By Bosco Hitimana
President wants `change, stability, continuity’ as his term expires in 2017
President Paul Kagame, on Feb.8, 2013, challenged his ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) cadres to chart the way forward for the country’s leadership after 2017 when his term ends.
The Rwandan constitution allows the head of state to rule for only two terms and Kagame, who has been Rwanda’s president since April 2000 has several times signalled that he will not cause to amend constitution to alter term limits in order to run for the third term.
The media has remained speculative on whether the constitution will be amended to alter term limits so that Kagame runs for the third term. Some members of the Rwandan society have also been encouraging the president to stay in power at least for another term.
Dring a recent visit to the western province, a woman publicly requested the President to consider another term and if it requires amending the constitution, the nation should do so.
Kagame has several times indicated that he is very uncomfortable answering the same question about his plans post-2017 and opted to close the succession debate saying that he still has a lot to do during his second term ending in 2017.
Several reports indicate that Kagame communicated his post-2017 plans to RPF cadres at a Feb, 08 meeting in Kigali. He reportedly asked them to generate a formula that ensures “change, stability, and continuity”.
His task to the RPF cadres is seen as a well thought response.
In his response to a question from Nation Media Group’s Charles Onyango-Obbo on Feb 14, Kagame used twitter to clarify the agenda of his meeting with top RPF cadres.
“Changing constitution on term limit wasn’t the issue even if people might have had it in mind,” Kagame wrote, adding, “The discussion was about how do we effect change that’s bound to happen and at the same time allow sustainability/continuity as well as stability.”
His task to the expanded National Executive Committee (NEC) of RPF seems to be a new challenge for the party that has existed for 25 years with only 18 years in power in Rwanda. His announcement to the party elites has been termed as a huge challenge for the RPF basically because of his unique leadership style which has formed a core base for Rwanda’s recovery since the 1994 genocide which claimed more than one million lives, crippling the economy and leaving behind a huge leadership vacuum.
Some RPF cadres who attended the meeting at Petit Stade in Remera agree that the Chairman’s task was not expected at that time given the fact that it was something that many expected to form part of his speech during the party’s silver jubilee celebrations end of last year.
But the fact that he officially communicated the plan to step down in the February 8 meeting, some RPF cadres believe that president Kagame must have carefully thought about his decision and is very much eager to help the party choose the best candidate who would ensure continuity of the party’s huge involvement in politics as well as Rwanda’s progress.
In his Commentary entitled “Change, stability and continuity: a political homework (Part I)” published in the local daily The New Times on Feb.15, 2013, Prof. Nshuti Manasseh, Rwanda’s former Finance Minister and the current chair of Crystal Ventures, a commercial arm of the RPF, said that the Chairman’s meeting with RPF top cadres has ignited “a huge debate.”
“Going by the contributions of most cadre members present at that meeting, it is really one of the most intriguing political homework we have ever faced as a country,” noted Prof. Nshuti.
The Professor believes that the homework should ensure stability and continuity. “A political homework handed to the RPF top brass by the party Chairman, and one who understands better than most that the change we need in our country must ensure stability and continuity.”
Prof. Nshuti underscored that the “President has been the architect of our present hopeful Rwanda.”
He further said: “Like many other Rwandans, he was a victim of our tragic past. He, like most Rwandans, knows the two extremes of our nation, which invokes emotions that only Rwandans understand as they faced it squarely and will face it again if this homework is not done with sobriety.”
Arthur Asiimwe, also an RPF member, described the Chairman’s task to the party elites as a “daunting task” in his commentary published in the same newspaper on Feb 14.
Asiimwe, a former journalist, said the homework to the party top cadres had “left tongues wagging in many circles.” “This transition”, said Asiimwe, “will not be as simple as it might sound largely due to Kagame’s own legacy as a leader [who] has scored astoundingly well on almost all fronts.”
Asiimwe underscored that Kagame has “raised the leadership bar high and has seen this country rise from nowhere to take on to the world stage as a sound example of post-conflict recovery.”
Asiimwe said Kagame’s succession debate evokes conflicting emotions.
“Like I saw at the RPF meeting, it arouses emotions and puts some cadres in a weird position. On one hand, this is a man whose leadership style and achievements will, for generations to come, form any discourse concerning transformational leadership and, for this, some Rwandans would want him to stay longer.”
Against constitutional amendments
Rwandans voted a new constitution in 2003 and in the same year, the first democratic presidential elections were held. The second elections were held in 2010. Kagame, who runs on the RPF ticket, has continuously dominated the elections with overwhelming wins. But Rwanda faces an uphill task—-whether to amend the constitution to allow him run for another seven-year year term or to give an opportunity to another individual capable of driving the nation at the speed similar to that of Kagame.
Meanwhile, some members of the public seem to be against the idea that the country should amend constitution to alter term limits so that the electorate can vote for president Kagame in power again to lead for another term of seven-years in office after his second term elapses in august 2017.
However, the public takes note of president Kagame’s achievements as an exemplary leader and inspiration to many. This fact is based on the comments readers made under the two opinion pieces which were published on the New Times website. A comment from a reader identified as Sabin reads, “Let us abide by what we as Rwandans chose in 2003 when we drew the constitution.” Another reader identified as Sudir, hails president Kagame’s achievements but he is against amending the constitution.
“Let us cross the bridge when we reach it….I do not want to see the recent crisis that swept away long serving African presidents on our land. Stick to the constitution, I believe there are many cadres that can lead this nation under the guidance of the retired President.”
Another reader identified as JM goes on to give a list of other Rwandan officials who can take over from President Kagame. Among them he mentions the current Minister of Defence Gen. James Kabarebe and the Chief of Defence Staff in the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Lt. Gen. Charles Kayonga. Others include the first lady Jeannette Kagame, local government minister James Musoni, Chief of National Security Services (NSS) Gen. Karenzi Karake, and many others.
Another reader identified as Rwamzee commented: “It would be good for the HE Paul Kagame to honour what the constitution says come 2017, however, he should be ready to bounce back should his successor fail to spur Rwanda to greater heights. I am sure the foundation laid already by President Kagame is firm enough for his successor to build on, but it must be somebody from the same school of thought and philosophy.”
Another reader identified as Joseph noted: I am just a worried that some self-centered individuals want his legacy to fail, when some so-called cadres start bringing in the issue of amending the constitution for the president to stand again. Africa has lacked mentors just because of not wanting to leave power. I want to see our president leave a legacy similar to that of Mandela, Nyerere and Keneth Kaunda. Then Rwanda will be a beacon of Democracy and principle.”
Mixed feelings from other political parties
Islamic Democratic Party (PDI) headed by the current minister of internal security Musa Fazil Harelimana has for so long been advocating for extension of term limits. In an interview with The Independent in October 2012, Harelimana clarified that his party doesn’t have term limits and it has not had any power wrangles since it was created in 1991.
He said that although PDI does not advance motives of extending presidential term limits to favour President Kagame to run for another term, it is a healthy action to take.
Harelimana believes that in addition to extending term limits, the constitution should also be amended to reduce the number of years a president stays in power in a single term from the current seven to five years.
“Saying that we proposed this policy to benefit the President is not true because even after 200 years, our party will still stand against terms limits,” Harerimana said, adding that PDI congress will determine when to take the issue to Parliament.
But the Liberal Party (PL) which is headed by the current Sports and Culture Minister Protais Mitali is not in favour of constitutional amendments to allow presidents to rule for more than two terms.
Mitali says it is not a good idea to always amend the constitution because one political party is advocating for a certain amendment. The constitution has already been amended more than twice.
Mitali said: “It sets a bad precedent because that means that the constitution would be amended when President deems so. Our Party contributed in the making of the current constitution, which of course sets two term limits for Presidents. Changing the constitution when people have not shown that there is a problem with it is something that our party cannot support.”