President Paul Kagame, has urged the world to be skeptical of perceptions of his country put forth by the media and international human rights groups. During a lecture on Sept. 20 at Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall, he urged his audience to seek to understand his country’s complexity and its history.
“Don’t just read an op-ed or sign an online petition and assume that that is the end of the story,” he said. “To lead the world and to make it better, you first must better understand it. Be as humble as you are curious.”
President Kagame delivered the Coca-Cola World Fund Lecture at Yale, an annual address sponsored by the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies.
Under his leadership, Rwanda’s living standards have improved markedly, and he has brought social stability to a nation previously torn apart by genocide. His government’s efficiency and lack of corruption is widely acknowledged.
In his talk, Kagame cast his critics as outsiders whose views do not represent the perspective of Rwandan citizens.
“We increasingly base our legitimacy on results and achievements and the views of our citizens rather than external validation,” he said.
He called on the United States and other world powers to shift their approach to developing countries from a position of moral superiority to one of humility and mutual respect.
“The defense of universal values must focus on substantive outcomes rather than on fundamentalism about process, where clearly no one holds a monopoly of wisdom,” he said.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, moderator David Simon, director of the Yale Genocide Studies Program, expressed concern that the space for political debate in Rwanda is constricted. He asked Kagame whether there is space in Rwanda for democracy and human rights to expand without sacrificing peace and stability.
“There is a lot of space,” Kagame replied. “Maybe some of it is taken actually by outsiders who come into the country and decide for Rwandans. I think that occupies a lot of space.”
An audience member asked Kagame how he responds to critics within his country.
He argued that it was not enough to simply criticize and that his critics must attempt to contribute to the country’s progress.
“People should learn to believe what they see,” he said in response to a question about how he responds to critics within his country. “What we see in Rwanda is progress from almost nothing.”