10 February 2013

Rwanda: The Task At Hand for RPF Cadres

When cadres of the ruling party, the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF), met last Friday evening, they spent close to three hours of the meeting, debating political transition in 2017.

Members of the RPF during Friday's meeting in Kigali. The New Times/ Village Urugwiro.

Four years from now, President Paul Kagame will have successfully completed his two terms in office after being voted back into office in a landslide victory in 2010.

The Rwandan constitution guarantees a maximum of two successive seven-year terms for the President.

A section of the RPF cadres present at the party meeting requested President Kagame not to leave office. "Why change a winning team?" they argued, referring to the remarkable progress the country has registered under Kagame's leadership.

They added: "It is the Rwandan people who voted for the term limits in the constitution, based on Rwanda's needs at the time, they can vote to lift them."

But the President, who is also the RPF chairman, demanded more from the party faithful.

He urged the RPF cadres to think about how to maintain stability and the pace of development but also factor in change.

Sustaining the progress is what is key, the President told the cadres.

The debate on the Presidential term limits is not confined to the RPF meeting.

One of the local FM stations, over the weekend, aired a talk show on lifting the term limits, drawing diverse opinions.

In addition to the lively debate, the radio programme laid to rest the notion that there is no freedom of expression and that talk about Kagame's successor is a no go area.

One thing for sure, such debate is not going to go away irrespective of the platform.

The President is known the world over for sticking to his word.

Rwanda is renowned for being different.

But doubts linger and one test for those who remain suspicious is whether Rwanda will amend the constitution to lift the term limits.

Their cause for suspicion is the precedent set by some leaders around the world who have remained in power after changing their constitutions to allow them to run again and again, and again.

For President Kagame, there is a lot at stake - his reputation. It is evident he has done an excellent job, but should he stay as President after 2017, he is the first to admit that this political capital will be hurt.

But for the Rwandans who want him to stay, nothing will deter them from pushing for their cause. And, knowing that the President will do anything for his country to prosper and for the Rwandan people to live better lives, they certainly have ammunition for their cause. Of course no sane person wants to see Rwanda go back to its darkest days.

The assignment the RPF chairman has given the party members is definitely timely. The task to ensure that Rwanda maintains its course does not rest with the President alone. Change is inevitable and with just four years to 2017, all stakeholders must come up with a solution that will make the country a better place for Rwandans for many generations to come.

The task was clear and from now on, the debate is going to intensify, but for Rwandans they must think beyond the Presidency.

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