As many of you know, Mama Afrika has been working with Rwandans for many years now. In fact, I can still vividly recall the day that I first heard from Beatrice Mukansinga, the director of Mbwira Ndumva in Kigali, Rwanda. I was still living in France at the time and had only recently launched MamaAfrika.com. I had a little post-it note on my make-shift desk with a short list on it titled “Top 10 countries I want to work with”. Rwanda was on that list and for good reason. Sure I, like most of the world, had heard of the horrible genocide in 1994. I understood that it was a nation facing a massive challenge because of it. Additionally, while working on my master’s thesis in university, I had selected Rwanda as one of my case studies; so I guess I knew a little more than the average person about the country. Many years before Hotel Rwanda had come out as a film; I had read the book and it touched me profoundly.
Fast forward to the receipt of the news that I was going to at long last, be able to add Rwanda to our list of trade partners… I sang, I danced and I told my children that we were going to be able to (in our very small way) help a nation of good people rebuild their nation.
Since then, we’ve sold hundreds of beautiful cards made by some of the most incredible women you’ll ever meet. I’ve done my best to network for them when I could. And, we’ve sent donations in the form of funds, eye glasses and other items. But most of all, we’ve prayed for Rwanda’s healing.
I tell you all of this because I want you to understand the immense joy it brings me to have the opportunity to have His Excellency, Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame at Mama’s Round Table today. He is a man who needs little introduction. Thank you Mr. President for agreeing to humble me and my readers with your time, which we understand is precious.
1. I was once told that it was important to be able to describe myself (who I am, what I do and what is important to me) in just one sentence. I offer you the same challenge: Who are you?
I am a Rwandan who has been given the great privilege of leading Rwandans as we work to combat poverty, injustice, educate our children and take control of our own destiny; my sole wish is to do this as well as I possibly can .
2. For many people living outside of Africa, even after all of these years, Rwanda equals genocide. When you think of Rwanda, what image first comes to your mind?
My Rwanda is a country of a dignified people who have overcome the worst and are living and working together harmoniously, to advance the national interest and transform their country into a prosperous nation.
3. Leadership comes with its own set of challenges; among them balancing pleasing one’s citizens and making decisions even when you know they won’t be popular choices. What do you say to your opponents and critics concerning the job you’ve done so far in Rwanda?
My opponents and critics must know that my decisions are the decisions of the majority of Rwandans. I am totally committed to the wishes of the citizens of this land and what opponents and critics say only concerns me if it is in the interest of these citizens. We only do what advances the welfare and progress of Rwandans and know that no country has advanced because it followed the wishes of opponents and critics.
4. As you might already know, my passion is ethical trade and its effects on African women and children. In many African nations, women aren’t permitted to enter the dialog and development is left to men to decide, despite the fact that women are an integral part of its implementation. How do you explain the fact that Rwandan women have taken such a forward role in the rebuilding of your nation (49% of Rwandan MPs are women) and what factors do you attribute this to?
We consider gender equality to be a fundamental human right and, just as women fought side by side with men in the liberation of Rwanda, so too have they been central to rebuilding our country. Nation building is hard work; I have never understood why anyone would want to sabotage this important task by leaving out more than half the population. I am proud that 56% of Rwanda’s MPs are women – but we continue to work harder to ensure women have equal footing in every aspect of national life.
5. As an African woman who has lived in the Diaspora for the majority of her life, I am interested in knowing your views on the subject. There is always a certain tension between those living “at home” and those living abroad. In an ideal world, what role would the Rwandan Diaspora play in shaping the future of your nation?
Rwandans living “at home” and those in the Diaspora are on great terms. In fact, remittances are Rwanda’s highest foreign exchange earner. This past December, more than 2500 people, young and old, traveled to Brussels from their homes across Europe to put their questions to me. It was a great meeting – honest, lively and inspiring. There is a minority of Rwandans living abroad that are not happy about the progress Rwanda is making today, mostly because they identify with the bad politics that led to genocide, and that Rwandans today have rejected. But these will not derail our vision for a stable, united and prosperous Rwanda. I always tell Rwandans in the Diaspora that Rwanda belongs to all of them and that we would welcome home anyone who wanted to return, but even if theychose to stay abroad, they all have a role to play in our country’s development.