A lot has been written and said about the 2017 transition ever since President Kagame added his voice to this debate during the Feb 08th RPF cadres meeting.
In line with this discussion, I recently engaged some individuals, especially a section of the young middle class to have their take on this issue. Though a handful seemed to be in a state of indecision---neither here nor there, I chanced on few that had compelling arguments that could lead to the formula we so much need.
In the midst of all these engagements, I came across an old friend from West Africa with thought- provoking arguments but certainly making a strong case for deep reflection.
He started off with a question; 'Are you guys changing for the sake of changing or are you changing because you genuinely want the change?' My response was straight-we are changing because the constitution says so.
He then challenged me to come up with two convincing reasons as to why the constitution should not be amended in order to allow President Kagame to stay on beyond 2017.
With no hesitation, I told him the first reason has to do with Rwanda as nation. This country, I said, has never witnessed any peaceful transfer of power and if President Kagame left, he would set the perfect example that future leaders of this country would have to emulate. In short, change of guards in the future would be guaranteed.
Second, I said, we need to be counted among the exemplary African democracies where transition is no longer a question to debate about. Besides, at no cost should his so far impeccable legacy be stained.
"So you want the President to leave simply because you think it would not serve your idealistic sense of succession politics if he was to be retained? ' In other words you want this man to leave not because he wouldn't be solely missed by your country if he was to step down given his exceptional performance record, but because your wish is to please some fellows whose own democracy was built over generations.'
'My friend,' he said, 'your democracy is only 18 years old, yet it took centuries for those others you admire to build their own. Rwanda is not in a crisis of bad leadership. Rwanda is like a fast moving train---if there are any sudden disruptions to this moving train there are high chances that some wagons could fall off."
'True, you have built institutions,' he said. "But your institutions have not matured-they have not been tested. To start testing them in the absence of the leader who has helped build them could be suicidal.
Then he threw the bombshell!
"You speak of pleasing the international community-you basically want to be seen as the good boys of the continent, but look at what happened to you over M23 allegations! Unfounded rumours led to aid cuts. You think they would care if your constitution got rid of the man who speaks directly into their face about their double standards?
"If chaos (God forbid) descended on this country, you would be as hopeless as today's Mali-you would be controlled on remote from either London, New York or Paris-and I'm sure the legacy you talk about would be no more.'
To be honest, I was astonished as to how this friend from West Africa was so passionate about the succession topic as though it was taking place in his own country.
Throughout the conversation, my defence was around legacy and how we need to nurture it. And his position was that the legacy we so jealously want to protect would be gone if we failed to think deeply about this succession.
"It's about making a choice." He said. 'You either choose to please others or choose a path that genuinely answers your aspirations as a nation."
For some minutes I was a bit dumbfounded-gazing on like a little child receiving sermons from his father. On one hand, this friend is a man I know to be principled but, on the other, I wondered how his principled stand fits with his passionate advocacy for amending the constitution to allow a president to remain in power.
Despite his lengthy lecture, I still remained with disturbing questions after we had parted. For example, are we talking about change because we, as Rwandans, see and feel the real need for this change or is it out of the anxiety to please the common trend picked from some other democracies out there, irrespective of our own history, current circumstances and future ambitions?
We need to put things in the right framework. Different options have to be weighed with the view that each of them has its own consequences. We need to be careful how we continue protecting our interests, well aware that some of the political advice Rwanda receives from so-called friends is not necessarily applicable to our unique circumstances.
And most important, this debate should not be a discussion for the elite class alone. It has to take stock of the views of the common man. Only then shall it be considered to be legitimate.