RWANDA–RWANDA—Rwanda President Paul Kagame has described his frosty relationship with Muammar Gaddafi saying the former Libyan strongman was “a bad man” with whom he had more quarrels than anybody else.
“It was about him wanting to be seen as the king of Africa and dictating to people and telling people. One time I really lost my cool because of this. He said you know Kagame, you are an agent of western powers, that I am friends with America, I’m friends with the British. I couldn’t help it. I told him, in my personality, in my life, in my upbringing, I would never be anybody’s agent, meaning you are serving somebody else’s interest, you are not serving you,” Kagame, who was speaking to Financial Times in a Q&A interview, said.
The interview, conducted by Lionel Barber and David Pilling, was published by on Tuesday.
Kagame’s not-so-savoury take on his relationship with Gaddafi follows a question about democratic ideals, particularly the Western view of democracy that he argued was not universal to all.
Col Muammar Gaddafi was killed in October 2011 following months of civil unrest, the so-called “Arab Spring,” that saw his government lose control of Tripoli. Gaddafi had fled to his hometown of Sirte when his 42-year time as Jamahiriya leader was scuffed from Tripoli, only to be captured in a tunnel and later killed by angry protestors.
Prior to the Arab Spring that ended his reign, the Libyan leader had been risen above the rest of the then 53 African leaders as he championed what he envisaged as a “United States of Africa.” He was at the centre of pushing for an African unity government for years, saying it was the only way Africa would develop without Western interference, although many African states were hesitant of embracing his pragmatic idea that saw as impractical and would encroach on their sovereignty.
Speaking in Kampala in 2010 ahead of the African Union Summit, Gaddafi said: “I am satisfied that Africa is going along its historic and right road. One day it will become similar to the United States of America.
“We are approaching the formation of the African Authority, and each time we solve African problems and also move in the direction of peace and unity. We deal with problems step by step. We are continuing to do that.”
It is not clear if Kagame also opposed Gaddafi’s idea of a United States of Africa or just only the former Libyan leader’s all-assuming air of superiority as the interview with Financial Times suggests. However, Kagame has recently espoused the idea of African states shaking themselves of Western influence. He was last year mandated by the African Union to steer Africa’s self-financing mechanism to enable the Union raise it’s budget without relying on Western donors.
Also, under Kagame’s government, Rwanda has been pushing for self-reliance and steadily cutting down reliance on donor aid in its national budget. Rwanda finances up to 67 percent of its own budget from domestically-generated revenue.
“I am an African, I’m Rwandan, and there must be universal principles and values that people want to identify with. I’m not here to champion Western anything. There are things I like about the West, absolutely, and learn from and want to emulate. But this whole thing of measuring, you forget my conditions here in Rwanda or in Africa that affect me daily in my life, and you are telling me I should be like somebody else. My starting point is to tell you, please put that aside,” Kagame said in the interview.
“Western democracy answers to certain societies who are coming from a certain place. There are elements, good elements of democracy in what we are doing, but [it] doesn’t immediately fit into the western democracy. For me to fit into western democracy, western democracy must be fitting into our lives that we have to live as a society maybe with different context and circumstances… we live a life, a real life. It’s not utopian.
Kagame said he has never come to terms with the idea that “somebody else has the right to decide how I live my life, and I don’t think that is part of democracy.”
“Wanting to dictate the choices and how people live their lives, other people, I think that falls short,” he added, spelling out that the issue of ‘dictating’ how others have to live their life is was what made him step away from Gaddafi.
“When I have spent at that time, more than half of my age, I spent it in the trenches. I could not have done that on somebody else’s behalf, never. I said, never, ever, ever point a finger to me and abuse me like that,” he said of the encounter with Gaddafi.
It is not clear where Kagame and Gaddafi deviated in opinion as he does not indicate whereupon in his interview.
The 98 percent re-election win
Kagame also fielded questions on his August 4 re-election for a third term in office, saying unlike in Kenya where ethnicity played a part in a candidate scoring over 99 percent of constituency vote, the Rwandan voting was different, insisting that his government has successfully confronted ethnicity and united Rwandans.
“In these elections of Kenya, you know that there are constituencies where you have 500,000 people more or less where Uhuru [Kenyatta] would win 99 per cent, right? Not one place, maybe two, maybe three, right? One would have said, it’s because he’s the incumbent and therefore he must have manipulated. But it also happened on Raila Odinga’s side. There are places where Raila Odinga won 98 per cent, 99 per cent. Now, the dynamics behind this are different from ours. In Kenya, it’s because of this ethnicisation. In our case, it’s completely different,” he said.
The difference, Kagame explained, was down to the Genocide in 1994 and the transformation of the social fabric of the Rwandan society through sustained and deliberate efforts geared at national unity.
“What we have done to confront that, that we still have to confront even today, one, the survivors think this government has done things that give them hope for the future, that probably nobody is going to come back and kill them, right?” he said.
Kagame rubbished the idea that he is seeking to cling onto power for as long as he can, saying besides rejecting presidency in 1994, he had also intended to retire in July but for the RPF party that insisted he stays one last term. Pasteur Bizimungu was appointed president in 1994.
In July 1994, Kagame’s RPF forces stopped the Genocide in which more than a million people were killed but he did not immediately assume the highest office in the land even after the government of Juvenal Habyarimana had been defeated.
Habyarimana was killed in a plane crash while returning from Tanzania on the evening of April 6, 1994, just hours before the country turned into the bloody mess that the Genocide against the Tutsi was.
“I’m the one who refused to be president in 1994, absolutely. There is this man called Faustin Twagiramungu, he’s in Brussels, who was in the opposition at that time. He was part of the Arusha agreement [in 1993], he was prime minister. He came to see me. They had taken it for granted that I was going to be president. Then I said no, there’s nothing for granted. I’m actually not intending to be president,” Kagame said.
Explaining the recent Rwanda Patriotic Front decision to front him to continue leadership of the country, Kagame said the party leadership had a long argument over the matter and that he had advised the party to not just “reject change because change can also be good.”
He said he was hesitant when the party and citizens relentlessly pushed for him to continue as president but that he had given them a condition.
“I’m having to accept your nomination, and I will do under that mandate my best to serve you as I have served you in the past. But here is a caveat. I said, this time I want you people after the seven years ahead, when we come to that point, we should not be repeating the same thing. Let’s try to fix whatever we can fix in these seven years to make sure that we are not back in the same position where you have to ask me to continue.”
See full Financial Times interview.