Who is likely to be the next Senate president?

L-R: Dr Augustin Iyamuremye, Juvénal Nkusi, and Dr Alvera Mukabaramba.

The Second Senate officially completes its mandate today. And one of the 20 senators who complete their term in office, having assumed office on October 10, 2011, include Bernard Makuza, the president of the Senate.

In terms of leadership hierarchy, the Senate president is number two in the country after the Head of State. While Makuza’s political future will itself be a matter of public debate, there will be even stronger speculation revolving around his potential replacement.

The position of the Senate president is so important that, in the event that the President of the Republic is convicted and definitively sentenced by the Supreme Court for treason or a serious and deliberate violation of the Constitution, if he or she dies, resigns, or is permanently incapacitated, he or she is replaced in an acting capacity by the president of the Senate.

The president of the Senate is elected by his or her colleagues during the Upper House’s first session, so are the two vice presidents – one in charge of legislation and government oversight and the other Finance and Administration.

The Senate is an important institution in Rwanda’s current political dispensation. Besides serving as a legislative arm of government – along with the Chamber of Deputies – the Senate is responsible for overseeing the respect of fundamental principles; prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide, fighting against denial and revisionism of genocide as well as eradication of genocide ideology and all its manifestation; and eradication of discrimination and divisionism based on ethnicity, region or on any other ground as well as promotion of national unity. It is also responsible for overseeing the respect of equitable power-sharing, building a State governed by the rule of law, a pluralistic democratic Government among others.

As such, its members are expected to be individuals with an accomplished track record of service, long experience in politics, leadership, among other aspects.

With the Third Senate is expected to start business next week, the question on many people’s lips is, who’s likely to head the institution?

There is a host of factors one needs to look at to attempt to answer this question.

First, since the inception of the Senate in 2003, no member of the governing Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)-Inkotanyi has ever led the chamber. While the law does not prohibit the Senate president to come from the same political organisation as the Head of State, the trend is informed by the spirit of power-sharing and inclusion that has characterised Rwanda’s politics ever since the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Two, apart from Makuza (unaffiliated) who became Senate president on October 14, 2014 following the resignation of Dr Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo, the former heads of the chamber were from the Social Democratic Party (PSD), arguably the second biggest political organisation in Rwanda after RPF-Inkotanyi.

Three, the person who has traditionally been elected to head the Senate has always had vast experience in politics and leadership in general, at the top level. That was the case with each of the last three heads; Dr Vincent Biruta (current Minister for Environment), Dr Ntawukuriryayo (outgoing senator) and Amb. Makuza, who served as prime minister from 2000-2011.

“He or she must be well conversant with national trends, especially policies and the legal frameworks. This means they must have sufficient understanding of the national blueprints, such as Vision 2050, the National Strategy for Transformation, city master plans, among others,” said Jean Bosco Nyemazi, Executive Secretary of Rwanda Civil Society Platform.

He also cites experience and knowledge of global instruments and diplomacy.

“For instance, we are members of the UN, Commonwealth, East African Community and we are signatories to different international and regional instruments. For you to lead an institution that votes on these instruments, you must possess a global understanding and perspective of the national and international legal terrain,” he said.

Four, traditionally, the person who has gone on to be elected as Senate president is among members appointed by the President of the Republic.

It is in that context that we have come up with a list of potential candidates for the Senate presidency.

Based on the profiles of the new Senators, Dr Augustin Iyamuremye, Alvera Mukabaramba and Juvenal Nkusi appear to be the most suitable for the job.

1. Dr Augustin Iyamuremye

A trained veterinary doctor, Iyamuremye, 74, is a vastly experienced senior PSD politician. His political career spans over three decades. He served under previous regimes, including as prefet (equivalent of governor) of then Gitarama prefecture, Head of Intelligence, among other key roles.

During the post-1994 period, he served as in different Cabinet portfolios, including Agriculture, Information, and Foreign Affairs. He also served as a senator, presidential advisor, among other roles.

He’s one of the four senate-designates who will be joining the next Senate as a presidential appointee.

Until his recent appointment, Iyamuremye was serving as the Chairperson of Rwanda Elders Advisory Forum (REAF), a role reserved for people who have proven experience and ability in solving national challenges.

2. Juvénal Nkusi

Like Iyamuremye, Nkusi, 64, is a PSD member. Until his decision not to seek re-election in last year’s Chamber of Deputies elections, Nkusi had been the longest-serving Member of Parliament having joined the Lower Chamber more than two decades ago.

He joined Parliament on November 25, 1994, when the Transitional National Assembly held its first sitting, serving as the first post-Genocide House Speaker until 1997.

He understands parliament politics inside out. He’s particularly remembered for presiding over grueling accountability sessions as PAC chairperson.

Nkusi was part of the team that prepared the PSD’s initial manifesto when it was being created in 1991.

While he’s younger than the frontrunner, Iyamuremye, his CV is short on other areas of politics other than Parliament.

3. Dr Alvera Mukabaramba

The third potential Senate President candidate is Dr Alvera Mukabaramba. A paediatrician by training, Mukabaramba’s political career may not be a long one as compared to the previous two.

However, for a country that promotes gender equality and that has never had a female number two, this could be her chance to shine.

59-year-old Mukabaramba’s political career kicked off in 1999 when she first became a member of the National Transitional Assembly serving through 2003.

From 2003 until October 2011, she was a member of the Chamber of Deputies.

Until her appointment to the Senate, she served as the State Minister for Social Affairs and Community Development in the Ministry of Local Government for eight years.

Mukabaramba has twice unsuccessfully stood as a presidential candidate, first in 2003 when she withdrew her candidature at the eleventh hour and threw her weight behind incumbent President Paul Kagame’s bid; then in 2010 when she ran again but lost.

Mukabaramba is the president of a relatively small political organisation, the Party of Progress and Concord (PPC). Her main disadvantage is that her party hardly has a big following but can Mukabaramba emerge as a surprise no. 2 in the country?

Speaking of surprises, it is actually possible that someone else could be picked for the job.

Vice presidents

As for the positions of the vice presidents of the Senate, our predication is for three women. The first one is the immediate former Minister for Sports and Culture and former parliamentarian Espérance Nyirasafari of RPF; legal and tax expert Hadidja Murangwa Ndangiza, of Ideal Democratic Party (PDI), and PPC’s Mukabaramba (in the event she has missed out on presidency). RPF politician Jeanne d’Arc Gakuba, and PDI’s Fatou Harerimana are currently the Vice-President of the Senate in Charge of Finance and Administration, and Legal Affairs and Government Oversight, respectively.


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