Rwanda

Rwandan President optimistic on peace in Great Lakes region

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By Kelly Machinchick, Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Rwanda is at the forefront of the fight against genocide and will not "shirk its responsibility" to provide a safe future for the people of Africa, says Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda.

The Great Lakes Region has been beset by ethnic strife and genocidal tendencies in the last decade. Although Rwanda has been the focal point for much of this strife, Rwandans are now taking great strides toward establishing peace in their region and democratizing society, Kagame explained in a presentation on "Current Prospects for Peace in the Great Lakes Region" at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) March 6.

The unstable situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still a major concern of the regional players, said Kagame, but over the last two years there have been promising developments. Pursuant to the Pretoria Agreement, Rwanda "promptly" withdrew its troops from the DRC, and Kagame maintains they no longer have a military presence in the area. He expressed his hope that other nations with troops in the DRC, as well as the DRC itself, will also honor the agreement.

"In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, our country had a military presence to protect and enforce our security interests," he said, explaining the presence of Rwandan troops in earlier years. Now that the warring factions in the DRC have a power-sharing agreement in place, the Congolese people have a better opportunity to "choose their own destiny." An internal political settlement has worked thus far, he believes.

"The point is that we are moving forward," said the President, despite the numerous challenges to a lasting peace. "The parties to any peace settlement, especially if they seek to address the root causes of conflict, have to realize it is for the benefit of our citizens that we strive for peace. Often, we give the wrong impression that we must negotiate and sign peace agreements because of external pressure or because we must please some benefactor. Africans must condemn and resist this attitude, which accounts for numerous lost opportunities in our recent past."

In addition to seeking peace, Africans must attract investment and trade from outside sources, he said, while working to negate the "image of a continent perpetually at war with itself."

As Africa moves away from conflict, Kagame believes the international community has an important role to play in implementing the peace. "Many international actors seem to focus their attention elsewhere as soon as peace agreements are signed, leaving these arrangements good on paper but short on results." The president would like to see powerful countries and organizations remain engaged in the peace process until it becomes a reality.

Perhaps most importantly, the genocide in 1994 that resulted in the murder of 800,000 Rwandans must never happen again, Kagame emphasized. Though genocide and its practices can be traced to colonial times, said Kagame, it still has adherents today among Africans. "The architects of this ideology still preach it with a missionary zeal."

Since 1994, when he ousted the Hutu-dominated regime that perpetrated the slaughter in his country, Kagame said advocates of genocide have been "denied a platform" in Rwanda and have relocated to places "near and far" to set up networks. This is a major concern to peaceful states such as Rwanda and part of the reason conflict still exists in the region.

"For those who believe that the genocide ideology can be a bargaining tool and an avenue to power, we have this to say: The genocide ideology will be fought and exhausted into extinction," he stated.

Kagame continued, describing Rwanda's role in the fight against genocide: "Rwanda has been at the forefront of this fight and we are not about to shirk our responsibility to our people. But let me also take this opportunity to remind everyone...that the obligation to prevent and banish genocide is not exclusively a Rwandan challenge --it is a human challenge."

The Great Lakes region shows promise for a peaceful settlement in the near future, but Kagame stressed that any peace must be lasting. He would like to see Africans solve their continent's problems in partnership with the international community.

"The prospect of long-term peace cannot be limited to just the absence of war," he stressed. "We have to invest in early warning systems and preventative measures and in peace-enhancing processes across various aspects of national life. We have to build on positive achievements in recent years."

He emphasized that Africa would gain tremendously, both socially and economically, if society functioned in a "transparent and accountable" framework. Hopefully, peace will lead to sustained development, in addition to democratic practices. Rwanda, he said, continues to strive toward full democracy.

"Democracy is a never a finished product. It is perpetually a work in progress," said the president.

He assured the audience that Rwanda would continue to play its part in the search for peace and security in the region, and would never cease working to "put its own house in order." That, he said, would be Rwanda's greatest contribution to stability in the Great Lakes region.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)