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Week of 9.11.09

Extended Interview: Rwandan President Paul Kagame

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame talks to NOW's David Brancaccio about why he believes universal health care in Rwanda is of the utmost importance. President Kagame also discusses the problems he sees associated with international aid and his vision for a healthy, financially-independent Rwanda.

Interview Transcript:

DAVID BRANCACCIO: Mr. President, what is the connection between the health of the Rwandan people and your efforts to make this a more prosperous country?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Here, we are talking about prosperity, which prosperity depends mainly and largely on people. So, our people must be healthy. Must be educated, and must have skills, in order for that resource to develop.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: What an interesting idea. Because on paper, Rwanda doesn't have lots of natural resources. It's not an oil-rich country. But you're saying it is the people who are the resource.

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Yes.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: But you have to make them healthy, first?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Yes. We have to invest in the public health systems. And make sure that—every individual of our country enjoys—access and affordability to this—public health—facilities that exist.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: You have ambitious goals. You're trying to increase the size of the Rwandan economy? What is it, seven times?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Yes.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: In a what? A generation?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Yes. 15 years ago, we had devastation. It totally devastated the country, and the—you know, from really nothing. From scratch.

Now, we have peace. We have stability. We have—we have been—registering growth over eight percent. Last year, we were do—we—we—we registered 11.2 percent—of the growth of our GDP.

And we are seeing it happen. So, we can be able to do more with more effort and more resources and more commitment. And more partners and friends and, you know, who—who become part of the process.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: I suppose another reason to work towards sustainability within Rwanda, being able to pay for these programs yourself, is that frankly, a lot of donors have—short attention spans. You can't be guaranteed that in a couple years' time, the money will continue to flow?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: Absolutely. That's very true. I mean, you have to look beyond aid. We have—it is one thing to have aid, and—you know, work out how to manage it properly, and how to make it productive and so on and so forth. But also have to do that as we are thinking of the time when this money's no longer coming. And you want to convince yourself that you have invested this money very well, when it was coming, so that the time that it stops flowing, you have something to—build on, and continue building on.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: And you're very specific, that it's also about Rwanda is the best place to figure out what Rwandans need. There's a tendency with international aid for people far away—in faraway countries to decide what it is you need, and maybe you need it, maybe you don't?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: There are several problems, as I said earlier, attached to this. Itt's as if they want to give you money. In the end, decide for you on everything, including politics. Including management of—all management of a country's affairs.

Sometimes they can take it away or give it to you. You know, switch it on or off, as they want. This is very pathetic. I—I think nobody needs this. I don't think the donors need it. I don't think the recipient countries need it.

I think there has to be a mutual respect, and a—a—an—and there has to be respect for people to decide on their own affairs, and their destiny and their future. But it is also true that the donors want to know what is happening to their money.

So, for us, in Rwanda, we—we are very open about it. We want to partner with—the donor community in—in developing this process, to everybody's satisfaction. But Rwandans must also be satisfied that this is working for them, and is working for them in the direction they want to move in.

DAVID BRANCACCIO: How do people react, by in large? Did you get a sense?

PRESIDENT PAUL KAGAME: I get a sense that there are many people who understand it, and who really think this is the way things should be done. But there are other voices that are very defensive. That—you know, distort the whole argument altogether, and you cannot understand why, and—and makes people suspicious, that—development aid, in the end, becomes a tool of—manipulation or—it has become an industry in itself that—people want to go on forever a—as opposed to using it to have the areas that are receiving aid build their capacities and be able to stand on their own, eventually. It doesn't matter how long it takes.

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