When citizens demand lifting of Presidential term limits
Every year, President Paul Kagame conducts countrywide tours where he interacts with ordinary citizens as well as opinion leaders in the communities that he visits.
During these Citizen Outreach programmes, the people get to openly air out their problems, appreciations and ideas on matters related to their well being.
This year, during his trips to the Southern and Nothern Provinces, the residents appealed to the Head of State to remain in office and pledged to vote for him.
The constitution provides for two terms which will expire in 2017, however, for the residents all they are interested in is that there is no disruption in the way their lives are improving, day-by-day.
The President acknowledged the conundrum and tasked the members of the ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, to come up with a solution that will guarantee stability as well as zero interference to the remarkable economic progress the country is undergoing.
It is understandable for those Rwandans who genuinely express their concerns or objections to lifting presidential term limits. It is absolutely within their right to do so, and their views should be appreciated. This also is very important as it demonstrates a certain level of a healthy democracy.
Nonetheless, it is important to realise that in a democracy such crucial subjects are settled through legal and transparent procedure where the free will of the people prevails.
Rwanda’s constitution belongs to the people and this implies that it is them who have the final say on such significant matters.
It is not so often that one finds a consensus among the citizens in expressing a common desire of maintaining a status quo. Usually we see people yearn for change in leadership citing all sorts of reasons, mainly related to not delivering on the expectations of the voters.
Thus, the Citizen’s crave for continuation of President Kagame’s leadership says something about how the country is run and maintaining the course, whether economic, political and social matters.
We must remember it is within the citizen’s right to seek the continuation of the leadership. They probably anticipate unintended or undesirable consequences which may occur as a result of a change in a status quo.
Furthermore, in many democracies, it is totally justified to amend the constitution principally to advance the broad shared interests of the citizens or in response to nation’s exigencies at hand. It even befits more when the amendment is steered by the people themselves.
It is also important to appreciate that Rwanda’s position is unique considering its recent past experience, with its social fabric still fragile. Security and economy seem to be steadily improving and it seems citizens are not ready for any interruption at this point in time.
It is understandable that not every demand for constitutional amendment attempts to advance broad interests for the citizens, in fact in most undemocratic states amendments are done to advance or sustain groups or individual’s interests. May be that’s why certain people are so sceptical of lifting term limits.
Nonetheless, the decision should rest with the Rwandan people. After all, undermining citizen’s rights to decide what they consider is best for them may constitute a violation of citizen’s democratic rights.
Therefore, in conformity with democratic principles the decision on continuation of the current leadership remains in citizen’s discretion.
To conclude, amending or altering the Constitution is not unlawful per se, but it’s the way that it is done, who demands it and for what purpose. It is also important for people to read the constitution in a broader perspective and not viewing it from one angle.
The constitution is there to serve the nation to advance and protect interests of its citizens, similarly, the presidential term limit provision just as any other provision of the constitution once considered detrimental at any given point in time, there is no practical reason why they cannot be amended.
Rwanda’s constitution recognises citizen’s democratic rights and is not immune from being amended if people so wish as long as stringent procedural measures are put in place such that it is not abused.
The writer is a legal scholar based in Kigali
Contact email: salim_mugabo[at]yahoo.co.uk