Rwanda’s debate on change and continuity is crucial

Come 2017, Rwandans will head to the polls for Presidential elections. President Paul Kagame, the Chairman of the ruling party Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) will have successfully completed two terms in office.
 Prof. Geoffrey Rugege
Prof. Geoffrey Rugege

Come 2017, Rwandans will head to the polls for Presidential elections.

President Paul Kagame, the Chairman of the ruling party Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) will have successfully completed two terms in office.

The Rwandan constitution allows a maximum of two terms and it is perfect timing to contemplate the transition.

The Chairman of the RPF challenged the party members to come up with a formula that will maintain the country’s remarkable progress, triggering a debate on change and continuity.

The debate on Change and Continuity is one hot potato people have been refusing to touch. Yet, it is a necessary debate given the fish-bowl world we live in as if we have to earn marks from a teacher grading papers. Indeed, we need a formula for continuity.

In the 18th Century, Thomas Jefferson, philosopher and third president of the US, established the principle that Governments should not be changed for transient reasons. Let’s follow that principle. We have a party that gives us guidance on good governance that has given Rwanda the eminence it now has among the wealth of nations of which it has become a proud and legitimate member. We should follow our party’s lead.

During the Second World War, the United Kingdom had Winston Churchill, who guided the war against a tyranny, and led that country until the war was over. At that same time, during that same emergency, Franklin Delano Roosevelt presided over the United States of America and was elected four times. It is necessary to understand we have lived under similar circumstances for the last 18 years and it is not clear that we have come out of that period. If this not clear, there is so much at stake that we cannot afford to sacrifice the stability that needs to be firmly set on its course. Until it is absolutely clear that change is an option, the good governance we currently enjoy should be a basis for future decisions.

Folk wisdom also says: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. We ignore that adage at our peril. As we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we should resolve that they did not die in vain or grades from the ‘experts’. Let us determine what is good for Rwanda and let that be the formula. On that score there’s is no doubt about our course. We should resolve to be honest in determining what Rwanda’s interest is even when we know the world may not be.

It might be instructive, however, to consider the rationale for term limits. When one looks around the world, it becomes quite clear that when governments stay in power for too long, they become corrupt and develop sophisticated strategies of perpetuating themselves in power; the easiest strategy being the power of money. An excellent example of this in the current era is congressional electoral systems including gerrymandering, redistricting etc. And of course the purveyors of democracy conveniently ignore the inequity borne of the power of money.

Our leadership could, therefore, consider mandatory rotating term limits, whereby one could be eligible for election to two terms, skip a term but run again after a four-year term in a different position. Prime ministers (UK, Israel) come and go and come back again depending on the whims of the electorate. It is a model that could work in countries which treasure the merit of political experience.

What is best for Rwanda, from the Rwandan perspective, is what is paramount. The events of the past year have been instructive in that whatever efforts were made by Rwanda for the good of the region, which sought our advice and guidance, our beloved country has been vilified by people whose character may be questionable.

Too much blood, sweat and tears were shed for us to count the political price we may pay today. No price is too high. History will count the cost of what we do today to please the pundits. If we are to sustain the values for which our compatriots paid the ultimate price, we should honour the cause for which they gave their lives.

The author is a retired professor of linguistics and country squire.

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