The dropping of two senior Rwanda Patriotic Front cadres from the Cabinet has fuelled speculation that the duo had opposed a third term for President Paul Kagame.
Former justice minister and attorney general Tharcisse Karugarama and the former minister of cabinet affairs Protais Musoni were dropped in a surprise mini-Cabinet reshuffle.
Mr Musoni and Mr Karugaramawere the last of the remaining “historicals” who helped found the Rwanda Alliance of National Unity (Ranu) — an organisation of ethnic Tutsis and other sidelined Rwandans in exile — which was to later become the Rwandese Patriotic Front that took power through a guerrilla war in 1994.
Political observers say the dropping of the two senior politicians could have been a result of divisions within Rwanda’s ruling party over the raging debate on whether President Paul Kagame should be given a chance to stand for the presidency in 2017, when his constitutional mandate expires.
According to RPF insiders, momentum is building for an amendment to the Constitution to allow the party chairman another term in office.
While he has in the past spoken out against the idea of a third term, the Rwandan leader has not explicitly ruled out the possibility of his returning in 2017.
Mr Karugarama and Mr Musoni are believed to be strongly opposed to the idea of amending the Constitution on the grounds that it will tarnish the image of RPF and soil its reformist record.
“There was a high level meeting at the RPF secretariat... in which the two men categorically opposed the amending of the Constitution to allow President Kagame another term in office, saying that the party has many capable individuals to take over from Kagame,” said an insider.
In an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Mr Karugarama said that he firmly believed that President Kagame would not be interested in amending the Constitution, adding that there is a need to maintain the rule of law.
In an interview with the same newspaper, President Kagame reacted to a reference to this statement by asking the journalist why Mr Karugarama was bothered by whether he should go or not, when Mr Karugarama himself “had stayed in government for so long. Why don’t you tell him to step down himself? All those years he’s been there, he’s not the only one who can be the justice minister,” said President Kagame. before brushing aside the third term debate.
“In the end, we should come to a view that serves us all. But in the first place, I wonder why it becomes the subject of heated debate?” He added.
While there is nothing unusual in a routine Cabinet reshuffle, observers have interpreted these events as a sign of friction within the ruling party.
When called by The EastAfrican Mr Karugarama said he was in no position to speak, asking us to wait until he hands over the instruments of office to his successor, Justice Johnston Busingye, who prior to the appointment was at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). Mr Musoni was replaced by Stella Ford Mugabo in the Cabinet Affairs Ministry.
RPF vice president Christophe Bazivamo told The EastAfrican that the reshuffle should not be seen as party politics, but rather a “routine change in the government.”
“It has nothing to do with the RPF. The party and the government are two different entities,” said Mr Bazivamo.
On the other hand, it is believed that the long serving Mr Musoni, 60, had asked to retire from the government after bouts of ill health. He was regarded as being among the “super ministers,” having served in different vital ministerial portfolios.
Mr Karugarama on the other hand is a seasoned judge who has been credited for turning around the Rwandan justice system and the judiciary.
Mr Karugarama has been behind the sweeping reforms within the sector, overseeing important justice programmes such as Gacaca, which dealt with genocide cases.
Other observers argue that the two senior officials were no longer fit to serve in highly demanding positions in President Kagame’s mainly youthful Cabinet. The two were the oldest Cabinet members, being in their 60s.
Mr Musoni, credited for dreaming up and implementing Rwanda’s efficient decentralisation system, is thought to have asked President Kagame to allow him to retire after battling high blood pressure.