By Owei Lakemfa
PAUL, the youngest of the six children of Deogratias and Asteria Rutagambwa Kagame was two when his family fled their homestead in 1959. That was the year of the Peasant Uprising in Rwanda which became known as the Rwandan Revolution. That uprising brought to fore the ethnic tension in that country which eventually resulted in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Paul Kagame had the distinction of leading the Tutsi- dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) which brought that genocide to an end. From that 1994, he was Vice President and Defence Minister. In 2000, President Pasteur Bizimungu gave way to Kagame, and he has been President for fifteen years with his tenure scheduled to end in 2017. It is an appreciable height for a former refugee boy to attain. And many acknowledge that he has done well.
But rather than bow out as scheduled, he is queing to join the bad gang of African leaders who, rather than obey their country’s constitution, are prepared to do violence to it in order to hang on to power.
Careful and crafty like Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo by not openly campaigning personally for an unconstitutional Third Term in office, he is letting others do the job and take the bullets for him. When I was in Kigali last May, the process was on . There were signatories being collated to amend the constitution and allow Kagame, run again.
It is an old trick; the leader would seem disinterested and would only run if his ‘people’ ask or beg him to run. In Nigeria, General Sani Abacha was waiting for his ‘people’ to call him to transform into a civilian President. He expended enormous state funds in the gambit and had groups like Youths Earnestly Ask For Abacha to do the dirty job of not only ‘begging’ him to run, but also to be the sole presidential candidate for all the political parties. Rather than get the call, Abacha received a call from above.
In Kagame’s case, the Parliament last July voted to rewrite the constitution to enable him run again. When the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda went to court for an interpretation of Section 101 that puts a limit on presidential terms, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution can be amended since it is allegedly based on the peoples voices.
Kagame is really in bad company; from neigbouring President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi who forced a Third Term in April, triggering mass protests, killings and attempted coup, to Congo Republic’s Dennis Sassou Nguesso, 71 who this month, wants to extend his rule. Nguesso’s attempt is almost incomprehensible; he was a Minister of the Republic from 1970 becoming President for thirteen years from 1979. After his electoral defeat in 1992, he fought his way back to power in an armed rebellion assisted by Angolan troops. So he has been in power for a combined thirty one years, and has been African Union (OAU/AU) chair twice; 1986 and 2006. Yet, he wants to extend his rule.
Rwanda is a sensitive country with large populations in exile. Although the country has tried to evolve into a single nationality, the Banyarwanda, and created a single language, the Kinyarwanda, the wounds of the civil war and genocide are yet to heal. Ethnic tensions remain. The indigenous population of the country is the Twa who now account for one percent. The Hutu, an agricultural group joined them, and from the fifteenth to sixteenth century, the Tutsi, a pastoral group arrived. The Tutsis became the ruling class producing the monarch. With the Hutu uprising, many Tutsis fled, and the Kagame family eventually settled in the Wshungerezi Refugee Camp, Toro, Uganda.
After the overthrow of Idi Amin in Uganda, Kagame pitched camp with the Yoweri Museveni faction of the ruling group. He was sent to Tanzania to train as a spy. After the 1980 Ugandan elections won by founding Prime Minister, Milton Obote, there were tensions between Ugandans and the Rwandese which led to attacks and the refugees fleeing. Museveni who was considered a friend of the Rwandan refugees, challenged Obote’s government by establishing an armed rebel group, the National Resistance Army (NRA) which captured the capital, Kampala in 1986. Kagame became the new Ugandan Army Chief of Intelligence.
He was attending a Command and General Staff College, in the United States, when his fellow compatriots in the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda. Within three days, the leader, General Fred Gisa Rwigyema, a veteran of FRELIMO (Mozambique) and NRA was killed, and by month end, the invaders were in retreat. Kagame returned to lead retreating rebels through Uganda to the Virunga Mountains from where they conducted a guerrilla struggle which was exacerbated by the downing on April 6, 1994 of the aircraft carrying Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarimana and the Burundian President, Cyprien Ntaryamira, and the subsequent genocide.
Kagame’s administration has in comparison to most of his peers in Africa, done well especially in terms of infrastructure, particularly in Kigali. On the African scene, he is helping the integration process; Rwanda is the only country I know, where people carrying the passport of any African country, get visa at the point of entry. All some East African nationals need to enter Rwanda is their identity card.
It is not clear why Kagame wants to perpetuate himself in office. It could be fear of instability or being deceived that he alone can hold the country together. But a great danger is refusing to obey the constitution. A major attribute of a leader is his ability to replicate himself. If after fifteen years as president, Kagame has no worthy successors, then he has no business remaining in office. He should learn from leaders like South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who despite the prolonged years of Apartheid and constitutional provision to run for a second term, decided to allow the younger generation take over. There are also worthy examples like Sam Nujoma of Namibia who is a father figure in both Namibia and the continent. No leader is indispensable. Before Kagame, was Rwanda, after him, shall be Rwanda.