Kagame faces two critical challenges in the next seven years

Tuesday September 12 2017

President Kagame salutes the National Anthem

President Kagame salutes the National Anthem after he was sworn in as the President of Rwanda on August 17,2017. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA | NATION 

By CHRISTOPHER KAYUMBA
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President Paul Kagame begun his third term in office three weeks ago on August 18 following his swearing-in.

On September 1, he named the most gender-sensitive Cabinet in the world with 11 women Cabinet ministers out of 19.

This presents an opportune moment to look at what could be the two biggest challenges the president faces in the next seven years.

The challenges are interconnected and have to do with politics.

One challenge is externally generated while the second is internal. The externally generated problem is perpetuated by Western media and revolves around the idea that Rwanda is under a dictatorship and that there is no freedom of press, expression or dissenting views.

The internal challenge has to do with finding a way to strengthen, popularise, expand and institutionalise an agreed on power-sharing political system.

It also has to do with developing a culture of tolerance, where criticisms are countered with facts and evidence instead of with hate or lies.

These two challenges will not only define Kagame’s legacy but also the country’s success long after he has left office.

External challenge

This is because history shows that Rwanda’s tragic past, which resulted in the Genocide against the Tutsi wasn’t due to material poverty but a failure to construct a political system where everyone could benefit regardless of who they are or where they are born.

While the external challenge is well recorded in reports and newspaper articles that can be read by anyone anywhere in the world, responses to it largely turn up in the form of tweets from leaders and their supporters.

The reports and newspaper articles portray Rwanda as a country that has not made progress in guaranteeing civil and political rights since the genocide and Kagame is presented as the problem.

However, this narrative dismisses the Constitution, which spells out power-sharing between the political elite. It also ignores the limits imposed on free expression to curb genocide ideology.

The biggest and most contentious news headlines in the just concluded presidential election were externally generated and penned by foreigners.

These headlines attracted the attention of many of the country’s leaders, both on social and traditional media.

The reports and news articles were written by organisations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, media outlets like The Economist, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and several Western diplomats.

The country’s leaders termed the headlines as political interference from outsiders with some spurring on Twitter with figures like Human Rights Watch’s Kenneth Roth.

Internal challenge

History teaches us that external hands undermined internal cohesion in the struggle for Independence, damage the nation’s reputation and influence donors, while also undermining the country’s nascent power-sharing model.

Local leaders told us that these headlines were fuelled by hate and everything was great in the country.

Clearly, both narratives cannot be correct. The country’s communication should go beyond tweeting to dismiss what they perceive as hate and instead explain, in detailed articles, the choices the nation has taken and the reasons behind those decisions.

On the problem of getting all major political elites to invest in the power-sharing model for the long-term, three things need to happen.

First, constantly give details about the decisions being made for the good of the country.

Secondly, lower the legal threshold of five per cent of national electoral votes — that political parties must garner in parliamentary elections — to gain the right to share power to one or two per cent to enable “smaller” parties and their elites to participate in the power-sharing model.

Thirdly, criticism should be responded to with informed explanations rather than dismissed as hate. This will expand debate and develop mutual understanding.

Finally, and admittedly more controversially, since there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics, President Kagame should consider showing magnanimity and forgive former members of RPF who are currently out in the cold, but are willing to repent for the sake of political reconciliation.

If this kind of generosity was extended to some who participated in the genocide, surely those with lesser sins could be forgiven in the interest of national cohesion.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com