Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Rwanda president says forgiveness can be 'difficult' price of peace

Paul Kagame reflects on how he rebuilt nation from ashes of genocide and civil war

Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, speaks during the Milken Institute Mena Summit 2019 in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda, speaks during the Milken Institute Mena Summit 2019 in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National

Rwanda’s recovery from genocide and civil war may provide a “road map” for war-torn countries such as Syria to follow in future, a summit in Abu Dhabi heard.

Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president, reflected on how the country was rebuilt following the end of a four-year civil war in 1994, saying it was vital that people put aside their “justifiable” grievances, as the only alternative was “a spiral of violence, killing and death”.

The leader also reiterated his call for African nations to work closer together in areas such as trade and the free movement of people, with the continent continuing to face economic and demographic challenges.

“The question you are faced with is, what do you do to create a situation that can give everyone a chance of a good life?” Mr Kagame – who himself grew up in a refugee camp – when asked what lessons other countries can take from Rwanda’s experience.

It is believed that 800,000 people died in the 1994 genocide.

“If you do not do that, what is the alternative?" he said. "It is a continuation of suffering for everyone."

“So it is something that is very difficult, but it is a price you have to pay in a sense. I can ask a victim to offer forgiveness and if possible, find the courage to overcome your justified hard feelings, so that we can move forward together. If the victims can overcome the quest for revenge… that’s how we approached it.

“That is how difficult it is, but it is doable because if you don’t find a way forward, bring people back together, allow healing to take place by forgiving and to a reasonable degree holding people accountable for they did, what is the alternative? A spiral of violence, killings, death. This is not something anyone thinks should be allowed to continue.”

Kagame, 61, recently completed a term as head of the African Union. Since becoming Rwanda's president in 2000, Kagame saw the country’s economy grow rapidly, with GDP rising by 8.6 per cent in the first half of 2018.

He said that it is vital that the continent’s governments invest in their people, in areas such as education, while also building infrastructure.

“For the year I was chairman of the African Union, the question is always 'how can Africa be so rich yet so poor at the same time?'” Kagame said.

“At the African Union level we started by saying, maybe if we held Africa together, tried the best we can and make these borders that divide 55 countries irrelevant, which is possible beginning with trade, free movement of people, goods, services, for the economy of the continent, we can overcome some of these challenges that constitute the paradox I mentioned earlier.”

Updated: February 13, 2019 06:00 PM

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