Magazine article New African

Kagame Tells It like It Is

Magazine article New African

Kagame Tells It like It Is

Article excerpt

Moments after delivering his thought-provoking speech at the CBC-African Business Forum Rwanda's President Paul Kagame gave an exclusive interview to New African, in which he discussed wide-ranging issues. Here are excerpts.

Q: Your country is famous for gender balance, not only in parliament but throughout the government, business and industry. How did you do it? Was it a deliberate government policy or were your hands forced by the diminished number of men available because more men died in the 1994 genocide?

A: It was a deliberate effort, based on the simple logic that women are part of our society and in fact constitute 52% of our population. So how do you develop an economy by shutting out 52% of your population? And this is not only an issue of economic interest, it is also an issue of rights.

We believe that women have rights not only to realise their potential but also to contribute to the society they are part of. So it was a deliberate effort; it is embedded in our ideology, in our thinking, and that's what we've gone ahead to do. For us we always link the things we believe in with what we do. And what you see is the product of that.

Q: Do you set quotas for women when it comes to parliament?

A: What we have done is simply acknowledging the past imbalances and injustices done to our women. Therefore we have provided some mechanisms through which women could be elevated and encouraged, and build on that dynamic process. For example, we put provisions in our constitution that recognise women's potential and rights and responsibilities. We said not only should we train them, invest in their education and skills, and so on, but we should also bring them in deliberately to participate in the decision making process.

We had to start at a certain point to address that history of imbalance and injustice that had led to their underdevelopment and lack of progress.

So we said in the decision-making process, we should ensure that, at the minimum, we have 30% of women participating in parliament. And over and above that, they are free to compete and do different things, and that's how sometimes the figure goes up significantly. We recognise that they are starting from a very low base, so we need to raise that base and encourage them to use their own energies and intellect.

Q: You mentioned in your speech that the economy grew by 11% last year. Is this because, under your government Rwanda has used foreign aid better than most aid recipients, and you are one of the countries likely to meet their MDG targets?

A: It is a combination of factors. We have not only managed aid very well and made sure that for every dollar we receive we can account for it, but we have also invested it in the right place, and done whatever it takes to ensure that that is the case. Number Two, we have also striven to manage our own resources properly, and invest in the capacities that enable us to multiply our own resources. So we have a combination of our own resources and aid, coupled with good management and deliberate efforts to do what is right.

Q: Rwanda has been invited to join the Commonwealth. Is that right?

A: Yes, we applied to join the Common wealth 12 years ago, and today we are at a stage where we think our candidature is being looked at favourably because of the progress we've made.

Q: But the question really is more than that. You are the only Francophone country that decided willingly to use English as the main language, and that is a first, and not only that, you also decided to forget a little bit of the Francophone world and to become part of East Africa. Can you explain why you adopted this strategy?

A: There are some realities that drive us to do some of these things, probably people don't fully understand it. For example, joining the East African Community was a matter of formality because we naturally belong to the East African region. …

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