President Paul Kagame has talked about the possibility of not running for a fourth term, noting that his wish is for a woman to replace him when he retires from office. “My wish is that one day, a woman takes up this position that you gave me,” Kagame told delegates during the Nation Address at the 17th National Annual Dialogue recently.
He has previously made similar claims, notably in 2017 when he said he “can only accept” to run for a third term after being persuaded by the Rwandan population. While it would be difficult to dislodge a president who is credited with the nation’s economic transformation, no woman has made it to the ballot for the presidency in Rwanda’s history despite the president’s wish.
Only two women have attempted to run for the top seat—Victoire Ingabire in 2010 and Diane Rwigara in 2017. Their attempts were, however, short-lived and unsuccessful as both were arrested shortly after announcing their bids to run against Kagame.
The ruling party, RPF, has notable women who have previously risen through the ranks and are seen as potential successors once Kagame decides to pass on the button. Experts say Rwanda has a pool of women leaders who can match the challenge. The Cabinet is 52 percent female while they make up 68 percent of parliament.
“There are many young and experienced women in political offices now. One name that comes up to me easily is Louise Mushikiwabo, who has vast experience in leadership and can take the challenge,” Ismail Buchanan, a professor of politics told The EastAfrican. “But most importantly, I think it is not about a particular individual but the need for continuation of Rwanda’s (upward) trajectory.”
Ms. Mushikiwabo is the secretary-general of Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and previously served as Rwanda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation of Rwanda from 2009 to 2018. A week ago, President Kagame had again talked up his retirement, this time in a more subtle manner. While attending the 2019 Doha Forum, he answered “most likely not” to a question on whether he will seek a fourth term in 2024.
“I don’t know yet, but most likely no. When I say most likely, I mean I don’t want to lock myself into anything. I want to have some breathing space,” Kagame said. “But I think that given the way things are or have been in the past, it depends on two things. But I think I have made up my mind where am concerned personally that it is not going to happen next time.” President Kagame won a resounding third term in 2017 by 99 percent of the vote, following a referendum in 2015 that suspended term limits.
Before that, Kagame had made several suggestions that he might not seek a third term but changed his mind after the constitution was amended in 2015 with 98 percent voting to amend article 101 on presidential term limits. Now having served as president since 2000, he is alongside President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda as the longest-serving leader in the East African Community. The constitution allows him to run for another two five-year terms until 2034, and Mr. Kagame says he still has a “lot of energy left to keep going” despite the economic transformation that he has overseen since the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
“I can go on for several more years; I am not tired of doing what I am doing. I am working with my people and my country, and moving from the past of tremendous challenges but also making progress and creating hope for the people of Rwanda,” he said in Doha. He added: “It is never mission accomplished. As far as we are concerned, it is work-in-progress.” By IVAN R. MUGISHA/The East African
Main Photo: President Paul Kagame, Rwanda