June 23, 2015

INTERVIEW: TERM LIMITS CAN’T SOLVE OUR PROBLEMS-KAGAME

3RD TERM DEBATE IN RWANDA

In RUBENGERA, RWANDA

Rwandan President Paul Kagame is serving his last term of office, which expires in 2017.

However, over 3 million Rwandans recently petitioned the country’s parliament to amend Article 101 of the constitution which states that; ‘The President of the Republic is elected for a term of seven years, renewable only once. Under no circumstance shall a person hold the office of the President for more than two terms.’

Kagame, 57, a revolutionary fighter who took power in in 1994 stopping a genocide that had left about 1 million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, made two-day tour of the remote districts of Rutsiro and Karongi and the Western Province where he addressed residents and local leaders. The huge crowds met him with placards and flags chanting praises, songs and calls for him to ‘delete that thing’ in an apparent reference to the Article 101.  Kagame has however, maintained that he’s not yet convinced.

Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

But on his way back to Kigali last Friday, Kagame made a stop over at Rubengera township to grant a re request for a chat by Ugandan journalists. He gave his views in the current 3rd Term wave that has engulfed the country like a wild fire. 

Red Pepper: Thank You Mr. President for allowing to stop your convoy and wait for us.

Kagame: Thank you.

RED PEPPER: In the last two days we’ve seen waves of people begging you not to abandon them. They want you to push parliament to amend the constitution to allow you run for a 3rd Term in 2017. Why don’t you listen to them? Why are you ignoring them? Isn’t theirs a democratic expression?

KAGAME:  I have always listened to my people especially in as far as the responsibilities I have with them. The matter that you are talking about is crucial to most of them. Many Rwandans seem to have made up their minds on this. Others are thinking differently and the debate goes on. And I have no problem with that. As this story keeps unfolding, no doubt at one point I will be clear where I stand and what I intend to do. There’s no need for hurry. When people talk of 2017, it’s two and half years in this mandate. What follows after is something that will come sooner than later. And it will reflect the context of what we have seen and done. Otherwise, I am not in a hurry and I haven’t allowed any pressure to bear upon me. I have seen worse problems in life and this is not big. I have faced all manner of problems and I don’t usually respond to them basing on what people are asking.

RED PEPPER: Given the African precarious condition where governments still struggle to provide simple basics like salt and paraffin, are Term Limits good for the continent at the moment?

KAGAME: Too many things have been said about term limits in Africa and to me many times the commentary is exaggerated. The problems of Africa have nothing to do with one; Term Limits as a problem and two; Term Limits being a solution to those problems. If we say know to term limits, will the problems go? And if the term limits remained, will these problems still go? I think the issue here is context. What has to be done is completely different. We have to create institutions that last to serve us beyond the single discussion on term limits. Creating the rule of law, a strong civil society, a strong private sector, a functioning parliament and security, all doing what they are supposed to do.  I know of some countries with excellent term limits but have not solved their critical problems yet. On the other hand it may be the problem of politics. If Politics goes wrong, it is not because there are term limits in the constitution. It about individuals. I also don’t believe term limits have a direct correlation with democracy. There’s this common talk that when someone overstays, he gets drunk on power. That’s not a problem. What about the case of the City State of Singapore where Lee Kwan Yew ruled for 32 years? Despite heavy criticism, he moved the country from a Third to a First World nation. The people who used to call him a dictator are the same people praising him in death. If term limits had been in Singapore, what would have happened?

RED PEPPER: But the argument has been that Term Limits check dictatorship!

KAGAME: Depending on the context. But what is this obsession with this thing called ‘term limits?’ If ‘terms’ is democracy, why then go for a second one? Serve one and go! I have also heard that we should embrace the example of President Nelson Mandela who served one term. This argument is skewed and puts things out of context. I see ‘Professors’ of Democracy preaching term limits but they don’t practice the same in their own countries. They have kingdoms where someone rules for life, they     have prime ministers who can go on and on as long as their political parties want them or as long as they get elected. Sometimes, yes; You need to have checks and balances. You can limit in such a way as the limiting allows balance in certain different contexts. But if you just check or limit for the sake of it, you create a mess.

DAILY MONITOR: There has been talk in certain quarters that you are trying to follow in the footsteps of your Ugandan counterpart who changed the constitution to run for another term

KAGAME: We should look at everything case by case. Maybe those who put limits in the constitution and changed them later shows that there is nothing that cannot be changed. Which other part of the world didn’t change overtime? But it doesn’t mean that changing is correct. You can tamper with the constitution for wrong causes. Maybe those who changed realized sooner that they had put limits on a wrong premise. Maybe some were under pressure. Maybe at that time, some people might have been told to put them for fashion. Others might have thought it was a good thing and later realized they needed to make changes. In our situation, it is not me who is asking. I am not telling anybody. If they said something different I would be glad. If they said thank you, go and rest, I would be very glad. But it’s not that ordinary people want something for fashion. It is about what they feel they will benefit from it. It’s also not about somebody’s good looks. By the way these ordinary people are very intelligent. They know what they want.

NEW VISION: How do you feel whenever these people turn up in huge numbers to tell you not to abandon them?

KAGAME: I feel good about it in the sense that they feel all of us have been part of this transformation and we must protect it. They know it’s not about my presence. They feel we have shared our success together and we deserve credit. It is a good feeling for everyone including me and I cannot stop going out to the field to share it with them. It is also about Rwanda’s context. When you see how far we have come, sometimes those of us in this transformation may not see it. But there are people who were last here some 15 years ago and whenever they come back, they tell you how Rwanda has completely changed. All this is generating the energy you see.

NBS TV: Last evening you told opinion leaders that some countries have falsely accused Rwanda of plundering minerals from a neighbouring country yet you have your own minerals. What did you mean?

KAGAME: It’s been in the newspapers. Some of those countries are our neighbours who keep saying we exploit their resources at night. Yet there are other countries that exploit those resources during daytime and are not talked about. Ours was an accusation made to score a political point. You heard of this mineral called Coltan. They said Rwanda doesn’t have it. We took them, including journalists, to our mines but they published a different story. In fact Rwanda has better quality Coltan than any country in the region. Time has been the best factor. They have since realized that their lies can no longer be bought because we have proved them wrong.

NBS TV: Rwandans are so patriotic. How does that happen?

KAGAME: Patriotism is not something you push into people’s throats. People choose to be patriotic. And patriotism is about the message that their leaders give them.  It is the things we do and the ability to communicate them in a transparent way. Once they see the results that come out of their interactions with the leadership of all levels, then it happens. You cannot ask them to be. Once it has taken off, accompanied by a few life-changing moments for everyone, it happens by itself. All we do is keep adding fuel and tying the nuts. Naturally, people get together to fight anything that undermines their collective gains. This is what is happening here.

URBAN TV: During the citizen meetings, we witnessed ordinary people holding their leaders to account for delayed services. What informs this system of accountability?

KAGAME: We are cautious about bureaucracy. Imagine having to tell someone, to tell somebody to inform another to ensure somebody delivers information to us. Along the way, the message gets distorted.  We know this is good but we support it by direct public interaction with the people who consume these services in order to get the truth. That’s when you realize that what you were told by your own officials was false. The ordinary people are sincere and genuine. You saw today how a woman exposed a local leader who had failed to solve her land problem. It is good. The person who is publicly exposed probably won’t do it again. The system further acts as a deterrent. If someone was about to do it, they will stay away from it for fear of public humiliation. It is also a better punishment because it is correctional; otherwise you would have to imprison everybody. Public exposure and humiliation acts as a good lesson without hurting anyone.

URBAN TV: You said you would soon start generating power from Lake Kivu. How and what is the progress?

KAGAME: We have a lot of Methane gas in the lake but the process to generate power from it is complex. This Methane is mixed with lots of other gases and water. The process requires separating Methane from these gases and then return them to the lake because they keep it secure. If there’s an imbalance in the lake we can have a problem. There’s an American company called Contour Limited, which is conducting the process and will soon start off with 25MW. If this pilot test gives proper results that the process worked, then we will go on increasing the megawatts geometrically.

DAILY MONITOR: Tell us more about this concept called ‘Agaciro.’ What is it?

KAGAME: The concept is born out of the feeling that as Rwandans we deserve more and better and have the necessary abilities to work for the best and have it. It is called ‘Dignity.’ We think there’s no justification why we as Africans cannot be proud and become better, just like elsewhere. I feel if we started with our own small country and become an example for the rest of the continent, then Africa shall be transformed. For instance, once we collectively achieve transformation in one village, we use that example for the rest. Examples are the best means of demonstrating how anything is possible. Slowly, the message rolls over and spreads far and wide. For example we said all houses in the country must be iron roofed. Those who had them, we have told them it is possible to improve to tiles. They are doing it.  It is about conceptualizing this transformation and acting on it. Right now, nearly 100 percent of Rwandans sleep in iron roofed houses. We have said no to grass thatched houses and it has worked. This is the pride we are talking about and we have achieved it almost at100%. It is difficult to find a grass-thatched house in Rwanda.

RED PEPPER: What kind of Rwanda do you envisage in 30 years from now?

KAGAME: A prosperous country free of poverty because fighting it is now our preoccupation. I want to see every child having gone to school and acquired skills. I want to a country having advanced in technology and taking it on as a way of life. All citizens should have achieved a middle class level and GDP Per Capita multiplied 1000 times. But all this must have been backed up by stability. Security is above everything else. There can never be any visible gains without security.

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