A press briefing was held Saturday where President Paul Kagame met with a dozen editors and senior reporters of only local media. But by the end of the session, no question had arisen about a recent cabinet reshuffle that saw two ministers losing their jobs. The president brought the issue up by himself and spent several minutes spilling the beans.
Cabinet Affairs Minister Protais Musoni and Justice counterpart Tharcisse Karugarama were sent packing last month – provoking speculation that they had been targeted because of their opposition to President Kagame at different forums. ‘That is totally untrue and baseless,’ said Kagame after he himself reminded the editors that they should have asked about it.
‘There is nothing that happens for no reason, so are cabinet reshuffles’ added Kagame, and then went into the specifics about each minister. For the case of Karugarama, before his demise considered untouchable, President Kagame said the ex-Justice minister could have lost his job back around 2010 or 2011.
Kagame told the journalists that he made his displeasure known to Karugarama during a cabinet meeting but decided not to sack him ‘because of our culture of giving more chances’. However, the president declined to give details of what exactly Karugarama had done. ‘Cabinet deliberations are supposed to be secret, so I will not say anything now,’ said Kagame.
As to speculation that Karugarama’s comments in the Guardian newspaper about the third term led to his departure, President Kagame hinted at it was part of the reasons he was replaced. But he insisted that was only the spark, adding that there was no need for Karugarama to go public with his assertions that responded to something that did not exist.
As for Protais Musoni, who had been in cabinet for more than 10 years, President Kagame said a lot was behind his sacking and also promised to go public at some point in future. At that moment, the first such press encounter, had to end as Kagame was to attend the Meet-The-President session with more than 37,000 students.
Kikwete’s FDLR comments
Earlier, the president addressed a range of issues ranging from local, regional and international. On controversial comments by Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete that Rwanda government should negotiate with Rwandan FDLR rebels, Kagame again made his displeasure very clear.
President Kagame said up to this point there was no indication suggesting Kikwete’s comments were part of a wider international conspiracy. Rwanda considers the declaration was made by the person of President Kikwete without external influence, said Kagame. The President however explained that it was strange to see President Kikwete raising the FDLR issue a few days after a Tanzanian politician Christopher Mtikila had attacked the Rwanda government – including even using racial language.
‘For the moment I will reserve my position about this [Kikwete] issue. We will have time to talk about it, and in the right forum,” said Kagame, adding that he is waiting to face President Kikwete and explain his feelings.
Twgiramungu: Has right to return, but…
Thursday next week, self exiled ex-PM Faustin Twagiramungu is returning to Kigali after leaving the country in 2003 when he garnered 3.62 percent of the vote in the first presidential poll. Ahead of his return, Twagiramungu said he was tired of ‘remote control’ politics and wanted to face President Kagame head-on.
Today, without naming or making any direct reference to him, President Kagame said the ex-PM, like every other Rwandans was free to return to Rwanda at any time they so wish. ‘But that right comes with responsibilities,’ said Kagame. ‘Nobody will ever take Rwanda back to 20 years ago. There are laws and institutions that have been established to deal with anybody who wants to take us back.’
Kagame’s encounter with journalists was not live on state TV and radio as it has been the norm. Instead, the session was pre-recorded and is planned to be aired on the public broadcaster.
Rwandan troops for Mali
Last week, it was announced that Rwanda’s Bri Gen Jean Bosco Kazura would head the UN mission to Mali – where a bitter internal conflict has almost torn the country apart. External forces led by the French had to be brought in to stabilize the country.
President Kagame was asked whether work would not be complicated for Gen Kazura since there were no Rwanda soldiers on the mission to display the kind of discipline known for Rwandan troops in other missions. President Kagame, for the first time, announced that Rwanda was seriously considering sending troops to Mali.
Rwanda has been asked to provide support, said Kagame, and will gladly respond to that call. The President said government was still working out the details of its possible engagement but would soon announce its contribution.
As for the International Criminal Court (ICC), an issue President Kagame has been particularly outspoken, the President repeated his usual stance – branding the court as ‘politicized’.
‘We have never been against international justice,’ said Kagame, ‘We are against institutions that are politicized to fulfill agendas of some people.’
He added: ‘Kenya is a great nation… They did not need the ICC or [Koffi] Annan or anybody else to come with an unnecessary stick to force them to bring their country to order.’
The 3rd Term issue!
As expected, journalists were eager to push President Kagame on the post 2017 period amid growing speculation that the ruling RPF party is engineering a project to amend the constitution to allow Kagame to run at that time. The president spent a greater part of the press briefing discussing the 3rd term issue.
‘I have respected the current constitution to the letter, and will abide by the constitution that will be around after 2017 as decided by the Rwandan people’ said Kagame. He said the confusion about his intentions was being created by foreigners who deliberately ignore the history and context of the country.
He added; ‘If you say democracy is what is in the interest of the people, then their interests should be respected. I am not inclined to any views; I am only supposed to do the job I am mandated to until 2017. I will respect the law and the people who put the law in place.’
The President repeated the formula he has put forward as guiding principle to decide Rwanda’s post 2017 era; change, maintain the good progress, stability.
In other issues, the president also spoke about the level of soccer in Rwanda, saying the sector was lacking in all aspects. ‘I am fed up,’ he said, also speaking about his favorite European soccer team Arsenal.
The President also addressed the recent $400million international bond. ‘Though we are driven by ambition, we chewed what we would manage to swallow,’ said Kagame referring to fact that Rwanda’s bond received a total of $3.5billion in bids from excited buyers.
On achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), President Kagame said: ‘We will achieve most of the MDGs …. We still have low capacities, but we have made significant progress in the last decade’.