Rwanda will this month hold a referendum to endorse constitutional amendments allowing president Paul Kagame to stand for a third elective term. It’s then that Mr Kagame will declare his position.
The verdict for a referendum came at the climax of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF)’s congress held at Rosororo, Gasabo District on Sunday.
The more than 2,500 delegates assembled under a giant marquee had expected that after Parliament had voted to amend the constitution and court equally approved of the move, Mr Kagame would hand a ‘yes’ answer to the ruling party’s umuryango (family) meeting.
“Whatever you expect from me, please be patient. I want to confide in you, this is a difficult problem but don’t be discouraged There are stages, they build on previous ones,” he added. “When Rwandans go to the referendum, they will show their choice.”
When president Kagame ended his speech and fielded questions, the sole question was ‘on which date would the referendum be held’. “Let someone from Parliament or any government official answer that, it doesn’t have to be me,” the president said.
In response, the Justice minister, Mr Johnston Busingye, said a tentative date of December 18, had been set so that the referendum is done away with before the Christmas holiday and the national dialogue (omushikirano) later in the month.
“It awaits you to approve, maybe you will inform Cabinet but we are ready,” Mr Busigye said as delegates cheered.
“You can see how I am detached from this process. I didn’t know it depended on me! Ok,” he said, signalling approval. The delegates applauded and gave him a standing ovation.
“We have agreed on the referendum, not the result”
Mr Kagame said stirring more excitement from the delegates who appeared to believe they are close to the target.
Mr Kagame who took almost an hour explaining why his answer should be delayed and how it will be largely dependent of what Rwandans want than foreigners, came close to hinting that he would not abandon ship in the deep sea.
“What we shall decide shall be dependent on solid principles and not people’s prejudices and fears,” he said.
“So long as God is still taking good care of us, you can count on us to fight good fights. Being able to fight good fights doesn’t depend on whether we are in office. If you doubt it, you can test it!” Mr Kagame said.
Earlier, the deputy Speaker of the lower Chamber of Parliament, Ms Jeanne d’Arc Unimanimpaye, explained and justified the removal of term limits from the constitution “as demanded by Rwandans”, the delegates chorused their support.
Ms Unimanimpaye said Parliament had between 2010-2015 received petitions from citizens demanding that Article 101 is amended “so that Rwandans are not prevented from running for office when they are capable” especially Mr Kagame.
President Kagame came to power in 1994 after the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) he led waged a guerilla war, springing from Uganda in 1991. His forces overthrew the government of the late Juvenal Habyarimana and brought to an end three months of genocide in which some 800,000 people were killed, most of them Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu.