THE debate on change and continuity in Rwanda – particularly whether the constitution should be amended to allow President Paul Kagame run for a third term in 2017 when his current one ends – continues. Some commentators, ignoring the country’s tragic history are ending up placing the nation in a “one size fits all” democratic narrative with regard to term limits.
Most of our institutions are young. However, they have still been tested and passed: The Auditor General’s office, Ombudsman’s office, the Parliament, the Senate, Judiciary and many other have done a terrific job, and are respected internationally for it.
Nevertheless, the same institutions are too young to imagine that their efficiency should have become a culture by now. Far from that. They need more time to evolve and develop into stronger, stable and sustainable institutions.
In a developing country like Rwanda, you either have a strong leadership or strong institutions. We are blessed to have had a strong leadership in president Kagame, a rarity among many African countries whose leadership is wanting – and so is their development. Changing such a leader given our context, and in the absence of strong institutions, is national suicide we can’t afford.
It is exemplary leadership, amidst an extremely heinous environment – past and present – and a blurred future, that makes Kagame’s succession quite scary to most Rwandese, save for foreigners.
The 1994 genocide tore Rwanda apart.
Moreover the issue of mentoring a successor is a flawed argument for many reasons.
First, as the President mentioned in his interview recently with Juene Afrique, doing so would mean that he is dictating to Rwandese who should be their next leader; which would be considered undemocratic as Rwandese have the right to choose one, not one to be chosen for them.
Secondly Rwanda is not a monarchy where a king/queen is replaced by his/her anointed heir apparent. Besides, such a successor has to emerge naturally and be seen to be worthy by Rwandese. That none has emerged so far cannot be the fault of the president. It happens.
Moreover, Rwanda has had three Prime Ministers under President Kagame’s leadership. The first, Bernard Makuza, who served close to ten years, is now the President of the senate, the second highest position after the president according to our constitution.
The argument that “being a PM in Rwanda is generally a short tour of duty, not allowing them to develop the skills to be pretenders to the throne”… is a distortion of the reality on the ground.
Our PMs oversee government business as set out by our constitution. They are not chosen to be heir-apparent. If they are to be, they have to measure up to the task, and be seen to be. The president has not and doesn’t limit their capacities in any way.
Every Rwandese has the same and equal chance to hold the highest office in the land. But they must merit it, and Rwandese must be convinced that every such citizen who puts themselves forward, is presidential material. But if the candidates failed to manage even the sectors entrusted to them, who would gamble to entrust them to manage a country as difficult as ours?
Furthermore, once a leader in Africa leaves office, chances of coming back when the country is in crisis are remote if not impossible as the office holder will make sure that the outgoing leader is out of sight. Many examples of this scenario abound in Africa.
Moreover, given our past context, the issue of national crisis is a reality, and not a possibility. If so, why allow it in the first case? Rwandese know Rwanda best, and think a one size fits all approach would spell doom for our country – and irreversibly too.
This has informed our choice for the continuity project, and the rest will have to respect our choices. We are ultimately the sole beneficiaries and sole losers either way. We can’t lose what we can afford not to – Kagame and Rwanda.