At a routine press conference held by President Paul Kagame at his Village Urugwiro office on Monday, February 4, 2008, a journalist asked him to declare his interest, or the lack of it, as far as standing for the 2011 presidential elections is concerned. Kagame did not think it was a good question and he let the questioner know as much.
Was the President right to find little value in the question? Did he think he was being asked a simplistic question? Let me review some of the issues Kagame raised as he showed how disqualified the question was.
First, the President wondered whether it was appropriate that he makes his position known, with all of two and a half years to go in his seven-year term. His argument was that any president worth their salt should at such a point only be thinking about how to deliver on their election manifesto.
He said that ending his presidential term successfully is what he is still preoccupied with so far.
Besides, the President reminded the journalist, Rwanda’s constitution provides for two elective terms of office to any successful bidder to the presidency, which further renders the issue less newsworthy.
To him the news would be attempting to go for or thinking about another term after completing the second, which then would beg the question.
He was concerned the journalist on his own behalf and on behalf of his ilk might have been insinuating the only thing Kagame ever wants to be is President of Rwanda. He reiterated what he has said on more than one occasion; he is in the job not because he thinks he could not have made it outside of it, but because at the moment it is his calling.
The interpretation from his words and tone is that his mission while at the helm is to place Rwanda on an unalterable course for it to prosper sustainably. His desire of fixing firmly his ideas, ways and beliefs into national institutions to him is achievable in the two terms allowed by the constitution as it currently stands.
For this reason, more interpretation may be drawn from his response; he does not need to cling onto power by manipulation, in case it is what was doing the rounds in the journalist’s mind. Actually he did say that at an appropriate time, he and his party will decide – a true mark of collective, and not individual decision-making.
Having said that about the form, it is equally logical looking at this issue from the substance point of view. President Kagame has performed way above average, and he knows it. His conscience tells him so and observations by people both from within and outside of Rwanda attest to this fact.
If tangible evidence has to be mentioned though, it is the roads that are being/have been constructed or regraded countrywide; the investments being mobilised to come into the country from the West and from the East; the haven of peace and security (only still vulnerable to earthquakes) the country has become; ability to live together in harmony by people, the majority of whom were either side of a genocide divide only 14 years ago; registering a very low corruption index and vividly impressive degree of political will to suppress the ill further; the democratisation process that is well on course, etc.
The above, and more, will sure serve as a springboard for economic development. Deliverance of a nation to this destiny, no doubt, forms the biggest part of the mandate of any developing country’s head of state and the moral right they may possess to be in the driving seat.
More on Kagame’s rating? President George W. Bush of the United States is currently visiting Africa, a trip that by its end will have taken him to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda (tomorrow), Ghana and Liberia, in that order.
On the way to Benin on Saturday, Steve Hadley, Bush’s National Security Advisor took time off to share his views with the press. One of the questions was about the strategic and political significance of the countries that made the list and the development programmes in there which are funded by the US.
The following is what he had to say:
“Well, part of it (reason) is to see how they’re doing in person. Part of it, though, is to go to the countries that have made the right decisions to, as we say, rule democratically, fight corruption, invest in their people, to be open to the problem -- to the power of free markets and free trade. And part of it is wanting to go to these countries, stand up next to those leaders, draw attention to the fact that they’re making the right decisions for their people, and strengthen their hand.”
With the high rating Kagame enjoys nationally (overwhelmingly victorious in the presidential election just over four years ago) and internationally among Rwanda’s development partners, you want to side with the President on the journalist who sought his position on the likelihood of his going for the second and last constitutional term, as a real bad case of asking an irrelevance.