On September 4, John Kirby, a US Department of State spokesperson released a press statement cautioning the decision by Rwanda’s Parliament to establish a Constitutional Reform Commission, which in the view of the State Department he represents may “amend or remove executive term limits and permit President Kagame to seek a third term in 2017.”
Mr Kirby added that although the US respects the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent, his government continues to “firmly support the principle of democratic transition of power in all countries through free, fair, and credible elections, held in accordance with constitutions, including provisions regarding term limits.”
The spokesperson further added: “we do not support those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest.”
Before we proceed to make sense of some parts of the spokesperson’s comments, a few clarifications should be noted.
Contrary to the State Department’s assumption that President Kagame was involved in establishing the support commission for the review of the Constitution, it is my understanding that this is a responsibility of both Chambers of Parliament as evidenced by the extraordinary sessions on August 19 and 27, when both Chambers of Parliament respectively voted a law establishing the Support Commission for the review of the 2003 Constitution of Rwanda.
As explained by MP Samuel Musabyimana, after consideration of the report on the field visits conducted by MPs from July 20, 2015 to August 3, in their subsequent sitting, separately by the two chambers, they resolved that the Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda of 4 June 2003 be amended.
Secondly, the role of the Commission is not to amend or remove term limits; this matter will be put to the people in a referendum as stipulated by the Constitution.
Why do I emphasise this point? I do so solely as a means to clarify that the Rwanda Parliament established the support commission as a process to review the requests of Rwandans regarding presidential term limits.
In fact, this function of parliament was put in motion after various political organisations including opposition parties, and as many as 3.8 million Rwandan people filed petitions seeking amendment of article 101 of the Constitution in order not to deprive themselves of the once-in-a-generation opportunity to re-elect President Kagame at the end of his term of office in 2017.
If parliament had not acted, it would have been in violation of its main purpose – which is to represent views of the Rwandan people.
But, how could the State Department acknowledge on one hand that they respect the ability of any parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent, and on the other hand, issue statements of concern when such an entity performs its role?
Bewildering is it not? Could it be that perhaps the Americans forgot to add that they respect the ability of the Rwanda Parliament to pass legislation that reflects the will of the people it is elected to represent provided that the legislation in question conforms to their expectations?
And also, could it be that the Americans and maybe others are more concerned with preserving the status quo of following rules whether rigid or not than they are concerned by effects of the structure in place?
This may also explain why the Americans and the international community failed to act in 1994 simply because what was taking place in Rwanda at the time had not been ‘officially’ defined as Genocide.
In fact, President Bill Clinton is on record saying that: “It may seem strange to you here, especially the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day after day, who did not fully appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror.”
The delay to fully appreciate the depth and speed of the atrocities cost Rwanda an unimaginable one million people in a space of 100 days.
So then, after all that they have been through, why should Rwandans easily give up the right to decide for themselves, which direction to take, and who to lead that expedition?
Perhaps, what I ought to leave with readers today is this: it is time Rwandans sent a clear message to both friends and partners that much as we appreciate the support given during the reconstruction of Rwanda and any future partnerships, when it comes to matters of the future of Rwanda, concerns from friends and partners will be noted, but Rwandans will always retain the ability to decide for themselves independent of whether or not you agree or disagree.
I say this because I am reminded of Singapore’s great leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who once said that: “the ultimate test of the value of a political system is whether it helps that society establish conditions which improve the standard of living for the majority of its people, plus enabling the maximum of personal freedoms compatible with the freedoms of others in society.”