June 12th, 2012
11:15 AM ET

Rwanda's Kagame: 'It takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort'

Books have been written about it, films have been made about it: Rwanda is best known for a genocide that claimed more than half a million lives in 1994.

But in the ensuing years, quiet changes have taken place there. So much so that "The Economist" magazine now asks: is Rwanda "Africa's Singapore?" The World Bank ranks it 45th in the world for ease of doing business, higher than any African country barring South Africa and Mauritius. And Transparency International says it is less corrupt than Greece or Italy.

The man credited with this transformation is Paul Kagame, now in his 13th year as president.

He faces a number of obstacles, however. Rwanda is landlocked between corrupt countries. It is the most densely populated country in Africa and its people earn only $1,300 a year, 1/36th of the average in the United States.

So where is Rwanda headed? Kagame joined Fareed Zakaria on Sunday's "Fareed Zakaria GPS." Here's an edited version of their conversation or download the entire show on iTunes. Or watch a web exclusive video, above, as Kagame talks about Josephy Kony.

ZAKARIA: Tell me about corruption. When people think about Africa, this is the dominant image that comes up. And when you talk to businessmen, they will often tell you this is a huge problem. How did you create a culture or is it institutions or is it laws that have made corruption decline so dramatically?

KAGAME: In our case, it's not one thing that solves the problem of corruption, it's a combination of factors. First, it is education. And people have got to talk about it. We have to discuss it, we have to show how corruption will make institutions fail to serve the way they should serve the people. At the same time, we'll have to put institutions in place, we have to put processes of accountability in place.

ZAKARIA: The system has sent a lot of people to jail for corruption. Ministers have gone to jail for corruption in Rwanda.

KAGAME: Well, we have found that people have used public funds, public money for their own use rather than for the public good. Definitely they have been held accountable by the institutions that have been put in a place to root [out] that.

ZAKARIA: How do you get these people to not be corrupt? Because in many countries, the judiciary itself is one of the most corrupt parts of the system. So, it undermines the whole process. How do you get a system in place where that corruption doesn't infect the judiciary?

KAGAME: Well, those are [difficult] questions, but we've got to start from somewhere, and the best place to start from is from the top. When you have a few people and a few leaders who are committed to fighting corruption and, for example, heading these institutions and influence those institutions to do what they should do, you find things will start happening. But it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort.

ZAKARIA: There is the perception that while you have been able to institute a very good sense of rule of law in Rwanda, economic growth, it has all been done with the absence of democracy. The way "The Economist", which praises Rwanda in its article puts it, the elections are a sham. Many people feel that your party has extraordinary and unfair advantages over other parties.

KAGAME: Well, it is said like that from the outside. When you come to the country, the situation is entirely different. And in fact even partly from outside, if you look at, say, the Gallup polls that have recently been carried out in Rwanda on everything, they show the confidence that people have in the institutions, people have in the government. They all score above 85 percent. Better than you can witness in any African country or even other countries outside.

ZAKARIA: But you understand the suspicion people have. You win the elections with 95 percent of the vote. ... That's the kind of margin that Mubarak used to win with in Egypt. ... And so at least people think either you are wildly popular or there's something going on.

KAGAME: You see, but that's where the problem is. Those judging from outside would never accept that there is an issue of popularity in Rwanda or in Africa. Whenever that issue comes up, of popularity, they call it a dictatorship. They think popularity is a preserve of developed countries. But in other situations, leaders can be popular and unpopular.

ZAKARIA: And popular is one thing, but winning 95 percent of the vote is another.

KAGAME: Absolutely. But you see, you have to put all matters in context. If you take it out of context, then you lose the point. One, I have told you about outsiders coming to the country and assessing the feelings of the citizens of our country. Which they have interacted with independently and at all levels, the score is very high. This is a practical thing, this is a fact.

Now, the other is in that context, you have to know where Rwanda is coming from. Rwanda the other day, 18 years ago, starting from scratch. In fact, supposed to be a failed state. And it has come out of that. People rallied around the leadership that was there and building on their own effort and a desire to be out of this situation, this is what produces the kind of things you see.

More: Check out this web exclusive as Kagame discusses Josephy Kony and if he'll ever be captured

Topics: Africa • Rwanda

soundoff (31 Responses)
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