I refuse to be a servant of the West By SHYAKA KANUMA THE EAST AFRICAN Posted Saturday, December 20 2008 at 09:59 If the Rwandan president had his way, African countries would be doing much more to forge larger political and economic regional blocs that speak with one voice than is the case currently. He sees this as the only way to reduce our dependence on aid from rich countries and and change our situation from being perpetual supplicants to becoming respected partners in world affairs. It is hard for people who are constantly going to Western capitals to beg for aid to shake off the indignities heaped on them daily, President Paul Kagame told me in an interview at Village Urugwiro, the State House in Kigali. But if we have big regional blocs, then you will have a situation where more businesses from rich countries come looking for opportunities and more direct investment means less reason to go looking for foreign aid, he added. This is why, for instance, we have to do more to strengthen our East African Community it would be hard for anyone, either from the West or elsewhere to ignore this market and its opportunities, he said. Kagame is clearly irked that, decades after independence, our relationship with the West continues to be a master/servant one. The president said, These rich countries still exercise control over us; all these human rights and media rights organisations and so on, their sole objective is to impose Western ideals and values on everyone; anyone who refuses to go along is blacklisted. If you reject even some of their suggestions or recommendations, you pay for it. It doesnt matter either whether the suggestions arent practical for us or dont fit our situation. All this strengthens the case for closer co-operation between our countries. One issue the president was obviously alluding to is the quarrel Rwanda currently is embroiled in with two European countries France and Germany. Last month, German police arrested President Kagames chief of protocol, Rose Kabuye, in Frankfurt on the strength of a warrant issued by a French judge, Jean Louis Bruguiere. The story has been making headlines as it emerges that Judge Bruguieres accusations against Kabuye (and the Rwandan president and eight other Rwanda government officials) that they planned the assassination of former president Juvenal Habyarimana are not backed by credible evidence. A man the French judge described as his principle witness one Abdul Ruzibiza has come forward to recant the allegations he made about Kagame ordering the assassination. You see, this kind of situation where Europeans give themselves the powers to arrest us and lock us up can only be sustained as long as this master/servant relationship is what defines our dealings with them, says Kagame. Today it is us. Tomorrow it will be another African elsewhere. The Rwandan president agrees that indeed some Africans commit crimes against humanity, but then asks, Is it only the African involved in criminal activity? He adds, We have to fight this tendency for Europeans to always cast themselves in the role of judge and the African always as the guilty party. We have to fight it on all fronts. Today any judge in France or Spain or elsewhere in Europe can indict anyone, using the doctrine of universal jurisdiction whereby states may claim criminal jurisdiction over people whose alleged crimes were committed outside the territory of the prosecuting state. This is regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrator. So far, however, Africans appear to have borne the brunt of the principle. President Kagame also has strong views about how the Western press has depicted the conflict in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda is being accused of assisting Laurent Nkunda (leader of the CNDP rebel group); now they are saying, Nkunda is a Tutsi and so Kagame must be helping him, as if that is the entire logic of it! Of all the subjects that strain Kagames capacity to keep his emotions in check, without a doubt tops the list. The president will talk vehemently about it and his voice will rise as he discusses the reasons, the vicissitudes and the historical factors that cause so much conflict in the country. Does it make Nkunda any less a Congolese because he is a Tutsi? Kagame asks. And in what way does it become our responsibility if the Congolese government cannot protect its people and you have a situation where groups who committed genocide in Rwanda are busy committing atrocities over there, which makes Nkunda and others like him take up arms to defend themselves? In what way does that make Nkunda our responsibility? The fact that Rwandan Tutsis suffered genocide makes it look logical that Kigali indeed backs Nkunda and his fellow Congolese Tutsis. Nkunda and his forces assert daily that their people victims of massacres and other human-rights abuses at the hands of the FDLR the umbrella group of Interahamwe Hutu extremist militias and the former Rwanda armed forces (FAR) who fled to Congo after murdering up to a million people in 1994. Congolese Tutsi refugees who have fled their country and now live in refugee camps in Rwanda say they have been targeted by Hutu extremists for no offence other than that they are Tutsis. But Kigali repeatedly denies being in any way involved in the current spate of conflicts in the Congo, maintaining that Nkunda is an internal Congolese problem that Congo should be making a better effort to resolve. By the way, it always amazes me, said Kagame, when all these international groups accuse us of causing trouble in the Congo, but never come up with a single analysis of what happens when you have a government that isnt up to the task of ensuring law and order, and personal safety for its people. You have all these people [local and international diplomats and statesmen and women] coming here and telling me to rein in Nkunda, as if I can do any such thing! Now, if I may ask, in that case who will rein in Kabila, since the problem is really one to do with his government? I have been waiting for someone to see issues that way, but in vain. President Kagame is well-known for exercising close control of his government. Many describe his style of governance as authoritarian in nature. Yet others see a close resemblance to the Chinese model where you have a strong central state that at the same time grants citizens many freedoms. Likewise, the government of Kagame has little time for pluralist politics. The opposition in Rwanda can barely be recognised as such despite, having representatives in parliament who every now and then come down hard on poorly performing government appointees. But mostly the opposition works hand in hand with President Kagames ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front party on most policy issues and governance decisions. We will devise the best means to govern ourselves; I am not a believer in this notion propagated for years that only ideas developed elsewhere work, he says. All these people in Europe who preach their brand of democracy to the world, you will realise none of their systems are identical, he adds. Kagame uses the metaphor of an item of clothing to illustrate his point. It is as if the Europeans and Americans have designed one suit for all Africans, regardless of whether different people have different heights, sizes and shapes, and expect that one suit to fit us all. Yet for themselves, they wear suits tailored to their different needs. Kagame argues that you cannot expect to build a country by giving poor people such as Rwandans every imaginable freedom straight away. In no time at all they will be abusing all these freedoms, he remarks. Even the Americans, if you look at their history when they were starting out, the ordinary people the majority of whom could not read or write or did not own property were not allowed to vote. What they were doing was strengthening the centre first, making it abuse proof, while at the same time the ordinary peoples lives were being improved. Only then could you have responsible pluralist democracy. It really beats me why anyone would expect the majority of our African people to take a path different from this, he says. Rwandas history since independence from Belgian colonialism in the early 1960s amply buttresses Kagames argument. Politics took on a tribal us-against-them identity whereby most poor, illiterate citizens were led by demagogic politicians to internalise the thinking that to gain political power is a zero sum game in the course which all members of the other ethnic group have to be massacred.