was Pastor Rick Warren, the founder of Saddleback Ministries, US. The celebrated author has been involved in several activities in Rwanda's development in the past 10 years through an initiative called Peace Plan. The acronym stands for 'Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick, and Educate the next generation.' The initiative has been involved in activities like HIV/Aids fight, community integration and poverty and hunger eradication, among other areas. In an interview with The New Times' Collins Mwai, Pastor Warren gives insights into his ministry's activities in Rwanda, the planned Christian leaders' continental congress, and the country's development path. Excerpts;-
You have been closely involved with Rwanda for about 10 years now, what are some of the major achievements you might have noticed?
As a member of the President's Advisory Council, I get to see the progress and development firsthand and upclose. Over the last few years, more than a million Rwandans have come out of poverty.
There are a couple of reasons for this but the primary one is the creation of more jobs in the city and the use of better farming practices in the rural areas which has created more jobs.
For Shima Imana, I have brought leaders from 31 African countries and Russia, United States, China and India, one of the things they all notice and agree on is that this is the cleanest country they have seen in the world. That is progress too.
When I first heard of the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda, this was the only thing I knew about the country, a place of genocide. Before coming here (for the first time) I wondered what kind of people I would meet, but when I got here I realised that they were no different from everybody else.
Rwanda's reputation is changing fast, the Old Rwanda was known for the Genocide, the New Rwanda is known for hard work, growth, order, prosperity, freedom, security, among other traits. This is how much the country has changed even in terms of image.
You announced that next year, Rwanda will host the first All-Africa Purpose-Driven Leadership Congress; why was Rwanda chosen and what is the goal of this conference?
I have been asked by more than five African presidents to take the Rwandan Peace Plan model to their countries, I have been asked by Christian leaders to do the same in their countries to foster peace in their countries.
I have often answered that I will send Rwandans since they know how the model works best, they are the initiators and they did it on their own; I only helped get it started.
The heroes of Peace Plan are the local churches. In Rwanda, more than 3,000 churches have taken part in the purpose-driven training. That is a lot of people.
Next year's conference is a chance for Rwanda to become a role model for the rest of the continent. Rather than me go across the continent, we decided to bring all those countries to Kigali for the guests to see it firsthand.
Next year, from August 6 to 10, we will bring together all the 54 African countries for purpose driven church leadership congress, it will bring together about 2,000 people or more. We are hoping we can hold it at the new Kigali Convention Centre.
But we have plans that go beyond reaching out to other African countries, we plan to put a big screen in every province and stream the five-day conference live to pastors and Christian leaders all over the country, those who cannot make it to the conference. I hope that as it grows, more countries can embrace the Rwanda Shima Imana (Thanksgiving) model.
You also said recently that Rwanda should consider having an annual Thanksgiving holiday, why do you think this is important?
Rwanda has a lot to be grateful for because in the last three years, it has been named as the safest country to live in in Africa. I have been coming to Rwanda for the last 10 years and every year, I see a lot of socio-economic and spiritual development.
For instance, the number of orphans has dropped drastically; we are down to about 1,500 children in orphanages compared to about a million (orphaned) children immediately after the Genocide. Many nations have kept a tradition of Thanksgiving, I think it is time we also began having one.
Your ministry brings together a number of churches to support the Peace Plan, what are the reasons for this approach?
Peace Plan brought together many churches because they all wanted to be part of a common cause, but the value of unity is even greater than Peace Plan. One church by itself cannot make a lot of difference but various churches coming together can achieve anything.
During the launch of Peace Plan, the President said that the nation could develop much faster if we mobilised churches because the majority of Rwandans are church going Christians; it is easy to influence them towards development as a congregation.
With that the nation can achieve prosperity together and much faster.
Peace Plan has had a lot of impact in various aspects in the country since inception, what will be the priority areas in the coming years?
There are five priorities of Peace Plan in the coming years; they are all tied to the initiative's goals right from inception. We will keep promoting reconciliation in the nation; and equip ethical leaders to ensure there are no vices like corruption.
We will keep assisting the poor, not with handouts but with a hand-up and seeing to it that they are empowered. We plan to go on with our health care programmes all across the country, so far, there have been a lot of achievements with healthcare programmes in the past few years; we plan on building on that.
Lastly. we will go on with our education programmes, we are trying to encourage more and more churches to establish pre-schools to ensure all across the country children have an early introduction to education.
What are your thoughts on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi?
The Genocide was evil. Anyone who doesn't believe in evil should look at the Genocide against the Tutsi. The worst part of this genocide was not only the atrocities committed but also when the world chose to watch and do nothing.
When the world turned its back on Rwanda and let evil prevail, that was a dark moment.
Do you think there are lessons that nations in conflict like Central Africa Republic can draw from Rwanda?
Whenever there is a conflict, over ideas, the right place to begin is by finding avenues that will bring you together to do a common thing together. We can disagree about religion, politics, but it is always good to do things together that will bring you together.
With that, the two parties in disagreement get to learn about the other and try to see things from the other people's point of view.
The key is getting people to get together, they will understand where the others are coming from and the reasons for their view point.
Regarding your involvement in Rwanda, how much influence do you have on policies and development matters?
I have no influence on Rwandan policies or politics. I am not a policy-maker; I am a pastor. When I deal with government leaders, I never talk to them about politics.
I only talk to them about their personal needs, how to handle stress as a leader, how to handle family, how are they dealing with management of their time.
I have no roles in advising or influencing in areas of policies. I have friends in government and business, it is like three legs of a stool; for a society to be stable, it requires a public sector, private sector and a faith sector.
There has to be government, businesses and churches. None can do what the others do.
What areas would you advise investors to consider when putting their money in Rwanda?
There are numerous sectors that are profitable to invest in. if I had a choice out of many, I would probably put money in transport and logistics.
Rwanda is in the middle of several countries and is landlocked, so currently there are developments to open it up through air, rail and roads, soon it will become a hub for all the countries around it as they do business.
Often times Rwanda receives the flacks from various international bodies and individuals, what do you make of such critics?
The criticisms against Rwanda are coming from four sources. They are all biased sources. The first group of critics is the genocidaires who are still alive, the Interahawe. They are in various places around the world and will do anything they can to depose the government. It is expected that they will criticise and speak ill of the country.
The second group is of certain countries like France that supported and protected the wrong group during the Genocide. They allowed the genocidaires to escape through and into DR Congo.
There was a break down in relations with France as Rwanda chose a path of its own that some people in France were not very happy with and hence the criticism.
The third group is the United Nations; they have blood on their hands, they did nothing when they could have stopped the Genocide. The UN has a guilty consciensce. There is conflict on why is the nation least dependent on the United Nations is among the most successful. So their reports may be biased.
The last group is people who served in this government in the past and got caught in corruption and other vices. They were friends of Rwanda, but when they lost their jobs, they became bitter and go around writing articles full of criticisms.
All these four groups are biased and are in no position to provide balanced opinion about the country.