The New Times (Kigali)

13 February 2013

Rwanda: The Daunting Task Ahead for RPF Cadres

opinion

The homework that President Paul Kagame gave RPF cadres during last week's special session of the party's expanded National Executive Committee has left tongues wagging in many circles.

His challenge for RPF cadres was simple. Come 2017, when the President is officially supposed to step down, he challenged his party's cadres to come up with a winning formula that ensures change without compromising continuity of the progress this country is making.

Yet though easily said, this transition will not be as simple as it might sound largely due to Kagame's own legacy.

As a leader, he has scored astoundingly well on almost all fronts. He has raised the leadership bar high and has seen this country rise from nowhere to take on to the world stage as a sound example of post-conflict recovery.

Kagame is not only popular in Rwanda. The man is admired across the continent and beyond. He has dined and wined with some of the world's finest minds---not because he is a president of a post-genocide country but rather due to his leadership credentials and track record.

His daring character to stand for what is right has won him admiration across different fronts. On the continent, he is increasingly gaining popularity as Africa's voice that stands for equality, mutual respect and ownership of Africa's development agenda.

This is the legacy that Kagame's leadership has planted.

And yet, this is the very legacy that makes the succession debate even difficult. It is a debate that could lead even the most principled among us to fault because, on one hand, you see a man that has been exemplary in his leadership and sacrificed a lot but, on the other, you mind about his legacy.

True, Kagame has not achieved all this single-handed. It has been collective responsibility like the party values state. But even then, you will not blame the ordinary person who sees the President as the custodian of the progress and tranquility Rwanda enjoys today. You will not blame the ordinary

folk who thinks that a future without Kagame is a future of uncertainties.

Equally, you will also meet those who articulate vehemently that the President has played his part.

That he has put in place institutions to guarantee Rwanda's future and, therefore, his track record should not be stained with any constitutional amendments.

To be honest, the situation is like that of a young handsome man courting two sparklingly beautiful ladies. When it comes to choosing a lifetime partner, he turns to his right and sees a glittering angel---then turns to the left and sees another. He is basically left in a state of confusion and stranded with what decision to make. At the end of the day, such individuals keep postponing their due date of marriage.

Similarly, this is the kind of situation that Kagame's succession debate evokes. Like I saw at the RPF meeting, it arouses emotions and puts some cadres in a weird position. On one hand, this is a man whose leadership style and achievements will, for generations to come, form any discourse concerning transformational leadership and, for this, some Rwandans would want him to stay longer.

On the other hand, Kagame is known the world-over as a principled individual who sticks to his word and a man whose legacy should not be written in the same book as some of Africa's leaders that have passed their selling date. This school of thought thinks amending the constitution is a silly thing to do.

But the President has not actually asked for changing the constitution. That would be misquoting him. He has asked for a formula on how to manage change and continuity. Mark this statement-change and continuity. Not how to ensure continuity alone at the expense of change, but rather how the two can be managed.

This discussion is very important and marks a defining moment in the history of this country.

It is a discussion we have been shying away from because of the sensitivities it arouses. Yet, discussing it at an early stage gives us ample time to prepare Rwandans ahead of time and eliminate any fears in the hearts and minds of those who are either pro-staying or pro-going.

Again, by throwing it to Rwandans, the President wants genuine discussions. He did not assemble a group of his trusted lieutenants to go around luring people to a particular position but rather put it plainly to an assembly of over 2,000 to discuss.

There are so many questions that Rwandans need answers for. For example, when he leaves, what sort of role does he play? Should he be this imposing figure on his successor? Should we separate the presidency from the chairmanship of the Party so that he plays an oversight role?

Is there a chance that if things are going bad, then there is plan B to have him back? Should we reduce the term years from seven to five so that if anyone comes and messes up, we do not have to suffer for seven years?

These are tough questions that we might have to reflect upon as we prepare this transition. And from this, we might get the formula for managing change without affecting continuity.

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