columnBy Prof. Nshuti Manasseh
As pointed out in the previous article, the change-stability-continuity equation has aroused lots of anxiety and emotions among Rwandans because of the consequences that change in any of the variables above is bound to yield. The gravity of the consequences is amplified by the fact that, the Chairman of RPF, President Paul Kagame, decided to give not only members of his party this homework, but all Rwandan compatriots, and give it to them four years ahead of 2017, when he is expected to step down.
Four years may sound ample time but considering the enormity of the assignment; it is not. The President is pretty aware that, this is challenging, rest he should have waited till almost until his term is over. He is also aware that, his achievements, if not properly sustained can be reversed fundamentally thus negating the invaluable price paid to attain these. Above all, he has taken this country out of abyss but is aware that this is not over it. It would in fact vindicate him as having failed to ensure meaningful change amidst a transitive transformation of our country. As the adage goes "you know a good leader in his/her absence", and President Kagame is right to request RPF cadres, and by the same token Rwandans, to ensure that the change we deserve ensures stability and continuity.
Apparently, the current debate of change was in fact not initiated by President Kagame as some sections of the media insinuate. On the contrary, it is the media that spurred on the debate. There should be no confusion over this. The President, on each of these occasions, has made it clear that he will respect the constitutional term limits. The only substance he introduced to the debate is that the change we should aim at should ensure stability and continuity. As a responsible and exemplary leader, he requested Rwandans to soul search to avoid a situation where change becomes an end in itself. Avery dangerous scenario indeed if one considers that, we are just out of an emergency, but not yet over it. This is the substance of the debate.
The change we aspire has to be contextual. It has to take into account our past, and preserve our present and ensure a better future for all Rwandans. More importantly, it should be a change Rwandans want and thus deserve and not advanced by simplistic advocates of change who apparently have just joined this debate, and one wonders on whose behalf they articulate their naked views. Naked in the sense that one has to understand Rwanda to prescribe the change ideal for our environment. Rwanda is not just another African country (our past and indeed present has defined us) where you can afford the luxury of stereotypical change as we see in other countries. Ours if not properly debated, agreed and owned by Rwandans, will have repercussions we cannot afford if we can avoid it, and we should, which justifies the timing of this very debate.
This debate therefore should be by Rwandans and for Rwandans, for they will be the beneficiaries of the same and the reverse is equally true. More importantly, much as this debate was an issue during the RPF top cadres meeting, it concerns every Rwandan. It is also incumbent upon every Rwandan to have a say in this debate and to forge a common position on the best formula that serves our purpose.
However, some sections of media, local and regional, seem to hold the view that if President Kagame respects the constitution and steps down in 2017, that is democracy. How about the reverse? What if Rwandans still want him as their leader. Isn't that democracy?
For instance, a piece in The Eastern African February 16-22 (Editorials) is an insult to Rwandans. It argues "Quite worrying though is that these mob-like debates carry very dangerous insinuations that should be condemned in the strongest terms possible ... careless talk by party hawks agitating for removal of the presidential term limits enshrined in the article 101 of the constitution ... President Kagame ought to rise to the occasion and resist this dangerous scheme; he should not succumb to any form of pressure to seek third term".
First, there are no mob-like debates here. It is rather Rwandans expressing their legitimate views. In any case, this is very demeaning, and below the standard of a language expected from such a respectable media house. If The East African believes in freedom of expression (which it has been preaching and rightly so), why should alternative views from their editorial be described as mob-like? And who appointed The East African the judge to others' views? More so, which section of Rwandans is The East African representing and who it to speak for them? These are debates of our political future as Rwandans, and we expect our Kenyan friends and others for that matter, to listen to Rwandans and not to speak on their behalf them. That is not democracy, or freedom of expression over which no body has monopoly, least The East African.
Besides, there are no 'careless' RPF party 'hawks" here agitating for change of article 101 of our constitution. It is rather civilised Rwandans first and foremost and RPF party members expressing their legitimate views over our political destiny, for it is theirs and theirs only. They are the primary stakeholders in this debate. Kenyans have lots political homework right now, and we wish them all the best. But we don't expect them to interfere in our domestic political affairs which they least understand.
A Consistent Position:
The East African further advises President Paul Kagame " ... to rise to the occasion and resist this dangerous scheme; he should not succumb to any form of pressure to seek third term". What is dangerous here? Term limits or rather imprudent change?
The President made his position clear and told a journalist from the Kenyan based media house attending his monthly press conference his position on the transition debate. The East African missed the point here. It is not the President agitating for the change of the constitution. He gave political homework to Rwandans, and the answer to this is not yet clear, but if changing article 101 is one of the options among others and is the will of Rwandans, isn't this democracy? And if Rwandans ask the President to run for another term, isn't this democracy? It is two-way traffic. The President is under no pressure from Rwandans at all, and will never be. If in the 2010 election he requested their votes, and they voted for him overwhelming by 93 percent, would it be undemocratic for Rwandans to request him to rule for another term? Rwandans know better what is good for them. One would have expected The East African to understand the Rwandan context better, and not to settle for simplistic arguments in their editorial.
If you remove our context (not existent in Kenya and other neighbouring countries), and settle for change that does not address the issues of stability and continuity in Rwanda, such change would be disastrous and only Rwandans will own up to this, as they have already done before. The East African should have conducted an in-depth analysis of the political homework Rwandans have before settling for simplistic street analysis.
The substance of political debate is not about the term limits or change of the constitution. It is about change with stability and continuity and this takes many forms depending on consensus. Term limits or none is not democracy in itself. What is important for a people in these countries is the ratings of the incumbent. This is also a function of the performance of the incumbent. And if in their view citizens are satisfied with his/her performance, he/she have the mandate to lead them for as long as they deem fit.
Each situation should thus be judged by context and only citizens should be the judge and jury on matters over which leader they want. At the end of the day, they are either the beneficiaries or losers. The most important thing here therefore is to understand the substance of our political homework. Discussing its form is not only simplistic but also dangerous. Rwandans are not known to be simplistic.
To be continued ...