When I first came across the maxim "people deserve a leader they have", it did not occur to me that the saying was democratic. To me then, it was like adding salt to a wound. I was living under the tyranny of dictator Amin in Uganda. I said, no Uganda does not deserve this! But if you look at the statement critically, it means people should not watch passively as the affairs of their state are being messed by inept individuals or distorted doctrines.
Joseph Karemera’s article, a couple of months back, which was titled “A great leader with a great track record: A recollection”, is as democratic as the above statement. As a citizen, he exercised his democratic right. He wants his President to run for the third term. The most influential definition of democracy was coined by American statesman Abraham Lincoln in 1864 at the height of American civil war when he said that democracy is a government of the people by the people for the people. In other words citizens ought to determine their destiny, and if they make wrong choices, they deserve the wrong leaders they get.
Karemera’s opinion that Rwanda deserves continuity under President Kagame, spurred a crucial debate. Karemera is a senior member of RPF and as a Colonel fought alongside President Kagame during the war of liberation, He has also ably served Rwanda as a Cabinet Minister, Ambassador and Senator, so his assessment of President Kagame is well grounded, and I personally support the view that the President’s visionary leadership is still needed to consolidate achievements so far gained.
Members of RPF and other political parties are eager to know what will become of the country in 2017.The President of another political party, Hon. Fazil Halerimana, was the first to suggest that the country would need the services of President Kagame after the two terms prescribed by the constitution soon after the last presidential elections. The saying that “ubara ijoro nuwariraye” explains the concerns of this politician. Loosely translated, it means ‘it is only the person who has spent a troubled night that can talk about it.’ Only Rwandans can talk about their troubled history and devise strategies to avoid possible future catastrophes. If they envisage the imperative of having their beloved President a little longer, so be it.
The people are concerned about change and they speak. A middle-aged man in Kagitumba, Nyagatare district, said recently: ‘Kagame should stay until he brings the railway, here’. He associates his President with progress.
“We should request him to accept our plea for him to run again” he further said.
A carpenter in Kabarole told friends “of course there are other leaders, they have always been there, but I have never enjoyed such peace. I would wish him even to become a leader of the greater region; that way he would ensure our security”. This 50 year old gentleman, who enjoys prosperity as a carpenter which he attributes to availability of electricity and security in his locality, has always lived in Rwanda except for the six months he lived in Tanzania as a refugee in 1994. He considers his President as guarantor of security and other civic liberties.
All these people deserve a protector, a leader, a statesman. So far President Kagame is their choice. Is that not democracy! A young man, Junior Sabena Mutabazi, writing from London tells us that in the United Kingdom, prime ministers can serve for unlimited number of terms provided they are re-elected, or enjoy the support of their caucuses. It is the same in France and Canada. These old democracies must have considered benefits of ‘no term limits’. Franklin D. Roosevelt was not deterred by consideration of term limits from serving his country for four terms, when prevailing socio-political conditions demanded his continued service. Yet, like President Kagame, he championed core principles of democracy; freedom and equality as well as elected representation.
Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, the great statesman of Africa, did not leave the seat of power until he had consolidated unity, entrenched an enviable model of nationalism, built strong democratic institutions all of which guard against manipulation by self-seekers. It takes time to build. President Kagame is an astute, tested architect of nationhood, so let’s give him time to accomplish his projects.
Another recent article by Professor Venuste Karambizi, deserves attention. He argues that Africans should not blindly follow scripts authored by those who view Africa through a colonial lens, and contends that constitutions are a set of beliefs and principles which serve the common interests and aspirations of a people.
The validity of Karambizi’s statements is proved by the fact that there are variants of democracy as indicated above. National interests and aspirations differ from country to country, and from time to time, but without compromising the core principles of democracy. The doctrine of democracy is people- centered.
Evidently, there are some who don’t agree with my views. Fortunately, there are constitutional provisions of reaching national consensus on matters of such magnitude, democratically. Let the people speak through the ballot.
The writer is a businessman based in Kigali.