In a clear change of strategy, President Paul Kagame has told a media briefing in Kigali that the current conflict with Uganda will be dealt with away from the full glare of the media as they are “hyping” it.
Asked about the state of Rwanda and Uganda relations in view of recent spats, the President said: “Yes there is discomfort and issues we have to resolve, but I would rather we focus on resolving problems in the EAC somewhere else outside the media”.
He added: “we will be informing you on different things we will be working on.”
“I think [the Rwanda-Uganda conflict] is a problem I believe will also come to pass. There will always be problems between countries, with different magnitudes. I would rather we continue finding ways of addressing problems outside of the media.”
Rwanda’s relations with Uganda deteriorated recently with the former accusing the Government of President Yoweri Museveni of “three outstanding issues”. These are: support to individuals and groups including RNC of Kayumba Nyamwasa and “P5″─ groups focused on fighting the Rwandan government; arresting, torturing and deporting Rwandans as well as economic sabotage.
Since February 28, when the crisis exploded, Rwanda has maintained a fierce media campaign. At some point, President Kagame revealed details of confidential discussions he had with President Museveni at their various meetings as well as details of how, since 1998, Ugandan Generals have been conspiring to destabilize the RPF led Government.
Uganda also had its own campaign, largely in defensive mode. But President Museveni, as has been reported by The Chronicles, did later direct Ugandan officials not to make any more comments after the Uganda Government and NRM Spokesman Ofwono Opondo had been exchanging bitter words with Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe.
After that, it was left for the Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa, who has since released two statements. In one of them, he accuses Rwanda of imposing “trade embargo ” on Uganda goods.
Speaking today, President Kagame was communicating in measured tones. He dismissed suggestions that regional neighbors did not attend the events yesterday commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
He mentioned Uganda which he said was represented by the Foreign Minister, Sam Kutesa, and Tanzania, which was represented by the Prime Minister.
The obvious absentee was Burundi, which has boycotted all events in Rwanda for more than two years.
Asked whether the East African Community (EAC) was in a crisis as different members are embroiled in conflicts, Kagame said “the community was in good health”.
The EAC comprises of six nation which are: Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and South Sudan.
Uganda and Kenya have for years been rambling about a small island on lake Victoria known as Migingo, that each side claims. Kenya and Tanzania are not happy with each other after the latter auctioned off thousands of cows and chicken from Kenya.
Burundi has closed the border with Rwanda and has also imposed embargo on exports to its northern neighbour.
On the latest overture from French President Emmanuel Macron who has appointed a team of experts to probe the role of France’s military in the genocide, Kagame said the French leader has made “very significant progress” in trying to solve impasse with Kigali.
Macron has also indicated that he plans to declare 7th April as a “day for commemoration of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi” – a very significant change of French policy.
The journalist from French state broadcaster Radio France International (RFI) at the press conference today, actually wondered why Kagame did not speak about France yesterday in his speech at the commemoration yet he has done so for years.
Kagame responded that Rwanda has never sought for apology from France. He said that Rwanda has made its point and did not need to “keep reminding” France.
“It’s up to France and different individuals to write the wrongs they would agree they have inflicted on Rwanda. You cannot always remind someone. Sometimes you give them space for them to think about themselves,” he said.
Kagame said since coming to office, President Macron has exerted a different approach to dealing with Africa. “It is not just Rwanda, France is looking at Africa differently in a better way, something we have seen recently,” added Kagame.
For several months, there has been repeated attacks by armed groups coming through Nyungwe forest in southwestern Rwanda. The forest crosses into Burundi. Several people have been killed and others wounded.
President Kagame calls the attacks “provocations” from places he did not name, which he says want to drag Rwanda into a conflict.
“Those who are behind it have in mind to provoke a war from which they mistakenly think they will benefit.They are trying to hide problems of their own and create a scenario where when war happens, you look the same. We refused this provocation,” he said.
He added: “Over the years we have grown in strength to wage a war in defence of Rwanda’s stability. You’ll see people on social media even celebrating that they have overrun places in Nyungwe, they don’t know what they are talking about.”
“I don’t think that war is something that anyone in their right senses should be rushing towards. To assure you, in reference to the Nyungwe situation, we read it as provocation. We refused to be provoked into that situation”.
With regard to the other conflict with South Africa, in which Rwandans are not granted visa, Kagame suggested that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa seems powerless to do anything.
“President of South Africa said he would address the visa problem,” said Kagame, adding that there is no progress because it seems as if it involves “more officials than just one person”.
“I don’t think it is a lost cause. Time will come when Rwanda and South Africa will relate as well as they should. I am hopeful that things will be fine,” said Kagame, pointing out that “The problem is always going to be politics. If people don’t play too much politics I think some of the problems could easily be solved.”
Kagame said there are “fewer than five” individuals in South Africa wanted in Rwanda for various crimes. Kagame also said ordinary Rwandans who are refused visa to SA do not know what the problem is between the two countries.
Kagame also spoke about the African continental free trade area which has now obtained the 22 national ratifications necessary to come into force, saying its implementation was “taking longer than” had been planned.
As to whether the international community has learned any lessons from iys failure during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Kagame said: “The international community is slow to learn and to change. For us in Rwanda we have learned and changed as fast as we can.”
Asked about DR Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi and whether he saw a commitment to deal with issues like the Rwandan FDLR rebels, Kagame said the Congolese leader expressed willingness.
“President Tshisekedi was here recently and said that he seeks to work with everyone to find peaceful coexistence and that is what Rwanda hopes. We shall have more engagements to be able to move in the right direction,” said Kagame.
Meanwhile, President Kagame has met with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel who attended and spoke yesterday at commemoration events.
Michel also this morning paid his respects to the ten Belgian soldiers killed by the Habyarimana army a few days after the genocide had started. They were killed together with the then Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana whom they had been guarding.