Youth & politics: From cheerleaders to players

The August 4, 2017 Presidential Election will be an emotional affair as it may be the last chance voters have to confer their mandate to a man that will always be this country’s greatest leader; President Paul Kagame has expressed a wish to retire and invited the youth to consider the idea of replacing him and his leadership generation.

The August 4, 2017 Presidential Election will be an emotional affair as it may be the last chance voters have to confer their mandate to a man that will always be this country’s greatest leader; President Paul Kagame has expressed a wish to retire and invited the youth to consider the idea of replacing him and his leadership generation.

During his nomination last week, Kagame requested the ruling party to open the conversation on a transition from himself to the next leader; this may have been a subtle announcement that he would like to retire in 2024, when (should he win) his next term in office expires.

 

So as the polls draw near, the electoral commission should expect a huge turnout among new and old voters as they seek not only to be part of history but also honour a man that led the restoration of hope and dignity for all Rwandans at home and abroad.

 

Based on that, and with all due respect to the other candidates in this campaign, the above paragraph should be a clear signal that they’ll get nothing short of a bloody nose from the RPF candidate.

 

So, this election will serve two purposes, first, to renew President Kagame’s current mandate to lead the country; secondly and perhaps more important, the campaign leading to the polls will provide clues on individuals with potential to be candidates in the search for a successor.

Robert Greene’s book, “48 laws of power” has something I needed to quote verbatim, to drive the point that; in the quest to find a successor, those moderating the process should not attempt to look for ‘someone just like Kagame.’

There is a huge possibility that this country will never find another Kagame, because I agree with the many voices that I have heard saying, ‘he is one of a kind.’ It is true.

However, there is an equally fat chance to find someone with values that have shaped and endeared President Paul Kagame’s leadership to Rwandans and non-Rwandans; values of commitment to self-worth, hard work and altruistic service to country.

I have heard people suggest that to safeguard his own legacy; President Kagame should be the one to nominate his successor. That would be a wrong approach, in my view. That shouldn’t be an onus incumbent upon him.

The beneficiaries of that political heritage, the voters of this country, should be the ones to ensure that President Paul Kagame’s legacy and great values as a leader are preserved through the next generations of leaders.

In my view, Kagame’s greatest legacy is in having helped a nation that was sinking into political abyss, to define the meaning of a true leader and the right values they must uphold. In doing so, Kagame and his RPF party has helped set the qualification bar high enough for everyone to see.

Having the qualification bar high enough for all to see means it is easier for the voters to judge whoever steps forward in attempt to jump-over that bar; that is perhaps what Kagame meant when he encouraged presidential hopefuls to ‘invest in themselves.’

To jump over the bar, aspirers must train. They must start by jumping at lower levels and gradually master their skill in preparation for the ultimate level jump; the presidency.

But this approach to gradual jumping in preparation for the ultimate jump will require a few electoral reforms, as was suggested by Gonzaga Muganwa last Sunday; allowing for universal adult suffrage for lower positions of leadership such as District Mayors and representation in the house of deputies would be a safe place to start.

Such lower competitions would become breeding grounds for a new generation of leaders from whom Presidential candidates would ultimately emerge.

They would have learnt the art of public speaking during campaigns, and the discipline of being accountable to the electorate, while in office; but most importantly, the electorate would have had an opportunity to vet their leadership values and capabilities to lead the country.

Universal adult suffrage for lower level elective positions would also have the perfect entry point to help the youth to transition from their current role as political cheerleaders to becoming active players in the country’s politics.

I know a good example; Sandrine, a passionate cheerleader of RPF. From her computer and phone screensaver to the caller-tune, she has an assortment of campaign materials of her party candidate; she tactfully planned her annual leave days to be during the presidential campaign so that she is able to escort her candidate around the country. I’m sure there are many ‘Sandrines’ out there doing what she is doing.

At 27 years of age, Sandrine’s political appetite is quite healthy and the conversation on succession should also discuss how to keep the appetite for political cheerleading among young people, alive, even in the absence of Paul Kagame as the main player. 

With competitive elections for lower positions, young people like Sandrine would manage transition from being cheerleaders to active players by vying for elective offices; that way, they would also be judged on how much they would’ve learned from cheerleading Kagame as a player.

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