The wary blur of President Kagame’s 2017 promise to relinquish power


By: Charles KM KAMBANDA, PhD

A Rwandan newspaper, the Chronicles, reported that the former rebel leader and all-powerful iron-handed leader of Rwanda said, “I will not be around as president come 2017”. On the issue of whether or not President Kagame will amend the constitution allowing him to remain in power. The Chronicles quoted President Kagame  saying, “…on this issue, I am  almost taking it personal with people who keep asking […] you are going to change the constitution, you…you…you… no! Please, I have no business…but I will be around as a senior citizen in my country to make a contribution the way I will be able to…I will not be around as president come 2017.” Suppose the truth-value of the Rwandan dictator’s promise is not in issue and there is no necessity to contemplate any contingency prior to 2017, then President Kagame’s declared 2017 exit strategy opens up the door for rational inquiry.

The hazy insight into President Kagame’s plans after his long stay in power

The constitution of Rwanda provides for a no convict former presidents, upon request to the Supreme Court, to join the Senate. In what appears to be President Paul Kagame’s preferred life style after his long stay in power, the President scorned the idea of joining the country’s legislature.  The Rwandan dictator suggested that “[I] would rather look after [my] cattle and possibly do business”. The President’s promise to hand over power in 2017 is imprecise on two fundamental issues. First, President Kagame does not address the possibility of standing trial for economic crimes and/or international crimes he allegedly committed in both Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo and secondly, it is not clear whether President Kagame wants to relinquish power but remain the country’s “behind-the-scene” strongest man.

President Kagame’s plan after his long presidency appears inconsistent with his leadership style

If factual that President Kagame wants to be a farmer or businessman after relinquishing power, the most appropriate inference is that he wants to lead a quiet and peaceful life after he leaves the country’s number one job. Does President Kagame merit a quiet and peaceful life?  True, Rwanda’s physical infrastructure and economy probably improved under President Kagame and that he managed to bring some order in a country that had been torn apart by the 1994 genocide. However, the President’s leadership is characterized by horrific international crimes and gross violation of people’s freedoms and rights. President Kagame’s regime is infamous for use of unjustifiable excessive force and appalling brutality in Rwanda, the neighboring countries and beyond. The President has ‘flogged’ Rwandans into a perpetual state of anxiety, uncertainty and irrational submission for fear of Kagame’s brutality. Under President Kagame, Rwanda looks like a slaughterhouse with the most qualified butcher at the helm. The President is accused of sustaining a local and cross-boarder suicidal criminal network which persecutes and/or executes Kagame’s opponents, perceived or real.  On the international level, President Kagame is not doing any better. First, the United Nations Mapping report accused Kagame and his army of war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide. Second, in Spain and France, Kagame’s arrest warrants are on hold because of the presidential immunity he enjoys. South Africa is currently prosecuting some of Kagame’s allegedly cross-boarder assassins for attempt to murder Lt. General Kayumba Nyamwasa, Kagame’s once right-hand man. It is indubitable that Kagame is on trial in SA on conspiracy and/or accomplice theories.   These and other deplorable incidents to which Kagame is associated do not qualify Kagame for the tranquility he appears to anticipate. It is incontrovertible that international criminal justice and/or Rwanda’s criminal justice will probably catch up with President Kagame when, or if, he leaves the country’s top job.

Kagame might probably relinquish power the Vladimir Putin style.

In 2008, Vladimir Putin stepped down after two presidential terms. He named his handpicked successor, President Dmitry Medvedev, to lead the United Russia. Putin became Prime Minister while his handpicked successor was President. However, Vladimir Putin remained Russia’s most powerful leader with powers beyond the President on Russia’s domestic and foreign policy. This year, 2011, Vladimir Putin has been formally ‘nominated’ by the ruling United Russia party to run for president in the March 2012 elections. Putin has named his handpicked successor, Medvedev, to lead the United Russia’s 2012 parliament candidate roster. Putin has promised to make Dmitry Medvedev prime mister.

Will President Kagame replay the Putin-Medvedev political acrobat?

President Kagame has the potential to attempt, but not to sustain, the Putin-Medvedev circus. First, the President has personalized state apparatus for personal aggrandizement. Second, President Kagame has entrenched himself in a reign of terror and excessive fear among Rwandans and some neighboring countries. Third, Kagame has personalized the army and the country’s security organs. Fourth, Kagame and his family have successfully taken over all significant formerly government owned business enterprises in the country. Kagame has excessive private control over the country’s financial system and wealth.  However, it might be an oversight for the Rwandan President to underestimate the unique political reality that there is for him to navigate.

First, Rwanda’s position in international politics is incomparable to Russia’s. While the Putin-Medvedev circus never received international scrutiny, President Kagame might not get away with it. Second, President Kagame, unlike Putin, is an international criminal suspect and some countries have already issued arrest warrants for him. Third, while Putin is a very popular leader in Russia, Kagame is only feared for the unimaginable brutality and terror that is associated with his presidency in Rwanda. Fourth, Kagame does not treat others with dignity and decency even the people he uses for his personal aggrandizement. It is inconceivable that President Kagame would find a Medvedev-like Rwandan to legitimize the Putin-like political spectacle. The Putin-Medvedev scenario is probably unattainable for President Kagame.

Kagame perhaps will contemplate a political dwarf as his successor

Most African leaders who allegedly committed international crimes or are accused of serious economic crimes appear to have two options. First, cling to power until death strikes or impose a political dwarf successor who would not dare hold accountable the dictator. The latter appears to be the most logical scenario for President Kagame’s succession plan. The President has imprisoned, exiled or assassinated all credible political leaders within and outside his political party. Political space in Rwanda is reserved for President Kagame and his political “allies” only. Call it ‘franchising’ political space to his buddies. Still, President Kagame’s case is unique. He would need a successor who will not surrender him to the international criminal court or any national jurisdiction that may issue arrest warrants for the President to answer international crimes charges. President Kagame is certainly looking for a successor who will protect him from trial for genocide against the Hutu, war crimes and crimes against humanity he allegedly committed in Rwanda.  President Kagame and his family are believed to be the major shareholders and/or owners all the major business corporations in Rwanda. Kagame is accused of siphoning public funds for personal financial interests. Yet, he stands accused of serious economic crimes. Although Kagame is falsely praised for fighting corruption, his critics say what he does is to fight anybody or institutions that will likely report secretive inner-circle corruption. It is crucial for Kagame to instate a successor who will not subject him to investigations and prosecution. The President has ‘enacted’ laws granting civil and criminal immunity to former heads of state. Kagame ‘enacted’ these laws after he had thrown into jail his predecessor, Pasteur Bizimungu. The President is probably looking for successor and a system that will not repeal the laws that are meant for his survival and economic prosperity after his long presidency.

President Kagame has a leaf to pick from Zambia’s recent presidential history

In 2000, Fredrick Chiluba, then president of Zambia, could not run for president due to the constitutional presidency term limit. Chiluba, his family and his high profile security personnel were accused of gross economic crimes. Chiluba wanted to remain Zambia’s strongest man even after his term as president due to his fear of being held accountable for the economic crimes he was accused of. Therefore, Chiluba did not want to handover power to an independent minded successor.  For this reason, Fredrick Chiluba imposed on his party Levy Mwanawasa. At the time, Levy Mwanawasa looked a political mediocre. However, to Fredric Chiluba’s surprise, Chiluba’s handpicked successor, Levy Mwanawasa, sanctioned Chiluba’s prosecution for economic crimes. Levy Mwanawasa overtly expressed frustration over Chiluba’s excessive pressure and manipulation of the person and office of the president.

Chiluba, unlike Kagame, was not accused of international crimes. While Levy Mwanawasa had to bear the negative publicity of prosecuting his predecessor, President Kagame’s successor will probably bear none of that. It will be a matter of dumping the General at the International criminal court at The Hague or to the French and/or Spanish Courts that have already issued arrest warrants for him.



Whether President Kagame will not amend the constitution to cling to power, his declared plan after handing over power in 2017 is naïve. The President should know or has reasons to know that he may not expect to receive from others what he has not given to them. The President’s reign is synonymous with international crimes, terror, unjustifiable use of excessive force against the citizenry, assassination and persecution of his political opponents, gross violation of human rights and initiating or exacerbating cross-boarder instability for his egoistic political survival. Successful farming and doing business requires that the actor lives in a peaceful environment with a peaceful mind. The President’s actions point to the contrary.

President Kagame ought to have contingent plan that addresses the possibility of standing trial for his alleged international crimes and economic crimes in any competent court.

Edited and submitted by: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW



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