The will to dictate whether Kagame re-runs rests with Rwandans

By Sam Abdul Aziz Sewanyana-Junior
On 20 juillet 2022 at 12:16

“Elections are about people choosing, people have to decide what they want to do for themselves,” Rwandan President Paul Kagame told Marc Perelman in an exclusive interview with the French Television- France24. In this context, the Head of State was responding to a repeated question about his stay in office and stated that he would consider running for even another 20 years. His statement sent tongues wagging in the western media and those who brand themselves “Kagame’s critics.”

The philosophy of elections is still misunderstood in Africa. The Western lectures about democracy and elections must be examined cautiously since countries have different choices and matters arising to deal with. Elections are political exercises in which all registered voters in conformity with the electoral laws in a particular country, choose leaders of their choices in a free, fair and transparent elections. For the Rwandan context, taking stock of the most recent previous presidential elections in 2017, President Kagame swept 98.79% votes, a resounding victory in which Rwandans’ will to have Kagame as their leader again prevailed.

Those who accuse Kagame of overstaying in power, first and foremost are foreign individuals not Rwandans, and a small group of Rwandans self-styled “opposition leaders” whom are funded by foreign actors whose interests lie in seeing Rwanda failing as perceived right from the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Secondary, the argument should be centered on whether the elections were not free and fair, but that has never been part of the complaints. The issue has been seeing the same candidate-Kagame running a country that has transformed from aches to an economic powerhouse with robust infrastructure, a good track record in security stability and public safety. If anybody wishes to challenge any elections, the scrutiny must be made in accordance with the elections observers’ findings. Independent observers from across the globe asserted that Rwandan elections were free, fair and transparent ; we have not heard any differing statement to date.

Thirdly, on constitution amendment, it is important to note that constitutional amendment was not Kagame’s call to make but Rwandans’. He was, in fact, readying himself to handle over power to his successor, in the process Rwandans from all walks of life protested his retirement decision. That’s what compelled lawmakers to hold a countrywide consultation tours. Consultative meetings were held to hear from the people and what their choices were like.

I, easily, recall how thousands of Rwandans in groups used to flock the Parliament building at Kimihurura with signed petitions addressed to the Speaker of Parliament and Senate President seeking the constitutional amendment in its article 101 on the term limits. This is how a referendum was conducted. As shown by results released by the National Electoral Commission-NEC, 98.3% voted in favour of constitutional amended. The whole process had nothing to do with Kagame, it was entirely a people-driven and led process not an individual as argued by Kagame’s critics.

Rwandans are sole deciders of their fate. Rwandans are primary beneficiaries of their poor or good leadership ; they would suffer the fate of their choice if done wrongly. This places the ball in their court to decide whom they want as their leader either in the next 5, 10, 20 or 50 years to come. Foreign governments and institutions are development partners and their contribution to the country’s development journey through the national budget supplements, capacity building among other activities is highly acknowledgeable and commendable, but when it comes to choosing Rwandans’ leaders, it exclusively becomes a duty of Rwandans.

Does Kagame stand a chance to re-run ? A decision whether Rwandans should trust Kagame with running their country’s affairs further should be based on what he has achieved for them. When you look into President Kagame’s 2017-2024 Manifesto, he had set out to consolidate the gains made over the past years and continue promoting national cohesion, justice for all, upholding democracy, promote good governance and socio-economic development. The current facts on the ground proves that Kagame has so far managed to deliver his Manifesto on 80% in the first 5 years of his 7-year term. By way of achievements, Kagame is positioned as most preferred candidate for next presidency.

From the economic perspective, President Kagame’s led Rwanda has consistently registered a tremendous economic growth over the past years. After a global economic crisis brought up by world’s most deadly virus, the Covid-19 pandemic, the country managed to record 10.9% economic growth in 2021 defying all odds with a contraction of 3.4% in 2020.

The latest statistics released by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) indicate that the country’s Gross Domestic Product-GDP grew by 7.9% to Rwf 3,025,000,000 (US$ 2.9 million) in the first quarter of 2022. The service, agriculture and industry sectors are top contributors to the fast growing economy.

Under Kagame’s reign, Rwanda aspires to become Middle Income Country status and High Income Country status as stipulated in its ambitious Vision 2035 and 2050 respectively. Furthermore, the government has managed to control the fiscal deficit, thus maximizing the revenue generation and controlling external borrowings despite economic constraints posed by the pandemic. Considering the current economic status of the country, President Kagame stands out as the most suitable presidential candidate for more terms in office against his competitors.

Critics need to up their game and desist from opportunistic and unprincipled politics. Those challenging Kagame’s administration have categorically failed to punch holes into his policies rather chose to go after him on a personal level, which discredits and weaken their arguments. People centered policies, inclusivity in the national development, zero tolerance to corruption, gender equality, accelerated development, political tolerance, respect for human rights and security, safety stability have yielded incredible results which places Kagame’s critics between a rock and hard place when it comes to challenging his leadership.

The argument in the opposition camp should be on how to lay out better policies than Kagame’s not just overthrowing him without alternatives. We have seen, once stable countries turning into failed states just because western backed greedy politicians thought toppling governments would address pressing issues in the country. Nonetheless, they later on realized that they were just burning their bridges.

However, President Kagame’s statement that he would consider to re-run doesn’t bar anyone other Rwandan from participating in the presidential race. Rwanda as a multiparty democracy with over 10 registered opposition parties can field as many presidential candidates as possible and leave the rest in the hands of voters. The Green Party Leader and legislator Frank Habineza’s recent remarks on challenging Kagame are valid but the need for numerical strength and a clear political trajectory are prerequisite to achieve his mission to stop incumbent leader whether by ballot in the upcoming polls or in case a referendum is necessitated in the future.

Rwandans and Kagame’s critics ought to assess him on his achievements not the number of years he has ruled the country.

Sam Abdul Aziz Sewanyana Jr is a Political Analyst.

President Paul Kagame during 2017 Presidential campaigns.