A debate is currently gaining momentum in various newspapers and across blogs and social media networks over a sensitive political issue in Rwanda: the presidential term limit set to end by 2017.
A careful perusal of the many articles authored by pioneers who contributed their ideas sheds light on an idea that is rather contrary to what ill-intentioned minds would want many to believe: Rwandans openly voice their opinions on even controversial topics of State power control.
In my thorough reading and deep analysis of the views expressed in the media, most of the issues allude to the extension of the presidential term limit with pros and cons, of course. Under the current perspective of Rwanda’s constitution, two key questions keep coming to my mind: Should a constitution serve or shape the people or the latter should rather shape the constitution?
In the context of Rwanda, should we ignore the will of the people and give credit to erroneous interpretations or the dubious nature that a constitution is insulated from any change? In other words, what is the best choice between continuity for an even stronger Nation, as widely supported by the people and an uncertain future?
A country’s grandeur is neither measured against its size, its large population, its wealth and natural resources nor its strong ties with the Western countries.
A country is rather believed to be great due to its internal cohesion, its own national identity, its dignity and sovereignty, its political stability, security and how it is open to the outside world.
The greatness of a country is measured against its performance, whether political, social or economic, just to name a few. The greatness of a country is also about how closer the citizenry relates to the leadership as the latter deliver for the people to feel close to a brighter future.
This is all about the quality of the social pact between citizens themselves and their leadership.
We, as products of this generation of ours never had a chance to enjoy life in a country endowed with such values ever since our tender age. It’s only for the past twenty years now that we enjoyed better life in Rwanda as shaped by its sons and daughters who sacrificed their lives to usher into a new era of liberation engineered by the Rwandese Patriotic Front with its charismatic leader, Paul Kagame.
It is not rhetoric if the Rwandan people now celebrate the achievements of the new Rwanda. It is real.
It is indeed a dream come true and witnessed across the country for everyone to see for themselves.
Rwandan identity has replaced regional divides and divisions on grounds of ethnicity, guaranteed life expectancy has been an answer to the uncertainty of the future while education for all is seen as a reality due to inclusive education, and marginalization is history.
Improved living conditions countrywide ousted endless misery of the citizenry. Previously the law of the strongest applied while currently social justice prevails.
All these achievements did not occur by chance nor are they heavenly-sent miracles. This is the result of tireless work done by the architects of the new Rwanda with President Paul Kagame, as the main architect.
Any reference to the chaotic situation of Rwanda in the 1990’s and mainly in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, no one could believe that Rwanda would recover from the ashes.
Thanks to the ideological genius of its pragmatic leaders and especially with Paul Kagame at the forefront, who is commended by the people of Rwanda as guarantor of the achievements of Rwanda’s liberation.
In a span of only twenty years of political and ideological maturity, can we claim that the structural foundation laid today would ensure the sustainability of the achievements of the system without the support of strong and well informed architects who meet the expectations of the people?
To the best of my knowledge and in solidarity with the people who openly voice their opinions, Rwanda still needs this leadership that has made a difference in rebuilding an inclusive Rwanda for all its citizens.
Such a leadership has proven to be successful unlike the past regimes which failed to deliver to Rwandans. Its successes helped mark out the true foundation for political, social and economic advancement of a worthy people on national, regional and international levels. These projects should be consolidated by 2017 and even beyond.
The debate on the presidential term limits seems to be a false debate especially as the Rwandan Constitution is flexible and clear contrary to what people may believe.
In my view, the real debate should instead focus on what has been achieved in this presidential term if such tenure has served the interests of a people and not individuals, or relatives.
As we have observed in many countries, elections are just a pretext for certain people to accumulate wealth at the expense of their voters and when the term comes to an end, the electorate wants them to quit even before the end the mandate.
This is not the case in Rwanda as the people look with great appreciation at what President Paul Kagame and his political organization, the RPF, have achieved in all areas of national life: national unity, security, promoting education and health, economic performance, promotion of women and youth, promoting better living conditions for all categories of the population of Rwanda, just to name a few.
The Rwandan people are not naive, they can make a comparison between Rwanda, a country ravaged in the 1990’s and the strong nation, inclusive and dignified after 1994.
We are witnessing every day as people spontaneously express themselves in the media and in different forums, during presidential visits and in district councils, members of various RPF forums and even other political parties are calling for flexibility of the Presidential term to ensure continuity and consolidate the achievements of an inclusive Rwanda even beyond 2017.
For this people, it is wise to rely on a successful marriage with a leader who has great achievements on his records rather than on an uncertain opportunism to come.
For the population, the guarantor of this assurance is no one else but President Paul Kagame who puts himself in their shoes and easily understands them, because he goes and meets them in remote villages to transform their life conditions.
Why am I saying now that the debate on the Presidential term limit is a wrong debate? First of all it is because the constitution is intended to serve the interests of the people and to have the people as the sole sovereign power.
Secondly, the constitution is a product of the will of the people. Third, even the international law confirms the right of peoples to self-determination (Article 1 al 2 of the United Nations’ Charter) meaning that the people have the right to freely decide and pursue what is in its own interests without injunctions from powerful entities from outside.
The real debate should be focused on how to translate the willpower of the people into concrete actions and in which period of time.
The article 193, al 3 of the Constitution is clear. When the amendment of the Constitution concerns the term of the President of the Republic, the amendment must be passed by referendum, after adoption by each Chamber of Parliament.
The same article provides that “the power to initiate amendment of the Constitution is vested concurrently in the President of the Republic upon the proposal of Cabinet and each Chamber of Parliament upon a resolution passed by a two thirds (2/3) majority vote of its members”.
As one can notice, the constitution is not immutable in regard to the term of the President of the Republic. This is why in my opinion, it is now up to the authority with aforementioned prerogatives to initiate the amendment of the Constitution as far as article 101 of the Constitution is concerned, and submit the proposal to the referendum.
After the initiation of the amendment of the Constitution as stipulated by Article 193, an ad-hoc commission could be established to conduct the process up to the referendum itself.
This could be done in collaboration with other existing specialized institutions including the Rwanda Law Reform Commission and the National Electoral Commission.
From now on, it seems like people have expressed their voice for the necessary amendment of the Constitution and in so doing, have opted for continuity, stability and sustainability of the achievements of today’s strong Rwanda and its bright future under the leadership of President Paul Kagame.
The people are just waiting for the day of the referendum to express their will.
And for the Rwandan people, between a well performing Rwanda as a Nation with its leader who embodies it and an uncertain future that may fall prey to political opportunism, I will say, the choice is more than clear!
The author is the Former Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda and currently the Chairman, Chancellery for Heroes, National Orders and Decorations of Honour.