A chat with Jannette Kagame ; Rwanda’s struggle with Human Rights groups and why she stays out of politics

This week I am in Kigali, Rwanda where I am taking part in a meeting with Echenberg human rights fellows, a program coordinated by McGill University to bring together youth from around the world to discuss various human rights issues.

On the list of people to meet was Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame whom the group met yesterday October 10. Shortly before I left Kampala on Sunday President Museveni had given a medal to his wife Janet Museveni who is a minister and member of parliament, for her part in the fight to ‘liberate’ us. This  was given out as Uganda celebrated 49 years of independence. It was yet another controversial medal taken care of by the controversial medals budget from State House.

Going into the meeting with Rwanda’s  First Lady I wondered how I would put my question about family rule. Then I asked on twitter what people would ask Mrs Kagame. @Afric01 replied and I put his question first.

Below are the highlights of our meeting :

Rosebell Kagumire: When I heard we were to meet you I asked Ugandan youth on twitter what question they would put to you if they had a chance and one impressed me most; How have you managed to keep yourself out of politics. And this is asked in light of what Ugandans are seeing happening in their country.

Jannette Kagame: (Smiles) I was able to find my niche very fast and it was done through consulting with all potential partners. The expectations from you as a First Lady can be very high but you don’t have to go over what you are supposed to do in order to prevent conflict of interest.

I asked some people what they thought how I could be of use to the country and I found my own way and we fortunately have a young and dynamic leadership that is good at its work so I don’t need to interfere.

Gordon Echenberg: What’s the single most hindering factor to get the human rights on track in Africa?

Mrs. Kagame: Too much interference from outside! This same outside is really the one defining us. It is so aggressive and it doesn’t allow people to understand where we came from.

When we came here the social tissue was so bad and we have tried to forge unity. Like the president said the outside world is somehow connected to us, there are those who are with us in the journey and those who want to understand what we faced.

We are forging an identity yet the outside world still defines us like we don’t qualify to be a tribe or even an ethnicity. It is not easy to forge social cohesion and you have human rights groups not giving us space to define our destiny.

Rosebell Kagumire: What is human rights to a post genocide community and do you face special challenges in the advancement of human rights?

Mrs. Kagame: At times you wonder what the objectives of human rights are, we see human rights as to be able to provide basics to our people, right to education, health and others in a country with limited resources. At times it is insulting and arrogant on the part of people who don’t understand our context. Also they don’t know we are doing all this for us and our people not for them.

For our leaders to go for a liberation war it was for our people.  There are those human rights groups with genuine standards and agendas but many others want to use this to re-colonise the continent. When you fail to understand the context in which people are working and expect to evaluate one the abstract you get everything wrong. Their very countries even faced the same human rights issues a few centuries ago and they never learn from what their countries have done.

In Rwanda people are happy in the institutions especially going by the report on reconciliation.

Rosebell Kagumire:  Your organisation Imbuto is involved in many activities like girl child education and  promoting youth education through scholarships, many times in my country such scholarships have been shrouded with corruption and sometimes we don’t know who really benefits. How do you shield your organisation and your office work from corruption?

Mrs. Kagame Fighting corruption is a choice that countries make to be able to stop this. Most governments on the continent are used to go after small fish and the top leadership is spared so corruption continues. Here in Rwanda fighting corruption came with many problems because some of the leaders fled the country. This is because they headed organisations and yet wanted to use them to serve their ends not for the country.

Some people have not tested the dividends of fighting corruption; they haven’t had the benefits of a country that doesn’t tolerate corruption so they don’t have the agenda to see it end. You must start with the top leadership. In the scholarship scheme we have a decentralised system where local leaders identify the youth who are in need so the education scholarships go to the right people who need them most. We have no impunity on corruption. Also once you transform the police into a force which works for the community then people get confident and it becomes easy to fight corruption.

Illaria: what do you base your leadership on and what do you do when you disagree with key political decisions taken by the president?

Mrs. Kagame: I try to be responsible within values I believe in. you must have an auto criticism of yourself as a leader. On the political decisions, I trust the leadership enough that it is able to go beyond even what we are seeing. Sometimes I may not understand but when the leadership has been tested for so long and has in those times has taken right decisions which haven’t been so visible to everyone, you learn to trust.

Jannette Kagame on youth in Africa.

The youth in Africa able but many times unfortunately they are failed by the leadership. We have to give them their right place to advance to advance development of the continent.

We are optimistic about what’s happening in Rwanda. We are here 17 years after the genocide trying to forge an identity as Rwandans. Leadership matters. To find what unites us it wasn’t easy but we are here now. It is exciting but it is still fragile and we have to work harder to keep us together.

On the continent people are getting to demand for their rights and expectations are high. The number of citizens getting conscious about their responsibilities too is moving up. Youth are finding their role but I say sometimes fighting is not the only way. Youth have to look for ways to communicate with their leaders. The world is a global village but for us to be part of it we must have an identity.

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