The decision on who should lead Rwanda even after 2017 should fall within the parameters of democracy. Democracy is the government of people, for the people and by the people. The choice should, therefore, be left in the hands and wishes of the Rwandan people.
It should also be recalled that the Rwandan constitution as revised to date was established and enacted based on the ideas of Rwandans. Based on the principles of democracy, Rwandans have constitutional rights to modify or review their constitution to match it with their current aspirations and wishes.
It is in this understanding that article 101 of the Rwanda Constitution can’t be seen as stumbling block to the wishes of Rwandans. It states that ; “The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years renewable only once”. It further reads : “Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms”.
Paragraph 1 of article 193, provides that power to initiate amendment of the Constitution shall be vested concurrently in the President of the Republic upon the proposal of the Cabinet and each Chamber of Parliament upon a resolution passed by a two thirds (2/3) majority vote of its members. However, paragraph 3 of article 193 provides that, the constitutional amendment concerning the term of the President of the Republic, must be passed by referendum, after adoption by each Chamber of Parliament. The last paragraph provides that no amendment to this Article (193) shall be permitted, meaning it is only done through referendum.
Today, Rwandans have publicly demanded and requested H.E the President to accept their appeal and stand again. Their request depends on their constitutional rights to modify the presidential term limit.
Political term limits is a political choice
Depending on global political dynamics on term limits, some countries prefer setting term limits for their Heads of State and Government while others do not.
The United States placed a limit of two terms on its presidency by means of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution in 1951 which was amended after President Roosevelt. In 1940, Roosevelt became the only president to be elected to a third term ; his supporters cited the war in Europe as a reason for breaking with precedent. Prior to Roosevelt, few Presidents attempted to serve for more than two terms but did not win elections though they were not limited to serving more than one term.
In the 1944 election, during World War II, Roosevelt won a fourth term, but suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died in office the following year. In 1947, the congress passed Twenty-second Amendment of the United States Constitution setting a term limit for election to the office of President of the United States.
Since then, there have been repeated attempts to repeal the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limits each president to two terms. In 1985, when Ronald Reagan was serving his second term, some senators introduced legislation to repeal the Twenty-second Amendment. There are other amendments that have been proposed, such as giving Congress the power to grant a dispensation to a current or former president by way of a supermajority vote in both houses.
In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister has no term limits. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Monarch and remains in office so long as he/she can command the confidence of the House of Commons, which in practice equals being the leader of the party with the most number of seats. Examples of the UK prime ministers and their years in office :
Margaret Thatcher, was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990
Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the UK from 1997 to 2007. He was a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2007 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1994 to 2007. He resigned all these positions in June 2007.
Gordon Brown was the UK Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party from 2007 until 2010
The Prime Minister of Singapore is the head of the government of the Republic of Singapore. The President of Singapore appoints a Prime Minister, a Member of Parliament (MP) who, in his opinion, should command the confidence of a majority of MPs.
Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of Singapore from 1959 to 1990. He has been the longest-serving Prime Minister of Singapore. He is regarded as the Father of Singapore for his leadership capability to lead Singapore from third world country into a first world country. He led the PAP (People’s Action Party) into eight consecutive election victories.
NB : Referring to the above international experiences on political term limits, Heads of State and governments are mandated to serve depending on wishes of the people, either directly or indirectly (through MPs).
Underlying concerns of Rwandans to change President Kagame
President Paul Kagame is the first President Rwandans have had who is not involved in any political divisive agenda. He is widely admired for ably leading a very complicated liberation struggle, stopping the Genocide against the Tutsi, rebuilding the nation, building national unity and dealing with the consequences of the Genocide.
President Kagame has transformed the country in just less than 20 years. His vision for Rwanda, his dream, focus, resilience to the core principles of the liberation struggle, all have put him above the rest. Leaders like him are very rare and come once in hundreds of years.
His personality and leadership traits have helped unite Rwandans, created hope, trust and confidence in the Rwandan community.
The majority of Rwandan community have anxiety, fear and uncertainty of what may happen after 2017. The positive impact created by President Kagame’s vision and leadership in Rwanda makes the majority of Rwandans hesitant to change him and makes them uncertain about the future of Rwanda in another person’s command.
Peace and Security. Rwanda is a secure country and has become an icon of peace and security in Africa and beyond. In view of our recent history where everyone has been affected in one way or another, Rwandans recognise President Kagame as their source of security, comfort and the father of Rwanda.
There is a concern as to whether there is someone prepared and ready to take up President Kagame’s responsibility and manage Rwanda’s political spectrum, regional and international dynamics.
Everybody appreciates President Kagame efforts and determination to build effective and efficient institutions and systems for both the government and RPF.
After the transition period (2003), just a period of 11 years, though there are commendable efforts to appreciate, our institutions are still young and need to be guided, nurtured, energised and modified along their development course.
Looking at countries that have been stable and developed for over 200 years, like USA, they still face some challenges leading to modifications of their policies, laws and strengthening the existing institutions.
It has also been noticed that institutions alone are not enough to sustain development and unity of a nation. There are examples of countries where change of performing leaders has turned their development curve. Example can be seen in Africa and beyond.
Geopolitics and hostile international environment. Rwanda being positioned in the Great Lakes region continues to be affected by insecurity and hostilities of some countries some of which are fueled by hostile environment and geopolitical interests. President Kagame has been bold and indomitable on the international and region pressure, which has put Rwanda on international scene and restored Rwanda’s pride and image. Some hostile countries and politicians see him as a stumbling block to their agenda on Rwanda and Africa.
Rwandans are still puzzled by whether President Kagame will accept their wish to continue after 2017. He has in different meetings kept a strong position not to change the term limit for him to continue despite overwhelming justifications. However, Rwandans have hope that his love and commitment to serve them, his nature to take up challenging responsibilities as long as they are in the interest of Rwandans (ref. 1990 when he abandoned his studies in USA to join and lead the RPF struggle that had almost failed), will make him accept their plea and lead them even after 2017.
Some people have raised concerns about President Kagame’s legacy if he accepted to lead Rwanda after 2017. Legacy should not be confused and limited to political term limit, instead it is a totality of delivering a country from one point to another.
Taking an example of Singapore’s PM, Lee Kuan Yew who is regarded as the Father of Singapore. His legacy is unquestionable after leading Singapore from the 3rd to the 1st world, without looking at the term limit.
Likewise, President Kagame is on the right course, taking Rwanda from 3rd to the 1st world. His legacy should be judged on his delivery to the Rwandans than other forms.
Do Rwandans have a constitutional right to amend the presidential term limit ?
Article 101 of Rwanda Constitution provides the Presidential term limit while article 193 provides the possibility of its amendment.
Basing on the fact that amendment of article 101 is permitted by the constitution, it should be clearly understood that any amendments follow set procedure.
In Rwanda, the plea for amendment of presidential term limit has been engineered and consistently demanded by the grassroots population in different fora, unlike other countries where attraction of power remains a strong motivating factor for many leaders. What is unique for Rwanda, the President has always not welcomed the demands to amend the constitution. However, Rwandans have continued demanding and questioning :
Why was article 193 provided if Rwandans’ demand to amend the constitution is not given attention ?
Aren’t we not compromising democracy if wishes of the Rwandan people to amend their constitution are not given importance ?
When shall this article be relevant in Rwandan history and in which conditions if today’s Rwandan demands are not listened to ?
Way forward for Rwanda
Basing on the fact that there is no universally accepted political term limit direction, different countries take their political term limit choices depending on their political situations and change whenever they deem it necessary.
It is up to the Rwandans to analyse and decide what would be their best choice. It would be wise and be left for Rwandans to decide, considering Rwanda unique context and how they have confronted it under the leadership of President Kagame : Genocide and its consequences, fragile society, too much of regional and international hostile environment, growing economy, international recognition, investment and doing business climate, social cohesion etc.
President Kagame has displayed unique leadership potentials and character in dealing and managing Rwanda’s challenges, and changing this active and effective leader to venture into the world of the unknown just for the sake of change would be considered suicidal, irrational and unreasonable.
The author is the director general of territorial administration and good governance at the Ministry of Local Government - Rwanda.