Constitutional Manipulation and the re-election of Paul Kagame In Rwanda

Sunday, 20 August 2017 2044 Views 2 Comments

Rwanda stands as a good example of the famous adage that “the heart of man is desperately wicked”. The country has witnessed one the greatest genocide in the history of humanity and the greatest in Africa. Paul Kagame is often regarded as the hero who brought an end to the genocide and restored peace and tranquility to his country. When Paul Kagame emerged in the political scenes, he was regarded in many quarters as a savior for his country. This perception is still strongly held today by many who attribute the growth and prosperity of Rwanda to Kagame.

If justice is to be done to the person of Kagame, it will be right to attribute the growth of Rwanda to his leadership. But the position held by many that Rwanda is a peaceful nation is contestable. The position is contestable on the grounds that the absence of war and violence doesn’t sum up to peace. Reasons for believing that Rwanda is not peaceful as many perceive it to be is that, under the leadership of Kagame, Rwandese have been forced not to talk about the genocide. This has been done, primarily, by forcing the public not to talk about the events that changed the history of Rwanda. The question now is: how can a country like Rwanda effective attain reconciliation when people are not allowed to freely talk about their pains, sufferings, disappointments, anxieties, and fears? How can there be national healing when people’s anxieties and traumas are not expressed?

History has taught us that the best way for a nation to experience healing is through dialogue where individuals are encouraged to talk about their experiences and pain. South Africa stands as a good example in this regard. The genocide is Rwanda is often spoken in terms of Hutus killing Tutsis. This is the position held in Rwanda and propagated by the government of Kagame. Mentioning the fact that during the genocide both tribes where victims to the killings is considered a crime in Rwanda (genocide denial). Which means the Hutus in Rwanda have been forced to believing that they are the cause of the genocide.

Categorically speaking, I am forced to the position that there has been no true reconciliation and healing in Rwanda. I can support my position with the simple fact that there can be no true reconciliation and healing when one group is forced to take the blame for the atrocities committed during the genocide. True healing and reconciliation will only take place in Rwanda when people are allowed to talk about the genocide without casting blame or pointing fingers at others.

Kagame as the young president of a country that has experienced these great atrocities blamed the West and the United Nations for giving a blind eye to his country during the crisis. He received a lot of sympathy and support from the international community to help rebuild his country. As a young politician, Kagame often spoke with bitterness against Africa leaders who manipulate the constitution to remain in power. Kagame saw this as the reason for the underdevelopment of the continent. The image Kagame portrayed was that the future of Rwanda will be built on law and the constitution must be respected.

Unfortunately, after being in office as president and enjoying the power and privileges that come with this position, the young admired politician who has become an experienced African leader took in the footsteps of those he used to criticize by changing the constitution of Rwanda thus giving him the opportunity to be president for a third term. This, therefore, means Kagame has proven to be like other African leaders who manipulate the constitution to remain in power.

Many would argue that the people of Rwanda wanted him to continue with the good work he is doing or better still that it was the decision of the people. This is a naïve perception of the situation and I consider this position an insult to the good people of Rwanda. Holding to this position is like saying that there is no one to replace Kagame that’s why he should remain in power. It is often said variety is the spice of life, in essence, it is important for power to change hands so that different people can bring their own contribution to the development of the country.
Today we are experiencing an Africa where leaders hide behind the pretext of “the wish of the people” to remain in power. This phenomenon is experienced in Zimbabwe with Mugabe, in Uganda with Museveni, in Cameroon with Paul Biya, in Chad with Idriss Deby, in the Democratic Republic of Congo with Kabila just to name a few. It is heart breaking to see a leader that is highly respected like Kagame to venture into this circle of dirty politics.

We are today experiencing an Africa where very few states have been able to develop their constitutions in manners that no one is above the law. Majority of the states in Africa still face challenges with constitutional manipulation. Leaders manipulate the constitutions and remain in power under the pretext of being voted by the people.

In an interview dated 2011, president Paul Kagame responded to the question if he will be willing to give power when his term in office expires. He stated, “Our constitution is clear on term limits. I have no intention, and no desire, to disrespect the constitution.” When he was asked later on when the constitution was to be changed about his role in changing the constitution to keep him in power he responded by stating that “I have not and you can investigate it by asking anybody I have not sought or asked anybody to change the constitution for me. No. I am not part of this exercise as you see it.” What Kagame is basically saying is that the people are forcing him to remain in power. While acknowledging the achievements of Kagame after the genocide, there has been significant violation of human rights in Rwanda. The 2015 Human right watch report on Rwanda stated that though with all the achievements of Kagame “the government continues to impose severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association and does not tolerate dissent.” It is therefore imperative for a new leader to come with fresh ideas that will mitigate the shortcomings of Kagame. No leader got it all, for everyone is special.

Constitutional manipulation is the greatest challenge to African democracy today. It is sad witnessing the praises given to Kagame after his reelections as president for another term. Many are quick to forget the process that got him reelected which is “constitutional manipulation”. The African icon Nelson Mandela came to power as the first black president of South Africa under circumstances related to those of Kagame. This great icon ruled for just one term and gave up power. This is an example that there are no perfect leaders and it is important to give others the opportunity to bring forth their own contributions.

The history of constitutional manipulation in Africa has proven that most presidents who manipulate the constitution to stay in power for more than the appointed time leave their countries in a state of instability after their deaths or forceful removal. A good example here will be Félix Houphouët Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire, Gnasssingbé Eyadéma of Togo and Lansana Conté of Guinea. After the demise of these leaders, their respective countries experienced some level of instability. Rwanda needs to learn from the mistakes of the other African states that have changed constitutions for the purpose of extending president’s term in office. If this arrogance is not controlled, it will in future lead to extremely destabilizing consequences for Rwanda and the East African Region.

For the future of Rwanda, it is imperative for the constitution to be respected to the fullest. The question now is: what will happen after Kagame? The way Kagame is ruling Rwanda with a heavy fist leaves room for potential conflict in the nearest future. Until that atmosphere is created where people can freely express themselves, there will be no healing for the country. It is imperative to acknowledge the fact that during the genocide but tribes suffered loses and no tribe should be blamed for the crisis. In effect, this will create a perfect atmosphere for reconciliation and healing. The good people of Rwanda should intensify their demands for institutional reforms to provide the country with credible democratic institutions that will provide for freedom of speech and expression, an independent electoral body and finally a constitution that effectively guarantees the rule of law and separation of powers from the center to other arms of government. Such institutional structures will ensure a peaceful transition when Kagame finally leaves power and at the same time provide for the type of political stability that is critical for trade and economic growth in Rwanda and her neighbors in the nearest future.


Gerald Acho

Cameroon. I am a Masters Student of Peace Studies and International Relations at HIPSIR Nairobi Kenya. Given the precarious security condition in many African countries, I am driven by the desire to make Africa and the World a better place through analyzing policies and making recommendations. I enjoy being around like minded friends with whom we can make constructive arguments. I love watching movies, reading, and adventure.

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