For most of the third quarter of 2023, the attention of the world was focused on political developments in sub-Saharan Africa, where military officers toppled democratically elected governments in some countries. Unlike in previous cases in the region, where military coups were roundly condemned and efforts made to get the usurpers to give up power or follow a transition to return the countries to democratic rule, the coup in Niger Republic took a totally different dimension. While most of the West, particularly France and the United States, condemned the coup and called for military action to restore the ousted democratic government, reactions from many Africans were supportive of the forced change of government.
The Nigerien experience was still burning hot when another coup occurred in Equatorial Guinea. Again, the coup was popular among ordinary Africans, who spared no time to praise the coup plotters and express their rejection of democratic leaders in Africa who, rather than use government machinery to develop their countries, have converted state economies into private estates and opened the way, for exploitative Western countries and businesses to mine and cart away precious natural resources for almost free.
As the coups went around, Africans were forced to ask if African leaders were actually pathologically incapable of running the affairs of their respective countries. For most of the citizens, a corrective military regime had become better than civilians leaders, whose misrule was sinking their countries and leading more and more of the citizenry into poverty, disease and death.
But the exceptional and exemplary leadership offered by Paul Kagame of Rwanda seemed to have debunked the impression that Africans were incapable of running responsible and progress-minded government. The improvements in human development index, inclusive governance and strict adherence to the rule of law in Rwanda, held out hope and proved that given the right attitude, elected African leaders can run good governments and lift the standard of living in their countries without person.
However, as the story of Rwanda was being celebrated, news came that Kagame had decided to take advantage of an amendment of the country’s Constitution that now allows him to run for a fourth term in office, when his present third seven-year tenure comes to an end in 2024. Kagame has been president of the Great Lakes country since the year 2000, after the country was saved from a genocidal war.
Kagame provided the leadership for the country to overcome the trauma of that national tragedy to the point where it was grabbing global headlines for good governance, ethnic tolerance and economic growth.
Kagame’s latest action has unfortunately, now cast strong doubts on the ability of African leaders to shake-off the toga of despotism. Despite the material progress that the country has made under Kagame, there are stories of highhandedness, suppression of opposition and outright tyranny by Kagame.
It is said that the best time to quit the stage is when the ovation is loudest. Kagame should see the wisdom in this. At a time the continent is burning up with citizens clamouring for the ousting of sit-tight leaders, the Rwandan leader does not need to add to the African challenge.
Leaders like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and many other rule-for-life African leaders started out well. But when they were consumed by aura of power, they seized the country for themselves and destroyed the fine legacies they initially posted.
Yes, Kegame has done well for Rwanda but the beauty of leadership is the ability to groom others who can even out- perform you. The urge to stay forever in office comes from a wrong understanding of what leadership is about, failure to see leadership as holding forte for the people rather than self. Rwanda must have others who can continue the good work. Twenty one (21) years is enough to be on the saddle. Democracy is about diversity, getting everyone, not just a few persons on board.
Kegame should discard the picture of impunity and perpetuity, which have become the bane of development in Africa and act in consonance with the technological feats he has achieved, It is time to step aside and honourably too so, he does not add to the swelling pool of discontent surrounding the continent now,.
The President still has time to rethink his latest decision. He has done well, despite his questionable democratic credentials. But the best legacy he can leave behind is the one that guarantees every Rwandan citizen the right to freely aspire to be elected to serve their country. Africa must serve notice that it is capable of producing leaders, whose interest is the good of their countries, and not the conversion of the state to personal estates.
This why we are asking Paul Kagame of Rwanda to forget about running again for president but instead, concentrate on a succession plan that would enable his people elect the best among them to build on his good legacies. Mandeba Mandela did it and Kegame can do so also.
Africa must come of age.