Cabinet reshuffle reignites succession debate

Saturday July 26 2014


President Paul Kagame made major changes in his government last week, once again plunging Rwanda into a political guessing game as to whether he will step down in 2017 when his official presidential term expires.

In a major reshuffle, Dr Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, whose appointment as prime minister back in October 2011 surprised many given his limited political record, was dropped and replaced with Anastase Murekezi formerly the minister for labour who is a senior member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD).

While Mr Murekezi’s appointment is largely seen as a political balancing act, the appointment of Francis Kaboneka, a youthful Member of Parliament representing the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front, to the key position of Minister for Local Government has sent signals that the president is seeking fresh blood either to take over in 2017 or to rally support for his third term.

Mr Kaboneka, a powerful RPF cadre who sits on its disciplinary committee, replaces James Musoni, also a political heavyweight in the RPF who was been appointed to head the Ministry of Infrastructure.

Having risen through the youth ranks of the ruling party, Mr Kaboneka’s credentials as a mobiliser are not in question. Speculation is rife that Mr Kaboneka’s immediate task will be to rally the youth to continue to support the RPF agenda.

But according to Senator Tito Rutaremara, a senior member of the RPF, the appointment of young people to key positions is proof that the ruling party is nurturing young people to take over from where the founders and current leaders stop.

“It gives us pride to see that someone like Mr Kaboneka came up through the ranks of the party as a youth and was sent to parliament and he continued to perform. The president noticed him and rewarded him with a ministerial post. It shows that RPF is nurturing young people and there are many more who like Kaboneka are working their way up,” he said.

But still others see the reshuffle by President Kagame as a strategic move to fast-track key projects and programmes ahead of 2017, which are vital to reinforcing his legacy.

Despite the president’s considerable personal popularity across the country, observers fear that failure to manage a peaceful transition of power by President Kagame could threaten the economic and social stability achieved by the RPF government.

Omar Khalifan, a lecturer at University of Rwanda and a political analyst, said the changes are a move by the president to drive results.

“President Kagame is known as a leader who demands results. His government evaluates itself and if there are areas identified where progress is slow or stalling, changes are introduced immediately, which could be the motivation behind the reshuffle,” the Don says.

He also argues that bringing in young blood that is competent is good for governance.

By moving Mr Musoni to Infrastructure, analysts say President Kagame aims at stabilising and “making things work” in a ministry that has been falling short on delivering on vital energy and infrastructure projects. Mr Musoni has previously served as minister for finance too.

“Mr Musoni is the one who gets things done wherever he goes, from finance and planning to local government, his assignments have been clearly defined. President Kagame now thinks that it is now time to make things work in Infrastructure,” a source in government privy to the matters said.

Mr Musoni replaces Prof Silas Lwakabamba, who has been moved to yet another unstable docket, the Ministry of Education. The academic has been under pressure to deliver on key energy and infrastructure projects as well as addressing the country’s housing shortage.

But the bouncing back of the former minister of sports and culture Joseph Habineza in the new Cabinet who until his appointment was Rwanda’s ambassador to Nigeria has also generated interest among Rwandans. He gets his sports docket back.

He resigned back in 2011 due to a public backlash after photos of him in the company of young girls emerged online.

But Mr Habineza has remained popular and is widely seen as a hard worker whose immediate tasks will include ensuring that Rwanda successfully hosts the Africa Nations Championships (Chan) in 2016.

However, for Dr David Himbara, a former member of the current government currently in exile, the changes in the Cabinet did not mean much as, according to him, President Kagame controls almost every aspect of the government. He describes the new prime minister as a “yes man” who cannot say no to any decision made from above.

“Kagame exercises near-total power in every branch of government.

Checks and balances through the judicial system and legislative branch are a myth,” said Dr Himbara, describing the Rwandan head of state as a CEO.

Dr Himbara, who until 2010 was President Kagame’s principal private secretary, said the instability in vital ministries such as Infrastructure and Education is something to worry about as appointees who are quickly changed cannot bring about fundamental change.