Rwanda and the African continent are currently undergoing positive transformation and progress despite doubts and perceptions by a section of the developed world, President Paul Kagame has said.
Kagame was speaking at the World Leaders Forum, a year-round event series, and interacted with the University's students, scholars, and faculty.
President Kagame is in the United States for the United Nations General Assembly.
The Head of State said that the continent was under major positive changes characterized by developments such as the continental free trade area, participation in peacekeeping, regional integration as well as economic growth.
“Big changes are underway on our continent as well. The African Union has undergone financial and institutional reform to make it more effective. One outcome is the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area, the world’s largest. The African Union conducts numerous peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions around the continent. Member States have contributed more than $100 million in the last few years, to the Peace Fund to support these activities with our own funds,” he said.
The progress, in Rwanda and the continent, he said, is beyond statistics as it’s based on citizens’ welfare and participation.
“Numbers tell us a lot. But behind the data, you find real people. The progress we have seen over time in Rwanda is the result of a deliberate effort to nurture our unity,”
However, despite the progress, Kagame noted that Africa has been constantly subjected to negative perceptions as well as attempts to invalidate development and progress.
“You see, well-being has both objective and subjective dimensions. You cannot dictate how people should feel. People who feel hopeful about their lives are not going to change their minds, because you tell them the data show they should actually be unhappy. Africans are constantly subject to this kind of gas-lighting. It is as if the reality we know and live and see, requires external validation,” Kagame said.
For instance, he noted that a majority of African leaders including himself are often subjected to interrogation and criticism by the west about “about everything that is supposedly wrong with our countries.”
In most instances, the unsolicited inputs are not based on any reality but rather prejudice.
“Recently, I ended up telling one of them, “Who are you?” By which I meant, what kind of people do you think we are? African leaders answer to their people. There should be no room for intermediaries,” he told the audience.
Further invalidation of the continent is evident in fear spread on China’s influence on African countries with most saying that it will result in debt and dictatorship.
The irony, however, is that the comments can often be traced back to countries that have been seeking to do business with African countries including lending.
“The notion that we Africans don’t know what is good for us. That thinking has no place in today’s world. We have more pressing business. Africa has its own interests to pursue, and we intend to get on with it,” the President said.
Kagame said that global rankings such as World Happiness Report by Gallup World Poll have also served the invalidation attempts by portraying citizens of countries such as Rwanda as miserable.
“The way that question is phrased leads Rwandans to answer very pessimistically for cultural reasons. In the same survey, Rwandans report high rates of positive and happy experiences every day. Ironically, the question on happiness is not used in the World Happiness Report. The organizers agree the ranking makes no sense. And yet, year after year, the same absurd conclusion is published,” he pointed out.
In the face of the invalidation attempts, the Head of State said that Rwanda remains committed to reality and is open to progressive partnerships.
“It takes real determination to stay committed to the reality in front of our eyes. I think it is time to have better conversations. Partnership has been a very significant part of Rwanda’s story. We have benefited greatly by being open to the ideas and experiences of others, and applying them to our situation,” he said.
Among the progressive partnerships includes one between Rwanda and Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, together with PEPFAR, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to measure HIV epidemic control.
The results of the survey this week showed that that 76 per cent of all HIV-positive adults, including nearly 80 per cent of women, have achieved viral load suppression.
This, in turn, means that Rwanda’s health system is effectively limiting new infections and providing treatment to those living with HIV.
Responding to students' questions on the refugee crisis globally, the President said that countries across the world ought not to wait for the United Nations interventions as they can play a role in their own ways.