Who will succeed President Paul Kagame? Ask the ruling party – Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) – and Rwandan citizens, says the president.
“The succession plan is not mine. If it had been, I would not be here now; I would have left because that is what I intended to do,” President Kagame said last week during a panel discussion at the Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Kigali.
President Kagame was elected to a third seven-year term in 2017, after a constitutional referendum led to the suspension of term limits.
Under the amended constitution, a presidential term was slashed from seven to five years, and set to be renewed only once. This allows President Kagame to run for two further five-year terms when his current term ends– potentially making him rule for 34 years until 2034.
But even after winning his third term with an enviable 99 per cent of the vote, President Kagame said he had no intentions of leading past two terms, and was only persuaded by Rwandans to stay on.
“I intended to serve the two terms and leave; that was my intention and it is clear, I don’t have to keep defending myself on it. I was deeply satisfied in my heart ... until people asked me to stay,” he said.
“And even then, it took some time before I accepted; finally I did because of history — the history of my involvement in politics and being a leader which started from childhood.”
The Rwandan head of state argued that it was never his ambition to be president in the first place, and that he was not prepared to lead the country after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, turning down his party when they fronted him as a leader.
“In 1994, my party had taken it for granted that I was going to take the helm as the leader. I told them to look for someone else. I told them I wasn’t prepared for it; it was not what I was fighting for,” he said.
“I became vice president and Minister of Defence. Later, then president (Pasteur Bizimungu) had problems with parliament and was impeached. They turned to me and asked me to lead and I said yes.”
President Kagame warned that although it appeared as though his longevity in power has been left for him to decide, there will come a time when no amount of persuasion from his party or the citizenry will convince him to stay.
“If I were to reach a stage — and I will not reach that stage — where people ask me to continue... and when I feel I cannot do much for them, then I will tell them no. Even if they insist, I will also insist on going,” he said.
The president said that once he is out of power, he will support his successor.
But in a country where rights groups have alluded that the political climate only favours the ruling party, it is unlikely that President Kagame’s successor — whenever he or she comes — will come from outside the RPF.
On top of overseeing a strong recovery of the Rwandan economy, ensuring peace and stability, the RPF has consolidated political and financial power since taking over power in 1994.
This is to the point of having several other political parties seeking for coalition with RPF rather than contend for influence.