When citizens demand lifting of Presidential term limits

  • By Salim N.Mugabo
  • July 01, 2013
Salim N.Mugabo

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


There have been a number of amendments made to the United States constitution.

04:22:25 Monday 01st, July 2013 Eastern Suburbs - Peter DM

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I believe Kagame is very smart and strategist, not to take another presidential term in the office. Paul Kagame is "The " founding father of modern Rwanda, and what he does now will set tone and reflect the future of my beloved Rwanda.

We should be spending more time talking about how a positive transition ought to be: building where Kagame will leave off, maintaining security and rule of law by all means and excuses necessary, war on poverty, creating powerful middle class, and most importantly, destroying tribalism, corruption, and closing the chapter of foreign aid.

There should be a cinecure of previous leaders led by President Paul Kagame to advise and empower new leaders

04:29:03 Monday 01st, July 2013 Kigali - Rwanda - Ntaganda AbdulRahman

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Thank you Mr Salim for the enlighting us on this important debate with regard to constitution. We Rwandese voted for our constitution. I am also a practicing Lawyer here in EU. Constitutions are living documents which can be changed IF THERE IS A SERIUOS REASON TO SO.

THIS IS THEIR DEMOCRATIC RIGHT, DENYING THEM THIS RIGHT IS A BREACH OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS. In our case, THERE IS A COMPELLING CASE. People want President Kagame to deliver more to their common good, which is their main reason for the constitution in the first case.

I do agree with other Rwandase in changing our constitution to aloow President Kagame deliver more, and prepare for stable change. I wholy agree that, ours is unsual country, and we need further stability.

I therefore thus suggest we do the following:

1. We change the constitution to allow him more term.

2, in this second term, he can then prepare the transitition.

3. we make sure that, after his 3rd term we reverse to lock in two terms into the constitution to avoid allowing in failures to mess us.

I agree with your ideas, as those presented by professeur nshuti manasseh in his articles, food for thought. we need more Rwandese to come up with such serious, thoughtfull suggestions

05:35:39 Monday 01st, July 2013 Brussels, Belgium. - emmanuel kagabo

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Dear Salim,

Your article makes a lot sense. We share a common understanding about the subject matter..

09:44:33 Monday 01st, July 2013 Kigali - Francis Nsengiyumva

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If there is anyone who doubt Rwanda's peace and development continuity without president Kagame then is doubting Kagame's potential to govern and to build system which is been doing for the last 14 years.

RPF created a system and our country nolonger base on an individual but A perfect and transparent system that can lead the country without individual Power.

Back in 2009 president made a good speech when he said Africa Need strong system not strong men and believe me Paul is becoming a world Icon and a father of this nation but any change in constitution will be a forever curse for our courtry so lets not trade out future and principles with individual appeasing.

(I'm French speaking person so excuse my language just get the massage)

09:55:29 Monday 01st, July 2013 Rwanda - Rutayisire

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I am Pres. Kagame N°1 fan even though I am not Rwandan. I wish he could could pursue his nice job he has delivered to all Rwandans. However, I do not think that giving him a 3rd mandate from the constitution's change is the right way to proceed. This will damage his reputation. We should rather closely examine how Putin of Russia proceeded.

10:24:37 Monday 01st, July 2013 France - Federation

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No one is against people's wish and their constitutional rights to say what they say, but amending the constitution for lifting of term limits will be a cardinal mistake for our country.

If you could only borrow a leaf from the mess our neighbours are going through then you would not think of anything like that! Lets vote for the candidates we want but stick to two terms strictly. We all love Rwanda and we have equal shares in it, lets not create un necessary mehem to ourselves. Thank you.

10:26:43 Monday 01st, July 2013 KAMPALA. - JACKSON HITA

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We all love Rwanda and we have equal shares in it please do not start politics of term lifting because it is not a good precedent to set in Africa, without mentioning the meyhem it has caused some of our neighbours and other African countries.

Let us agree Paul has done us proud but remember we have over 10m Pauls in Rwanda. I like his comment that if no one is ready to take over the mantle from him, is the good reason for him to quit because he will have done nothing in terms of grooming a successor!

10:36:29 Monday 01st, July 2013 KAMPALA - JACKSON HITA

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I am a firm believer in what H.E. Kagame has done in leading Rwanda to where it is now. I am also a firm believer in the people's democratic right to seek a change in the constitution.I am also a believer that personalities come and come but VALUES

11:05:55 Monday 01st, July 2013 London, UK - Kamau

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This article got me in this thinking and I concluded that the true test Of President Kagame's legacy will be judged by how easy or hard the Transition will be. Our question is how much has Paul empowered Others to take up responsibilities? The only fear people have is a crisis Of choosing our next leader thats the reason why some prefer to stay in his guidance rather than another crisis. but I trust Paul's ability and capacity to handle Over power to the best person without changing our constitution. Is a man Of principles and integrity he can't temper with the constitution he himself signed and approved.

11:42:16 Monday 01st, July 2013 Kampala - Mugisha

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I believe His. Excellency Paul, is the best this country has ever had. We have witnessed what true transformation of society is under him. Remember Mr. Salim, one of the reasons for term limits is to avoid future abuse by others who may follow. Any slight change to the present constitutional term limits opens the door to future abuse.

None-the-less, power belongs to people. If they change the constitutional term limits by referendum, then they will have opened the door themselves. We shall then be like the other African countries. I would wish that His Excellency sets a record which no other African leader has set.

Be the youngest African leader to leave power without tampering with the constitution. This is a legacy which all his predecessors will fear to tamper with. He will be next to Nelson Mandela as Africa's most influential leader if he does this. But i will vote him still if the term limits are extended.

13:08:43 Monday 01st, July 2013 MAKERERE UNIVERSITY - MUNANURA JAMES

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Debates in democracies are health, and this one is. I read Professor Manasseh N's article and the one above, and both send similar message, that Rwandans need to amend the constitution for President P Kagame to carry on with a good job.

Here in the UK, we don't have a constitution nor term limits, Prime Ministers through their parties rule our country until they are out of ideas and we vote them out. It is there fore not documents that decide whether a leader stays in office or leaves. It is his/her record.

As Professor Manasseh N rightly put it 'it is not President P Kagame leaving/not leaving' is 'he situation in which he leaving/not leaving'. If the situation is so bad as the case in Rwanda with genocide just 18 years just away. I believe Rwanda is in its own league that cosmetic changes will not serve the purpose. if therefore, Rwandans believe that President P Kagame has done a good job, which according to reports and eye witness reports from your beautiful country have to say, then let him go on with the good job.

A constitution is changeable otherwise it becomes and end in itself, rather than a means of attaining the end ie orderly society both in economic terms as well social.

16:20:13 Monday 01st, July 2013 London, UK - Maxwell Calligan

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Very interesting article. Rwanda stands on cross roads: If Kagame wants to go down in history as the champion of a new African political model, then he needs to step down when his terms come to an end in 2017. But if he goes ahead by changing the constitution for another term, Rwanda would be regarded as nothing but yet another African country that has failed to live up to a promise.

18:35:09 Monday 01st, July 2013 Manchester - Alex

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I am genuinely divided on this question, understanding and supporting both sides of the debate in turn. I too am filled with trepidation at a Rwanda without President Kagame's steady and masterly hand at the helm, but also fully appreciate the benefits of a leadership transition under his guidance and as a safeguard against the consequences of any kind of a "Manchurian Candidate".

Ultimately though, as a number of commentators have pointed out, a Constitution isn't a straitjacket but a living covenant with built-in rules for amendment as the polity requires. As long as the necessary minimum proportion of Rwandans required by the Constitution want a revision to that sacred document to cater to fundamental change in national need, then we should all be prepared to accept such change.

And only the views of Rwandans, alone, are relevant to this issue. Outsiders may express theirs but we are not obliged to take them into account.

21:30:09 Monday 01st, July 2013 Jkalinda@gmail.com - Mwene Kalinda

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Well done Salim for this fantastic research you did on this matter. We really appreciate .Thanks and well done.

12:06:22 Wednesday 03rd, July 2013 uk - hussein karangwa

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I completely agree that people should express their views and concerns on the matter regarding the after H. E. P Kagame's tenure but they should also trust current leadership capability to achieve smooth transition and continuity of good governance. In my opinion changing our constitution will be a terrible mistake and could tarnish the great achievement of our beloved Rwanda during the last 2 decades .I am confident maturity and wisdom will prevail.

02:43:37 Thursday 04th, July 2013 London, UK - A Kanyenzi

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I think some people are trying to mislead HE Kagame, to fall into the trap of "I'm the only person who can keep this country together", a typical African leader's mentality. I hope and I trust he is smart enough not to go there. It will soil his record as the best Rwanda has ever had. I remember him saying... if one extra term, why not another and another one...., Mr President be smart as usual, don't fall into this trap.

00:17:08 Monday 08th, July 2013 Kasese - Jay Mutungi

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