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Can Uganda emulate Rwanda politics?

By Andrew M. Mwenda

How power sharing in Rwanda has worked and the lessons Ugandan politicians can draw from it for our good

Just imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and find the following in Uganda: Yoweri Museveni is still president of the country. His vice president is Mugisha Muntu. The speaker of parliament is Olara Otunnu. Museveni has just reshuffled cabinet and replaced Amama Mbabazi with Nobert Mao as prime minister. The deputy speaker of parliament is Nandala Mafabi. And Kahinda Otafiire is deputy prime minister. All these men are not yelling and shouting at each other. Well this is because of the above power-sharing arrangement. To make it work, there is something called a Political Parties Forum where differences between the different political parties over public policy are debated and final positions are adopted entirely through consensus.

In this forum, all political parties regardless of size have equal representation and the chairmanship rotates among each one of them every month. No voting is allowed. If there is a dispute over a given policy, they are required to sit and negotiate until a compromise is reached. They can hold as many meetings as possible until a compromise is arrived at.

When you interview the leaders of these different parties, they say they accept this approach to national politics. They argue that this is because the winner-take-all political competition among different parties almost tore the country apart. They say now the country needs to heal wounds and achieve a minimum political consensus in order to achieve shared objectives.


There are of course other politicians in this new Uganda but largely on the fringes of the political process. Men like Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and Jamil Mukulu of the Allied Democratic Forces say this power sharing arrangement is a Museveni sham to hide his despotism.

Recently, Gen. David Tinyefuza, a former leader of intelligence now self-exiled in London, joins their chorus of condemnation. They argue that Muntu, Mafabi, Otunnu, Mao and all other politicians from other parties other than NRM and who serve in cabinet and other major positions in the government are a sellout.

As evidence, they point out that these politicians do not call Museveni a murderer, a despot and a demented psychopath.

Is such a Uganda desirable? Is it possible to construct such a form of politics? What does it take to do it?

Well, last week President Paul Kagame of Rwanda appointed Anastase Murekezi as prime minister. He replaced Pierre Damien Habumuremyi. Mukerezi comes from the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Habumuremyi comes from the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Consequently, this is how the top leadership of the government of Rwanda looks like: Kagame, the president is from the RPF.  Then the second in command and also second inline of succession (if anything happened to Kagame) is the president of the Senate, Damacien Ntarikuriryayo. He is from PSD. The third inline of succession and protocol is speaker of parliament, Donatira Mukabarisa, from the Liberal Party.

Then Bernard Makuza, deputy president of the senate is an Independent, his party MDR having dissolved itself. The second deputy president of the senate, Jane Kakuba, is from RPF. Then the first deputy speaker of parliament, Abass Mukama, is from TDI while the second deputy speaker is Jane Ikimpaye, from RPF. Therefore out of the top four positions in government, RPF has one, PSD two and LP one. Out of the eight top positions in Rwanda’s executive and legislature, RPF has only three positions – the last two are as deputies.

According to the Rwanda constitution, if the president comes from one political party, the speaker of parliament cannot also come from the same party – even if the president’s party won 100 percent of the votes. Secondly, regardless of its electoral strength, the constitution of Rwanda says that no political party can have more than 50 percent of the cabinet positions. Essentially power-sharing among different political parties has been constitutionalised in Rwanda.

However, Kagame and his RPF party have gone far beyond the intentions of the constitution. For example, the ruling party, RPF, is not obliged to elect the president of the Senate and any of his/her deputies from other political parties. But they have. Some leaders of RPF have actually complained to me that this arrangement is very unfair to their party because if anything happened to Kagame, their party would lose the presidency. Secondly, Kagame is not obliged to appoint a prime minister from other political parties. Indeed, Habumuremyi was from the RPF. What Kagame and RPF have demonstrated is that they take power sharing seriously and are even willing to do it more than the constitution says.

From the time it captured power, the RPF has actually always tended to go beyond what was required of it. For example, the defeat of the Juvenal Habyarima government meant that the Arusha Peace Accords it had negotiated with it had been overtaken by events i.e. literally become null and void. Yet upon assuming office the RPF accepted to adhere to these accords with minor changes to accommodate the reality that Habyarimana’s party, MRND that had orchestrated the genocide could not be accepted as a partner in the power sharing arrangement. This clearly demonstrated that when it signed the Arusha Accords, the RPF meant its word.

It has been difficult to hold be a debate on the strength and weaknesses of the Rwandan model because many commentators talk about a Rwanda which is thousands of miles apart from the one that exists. We have therefore spent tens of years trying to clarify basic facts so that we can have a debate based on them rather than on fictions, fancies, prejudices and uninformed biases. But the critics of Kagame’s leadership are not willing to argue on the basis of facts because this undermines their cause. So debating them is not constructive.

Because of this power-sharing arrangement, Rwandan politicians are averse to accusatory, adversarial and confrontational politics that makes electioneering exciting. Rwanda’s electoral competition tends to be very calm and boring. Competitors do not look at each other as rivals and therefore don’t attack each other. Some uninformed critics argue that this is because there is no competition. They miss the incentive structure that this institutional innovation promotes. For example, Rwandan politicians recognise that it is not prudent to yell and shout at your opponent, as multi-party political competition in many countries tends to encourage. This is because you don’t want to be yelling at someone today with whom you are going to work in cabinet tomorrow.

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