This is question recently posed to me by a reader. My answer is of course YES. AND WHY NOT? There are several “IF” – but nevertheless there is no reason to believe that Rwanda is doomed forever to undergo violent transfer of power from one government to the next. I maintain that it is not too late to prepare for proper handover of power in 2017.
Let us explore what it would take to have a peaceful regime change in Rwanda. I propose that four critical conditions are fundamental to such a ‘miraculous’ process and event -something that would undoubtedly be considered a stunning historical moment for Rwanda, Africa and even the world.
The four fundamentals are as follows:
1) President Kagame’s Political U-turn to save Rwanda;
2) National conference on transfer of power;
3) Governance of the transfer of power; and
4) Roadmap for the transfer of power.
PRESIDENT KAGAME’S POLITICAL U-TURN TO SAVE RWANDA
By political U-Turn I mean a sudden real and substantial change of direction by a leader due to changed circumstances. Political U-Turn may occur due to genuine self-rediscovery on the part of a leadership or for opportunistic reasons such the need to maximise a politician’s popularity before or after elections. Either way, it is a change of direction for achieving a desired outcome.
A recent striking example of a national leadership U-Turn is Burma’s or rather Myanmar’s military rulers’ decision to free the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 2011; she had been under house arrest since 1990. Events have since moved so fast. Suu Kyi announced in June 2013 that she intends to run for the presidency in 2015 elections.
Kagame’s political U-Turn would similarly mean freeing political prisoners and nullifying absentia sentences against exiled opponents to create a more conducive environment in which to discuss Rwanda’s political future.
I don’t know what exactly made Myanmar’s military rulers to make a U-Turn. Neither can I imagine what might make President Paul Kagame to undergo his own U-Turn. All I know is that it happened in Myanmar and that country is no longer a rogue state in it neighbourhood. This could happened in Rwanda, too. Why not?
NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON TRANSFER OF POWER
Lessons on a national conference as a means to transfer power peacefully may be drawn from our own continent – from Benin. In 1990, Benin held Africa’s first National Conference. The conference involved all major stakeholders including political parties and civil society organisations to map out the future of the country free from dictatorships. Benin has since enjoyed remarkable political stability. I has transferred presidential and legislative power freely and fairly at the ballot box three times. It has an independent electoral commission with a track record of fairness. Benin enjoys a lively independent press; it has a Constitutional Court and a High Court of Justice that can hear cases against the head of state and senior-level officials. And above all has, Benin kept authoritarian politics under control for over two decades.
If Benin can have the courage to convene a national conference to save itself, so can Rwanda! If we can somehow acquire political courage, we can do it! WHY NOT? Even RPF can in the process redeem itself – not by grabbing power but by becoming the mid-wife of a genuine political dispensation. In this case, the new political system would have been invented by a well-grounded national conference involving all key stakeholders of Rwandan society.
GOVERNANCE OF THE TRANSFER OF POWER IN RWANDA
Today Rwanda’s political atmosphere is tainted due to RPF’s excesses. Mistrust is at its highest level ever – which extends in almost all aspects of the national life. Persistent and long-standing heavy-handedness leads to mutual mistrust between the government, political opposition and the population. Too many opponents of the regime are in voluntary or forced exile. Opposition leaders languish in jail.
The national conference would be a new lease on life. It would thoroughly debate and agree on governance structures and systems of the new beginning. It would define roles of government, parties and civil society. Again, who says we are cursed and can’t learn from Benin and others?
ROADMAP FOR THE TRANSFER OF POWER IN RWANDA
Just as the national conference would conceive governance structures and systems for an effective transfer of power, the same body would determine the Road-map. The conference would also determine who will execute what and by what timelines.
In conclusion, I am aware that some people may conclude that I am a hopeless dreamer to imagine that RPF would work itself out of power; that the Kagame government would contain arrogance and pursue national salvation; that it is pure madness to imagine things like political U-Turn and national conference in iron-fisted Rwanda whose language is force and violence.
Yes indeed – I admit to a special kind of naivety known as die-hard optimism. Utter pessimism kills dreaming, and without dreams we might as well be dead.