Democracy should be defined in its right context; where the public entrusts their power with elected individuals to lead the nation, state, or something of a similar nature on their behalf.
Rwanda as a country espouses the ideals of democracy; the supreme powers are fully vested in the people and exercised by them directly and through a system of representation. This is well articulated in the supreme law of the land–the constitution.
The debate about extending the term of President Paul Kagame, as boldly and consistently demanded by the people, has so far been hyped by some, oftenblown out of proportion–so to speak. It has evolved and touched on many issues pertinent to the political development of the country.
From many quarters, the issue of term limits has gained currency more conspicuously especially following events in Burundi where a bid for a third term by the current leader, President Pierre Nkurunziza, led to controversy with people saying he had served up his two-terms and should therefore leave.
That the people wanted him gone, again, is another democratic tenet.
Rwanda, on the other hand, must not be singled out as begetting any of such uncertainties. It may not be perhaps necessary to refer to the already famous articles 101 and 193 of the Rwandan constitution.
However, the benchmark of these articles is that the decision to amend the constitution and allow the President another term lies solely in the Rwandan people.
This is a process which has so far been embedded in the fundamental law, that which represents the will and interest of the people of Rwanda.
The international media, observers and the rest have taken this debate to another level. They comment on the issue like sealing the fate of Rwanda, branding or acting on behalf of the Rwandan citizens which is quite regrettable.
Extending or repealing term limits are not new phenomenon in world history, it is a process initiated as per the law and a subject to legislative approval or nullification.
In the Unites States, for instance, term limits have, previously, been relaxed in order to allow a particular leader stay in power in a crisis situation, as in the case of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This became their constitutional law since the 22nd amendment when it was first passed by Congress in 1947 and then ratified in 1951.
In their current regime, a move was initiated to make Barrack Obama eligible for more than two terms as president, a bill that proposed repealing the 22nd Amendment, of the US Constitution, which limits presidents to two terms, was introduced.
However, there was the general reluctance by the electorate to make it easier for it to sail through and was hence dropped.
This was not the first time such a bill was brought before Congress. Earlier on January 7th, 2011, Congressman Serrano introduced a similar bill to the 112th Congress and it died in the Committee process.
Another sort of such headline was Russia’s decision to extend the presidential term from four to six years. The amendments were proposed in November 2008 and came into force on December 31, 2008; this became the first substantial amendments to the constitution of Russia of 1993 and extended the terms of the president from four to six years.
Notably, one standing idea to complement any call for presidential term extension would be to amend the constitution and have free and fair elections in respect of the law but not high handedness that has plunged most developing countries into political disarray.
In the spirit of the Rwandan people and the law of the land, such process cannot upset the principle of guarding people’s interests, will and power to elect a leader of their choice.
Just this week, the commissioners of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) were sworn to begin their work and look through the constitution and suggest the necessary amendments on behalf of the people.
After all what is the purpose of democracy? It is to ensure that people can place who they think is best suited for the job in office and represent their best interests. The so–called term limits may even inhibit this system, preventing the best person from serving in a job he or she does well; at times, experience is more important than fresh perspectives.
It can even be argued that constant transition in leadership can stall legislation and public works projects before anyone benefits from them.
With or without term limits, the most important thing is the will of the Rwandan people prevailing for the good of their livelihoods–they have the ability to influence their own fate.
Meanwhile, lest we forget that Rwanda as a country has its own unique history that we must reflect on while undertaking certain processes that are ultimately in the interest of the people.
The writer is a communications specialist and a part-time lecturer at both the Senior Command and Staff College and the Consultative Forum for Political Parties.