Landslide Win Gives Rwanda's Kagame Another Term

As a military leader, Paul Kagame helped bring an end to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He's been president of a country that is now considered one of the more prosperous on the African continent. And this week, he won a landslide re-election that gives him another seven-year term. He talks to Renee Montagne about the challenges his country faces.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

As a military leader, Paul Kagame helped bring an end to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He has been leading his country ever since, elected president in 2003 of a country that's now considered one of the more prosperous on the African continent and one of the safest and least corrupt.

This week, Paul Kagame won a landslide re-election that gives him another seven year term. Rwanda still faces many challenges. And to talk about them we reached President Kagame in his office in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

Welcome to the program, Mr. President.

President PAUL KAGAME (Rwanda): Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Now, you have been credited with bringing your country back from an almost unimaginable orgy of killing, a genocide that left 800,000 people dead. Rwanda, over these 16 years, has managed to become what many consider a success story. What do you think is the key thing or the key things that have enabled Rwanda to make this kind of comeback?

Pres. KAGAME: It's a combination of factors. I think through the tragedy the country has experienced here, there have been lessons to learn.

In fact, the genocide that took place here in Rwanda was due to bad politics, was due to bad leadership, and if you have a clear path along which you lead the country, and then you develop institutions and allow people to participate in the processes that help develop them, then you will most likely succeed, as we've made progress in Rwanda, even though we started from a very, very complicated situation.

MONTAGNE: Although, as you know, during this campaign and leading up to your election, there has been a fair amount of criticism about the lack of participation from what would be called opposition groups. Your critics, including international human rights groups, say that political opposition has been suppressed.

Pres. KAGAME: Well, we've had a lot of criticisms indeed, most of which is just very unfair and have no basis. What we've done (unintelligible) have been successful if there had not been participation of Rwandans. This kind of progress and the success would not have been achieved. That is very definite.

MONTAGNE: President Kagame, many people voted for you in Rwanda because they are very pleased with the prosperity, with the unity. They remember the genocide. But getting 90-plus percent of the vote, as you have done in this election, is evidence that there was no serious opposition. Why would you not at this point be allowing for that sort of opposition to be created in your country?

Pres. KAGAME: If other leaders are weak or there is no track record or - this is not something that we should be held responsible for. We should be held responsible for what we are doing or what we are not doing. But we shouldn't be held responsible for the weaknesses of others that depends(ph) on them, on their history and how they have conducted themselves.

MONTAGNE: Although you should be held responsible for repressing or suppressing opposition politicians, if that is in fact what you're government is doing.

Pres. KAGAME: That is (unintelligible) happened, because you really have to come up with evidence and facts about that.

If I were to distort facts or take things out of their context and create their own story, now, how would (unintelligible) Rwandan get held responsible for that?

MONTAGNE: We are speaking with Paul Kagame, who has just been reelected president of Rwanda. What is the most important goal that you have at this point in time?

Pres. KAGAME: Is to work for the stability of the country, is to have prosperity. In fact, what Rwanda suffers most is that it's a poor country, and when a country is poor, when a country is developing, there is that tendency for it to be described as anti-democratic. (Unintelligible) attitude out of there(ph). I don't accept that. We don't accept that. And so our future is about unity, stability, development, prosperity for our people, good governance, and so on and so forth.

MONTAGNE: Well, what then do you say when you hear yourself described of late as an authoritarian leader with a vision, or a benevolent dictator?

Pres. KAGAME: I think this is said by a few but very loud mouth people in the circles(ph), and what matters to me and to the people in this country is that -are we making progress? Are we working together? Do we know what we are doing? Are we moving on and making a huge difference for ourselves? Yes, that's the measure for me.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.

Pres. KAGAME: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Paul Kagame was reelected president of Rwanda this week. He spoke to us from his office in the capital, Kigali.

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