Transcript: Rwandan President Paul Kagame

Sunday March 26, 2017

David Victor: Our next guest is the man credited with helping to put an end to the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis. Ushering his people beyond the tragedy of the past, the promise of the future, he has transformed his nation, growing its economy, redeveloping its infrastructure and reuniting his people. I had the great privilege to meet with President Paul Kagame when I traveled to Africa in 2014. I have to tell you I was immediately struck by his strong connection to Israel's story.

He has visited Israel on several occasions and hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last summer during the prime minister's historic trip to Africa. President Kagame is the first African head of state in history to address this gathering. The president will be joined in conversation today by former CNN Correspondent Frank Sesno. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

Paul Kagame: AIPAC leaders and supporters, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good morning and thank you very much. It's an honor to be here with you.

My message today is simple: Rwanda is, without question, a friend of Israel. I wanted to take a moment to tell you why. Our tragedy is so great, so vast that human ingenuity and resilience cannot give rise to a better future.

The survival and renewal of our two nations testifies to this truth. The security of peoples who have once been targeted for extermination can never be exclusively physical. Until all ideologies, which justify killing as a patriarchal duty, are defeated, our world is not true itself—not for us, not for anyone. Together, with friends like the United States, we must call for renewal—or renewed global solidarity against relentless efforts to deny genocide and to trivialize the victims.

Israel has the right to exist and thrive. As a full member of international community, this is not an infringement on the rights of any other people and it should not be seen as such. It makes our world more secure and peaceful for Rwanda and many other countries, in Africa. Engaging productively with Israel has opened new horizons. We look forward to doing even more together and I wish to take this moment, once again, to thank you.

Please welcome former CNN Anchor Frank Sesno.

Frank Sesno: Well, Mr. President, welcome, and it's a great honor and privilege to be here with you and to have you as the first African president address this group.

Paul Kagame: Thank you.

Frank Sesno: Rwanda's story is so interesting, fascinating, tragic and inspiring. And thank you for sharing some more about the story and some of these shared experiences and convictions that motivate the friendship and the relationship between Rwanda and Israel. I'd like to talk to you about that for a few minutes. You visited Israel in 2008, you celebrated the country's 60th anniversary while you were there, and comments to the late President Shimon Peres you spoke about Israel's, and I'm quoting you here, "resilience and tenacity in nation building."

What are your observations about Israel's examples of statehood and nation building and how does that inform and inspire your country's rebirth?

Paul Kagame: To begin with, Israel is a nation that has beat all odds every step of the way, and that is, to put it in a context, looking at the hostile environment, sometimes the unsympathetic international community, Israel continues to be secure, to thrive and it has invested in its people, it has developed one of the best economies. So when you look at all of this, put it together, it mirrors what we have been going through in the recent past.

So we think there are lessons to be learned here and that if people are determined, focused and it's about their survival, I think there are not going to be any limits as to how they can go to defend and to develop themselves.

Frank Sesno: And so what pages, from Israel's experience then, do you take as you try to rebuild your country?

Paul Kagame: It's this single-mindedness in terms of working very hard

Frank Sesno: Single-mindedness.

Paul Kagame: Single-mindedness about survival, about what needs to be done that the people invest in starting with the people and the quality of that investment in terms of building capacities that we develop in a society as well as each other, they have the capacity to protect themselves.

Frank Sesno: In the last few years, there have been a number of developments that are—that's quite interesting in Israel's relationship with Africa. Prime Minister Netanyahu visited Rwanda as part of his four-nation African tour last year. The first African-Israel Summit will take place in Africa later this year.

In 2014, Rwanda helped block a move in the United Nations at the U.N. Security Council that would've granted statehood status for the Palestinians bypassing direct negotiations with Israel when you abstained on that vote.

So what have been some of the outcomes of these experiences and these encounters and is there a chance that there will be greater understanding in Africa, continent-wide, for Israel's positions going forward?

Paul Kagame: We are happy that Israel is engaging with Africa—has come back to Africa and Africa is responding in a good way. Previously, there has been absence of that engagement and it has, in a way, hurt the understanding people should have about Israel and what it has gone through and what can be done for many problems to be addressed relating to the situation with Israel. But this engagement has been helpful. Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the East African region.

We had six leaders meeting and hosting the prime minister and talking about issues relating to our relationship and many things that can be done, including the support of the many efforts Israel is undertaking. So this is a very good thing. Then there came also, the vote. There had been a vote at the U.N. and for us, the reason for abstaining was we thought there was—first of all, the way it was being done, the timing. We thought this was going to be prejudicial to other things that had to be addressed in terms of...

Frank Sesno: Prejudicial, in what sense?

Paul Kagame: Absolutely. Meaning, you see, you have other people sitting and are determining what should happen without allowing the parties concerned to sit and talk and agree what the way forward should be and our experience in Rwanda. Our experience in Rwanda is that you cannot simply introduce solutions to people from outside and they work without involving the people that are concerned. So this is what we came for.

This was the main reason. The wait was being done, the timing when there should have been other discussions engaging the parties concerned to agree. Then you have many other people coming and deciding. We thought that was the wrong way to do it. And abstaining also meant many other things. It means—it meant we didn't agree with what was going on, but at the same time, our position has also been—it doesn't mean when you are a friend of Israel that you are an enemy of someone else. I think it's the question of using...

Frank Sesno: But that you cannot impose an agreement like this, you cannot impose a settlement like this?

Paul Kagame: It's the wrong thing to do.

Frank Sesno: Tell us about the Africa Summit and what you hope will come of the summit and what Israel and Africa will get out of that.

Paul Kagame: Many things, I think, that are complementary capabilities and mutual interests here and once people come together, say, for example, from Israel, you're looking at how Israel has the ability to serve in terms of knowledge, as I said, best economy, building of technological innovations that are experiences and benefits to share here on the side of Israel as well as African countries playing their part in many ways.

If we had scientists working together, investors investing in the key areas of Africa's development, I think there is a lot that can happen between Israel and Africa, especially built on these different capabilities and the very mutual interests that are present.

Frank Sesno: Africa is a fast-growing continent now. So there are great opportunities. We heard a few moments ago, former Prime Minister Tony Blair talk about the vibrancy and the innovation that Israel represents. And thinking about energy, agriculture, technology, some of the place where you're working closely with Israel now, as you look in ways to see a more integrated relationship, over the next five, 10 years, where do you see that going?

Paul Kagame: I see it growing, I see it in agriculture, in energy, information, communication, technologies, in different paths and I see these technologies driving our future economies and already African economies have been growing. In fact, they have been growing in the absence of these key factors as well, like energy or technologies, all the things which Israel has in abundance. So I think when we work together, when we support each other, this can benefit the growth of economies across the continent.

Frank Sesno: As president of Rwanda and a friend of Israel and a visitor to the United States, connect the dots there, what role should the United States be playing, in your view, now in the relationship with Israel and Africa, in the world and also in the region?

Paul Kagame: Well, there is a lot that needs to happen in relationship, first, between United States and Africa where we need to value each other as partners and that partnership can grow and then already the partnership between Israel and United States is very strong. So United States can use its enormous power it holds in many ways to bring the parties concerned in this engagement with Israel to actually come to terms with the reality that there are so complex problems to be addressed, but at the same time, when people work together and talk to each other in actual fact are determined to find a solution that benefits all of them, I think that can lead to a solution.

And the United States probably, as I know, is such an only power that can give this kind of momentum to the engagement of the parties to reach an agreement, but of course the United States would have to choose how it uses this power indeed to influence the parties to work together to reach an agreement that is going to work for all of them and I think United States has all it needs to be able to do that.

Frank Sesno: We will be listening very closely to that. Mr. President, you and your country are a great inspiration. Thank you so much for being here and thank you for sharing your perspectives on your growing relationship with Israel and the world.

Paul Kagame: Thank you.

Frank Sesno: Thank you so much.

Paul Kagame: Thank you.

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