Are we making the same mistake?

Historically, Rwanda was a monarchical society. All subjects in their individual and family capacity paid allegiance to the king, at the top of the Pyramid and his structural representatives at regional and local levels. Subjects (Rwandans) regarded the king’s powers and decisions with awe and reverence. Resisting the king’s will, and its execution through his representatives, was thus unimaginable.

Although monarchy has been abolished and a republic ushered in, the allegiance and subservient mentality arguably persist. Rwandans have never experienced self-rule. They have always been under the clout of a strong ruler (Sometimes only in appearance). The only time Rwanda had a president who did not appear very strong, was between 1994 and 2000 under Pasteur Bizimungu. Then we saw the emergence of a powerful parliament, which questioned and sanctioned members of the executive; sacked ministers and finally, forced the president himself to resign.

With the accession of President Paul Kagame to power, his charisma and influence somewhat hibernated the parliament. A body which used to move votes of no confidence upon failing ministers and routinely relieve them of their duties; nowadays, the same parliament takes their complaints to the president and leaves it to his discretion…

In my last post (Kagame and our faith), I left off where President Kagame was quoting the bible to us, saying: ‘worry not, for I shall find you a helper.’ I think that is a good thing. All things considered, we can trust him to make an objective decision; unlike Bongo, Eyadema, Museveni and many more African presidents, I am not aware of when Kagame appointed his kin to a high position. At the same time, I am not aware of the time when a decision of that importance was left to any other official – Ask former minister Karugarama…

See, when you watch how our president behaves, you are invigorated; He is a free thinker, a free speaker. He enjoys freedom of opinion upon just about everyone in the world; he said it himself: ‘the best thing of being president is that I can speak my mind’.

He writes Op-Eds in the financial times about world economy, governance, etc. He does not hesitate to criticise members of his own cabinet, his party, other presidents, donors, etc.; always on legitimate grounds I must say. For instance I was so moved, when during the African Development Bank summit in Kigali, he took a swing at west African presidents, in the presence of their delegations: ‘When I watch on television’ he said, ‘I am disappointed to see African presidents going to France to discuss the security of their own countries.’ Everyone in the room was in euphoria; him, he was on fire, so he went on ‘they just go there to sit around for a photo opportunity…’

There; the diplomatic bullshit was outta window, then he paused, gave it a quick thought, and went: ‘of course, I am saying this painfully given my position; I long for the day I will be like them’ he finally concluded, pointing in the direction of the panel, made of former presidents Mbeki and Obasanjo.

He repeatedly urges Rwandans like myself, to uphold Agaciro (our dignity), see the big picture and free our minds. So the good old minister of justice; Mr. Karugarama wanted to do just that; him and I both misread the frontier of our freedom of opinion. Him, thought it fit to urge his boss – the president to step down when his term is done. He paid the price of his free speaking; His boss thought it wasn’t his place to make those comments and instantly sacked him. I, don’t work for government, so I have a bit more room, but I never frontally criticise him; I usually don’t even need to; I prefer describing issues… Got it?

Anyway, I was saying that his charisma and authority have made it difficult for other members of his team to shine the right measure; not outshining him, but at the same time, not be oxymoron. So we probably have hidden talents waiting to burst into the limelight once given the chance.

All African revolutionaries started off on grand ideals; but we all know how they turned once in power. Our continent is replete of tales of heroes turned foes…

Boy, how lucky have we been in the last 14 years? It was a gamble to be ruled by such a powerful person, who did not misuse his powers; I suppose it was God’s way of saying sorry, after the genocide. It is unclear whether there were mechanisms in place that could have stopped him, had he tried. In fact, throughout his tenure, there have been tempters around him, ‘to eat at the forbidden fruit’; there still are;  people who ‘cry more than the berieved’ as Chinua Achebe would put it…

Next time though, we may not be so lucky. It was not smart of us to place so much power in the hands of one individual; if we ever had a choice…

Now we have one! Lets not waste it speculating on whether he should change the constitution or not; that is being short-sighted (the big picture, Agaciro and all?). As his time, as president, draws to an end, let’s promise ourselves not to do the same mistake again. Next time, let’s be under the rule of strong institutions, where all decisions are submitted to voting; the parliament.

Luckily he will have a centre role in that institution. The Rwandan constitution, like many in the world, says that former heads of state who honorably complete their term become senators for life [Art. 82, 115(2)]. As the head of the party, and most probably our next head of the Senate, he will remain the chief whip, swaying the votes of an RPF dominated parliament in the direction of his fitting.

Sadly, during plenary sessions, the speaker of the Senate plays the role of a mere moderator. Now you should see me laughing while asking the following question: how long will Paul Kagame endure sterile and endless debates without partaking?! When that day comes, I have to go to parliament to see it.

Posted 21st December 2014