President Paul Kagame

President Paul Kagame has launched a process that could finally end the debate on a third term for him, by tasking three senior members of his Rwandan Patriotic Front to come up with a “transition formula.”

The president used the platform of the party’s national executive committee (NEC) on February 8 to task Tito Rutaremara, Joseph Karemera and Antoine Mugesera to come up with a formula that would deliver “change, continuity and stability” after 2017, when his constitutional term as president expires.

A senior RPF member, who spoke on condition of anonymity said President Kagame informed them that he was in a “dilemma” over the third term question.

Mr Rutaremara would not discuss if the options included proposing a third term for President Kagame, simply stating: “Those saying Kagame should go just because his term is finished are being lazy. We are responsible people we have to study everything. We must get a formula that shall give us maximum of change, continuity and stability.”

At the meeting, the source said, Kagame briefly talked about the Congo issue, which has damaged relations between his government and development partners, and dedicated the better part of the discussion to the third term question.

Mr Rutaremara said, “The president has said he is not interested in the third term… but he also does not want to look like he is running away from responsibility — and by the way, he is not the one to decide.”

Traditionally, RPF’s NEC meetings are held very much in secret, and observers say the fact that selected journalists were invited along with party members who are now willing to share what transpired, means something bigger.

Opinion is divided among political commentators and observers in Kigali.

Some say if these discussions were primarily meant to trigger an internal search for Kagame’s successor, they depict a party that has matured politically.

Some observers say that by opening up the debate, President Kagame may be testing the waters to ascertain the feasibility of his presidential ambitions beyond 2017, if indeed he harbours any.

“If he has thrown open the debate so his departure is discussed well in time and a search instituted for a suitable candidate to lead the change, it will be good for him and for internal democracy of the party,” said Dr Christopher Kayumba, a lecturer at the National University of Rwanda’s School of Journalism.

However, Mr Rutaremara said that looking at removal of term limits was insufficient because the “formula” may lie in having internal changes within RPF.

Although he did not divulge the likely changes, observers point to some scenarios:
The party could change the way its leaders are selected, retaining Kagame as its chairman and thus ensuring he remains powerful and influential even when he is not president.


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