On January 19, Fred Mufulukye, the director-general of territorial administration and good governance at the Ministry of Local Government, penned an opinion piece, Analysing Rwanda’s presidential term limits: The quest for change and continuity.
In the article, Mufulukye calls for the amendment of the Constitution to give President Paul Kagame a chance to stay in office beyond 2017 (or have a “third term,” as it is called in the media).
Article 101 of the 2003 Constitution limits presidential terms to two of seven years each.
Mufulukye justifies his call on a number of things, including the need to respect the wishes of the Rwandan public, whom he said are demanding Kagame’s continued stewardship, ensuring continued security and development and, as he put it, “a concern [as to] whether there is someone prepared and ready to take up President Kagame’s responsibility.…”
He concluded: “President Kagame has displayed unique leadership potentials and character in dealing [with] and managing Rwanda’s challenges and changing this active and effective leader to venture into the world of the unknown just for the sake of change would be considered suicidal, irrational and unreasonable.”
After the publication of the article, sections of the media presented it as the opinion of a “low-ranking official” hinting at the possibility of referendum to delete presidential term limits in the Constitution to enable President Kagame stay in office.
Reflectively, I think we would miss the train if we understood the opinion to exclusively be Mufulukye’s. To catch the train, we need to recognise it as reflecting the dominant thinking within the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) and why, unless President Kagame objects, a third term is already cooked for him to serve. I offer five reasons why that is so.
First, it’s uncharacteristic for officials in the public service to write opinion pieces in newspapers — least of all on contentious political issues. Yes, there are some, especially those in charge of media issues, who regularly do so, but that Mufulukye did points to the existence of a collective standpoint to put forth.
In other words, Mufulukye might have acted as a conveyor or spokesperson.
Second, the opinion ran on pages two and three of The New Times. Now, these are some of the most important pages in any newspaper, normally reserved for the main stories. That prime space was secured for the purpose suggests more powerful hands at play.
Third, speaking to some RPF insiders, one learns that a third term for President Kagame is on the cards. Yes, there was time for some internal debate, analysing the advantages and disadvantages of the move, and the former judged to outweigh the latter.
Fourth, considering the political and financial muscle of the RPF, it would be daydreaming to imagine a bump on its road to a political goal.
Finally, looking at the obstacles other leaders who have sought a third term have encountered, one learns that they are nearly non-existent in Rwanda. These include a strong political opposition, a strong and activist civil society and an opposed donor community.
In Rwanda, the opposition is dearly weak to mount any meaningful challenge, civil society is almost clueless and the donors, broadly, would be described as relaxed at the possibility of a Kagame third term.
For example, a senior Western diplomat in Kigali recently told me that, while it would be great if President Kagame retired, as it would bring a lot of political capital due to what he has achieved, “I don’t mind if the Constitution was changed to allow him to stay in power, as long as it’s done in the right way.”
His reasoning? “He is doing very good things; look around! He is good for Rwanda. He guarantees security and continued development.”
Comparatively, my acquaintance added, because of his performance, the international community would be more tolerant of a third term for Kagame than in countries such as Burundi and DR Congo.
Put simply, therefore, as it stands, only Mr Kagame can deny President Kagame a third term because, politically speaking, there is little that would stand in his way if he gave a nod to his supporters’ demands.
Dr Christopher Kayumba, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism, the University of Rwanda, and managing consultant at MGC Consult Ltd. E-mail: [email protected] ; Twitter: @CKayumba