Third time lucky? Thoughts on Kagame in post-2017 Rwanda

Kagame's last ride? I certainly hope so

Kagame’s last ride? I certainly hope so

Personally, I feel confident President Kagame will step down in 2017. This, despite his having gone from saying that he would unreservedly move aside, to seemingly leaving himself some wiggle room for a constitutional amendment. In fact, lately he has been trying to diffuse questions about whether he will leave office when the Constitution, as it presently reads, mandates he must.

When pressed about it by CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour in January, Kagame said, “Don’t worry about that. We have the Constitution in place. We have always tried to do our best to satisfy the needs of our people and expectations of our people.” When Amanpour asked if that meant that yes, he would step down, he replied, “No. It is a broad answer to say you don’t need to worry about anything.”

During a press conference last month, when asked about 2017, Kagame impatiently answered, “I don’t need a third term. Just look at me, I don’t need it. I don’t do this job I am doing as a job for being paid, or as something that benefits me.”

No big man 
The Rwandan Constitution states the president can only hold a two-term post, with each term lasting seven years. Kagame’s first term begun in 2003. He himself has said very often that failing to find a successor would be an indictment of his own rule.

Furthermore, the Rwandan President has prided himself on how different he is from traditional African big men, whose governance styles resemble French Bourbon monarch Louis XIV: L’état, c’est moi(‘The state, it is I’). Changing the Constitution would group Kagame in with Zaire’s Mobuto Sese Seko, Kenya’s Daniel Arap Moi and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. That’s a fate worse than death, in his estimation.

Then again, those less confident need only look to Rwanda’s neighbour to the north, Uganda. In 2006, Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda and political mentor to Kagame, used the National Resistance Movement’s overwhelming party majority in parliament, to remove term limits. This, despite the fact that Museveni had, on countless occasions said that he’d respect term limits. The 69 year old has ruled Uganda since 1986.

Rwanda, post-2017
On 8 February, while chairing a National Executive Committee meeting of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party, Kagame tasked the 2,000 delegates to find a solution that would ensure change, stability and continuity post-2017. Some delegates, however, refused to countenance political change. As English paper The New Times reported, the delegates argued, “Why change a winning team? 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.”

So, on one side is a largely rural citizenry who cannot fathom a future without Kagame. On the other, a certain unease emanates from the urban elite who wonder whether Rwanda’s political progress will stagnate if and when the Constitution is amended.

With but a few hiccups here and there, Kagame’s presidency has so far been wildly successful. This success would most probably continue if he ruled beyond 2017. The worry, though, is that Rwandans might lose an opportunity to witness the first smooth transition of power in its 51-year post-colonial history.

The issue right now concerns a future where the whims of the mob could supersede the powers of the Constitution. And one man has the power to steer Rwanda towards a future where constitutionalism – not one individual – is king. Mr. President, over to you.

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2 thoughts on “Third time lucky? Thoughts on Kagame in post-2017 Rwanda

  1. Charles R. Nahimana says:

    Dear Sunny,
    I am an African of Burundian descent currently living in Canada. I just came across your article but having been following matters in the Great Lakes region, I and many of my friends have been debating Rwanda’s 2017. To make my message short, we think Kagame should stay a little bit longer for the sake of Rwandans in particular, Rwanda, the region and Africa in general. I assume that your questions would be why, that Kagame has been on power for a long time and the constitution would be violated…and these are all valid questions. However, as Africans, let us open our eyes…under Kagame, Rwanda has and remains an example of economic success in Africa and to some extent in the world. Western investors are now comfortable to do business in Rwanda, Kagame have transitioned the small landlocked pitied country into a land of opportunity where the rule of law is applied to the letter. Could you give me other African examples? And for the readers information, let us not forget that Rwanda isn’t just another country in Africa…no, I hope you don’t think so…this is a country that nearly got wiped out of the map of the world in 1994 when the international community stood still waiting to report the outcome. After few months of ethnic cleansing, Kagame’s leadership and resilience triumphed and stopped this country’s genocide. Close to twenty years now, day in day out, the world has come to appreciate the development of this tiny yet powerful nation in East Africa…If Kagame and his team feel that there are pending social and economical issues that need to resolved, let us not pressure them.
    As an African, I am proud of Kagame’s accomplishments and I support social and economic stability for the people of Rwanda over the notion of constitutional respect, democracy etc.,,these notions will not feed the peasant kids or provide security. Last but not least, as Africans, let us remember that most of the countries in the continent were peaceful fundamentally organized kingdoms for centuries before someone else came to teach us about these notions.
    Poverty is our common enemy and if we have a visionary leader who has proved to us for 20 years that he understands and could fight that enemy – let’s keep him because this type of leaders are scarce on the planet!

    May God bless Rwanda and Africa. May God provide wisdom to Rwandans in 2017 as they decide their fate!

    I remain,

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