A dictator’s Dilemma: Kagame’s options in the face of Burkina Faso

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The politics and attitudes in Sub Saharan Africa are evolving, perhaps credit must be given to the Arab spring. African nations have since independence been characterized by a patrimonial systems in which politics has been cultic at the detriment of institutions or any form of representative politics. Perhaps culture, and to a larger extent a history of struggle from colonialism and one that was led by larger-than-life individuals such as Nyerere, Nkrumah, Kenyatta and Mugabe to name a few, can help to explain this tendency.

Africa is going through a renaissance both economically and politically. We are experiencing a shift from this personality-cult politics and Burkina Faso is a key example of this process. President Blaise Compaoré’s attempt and failure to change the Burkina Faso constitution in order to increase his 27 year rule is symbolic of what lays ahead in the continent. There are a number of presidents who reports suggest have been thinking of increasing their presidential terms, notably Rwanda’s Kagame and DRC’s Kabila. It was reported that Secretary of State John Kerry categorically warned Kabila of such an attempt during the foregone US-Africa Summit in Washington. Whether he heeds this warning from the US we are yet to see.

Rwanda’s Kagame is finishing his last term in 2017 and there has been chatter of a constitutional amendment to allow him to continue. “Some Rwandans,” one may argue “state stooges” have been campaigning on behalf of the president claiming that – ‘no one changes the winning team’ meaning that Kagame must continue at the helm of power since ‘the team is winning’ [whatever that means]. Those that follow the events in Rwanda closely are aware of the underlying oppression in the country, especially of the majority Hutu population and a growing number of Tutsis that do not agree with Mr Kagame’s regime. Human Rights observers have documented human rights abuses and the lacks of media and political freedoms. It follows therefore, like in Burkina Faso, that the people of Rwanda will not accept another 7 years with President Kagame at the helm of power. What therefore are the options available that Kagame is currently debating with his advisors?

Kagame’s options:

1. Change the constitution: This has been the favoured option before the recent events of Burkina Faso. The plan would have been to present to the world that the people of Rwanda are adamant that Mr Kagame must stay, and that without him in charge, the country is lost. This presentation would remind the world that Kagame at the helm of the RPF halted the genocide (a premise once contradicted by himself) and since there is still a threat of “genocide ideology” and so called genocidaires living abroad, then Kagame must continue to rule in order to ensure the safety of Rwandans. The argument would further state that at Kagame’s hand, the economy of the country has had miraculous leaps and bounds and therefore this cannot be jeopardised by a change in leadership. Finally an argument that has been at many occasions awkwardly proposed by Kagame himself in the many times the question of 2017 is asked, is that a constitution is man-made. Rwandans made it. We (Kagame and co) made it. The same way it is made, it can be destroyed.

Problems: The problems that Kagame faces with this option is that the argument about him halting the genocide is now seriously in doubt. The economy argument is flawed as many neighbouring countries are doing as well if not better, thus it is not Kagame or the RPF responsible for this growth but can be explained by a wider state of affairs. The issue of insecurity and genocidaires is increasingly been questioned given evidence of war mongering by the Kigali regime in Congo and Burundi and evidence of mass atrocities and human rights abused spanning two decades that are documented by the UN and other reputable organisations.

2. Install his wife as president: One option that many believe Kagame has been contemplating is to rule by proxy. A spouse taking office is after all not a strange phenomenon. Currently it is believed that Mrs Clinton will be vying for the presidency. Having been two administrations following her husband’s presidency, one may dismiss this comparison. How about Argentina? President Kirchner was preceded by her husband Néstor Kirchner and is now on her second term, democratically elected by the people of Argentina. If Mrs Kagame were to take office in 2017, the fact that she is a spouse like Mrs Kirchner is where the comparisons would end. Unlike Cristina Kirchner whose mandate is undoubtedly democratic, it is impossible that Jeannette Kagame’s would. Given that her husband has had to rely on falsifying the last two elections with votes amounting to 95% (2003) and 93% (2010), it is not likely that his wife would have a democratic victory, unless of course it was manufactured.

Problems: Although this option would allow Mr Kagame to continue to rule by proxy, the practicality of it may be very difficult. It is clear that Mrs Kagame has been increasingly thrust into public life recently, however one has to wonder whether she has the backbone for dictatorship in circumstances where her husband may not be at hand to manipulate the situation.

3. Install Bernard Makuza as President, and Kagame as Prime Minister: The sudden sacking of the former Prime Minister Dr Habumuremyi and installation of Mr Makuza, a cousin of President Kagame, as president of the Senate, must be treated with caution. One way to get round a constitutional barrier without having to go through the dangerous headache of constitutional reform is to follow in the footsteps of Russia’s president Putin. All this would require is a recalibration of power within the administration, where all concerned (domestic and foreign), still know in which office the real power resides. I believe Kagame and the RPF are considering this option however below is my advice:

Problems: Kagame should be cautious of simply assuming that what Putin did successfully would bear the same result in Rwanda. There is a fundamental difference between his and Putin’s situation domestically. President Putin has always enjoyed extremely high approval within Russia. Even his opponents whether domestic or otherwise, would agree with this premise. It is therefore clear that his manoeuvring with Medvedev was sanctioned by the establishment but most importantly by the majority of Russians. The same cannot be said of Kagame and Rwandans. If the need to falsify elections in Rwanda exists, that should show the establishment that the people of Rwanda do not want Kagame and will see through any such trickery.

4. Emergency powers for national security: This option may end up being the most favoured by Kagame come 2017. This would involve restarting conflict in the DRC in the name of going after the FDLR and other groups that allegedly threaten Rwandan security. Further to this, it has been reported that the Rwandan regime is planning on causing havoc in Burundi resulting in the deaths of Tutsis and government officials, leading to regime change in that country. This, it is reported, will be used as a springboard for attacks on Tanzania.[1] Furthermore, insecurity within the country itself will be another option. This has already started by the several grenades that have been exploding in the country in the name of terrorism. It will then be argued that there cannot be a change in administration when the country is at war or being threatened by external forces, and forces within. This will be a proposition that is reasonable and that the international community will have to understand and support.

Problems: This plan may not reach fruition as Kigali’s aggressiveness and Kagame’s lack of diplomatic demeanour is becoming clearer by the day. The region and the international community are becoming more aware of a need for a strong message followed up by unequivocal action against the Rwandan regime. This, we saw in the region’s dealing with the M23, a proxy Rwandan militia and the subsequent rhetoric coming out of Washington and Europe.

Whichever options above or others that President Kagame is considering, he, and other African leaders should take heed of the message from the events of Burkina Faso. They are not isolated or unique to Burkina Faso. This is a new African people emerging. A people informed and a people determined to make their voice heard. The African people will increasingly decide their leaders, and their leaders will increasingly serve their people and be accountable to them.

Peter Mutabaruka

[1] Noble Marara, Behind the presidential curtains: Kagame planning to terrorise Burundi, Inyenyeri News

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