President Paul Kagame: Why I can’t name my replacement

Saturday March 16 2024

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame (L) talks to Nation Media Group's Managing Editor, Newsroom Production James Smart during an interview at Kigali, Rwanda on March 13, 2024. PHOTO | POOL


Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, who was recently nominated to run for the fourth time by the ruling party, spoke with James Smart on what’s at stake in the next election and what it takes to lead the country through turbulent times.


Congratulations on your nomination as an election candidate, how do you feel about it?

Many things ... I was telling them you don’t have to wait for the day I tell you enough is enough; I am not going on with you anymore. I said I accept this responsibility because, when I look back and, like all of you, the circumstances of our country are completely different…There is this struggle in my own mind as a person and there is also a struggle in mind of others.

But, for now, let me carry the weight and I will also help. I told them they don’t have to wait for me to come and choose for them who will replace me. I said you do it yourselves and live with the consequences of your choice.

Would you say you have created this situation, that there is almost no vision of Rwanda post-Kagame? 


I think the vision is there. We have invested in people, in ourselves, in institutions. We have built institutions, which we keep strengthening. That answers the question of post-Kagame.

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Post-Kagame, there is institutions, there are people we have invested in, people who we struggle with and fight with  and all these challenges. One day you don’t have to wait until I say I am done.

Walk me through today in your mind space. How should one look at this 30th anniversary?

It has been a journey full of lessons. But sometimes we see the repeat of history that doesn’t make truly never again.

But that is life, that is history, politics globally, but we have to understand the real issues we have to deal with and do our best.

Obviously, what is happening around the region weighs heavily on you. What happens when this is a question that cannot be solved in the region? In that particular sense then, how do we start dealing with these conflicts or divisions?

Sometimes when things go wrong in other countries, there is no blaming people responsible there; they tend to look for responsibility or blame from outside and that is wrong.

Maybe there could be problems coming from outside, but those can’t be the main thing. They just come in to complicate what one is doing in their own space. But blaming others for everything that has gone wrong in your own, I think, is running away from   responsibility.

Do you think the Rwandans first have their dignity, have their space in the global community and by that how do you see the Rwanda of tomorrow?

I am very happy that Rwanda has made significant progress. People coming together, people living their lives again as it should be and integrating with the rest of the world, starting with the region and looking towards each other for what can improve all of us.

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That is why I comfortably say it is the reason we have high safety standards, we have stability, we have economy growing quite decently despite the constraints we have. There are huge constraints, but we still make our way upwards. How high we can go, how fast we can go, is a different matter that we keep grappling with.

If you were to reflect, what would you say that as president you are proud of?

There is not a single thing, it is a combination of things that I am proud of from my vantage point. The country is where it is that no one expected from 1994. Even ourselves, some of the things have surprised us. There has come reinforcement of resilience of our people and the belief that they can actually make their way through these difficulties.

Talk briefly about Eastern DRC. According to you, what is happening there? 

In eastern DRC, again problems have very long history. People just scratch the surface and they never go deep to understand why we are having this thing. The fighting that is going on there consumes people’s lives and everything, there is no good in any conflict.

Mr President, are there Rwandan soldiers in DRC?

If I made any mistake in trying to be upright in the question you have asked me… If I made even a slip of tongue and said something, it won’t be you using it against me.

Let me tell you, I have said it on camera several times that if Rwanda’s security is threatened, as that situation has done, I don’t need anybody’s permission to do whatever I have to do to make sure that Rwanda is protected.