Kagame cling­ing to power

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS -

More car­toons on­line at An­gela Mudukuti is an in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal jus­tice lawyer

LAST week, Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame was re-elected as head of state by 99% of the Rwan­dan elec­torate. This sig­nals the be­gin­ning of Kagame’s third term af­ter 17 years at the helm.

Kagame ush­ered in an era of pros­per­ity for many Rwan­dans in the af­ter­math of the dev­as­tat­ing geno­cide. He en­joys gen­uine sup­port from many of his peo­ple. How­ever, a num­ber of sources in­di­cate that his years in power have in­cluded the vi­o­la­tion of hu­man rights and the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of jus­tice in Rwanda.

Kagame is ac­cred­ited with end­ing the geno­cide when his party, the Rwan­dan Pa­tri­otic Front, seized power. He be­gan as the min­is­ter of de­fence and vice-pres­i­dent in 1994 and be­came pres­i­dent in 2000.

Kagame be­gan by con­sol­i­dat­ing his power and elim­i­nat­ing any po­lit­i­cal threats. He also pri­ori­tised eco­nomic growth. Ac­cord­ing to The Economist, Rwanda still has one of the fastest-grow­ing economies in the world, and its per per­son in­come has gone from $150 in 1994 to $700 (R9 400) in 2017. Kagame was able to se­cure for­eign aid and en­sure it was used wisely. His gov­ern­ment pro­vided pub­lic ser­vices, re­duced poverty and in­creased life ex­pectancy.

Many be­lieve his lead­er­ship in­spires his peo­ple to vote for him, but oth­ers ques­tion elec­tion re­sults, al­lud­ing to the per­va­sive at­mos­phere of fear and in­tim­i­da­tion. Hu­man Rights Watch re­ports in­di­cate that dis­sent and op­po­si­tion are bru­tally crushed. Po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists, jour­nal­ists and any­one who ex­presses an un­favourable opin­ion is beaten, ab­ducted, im­pris­oned or mur­dered.

Jour­nal­ist Jean Rugam­bage was shot and killed for al­legedly in­ves­ti­gat­ing the at­tempted mur­der of Kagame’s for­mer com­rade-turned-ri­val, Nyamwasa. Nyamwasa, the for­mer chief of staff of the Rwan­dan armed forces, fled to South Africa af­ter fall­ing out with Kagame. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, Nyamwasa is cer­tain that Kagame is af­ter him.

Kagame’s tac­tics com­prise more than just the gen­er­a­tion of fear, but, like any strate­gic leader, he has used the law to suit his po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tives. He has en­sured that he is legally em­pow­ered to in­flu­ence var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions – for ex­am­ple, as pres­i­dent he has the power to ap­point the prime min­is­ter and coun­cil of min­is­ters.

The most sig­nif­i­cant yet un­sur­pris­ing le­gal amend­ment came in 2015, when the Rwan­dan con­sti­tu­tion was amended to re­move pres­i­den­tial term lim­its. This al­lowed Kagame to run for pres­i­dent this year and gives him the op­por­tu­nity to po­ten­tially re­main in power un­til 2034. Achiev­ing this goal was rel­a­tively sim­ple: the gov­ern­ment or­gan­ised a ref­er­en­dum, and ac­cord­ing to the re­sults, 98% of the vot­ers voted in favour of the amend­ment.

In­ter­est­ingly, all of Kagame’s elec­tions re­sult in land­slide vic­to­ries. In 2003, he won 95% of the votes and in 2010, 93%.

While many would say the re-elec­tion of a res­o­lute and con­sis­tent leader who has brought sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic im­prove­ments to a coun­try bru­talised by vi­o­lence is a pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment, there is an­other side of the story. Com­pro­mis­ing hu­man rights and the rule of law is a slip­pery slope to­wards an­ar­chy and up­ris­ing. Democ­racy, pros­per­ity and the rule of law in Africa can be sus­tained only if hu­man rights are re­spected, pres­i­den­tial terms are rea­son­able and new lead­ers are groomed.

Lead­ers cling­ing to power at all costs have tipped many African na­tions into chaos and civil war; Bu­rundi is a clas­sic ex­am­ple. Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza is do­ing his ut­most to re­main in power, in­clud­ing ex­e­cut­ing and pun­ish­ing civil­ians, to sup­press op­po­si­tion. Nku­run­z­iza wan­gled a con­tro­ver­sial third term in of­fice, which caused up­roar in Bu­rundi. Be­tween 2015 and 2016, re­port­edly 430 peo­ple were killed, 3 400 were ar­rested and more than 230 000 Bu­run­di­ans sought refuge in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

Rwanda is not quite there yet, as the rul­ing party seems to have ef­fec­tively si­lenced any dis­sent and thus pre­vented protests or calls for change.

While a strange com­bi­na­tion of gen­uine sup­port and a cli­mate of fear seem to hold the na­tion to­gether, one has to won­der how long it will last. For as long as lead­ers re­main in power for pro­longed pe­ri­ods us­ing du­bi­ous meth­ods, any hopes for the ex­is­tence of peace­ful demo­cratic na­tions is se­verely com­pro­mised.

Kagame’s con­tri­bu­tion to his na­tion is in­valu­able, and credit must be given where it is due. He has guided Rwanda through the tran­si­tion from a geno­cide that claimed the lives of some 800 000 peo­ple in just 100 days, to what is con­sid­ered a pros­per­ous East African na­tion to­day. How­ever, the fu­ture and pros­per­ity of Africa don’t lie with age­ing lead­ers, but in groom­ing suc­ces­sors, pro­tect­ing democ­racy and show­ing there is life af­ter the pres­i­dency.

RIGHTS VI­O­LA­TIONS: Rwanda’s Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame is hold­ing on to power, says the writer.

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