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Rwanda at a Crossroads: A Third Term for President Kagame or Not?

Rwanda at a Crossroads: A Third Term for President Kagame or Not?

When I first heard about the third term debate, I was not surprised. It had to come up sooner than later. If I was an adviser to President Kagame I would have probably pointed out to him the risk of the agenda to his international reputation of holding on to office and the risk of uncertainty that a change of leadership would entail. Interestingly, I would also have said to him not to get carried away even by the seemingly support of the private sector for him to stay. I am not his adviser so there ends my sermon. (Photo: Charles Kojo Vandyck, author)

Truth be told, President Kagame has not made his intention clear. He recently told the press he was not asking for a further term but was open to being convinced. In Rwanda, a change to the term limit requires backing from parliament and a referendum, but the outcome and the presidential election result would be in no doubt. Credited with restoring order and calm in Rwanda and reconstructing a collapsed country, President Kagame won 93 per cent of the vote in his last election. Like we say in Ghana “What a wow!”

For Rwanda’s development partners, with mixed feelings about President Kagame’s style of government, a constitutional change to extend his tenure would be uncomfortable. The dynamic development agenda and pro-business policies they support come with an inflexible political control and accusations of ruthless tactics towards opponents inside and outside the country. The attitude of the United States of America, Rwanda’s largest donor, which has promoted the use of Rwandan forces in African peacekeeping, will be essential.

As Africans, we are well aware of the prospect of incumbent presidents manipulating to stay in office, which is playing out albeit with hiccups in both neighbouring Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, in a country with a tradition of obedience to authority, power is concentrated in the person of President Kagame. He has been de facto leader since the 1994 genocide, becoming president under a transitional constitution six years later.

I have a soft spot for President Kagame and I must say I am fan but even sympathisers like me have to realise that there is still very little scope for dissent or meaningful opposition in Rwanda and this cannot be good for building a democratic and accountable society.

President Kagame has consistently during his tenure espoused the tenets of transparent and accountable governance. He consistently states on many platforms that he is committed to enshrining transparency, accountability and inclusiveness of government institutions and processes in Rwanda. I do not doubt his commitment to increasing poor and marginalised people’s access to public resources in a way that creates real and lasting change in Rwandan lives.

However, President Kagame should not shoot himself in the foot by poisoning the very delicious development meal he has forcefully and successfully spearheaded by not recognising the need to promote the following key aspects of sustainable democratic governance: (1) Increasing public participation including opening the space for divergent views in decisions about how public resources are distributed (2) Recognising the role of civil society and providing an enabling environment for them to monitor the management of public resources and the capacity of government to implement effective poverty reduction programmes. (3) Respecting the tenets of the Rwandan constitution and leading by example to ensure that it becomes the fulcrum of a prosperous Rwanda whilst also leaving a legacy that can never be forgotten.

*The Author, Charles Kojo Vandyck is the Capacity Building Officer of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI) based in Accra, Ghana.

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