Rwanda and the choices before Kagame
PRESIDENT Paul Kagame is not known as one who could disappoint the vast majority of the Rwandan people. So when Rwandans unanimously expressed support for an amendment of the constitution to permit his stay up till 2034 it did not come as a surprise development to his teeming supporters in the country where the mass slaughter of about a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu by members of the Hutu majority occurred during the approximate 100-day period from April 7 to mid-July 1994.
The latest political development has however thrown up the issue of whether Rwandans could exercise the right to self-determination considering the fact that they have had a raw deal in the hands of colonial powers whose divisive policies once pitched the Tutsis and the Hutus against one another, leading to the genocide of the 60s and the mid 90s.
Besides, the outcome of the referendum has further thrown up the debate as to whether western style democratic practice which places emphasis on term limits is best suited for emerging democracies like Rwanda that requires more time to complete the healing process among its citizenry. Fears have been expressed on the likely fallout of Kagame’s tenure elongation agenda considering the fact that the neighboring Burundi where the decision by Pierre Nkurinziza’s decision to cling on to power at all cost has thrown the volatile country into another battle field for his supporters and opponents alike.
In the referendum, precipitated by the request of some 3.7 million people who in a petition demanded constitutional changes, and endorsed by the parliament, Kagame swept the poll based on results announced by the country’s electoral commission. The electoral umpire disclosed that of a total of 6, 302, 867, including some 40,000 Rwandans in the Diaspora that were registered to participate in the exercise, 6, 285,253, representing 98.3 percent participated in the exercise noting that 6,155,600 representing 98.3 percent voted ‘Yes’ for constitutional amendment while 186,063 persons representing 1.7 percent said “No”, to tenure elongation for President Kagame.
The head of the European Union delegation to Rwanda, Mr. Michael Ryan who was among observers, hailed the process saying: “I and my colleagues, members of the diplomatic corps that I managed to talk to have observed that the referendum has taken place in a calm, orderly and we’ll organised way. That is what we have seen. From what I understand, registers did not have any problem and the division polling station assistants were very much welcoming.”
However, the outcome of the referendum has not gone down well with a fraction of the Rwandan population, including the Frank Habineza-led Democratic Green Party (DGP) which kicked against the process claiming it was not given enough time to campaign against an amendment of the constitution. The European Union (EU), the United States of America, the United Kingdom (UK) and donor agencies while opposing the initiative insist that respect for term limit remains the feasible means to ensure progress for Rwanda which undoubtedly is fast emerging as one of the most prosperous nations in Central/East Africa.
The US Ambassador to Rwanda, Mr. Erica J. Barks -Ruggles while expressing concern over the hasty manner the referendum was conducted noted that there should have been enough time to sensitize Rwandans on whether there was the need for an amendment of the constitution. When asked while casting his ballot on what he makes of the development, Kagame whose Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) had been overseeing the affairs of the country peaceably in the past two decades hinted that he would accept the offer to stay on in office noting: “What is happening is the people’s choice. Ask the people why they want me.” Kagame who chaired the just concluded 13th National Council meeting wondered why the West, particularly a section of its media tended to undermine the collective desire of the citizenry in Rwanda freely expressed in the referendum.
Faulting the notion that the outcome of the referendum was akin to endorsement of dictatorship in Rwanda, he argued: “Rwandans chose to do what they did and they seem to be happy with it; for outsiders, they may also continue being unhappy about what majority of Rwandans chose to do. I think that is giving dictatorship a good name. “But we all have our lives to live and we have the right to choose how we live our lives, Rwandans are not going to live their lives according to the choices of outsiders.”
For Kagame, the solutions to the myriad of problems be-deviling the African continent remains good governance as against the strict adherence to the dictates of the western powers, adding: “We need to ask why Africa is among the richest of continents and yet has the poorest of people. How do we resolve this? Term limit is not Africa’s biggest problem. It is diversionary. Term limits may be part of a bigger problem but they are not the biggest problem for Africa. How do we leverage on our resources?
For me this is the issue. Why has Africa remained the poorest continent? I don’t understand that kind of politics. In my view, it is not how long or how short a leader has ruled, I don’t think its the problem although it keeps coming up as the major problem for Africa.” Kagame who has unveiled a vision 2050 aimed at galvanising Rwandans to not only believe in themselves but think big as other citizens of developed nations do. He minced no words in saying he would rather go through the hard times than allow external influence plunge the country into another round of chaos and instability.
“We have to live our lives in spite of what they have to offer us. They offer a lot, there is no doubt about that but you lose a lot more by being sensitive to what they have to offer us. If you are too obedient you remain in a poor state. I don’t see anything worse happening than what we have had in 1994 and the immediate years that followed. If anything will take us to the stone age to survive on fried maize we can still do it,” he said when asked how Rwanda could cope if western countries and donor agencies dissatisfied with the outcome of the referendum decides to impose sanction on Rwanda.
The Minister in charge of Rwanda’s Cabinet Affairs, Mrs. Stella Ford Mugabo who spoke with The Guardian ahead of the 13th Umushyikirano national dialogue council meeting gave a glimpse on why Kagame got the endorsement of the vast majority of Rwandans to stay on in office thus: “The very three things he has done is embedded in the choices we have talked about. First and foremost was uniting a society that was totally disentangled. We all know what happened in 1994. That sad incidence totally disentangled the society. And so the first thing that he did was that there was no revenge, there is no Tutsi, no Hutus, we are one.
And the first thing that came out of our national identity is you are not Tutsi, you are not Hutu. We are all Rwandans. And he said let’s move forward. “We identified our common enemy which was poverty. Our common enemy was waiting for people to decide what was right for Rwandans. And so he united us as Rwandans. Another thing is that he ensured whoever holds a leadership position is accountable to the people. He also thought us that Rwandans must have self dignity. If we had to depend on others, we shall never move forward. And so together he showed us the future. And so he said we have to move and develop our country ourselves. And there is no easy way to that. He said we have got to work hard, pay a price and make sacrifice by sometimes saying no to someone who wants to give us resources but are tied on some conditions. And these are embedded in the choice we have to make and that is why we are saying this is the man that would move us forward.”
Continuing, she said: “We have gone through the worst. We have had three phases after the genocide. The first was to recover our societies after the genocide. We had to take the time into the reconciliation process, into building souls because people were traumatised and that was the serious phase of the reconstruction. Not just construction of the roads but reconstruction of the minds and body. “And so when we finished that then we went into the visioning stage. Once you get people to believe in themselves, then we look at the vision for the country, what do we want as a country? And so we drew up the vision of what we wanted to achieve in twenty years and that was vision 2020. And so in the vision and as we try to implement them, we are now thinking beyond Rwanda, and beyond the region. So we are envisioning how Rwandans would work and find a place with their neighbours and the global community. We do know that you cannot get a place in the global community without economic empowerment.”
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