News & Media / Mo Ibrahim in conversation with H.E. President Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union

Mo Ibrahim in conversation with H.E. President Paul Kagame, Chairperson of the African Union

21 June, 2018

During the 2018 Ibrahim Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, Mo Ibrahim sat down for three engaging discussions between sessions, the last of which was with H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

Mo opened the conversation by asking about the reform agenda of H.E. President Paul Kagame as Chairperson of the African Union (AU). According to Paul Kagame, the first element to change is the mentality. Financing within the AU is also a critical issue as relying on external funding has an impact on how the institution operates:

To begin with, we have to change the mentality as to how we do things on our continent. It’s about efficiency, it’s about pride in ourselves that will drive us to do things, but it’s also about institutional reforms.

In terms of sovereignty, it is essential for Africa to fund itself. Since 2016, a 0.2% levy on eligible imports was agreed to finance the AU. As a result of that decision, Heads of State mandated Paul Kagame to supervise the AU’s institutional reform process. Twenty-five countries are already applying the new formula – almost half of member states – and others are going through the necessary legal and policy changes to do so. "It's not proper that we don't fund our own budget because we can. If it’s somebody else funding, then you do their bidding – H.E. Paul Kagame.

One of the flagship initiatives of the AU’s Agenda 2063 is to create a free trade area, the African Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA), to overcome the low level of trade within the continent, which is a huge loss to Africa. Forty-four countries recently signed the agreement in March 2018, while almost all others indicated their intention to do so after additional internal consultations. According to Paul Kagame, signing is the first necessary step, the next steps are ratification and implementation, and a good number of countries are showing commitment, and several have already ratified. More generally, the AU needs to become more focused and effective, to ensure that citizens are fully engaged in its work.

Mo Ibrahim raised the issue of the International Criminal Court (ICC), its usefulness and its relations with the AU’s judicial mechanisms. According to Paul Kagame the ICC is meant to cover the whole world but in practice it has only covered Africa. A correction in the bias against Africa should not lead to impunity, but to equal treatment of all country cases. An African court could play an important role. The question, according to Mo Ibrahim, is whether such a body would be empowered to act in cases involving presidents, as they are chiefly responsible for genocide and other crimes against humanity.

The conversation then moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where, as stated by Mo Ibrahim, atrocities are committed and there is failure of leadership to hold an election. According to Paul Kagame, the key issue is that in such a wealthy country, citizens are so poor. This is a common problem in Africa. DRC’s situation affects nine neighbours, and the discussion is now around elections and the change of leadership. From the AU’s perspective, the idea is to have an agreement on how to move forward but implementation is an issue. The AU should continue to pursue the path of dialogue, with the support of partners and neighbouring countries.

The fact that we cannot manage our wealth to deal with our poverty is a defining issue as far as I’m concerned. We should be in a better place than where we are today.

-H.E. Paul Kagame

A question from the audience touched upon Paul Kagame’s staying in office. While the decision to stay was motivated by a popular demand for him to continue, Paul Kagame stated that after him, new leadership will step up to take responsibility for the country’s direction. Paul Kagame confirmed that he will remain supportive of his successors, besides taking time for himself and his family and friends:

Everyone has their shoes. [Future leaders of Rwanda] don't have to fill my shoes. They have to do what they have to do for the country.

Paul Kagame responded to a question on gender balance within the AU. While Rwanda has an impressive track record, putting women’s representation and participation high on the AU agenda is on top of Paul Kagame’s efforts and priorities.

In terms of fighting corruption, according to Paul Kagame, it must be made clear that corruption is a problem in Africa, but that it does not only involve Africans. The Nigerian president, H.E. Muhammadu Buhari, is a champion of this and he has come up with proposals for what needs to be done. Zero tolerance is key, but so is political commitment to target the source of the problem and not just those involved at lower levels.

A last question from the public was about what Rwanda will look like 30 years from now. In the words of Paul Kagame, Rwanda will be a country contributing to global well-being:

Looking at where we were 24 years ago and where we are now, maybe in another 30 years we can be five to ten times better – a Rwanda that is developed, stable and where the citizens feel proud of being Rwandan.

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