I’ve tried to avaoid the entire Kagame third-term conversation simply because I felt that it was much ado about nothing. I’ve discovered that that is is easier said than done. For the last couple of weeks I’ve not been able to oepen any of my Google Alerts without seeing a headline like ‘Rwanda’s Kagame brushes off speculation over third term, Kagame and Rwanda’s future, Inside Kagame’s plan to retire and, courtesy of Kenya’s Daily Nation, Kagame’s headache: to bow out or hang on.
While the ‘will he-wont he go’ debate has been bandied about (mainly by foreign media such as CNN) for a year or so, I feel that it really got legs after the February 8 RPF National Executive Committee meeting. As this newspaper reported, ‘ a section of the RPF cadres present at the party meeting requested President Kagame not to leave office. “Why change a winning team?” they argued, referring to the remarkable progress the country has registered under Kagame’s leadership. They added: “It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda’s needs at the time, they can vote to lift them.”
President Kagame, as RPF chairman, gave them ‘homework’. He tasked RPF members to think about how to maintain stability and the pace of development but also factor in change. Enter articles such Professor Mannaseh Nshuti’s serial ‘Change, Stability and Continuity: A Political Homework.
Well, I’ve thought about change, stability and continuity and I am hereby submitting my homework for ‘marking’. The conversation right now is about Kagame staying or going after 2017. Some observers are going so far as to thumb through the Constitution to see how presidential term limits could be lifted. According to the supreme law of the land, lifting them will be tricky. Article 101 states that ‘The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once. Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms’. I’m not an expert in the English language but the phrase ‘under NO circumstances’ gives very little leeway. I’m not sure whether even a referendum can amend this statute. Forget ‘power to the people’.
An idea being bandied about is the South African model. Here, the political party nominates the its presidential candidate and, if and when the
candidate disappoints the party, the party can remove him. We saw this when Jacob Zuma and his ANC cohorts ousted Thabo Mbeki. Those supporting the idea believe that this kind of political system will allow the party to make sure that the president isn’t going off-message. But I must ask, sure this kind of system can ensure change, but how sure are we that it will ensure stability? Remember that the ANC replaced a giant of Africa and replaced him with a man who, in my humble opinion, isn’t fit to tie Mbeki’s shoelaces.
I don’t think we need to reinvent the wheel. Instead of attempting all sorts of political gymnastics, I suggest that we bring back the Vice Presidency. I mean, it was only thirteen years ago that the President was occupying that very office. It is my opinion that scrapping this position caused this tension. People are wondering who will replace the great man when 2017 comes around and, if we are honest, no one has a clue. That is extremely dangerous.
Americans have a saying that the US vice president is a ‘heartbeat away’ from the presidency. What they mean is that if the president is either killed or incapacitated he (or she) is able to occupy the Oval Office.
Think about this scenario. If the President (God forbid) falls ill and passes away, according to our Constitution, the head of the Senate fills his shoes for a three-month interim period. That’s okay right? No.
First of all, how democratic is it for Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, a man who garnered only 256,488 (or 5.15%) of the popular vote in 2010 presidential election, to seize executive power? Where is the legitimacy? He’s not even a member of the political party that overwhelmingly won the election.
Secondly, the interim president is a ‘lame duck’ in the true meaning of the word. He can’t appoint ministers, call for a referendum or declare war. How is all this ‘stability and continuity’?
If we had a vice president, we couldn’t have to worry about a mysterious person being ‘groomed’. We wouldn’t have fret about an uncertain future if anything happened to the incumbent. And we wouldn’t have a situation where a president’s legitimacy is being question by the people who didn’t vote for them or their party.