Belgian author of “Paul Kagame, un de Gaulle africain", Philippe Lardinois has said Paul Kagame’s prowess inspired him to write the book which likens Rwanda’s President with former French President Charles de Gaule who is credited for building up the greatness of France.
Scholar and lawyer Lardinois published the 144-page book about the two Statesmen and army Generals in October last year, describing both as men of character, who never give up in hard times and strived for dignity of their respective nations.
The author of the book, loosely translated as “"Paul Kagame, an African de Gaulle", wonders why can’t Kagame legacy be a model for African politicians as is Gaullist legacy among French and other European politicians. Lardinois says the phenomenal book has been brought closer to Rwandans, being available in Libraire Ikirezi Bookshop in Kigali.
In an interview with IGIHE, Lardinois elaborated on his inspiration for writing the book, similarities in character of the two Statesmen and what, he thinks, can improve Franco-Rwanda diplomatic relations. Below are excerpts:
Would you tell us what inspired you to write the book "Paul Kagame, un de Gaulle africain"?
The idea of writing this book came to me five years ago when I read books about General de Gaulle. What struck me at de Gaulle was, on one hand, the refusal of renunciation in extreme circumstances; we must remember the extent of the defeat of the French army in June 1940, and on the other hand, his fundamental attachment to the greatness of France. These are the two fundamental principles that marked the conduct and action of the General.
These two fundamental principles are found with Paul Kagame, the greatness of France being, of course, replaced by the dignity of the Rwandan people. I will add that both men share the same concern for efficiency and effectiveness. De Gaulle wanted "That it works!" The result was essential to him. I think for Kagame too, it has to work. Objectives must be achieved and if they are not, the strategy must be modified.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It took me three years, considering that I was not working full time on this project. Initially, I was not sure that it would succeed. I started writing and as I progressed, I realised that my initial intuition made sense. For the record, before I started writing this book, I spoke to a Rwandan friend who lived in Belgium for a long time. He told me that he had the same intuition. He encouraged me to continue and was my first reader.
What do you find the two men have in common? Is it a military discipline or a vision for the destiny of their respective nations?
It is obvious that they have in common military discipline and a vision for the destiny of their respective nations. They are also two men of character, in the Gaullist sense of the term, animated by unwavering determination. They do not give up. In very difficult circumstances, they do not shake, they face events.
Can we compare the circumstances that led these two Statesmen to power and their leadership, despite the decades that separate them?
Yes, to the extent that both are certainly Statesmen, but they are more than that, they are great men. Initially, their ambition is not to become Statesmen. Both are first and foremost military. These are the events that will change their destiny because they will have the right attitude in very difficult circumstances. They will have the courage to make the choices and make the decisions that are necessary but that frighten others at the risk of their lives. That’s why they reach the top and become great men. It’s very rare.
De Gaulle is considered, rightly, as the most illustrious of the French. Who can compete with him in the history of France? They are not very numerous. I think we can say the same thing about Paul Kagame despite the criticism of his fierce critics. You know, de Gaulle was very seriously described as a dictator by François Mitterrand. It seems so ludicrous today.
How do you rate Paul Kagame’s chances of succeeding in his ambition for the advent of an autonomous, strong and dignified Africa?
This is a very difficult question because there are so many hazards. Being President of the African Union is not the same thing as being President of Rwanda. Kagame cannot and does not want to replace the leaders of other African countries. He always explains, rightly, that it is not up to him to tell them how to do it, but he can tell them that the new Rwanda is proof that it is possible as long as we have the will and perseverance.
There is no inevitability for Africa, I am convinced, but leaders must first consider the development of their country and be exemplary. This is also true for Western leaders. On this question, de Gaulle was intractable both for himself and his ministers.
With regard to these two Statesmen and the fundamental principles guiding them, you wrote "respect and dignity were not negotiable", could you elaborate on this?
The respect of a nation and the dignity of a people are principles on which we can never surrender. On June 18, 1940, de Gaulle launched his famous call to continue the fight precisely because he refuses the enslavement of the French nation (by Nazi Germans). Returning to power in 1958, he will be particularly attentive and attached to the respect of France at the international level. Paul Kagame is also uncompromising on these principles and he reminds every Rwandan that he must never be put down.
This requirement of respect and affirmation of dignity are essential for peoples who have undergone colonisation characterised by the fact that the great democratic principles, and especially that of the equal dignity of human beings, were trampled underfoot by the very people who claimed them. Today, it requires those nations which have become independent to refuse that the old colonial powers arrogate to themselves the right to deliver them, directly or indirectly, with the satisfaction of good governance, good democratic evolution, etc. The time of neo-colonialism is over.
As the author of this book, how do you perceive the current political opposition against Paul Kagame, especially in the Diaspora?
First of all, I want to make it clear that the good functioning of democracy requires political pluralism and, by necessity, the existence of an opposition. In this regard, things can improve in Rwanda. That means, the opposition must be credible and constructive. Opposition by principle or resentment is stupid and without interest. The opposition must have as objectives the development of the country, the economic and social well-being of its inhabitants, stability and security. It must therefore explain how it could do better than the power in place. I do not feel that this is really the main concern of the current opposition within the Diaspora. Its only speech is to vilify Paul Kagame without any consideration of the successes of his reconstruction policy. For the rest, it is demagogic and partly revanchist. I fear that if this opposition were to come to power, the country would regress considerably in every point of view.
Relations between France and Rwanda have strained since 1994. In your opinion, what concessions should each of the two states make to break the deadlock?
It is necessary, first of all, that France as a State make her mea culpa and acknowledge her mistakes and errings. In any case, sooner or later, the documents classified as defence secrets will speak. We can hope that President Macron will be up to the task in this respect. On the Rwandan side, I do not see what concessions there should be.