No constitutional ambiguity on 2017 Kagame’s exit

Two years before 2017, what is the outlook of the Rwandan political scenery? What does the fundamental law of the country says about political alternance? Answering these questions and discussing a scenario of political crisis for the country and appropriate options constitute the core of this note.

Outlook on the Rwandan political scenery

For many interested spectators of the Rwandan political scenery, the proliferation of political parties from the opposition (26 for some and more by others’ estimates) is significantly explained by the belief of a number of these leaders in a potential eventuality of being part of a government of transition.

This has a precedent in recent history of the country. In 1992, a coalition of political parties entered in the Rwandan government alongside the well established MRND of the assassinated president Juvenal Habyarimana. Despite the conditions of war Rwanda experienced at the time, the country was pressurised by its partners of development to engage in a society tolerating the existence of different political parties. Presently the context might be significantly different.

However, there is no doubt that opportunism that motivated some in those years still guides as well a number of many in creating political parties, especially those operating or only being reported in the diaspora but without any visible political activity to show off. It goes without mentioning that the Rwandan internal political scene is dominated by RPF of president Paul Kagame.

It appears clearly to any attentive observer that opportunism is central to Rwandan politics. To curve the trend could depend on tightening the implementation of existing laws in filling power vacuum that particular circumstances of crisis create. This will happen once concerned Rwandans will be aware of what their laws say, and ensure that the good ones are especially enforced.

Looked at objectively, wherever in Africa transitional governments have been put in place after political crisis, be it in Rwanda in 1994, Libya in 2011 or most recently Burkina Faso in October 2014, governmental structures that replaced those existing have undoubtedly robbed the citizens of their right to choose their leaders.

And unfortunately it has not been always because of the insufficiencies of the law, but instead the strong and detrimental desire of opportunist politicians or military and their foreign sponsors who vied to occupy the seats left empty sometimes with their complicity.

The majority of constitutions, if not all, are perfect on the paper. The issue arises when it comes to their implementation. In Rwanda particularly, ignoring deliberately the laws that Kagame’s regime has put in place itself, this has been a constant for its rule.

Dispositions of the fundamental law

In its preamble, the Rwandan constitution indicates that citizens are “3° Determined to fight dictatorship by putting in place democratic institutions and leaders freely elected …” If a president after 21 years in power is something else than an asserted or unconscious dictator or in denial, the concept of dictatorship must be redefined.

By 2017, the Rwandan president Paul Kagame will have done 2 terms in office. There is no ambiguity on that. He should then leave and give space to somebody else, whatever the propaganda that his fans are spearheading as the exit time gets closer.

If one adds Kagame’s position of strong man of the Rwandan politics since 1994 to the period of 14 years after his controversial elections of 2003 and 2010, he will have spent 23 years in power by the end of his official second term.

The constitution is crystal clear on the subject. It indicates in its Article 105 that:

“The incumbent President of the Republic remains in office until his or her successor assumes office. However, the incumbent President may not, during this period, exercise the following powers:

1° declaration of war;

2° declaration of a state of emergency or a state of siege;

3° calling a referendum.

In addition, the Constitution shall not be amended during this period. In the event that the duly elected President of the Republic dies or is on account of any reason permanently unable or otherwise chooses not to assume office, new elections are held.

Hypothetically, if for example the presidential candidate of Ishema Party Fr. Thomas Nahimana (among all political leaders of the Rwandan opposition he is the only one who has already declared that he would participate to the elections of 2017) won, the incumbent president Paul Kagame that the law prohibits from seeking another term in those elections will be limited in his prerogatives during his waiting time to passover the keys of his office to the winner.

As they say, failing to plan is planning to fail. In that regard, the Rwandan constitution has made appropriate dispositions to fill the gaps of every imaginable political eventualities of power vacuum. Article 107 indicates what the vacancy in the office of the president could entail if for example its occupant became accidentally and permanently absent.

In the event of the death, resignation or permanent incapacity of the President of the Republic, the President is replaced in an acting capacity by the President of the Senate; in the absence of the President of the Senate, by the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and in the absence of both, the duties of the President are assumed in an acting capacity by the Prime Minister.

The acting President of the Republic referred to in this article shall not make appointments to public office, call a referendum, initiate an amendment to the Constitution, exercise the prerogative of mercy or make a declaration of war.

In the event that the office of the President of the Republic becomes vacant before the expiry of the President’s term, elections to replace him or her are organized within a period not exceeding ninety days. …

Scenario of political crisis

October 31st, 2014 we saw in Burkina Faso how popular uprising removed former president Blaise Compaore from power. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the initiative for political change was by the people in the streets of Ouagadougou, military men hijacked it. It is no secret that Colonel Zida, the nominated prime minister of the transition, is presently the strong man of the situation.

In the case of Rwanda, whatever might be the causes of incapacitation of the president, the mentioned dispositions of the constitution should prevail. People shouldn’t be surprised to note for example the pertinence of the change that president Kagame made in the summer of 2014 by appointing his relative – Bernard Makuza, to preside over the senate. Just in case of sudden political change, interests of the inner circle of the regime could therefore be preserved.

Among the cases of political crisis, one could think of popular uprising, military coup, assassination, declaration of war or situation of emergency. We remember somehow, for those who were eyewitnesses of the event, how the assassination of president Juvenal Habyarimana on April 6th, 1994 by president Paul Kagame drifted the whole country into total mayhem.

Envisageable options

In an interview that Shanduka Group CEO, Phuti Mahanyele, gave recently, on the question of what Africa needed most, the 2014 Forbes Africa business woman of the year replied that quality leadership was the most important thing the continent was lacking. At once I thought about education as the critical factor. But definitely good leadership could provide the level of education that Africa is in great need for its development to effectively take off.

Yes, it’s leadership which is most required. In Rwanda, the deceptive and empty slogans of women empowerment, alleviation of poverty, high growth rates or democracy, cleanliness of streets, reconciliation of Rwandans, make people realize that president Kagame failed his compatriots on many fronts.

Every well informed observer of the Rwandan political scenery and not benefiting from the status quo is aware of the following critical issues that the country is confronted with, and they don’t stop from worsening:

  • corruption
  • human rights
  • failed education system
  • high unemployment of youth
  • forced unemployment of French speakers
  • lack of energy
  • insufficient infrastructures of transport
  • inexistent reconciliation of hutu and tutsi
  • false democracy
  • multiple injustices (Rwanda is the second country after US with the highest rate of incarceration of its citizens)
  • people’s starvation (many across the country have only one meal a day)
  • dispossessions of peoples’ properties
  • cronyism
  • nespotism
  • apartheid worse than the old South African one
  • militarization of the Rwandan society
  • profound disparities between Kigali and the rest of Rwanda, etc.

Despite the acuity of these issues, Kagame’s PR machine and foreign friends such as former British prime minister Tony Blair, former US president Clinton, Rev Rick Warren and many others have so far managed to wrongly portray worldwide Rwanda as a paradise on earth.

2017 milestone in the Rwandan political calendar is around the corner. The country might fall straight into the abyss like in 1994 or recover fully and move towards a different but promising and reconciled future. The path that things might take will however depend significantly on the attitude of president Paul Kagame himself, but equally on how the political opposition and more significantly Rwanda’s partners of development and among them US and UK  will play in the events that will be unfolding around that time.

Political players with the most acute leadership will make the situation bend towards a particular direction. In the interests of Rwandans, politicians or not, as the first concerned, will need to punch in with their utmost strength, to get the outcome they want and deserve after so many years of suffering and injustices. If they don’t, they will be the only ones to blame. Nobody else.

Either in the opposition or among the inner circle of the RPF regime, there are opportunist politicians positioning themselves to take advantage of appropriate moments to be at the right place at the right time. Despite this reality, if good leadership could prevail, some personalities could emerge to take the country on a right path that could sustain its future development.

Whatever happens in 2017, respect of the existing laws despite their deficiencies should be paramount. President Kagame and his entourage have started their campaign to modify the constitution. However, Rwandans, like other Africans for example in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently, Burkina Faso last year, should not tolerate that a dictator, whoever are his foreign friends or is his external employer, continue to oppress them indefinitely. His exit in 2017 should be irreversible. Every Rwandan who wants real change that will give to all equal chances should work hard to see him out at that time.

Every time we talk of strong institutions. But these only come into being only when you and I believe into what they can contribute to into our overall well-beings as members of a particular society. For all Rwandans, 2017 will be a new start to build something that the country has so far been lacking: well performing institutions separate from the individuals that appear to represent them. Since there is no constitutional ambiguity to Kagame’s exit come that year, lets look forward and ready ourselves to change what went wrong in our country.

Ambrose Nzeyimana

Ambrose Nzeyimana
Political Analyst/ Activist

Organising for Africa, Coordinator
The Rising Continent, Blog editor

London, UK
Email: [email protected]