Kigali, January 23, 2024- President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, during a gathering of his supporters, asserted that Rwanda does not seek permission from anyone to defend itself. This statement was made at the opening of the national dialogue council, Umushyikirano, held in Kigali, Rwanda.
President Kagame emphasized that any aggression across the Rwandan border would not be tolerated, stating that such actions would not end well for the aggressor. This declaration comes shortly after remarks by Burundi’s President Evariste Ndayishimiye in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, expressing his willingness to assist the Rwandan youth he described as oppressed. Furthermore, during a campaign event in December, Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, boasted of his military’s capability to target Kigali from Goma in eastern Congo.
Both President Tshisekedi of Congo and President Ndayishimiye of Burundi have previously accused Rwanda of being a troublesome neighbor. In response, President Kagame appeared unphased by these allegations, emphasizing that he is not intimidated by anyone’s stature. He reassured the Rwandan people of their country’s security, urging them to sleep peacefully while entrusting him with the nation’s sovereignty. He stated, “Regarding our security, if we are attacked, I do not ask anyone for permission. Thus, the country is secure and will remain so.”
Addressing accusations of supporting the M23 rebel group active in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, President Kagame firmly denied any involvement. Despite United Nations expert reports and claims from countries like the USA and others in Europe, he refuted the notion that M23 consists of Rwandans, asserting that it is primarily composed of Congolese, particularly Tutsis. He suggested that those who flee to Rwanda are doing so because of shared Tutsi ethnicity, not because of any Rwandan support for M23. Kagame also highlighted that the accusations against Rwanda ignore the presence of the FDLR rebel group in Congo, which he claims poses a security threat to Rwanda.
President Kagame also addressed the issue of hate speech in the region, cautiously avoiding direct references to specific individuals or groups responsible for spreading such rhetoric. He implied that these messages aim to increase the number of refugees fleeing these countries. Regarding the situation in Congo, he reminded that Rwanda currently hosts over 100,000 Congolese refugees, some of whom have been in the country for over 20 years.
On the topic of recent conflicts in eastern Congo, Kagame noted that the violence has caused over 15,000 people to seek refuge in Rwanda.
In a pointed accusation, President Kagame criticized the governments of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo whom he called those in “south” and “west” for allegedly harboring Rwandan exiles with intentions of using them for a future government in Rwanda. He described their threats of regime change in Rwanda as exaggerated and easily deflatable. He said that his enemies are “blown up ballon, that can be easily popped by needle”.
The 19th Umushyikirano conference, a forum that brings together Rwandans from various walks of life both within the country and abroad who support the current government, is set to conclude on Wednesday. Not once have opposition voices been invited to this meeting, nor have there been discussions of viewpoints that diverge from the government’s stance.