An Interview With Rwanda's Foreign Minister

Brownell: You helped Rwanda, a Francophone country, join the British Commonwealth. Why?
Mushikiwabo: We have become a country of openness. We want to open our minds, borders, citizens to anybody who is ready to support us and help us move forward. We belong everywhere.

How far has the country come since the genocide? There are still obvious tensions between Hutu and Tutsis.
We have surpassed our own expectations because 15 years ago there was no country. Death and desolation and despair are what one would have found here. We have brought back normalcy, and this reconstruction—both physical and moral—was helped by a number of homegrown solutions like the gacaca community courts. They have yielded results and have been very critical to the rebuilding of the nation.

Do you think the international community could learn from this?
Yes. We had no other way to address the enormity of the justice problems after the genocide. There was no classic justice system that would have addressed [what happened]. Gacaca has absolutely helped bring about reconciliation.

Rwanda in the past decade has become a very strong voice in foreign policy across Africa.
What has happened in Rwanda has happened in other parts of Africa. Our achievements have made Rwanda a country of reference. Sure, we have a long way to go, but we are proud if we can share some of our experiences. President [Paul] Kagame is a man who does things differently, and that is probably why he has received so much attention. He speaks his mind and has a very African way of looking at things.

He says one of worst things for Africa is aid dependency. Do you agree?
Absolutely. You cannot live on someone else's tax money forever. That being said, aid is important, and aid for Rwanda has worked. But your mind becomes more creative when you look for a way to get yourself out of poverty.

Tell me about the relationship between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Are things getting better?
Rwanda and DRC are determined to turn the page. The issue is directly related to what happened here 15 years ago. The trouble in the DRC started the moment these guys [former Rwandan Hutu génocidaires] crossed the border. There is so much we can do together, and I think we share a common destiny. We would like to consolidate peace with the DRC for our economic growth, for trade, for our people to get along.

There will be a lot of focus on the continent in 2010 because of the World Cup in South Africa. Will that scrutiny be a good thing?
The attention is welcome. We have been complaining for some time that all of Africa is constantly lumped together, so hopefully when the light shines on the continent we can show our diversity and the strong points each of our countries have to offer.

What are Rwanda's foreign-policy goals for 2010?
We are looking to integrate more fully in the East African community, where we are opening a huge market for Rwandan products. We want to normalize relations with France, which has a bad history with this country because they supported a government that killed a million of our citizens. But we now have some exchange and debate. Being a member of the Commonwealth will hopefully mean we can reap some of the business and the technology and educational opportunities that membership has to offer. So we have a full plate next year [laughs].