January 19, 2015 will prove to be a date of significance in Rwanda. This is the day Rwandans were informed it is they begging the incumbent head of state, Paul Kagame, to stay in power beyond 2017 when his final term ends. Writing in the New Times, a government-owned and the only daily newspaper in Rwanda, a senior public servant by the name of Fred Mufulukye, who is Director General of Administration and Good Governance in the Ministry of Local Government, dropped the bombshell:
"Rwandans have publicly demanded and requested H.E the President to accept their appeal and stand again...President Kagame has transformed the country in just less than 20 years...Leaders like him are very rare and come once in hundreds of years...The majority of Rwandan community have anxiety, fear and uncertainty of what may happen after 2017. The positive impact created by President Kagame's vision and leadership in Rwanda makes the majority of Rwandans hesitant to change him and makes them uncertain about the future of Rwanda in another person's command."
Accordingly, Article 101 of the Rwanda constitution -- "Under no circumstances shall a person hold the office of President of Republic for more than two terms" -- is an undemocratic limitation of choices. But when did majority Rwandans express this and by what means? Did they unknowingly participate in a referendum over the matter? Or perhaps the local government ministry conducted a survey or poll to determine Rwandan preferences? The source of this measurement remains a mystery.
Another shattering announcement was made on January 22, 2015 -- this time at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland. In a panel discussion on the Millennium Development Goals, session moderator, Fareed Zakaria from CNN, asserted that Kagame should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for implementing the goals in most challenging context. Zakaria is relentless -- he has since 2009 sought to popularize the notion that "the biggest success story out of the continent is Rwanda."
This bombastic branding aimed at domestic and global audiences displays arrogance of power, if one may modify William Fulbright's original concept and usage of the term. By "arrogance of power," Fulbright meant presumption on the part of a powerful nation that it has a right to determine the fate of the less powerful. The arrogance of power I am applying to Rwanda is of totalitarian variety, whereby the state "think" for the entire population of 12 million people.
Intoxicated by the arrogance of power, the Rwandan state only sees in citizens a flock of sheep to be led by the incumbent shepherd. Rwanda is of course not alone in this belief and practice. When Burkina Faso's Blaise Campaoré in October 2014 ordered parliament to extend his 27-year dictatorship, it never occurred to him that he might fail and fall. Fall he did. Four months later, DRC's Joseph Kabila similarly went shopping for same, but instead received a bloody nose from an uprising.
Rwanda leadership is deploying a three-pronged strategy of removing presidential term limits. First, the head of state is intensifying his global roadshow to exhibit his so-called economic miracles to keep the donors happy. They after all finance 40 per cent of his budget, and over 80 per cent of capital formation.
Second, and most critical, the imperative of driving fear among Rwandans to keep them in check escalates. The horrific outcomes of this madness is aptly described by the 2013 U.S. Department of State Report on Human Rights in Rwanda: "The most important human rights problems in the country remained the government's targeting of political opponents...arbitrary or unlawful killings both inside and outside of the country, disappearances, torture, harsh conditions in prisons and detention centers, arbitrary arrest, prolonged pretrial detention, and government infringement on citizens' privacy rights."
Third -- and this is Mufulukye's point -- intimidation of the population into visible support of the regime is also vital. Mammoth crowds of supporters turn up at public events that are supposedly "spontaneous demonstrations" while in reality they are coerced or paid to attend. We saw a bit of this in November 2014 when thousands took to the streets to protest against BBC's documentary about the 1994 genocide. This in a country where demonstrations are unheard of and where less than one per cent has access to television and could therefore, not have seen the film. In the same month we were reminded of the real Rwanda; a religious sect of seven women and one man who attempted to warn Kagame about what they termed pending bloodshed due to his authoritarian rule were sentenced to five years for "inciting revolt" against Kagame.
Will the Rwandan autocracy succeed in its grand ambition of clinging on power after 2017? Harold Wilson's famous phrase "a week is a long time in politics" is my preferred response.