Last Friday, President Kagame, who recently won presidential election by a landslide, swore in to lead the country for a transitional seven-year term.The inaugural ceremony, which took place at Amahoro National Stadium, was incredibly glorious day. The ceremony sealed the victory and marked the start of the President’s new term in office. The legitimacy of the President comes essentially from his election by the majority of Rwandans who cast their votes entrusting the incumbent to continue leading the country.
The swearing-in of President Kagame, as a constitutional requirement, was administered by the Chief Justice, Sam Rugege. The oath of President is normally a public ceremony to formalise the President’s installation. What is important in the swearing in is the formula, provided for by law and read by the President. The oath is a promise announced in a ceremonious and public manner, insisting on the sacred and unswerving character of the words spoken with the affirmation of a divine bearing. Prior to taking office, Article 102 of the Rwandan Constitution says the President of the Republic publicly swears the following oath before the President of the Supreme Court: “I, …………………………. do solemnly swear to Rwanda that I will: remain loyal to the Republic of Rwanda; observe and defend the Constitution and other laws; diligently fulfil responsibilities entrusted to me; preserve peace and national sovereignty; consolidate national unity; never use the powers conferred upon me for personal interests; strive for the interests of all Rwandans. Should I fail to honour this oath, may I be subjected to the rigours of the law. So help me God.”
Clearly, taking a presidential oath before assuming office is a constitutional requirement to president-elect as well as to other public officials. For other public officials, the oath they take is contained in Article 64 of the Constitution though it is quite nuanced from presidential oath in terms of content. Presidential oath is a distinct one; which largely entails responsibility incumbent upon the President. It is quite important to note that presidential oath isn’t universal but peculiar to the national context.
But one common denominator for most presidential oaths, they end by saying “so help me God”. A tradition that many say was started by George Washington, the first US President. Even so, neither the phrase “so help me God” nor the use of a Bible is conventionally required in the presidential oath. Like many national constitutions, Rwandan Constitution contains the phrase “so help me God”. Though it is a tradition deeply entrenched in most societies, it has thus been enshrined in many national constitutions. But, what does it mean? These four words [‘so help me God’] may either mean God save me if I’m saying the truth or I keep my promise (and not if I don’t). Or, May God help me if I’m fully truthful (and not if I’m not).
In layman’s terms, it denotes what one is saying or has said means it. Literally, it shows greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one’s duty. In a biblical context, the phrase [‘so help me God’] reflects a kind of allegiance to the Supreme Being, beseeching His help in fulfilling one’s legal obligations.In other words, it shows a respect for God, as one who enables us to meet our daily needs as well as obligations.
The presidential oath was followed by Kagame’s speech, which is the most important, memorable speech of his life. To me, the president’s speech was characterised by three main things. First, he extended his particular indebtedness to Rwandans for voting him again to stay in power. A sign that illustrates an overwhelming support to President Kagame. On the same point, he reassured Rwandans of his determination to serve the nation to his best. He indeed stressed that, as long as Rwandans stand together with him, nothing is impossible to achieve. The President further noted that it’s a privilege to serve the nation. He also acknowledged that every Rwandan, whether living within or abroad, is absolutely treasured.
Second, President Kagame lashed out at those who often want to dictate their terms to Africans at large, and Rwandans in particular. He pointed out that Rwandans are the best students of their own shortcomings and thus they know the right way to overcome them. Arguably, no one can purportedly know what’s the best for another person than the one who’s in need. President Kagame also said that no country can purportedly be a model in nation-building. In instilling the spirit of self-determination, the President said “do it yourself’. President lambasted those who want to force others to live on their terms.
Third, President Kagame underscored the sense of togetherness that has characterised Rwandans. Though the country inherited the most tragic event that culminated into the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, it still lives and will continue to live, not as self-styled models want, but as Rwandans want. That said, nothing can scare Rwandans when they stand together. However, Rwanda acknowledges the essence of being in partnership and cooperation with other countries. Rwanda, of course, needs other countries and vice versa.
The writer is international law expert.