Kagame Says He’s Happy with 3rd Term Debate

In Karongi, Rwanda

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has given the latest clue on countrywide calls to him to run for a 3rd term of office in 2017, saying he will make his stand clear soon.

A group of Ugandan journalists pose with Rwanda president Paul Kagame (3rd L). The writer (Rugyendo) is next to the president on his left
A group of Ugandan journalists pose with Rwanda president Paul Kagame (3rd L). The writer (2nd L) was in Kigali over the weekend

As Rwandans continue to call on their leader to allow the country’s parliament amend Article 101 of the constitution which limits him to a two-term presidency, President Kagame has answered a Red Pepper question in a chat with journalists here that he’s happy with the debate and that he will soon state his stand.

“Many Rwandans have made their intentions clear on this matter,” Kagame told a group of Ugandan journalists on Friday evening at Rubengera, the headquarters of the Western Provincial District of Karongi.

Fresh from citizen outreach programme in the district, President Kagame had just stopped his convoy on the request of the journalists to have a chat with him.

Clad in a crisp blue long sleeved shirt and brown trousers, Kagame branched off to the district’s main building and arranged to sit the journalists down in a closed room. The chat lasted about 30 minutes.

“Mr. President, where we have just been with you, we saw a wave of people power bear down on you to accept their request for you to run for a 3rd Term in 2017, why are you not listening to them?” Red Pepper shot the first question.

“I have always listened to my people,” Kagame told this reporter straight in the eye.

“But I don’t think there is any need for hurry. 2017 is slightly over two years to finish this mandate. What follows after is something that will come sooner than later,” Kagame reasoned.

But he admitted that there were other Rwandan citizens who were thinking differently from those calling for him to contest for another term of office in 2017.

“Others are thinking differently. The debate continues and I have no problem with that. But as this matter keeps unfolding, I have no doubt that I will be clear where I stand and what I intend to do,” Kagame said, seemingly giving a clue he was debating with his mind about the matter.

A few weeks back, over 3 million Rwandans, through their chosen representatives, thronged the parliamentary chambers in the capital Kigali armed with written petitions asking legislators to amend Article 101 of the Rwanda Constitution, which limits the term of the office of president to two years.

Kagame is serving his second and constitutionally last term of office but the calls from corners of the country, some witnessed by this reporter this week during the presidential citizen outreach programmes in the two western Provincial districts of Karongi and Rutsiro, have been overwhelming and are pilling a lot of pressure on President Kagame’s head. He is, however, not panicking.

“I am not in a hurry. I haven’t allowed any pressure to divert me. For me, the problems I have faced in life are way too much. This debate is not one of them,” he said.

The 3rd Term debate in Rwanda has become a thorny issue for the president’s admirers on the continent who still believe that he will not allow any pressure to tamper with the country’s constitution. Kagame showed a different view during the interview.

“The problems Africa faces have nothing to do with or without term limits. I also don’t think the problems of the continent can be solved by term limits. The context is important here,” he reasoned.

He argued that Africa’s problems are instead related to politics not term limits.

“When Politics goes the wrong way, everything is messed up with or without term limits,” he added, reasoning that what needs to be done is to create institutions, the rule of law, democracy, a vibrant private sector among others.

“Term limits have no direct correlation to democracy and development,” he stated.

“Some self- appointed experts say when you overstay, you get drunk on power. But look at Singapore. The Late Lee Kwan Yew ruled for 32 years. Those who criticized him now praise him for turning around a country from a 3rd world to a First world status. If they had term limits, what would have happened?” he asked.

Kagame, an avid admirer of the late Singaporean hero, argued that while limits are good, there must be some balance given different political and country contexts.

Kagame reasoned that what is needed are governments which make it their duty to respond to people’s needs with practical solutions to poverty, hunger and disease.

He took swipe at countries, which preach term limits to Africans but never want to apply them at home.

“I know some countries with monarchical political systems. They have a monarchy whose term is limitless. They only change the Prime Minister. But these countries are the ones to preach term limits to us,” he added.

He said in the case of Rwanda, it was not him asking for limitless term but a collection of people’s sentiments about what they feel is good for them.

“It is not me. I am not telling anybody to demand anything. If anything, if they demanded that I should leave I would be glad. It is not that people want something for the sake of it. It is rather about what they think they hope to benefit from it that they ask for it,” he said.

In the interview, Kagame talks in great detail about his vision for the country, Rwanda’s mineral potential, how he feels about the mounting pressure on him to amend the constitution, his fight against corruption, Rwandans’ unique show of patriotism and the electricity potential lying in the Methane of Lake Kivu in the Western Province.