With little opposition within, Kagame’s biggest worry in 2017 will be external
After a resounding endorsement in December 2015 that saw 98 per cent of voters support a third term for President Paul Kagame, his worries will be focused elsewhere in 2017.
With the majority of the opposition already in bed with the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front, Kagame faces opposition only from the largely inconsequential Green Party which is still holding out.
Besides the uncertainties in the global economic environment, the immediate worries for the President will be his close neighbours. Burundi remains tense while the Democratic Republic of Congo remains restive after President Joseph Kabila extended his tenure.
The outcome of the French election also due in 2017 could mean continuing hostilities with a major European power.
“Although he is yet to do it formally, President Kagame has signalled that he will run. If he runs, he will surely win, though no one should completely dismiss the opposition,” said Dr Venuste Karambizi, a professor of political science at Kigali Independent University.
Following Kagame’s “I can only accept” speech of January 2016 that followed the constitutional amendment, fewer parties have so far exhibited the intent to challenge him for the top job.
Endorsement for the president has sometimes come from what can only be described as unusual quarters.
“President Kagame is the ideal leader Rwanda needs for the moment, and our party sees him as the father of the nation who should continue to shape the country and others will come later to complement what he has attained,” said Musa Fazil Harerimana, of the Ideal Democratic Party (PDI) who was recently dropped as interior minister.
Apart from PDI, the Centrist Democratic Party (PDC) has also announced that it will not front any candidate and would rather support President Kagame. The two parties have never fronted a contender in past presidential elections. Even the three political parties that fronted candidates in 2010 remain silent on their next move.
The Liberal Party (PL) of Donatille Mukabalisa, the Speaker of parliament, the Social Democratic Party (PSD) of the current Prime Minister, Anastase Murekezi, and the Party for progress and Concord (PPC) have endorsed the constitutional amendment that allowed Kagame to run for a third term.
According to analysts, this underlines their alignment to the Kagame continuity.
The only opposition party that has so far made known its plan to front a candidate is the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda. The party said it would front Frank Habineza to challenge the incumbent, but according to analysts, the relatively small party is unlikely to make any inroads.
“Considering the influence of RPF in the country’s politics Green Party will not impact much on the elections outcome, but of course they will get what will be proportional to their efforts,” said Mr Karambizi.
Though likely to face a weak or almost non-existent opposition in the August elections, President Kagame should expect pressure from Western countries and international organisations that have in the past criticised his bid to run for another term.
This could result in cuts on the already reduced direct budget support, hitting the country’s economy at present, exacerbated by the growing trade deficit and the depreciating Rwandan franc.
In the remaining months of his second term, analysts say President Kagame’s concerns would be much on external relations and geopolitics, two areas that will seemingly dominate the first years of his third term, if he is elected.
According to the analysts, the head of state will have a robust task to maintain peace and stability likely to be influenced by Rwanda’s two unpredictable neighbours — Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Burundi, which is experiencing a deep crisis since April 2015, has been accusing Rwanda and President Kagame in person of being the source of its problems, and is likely to multiply its accusations as Rwanda gets close to elections.
He would also be watching closely the development in the volatile DRC where tensions related to the delayed general elections are likely to escalate and give room to the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) the Rwandan Hutu rebel group, one of umpteenth rebel groups operating in the eastern DRC.
“Events in the two countries can only affect Rwanda on as mall scale, and any impact can be easily contained,” said Dr Karambizi.
Another dossier expected to feature on president Kagame’s agenda as Rwanda draws close to the presidential election is the Rwanda-France relationship.
Following years of endless blame, Rwanda has this year opened a formal investigation into 20 French officials suspected of playing a role in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, a move that followed reopening by French judges of an investigation into the 1994 assassination of the Rwandan president, Juvenal Habyarimana, a killing considered as the trigger of the genocide.
With France also heading into a presidential election likely to produce a leader more hostile to Rwanda after the loss of Nicolas Sarkozy in the primaries, the legal battles are likely to further sour diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Analysts say that even if France’s incoming presidential elections would produce a more moderate leader, it is hard to find one who would tolerate any act that lowers France’s standing in the world like prosecution of its high ranking official for genocide.
On the other hand, President Kagame, like any other leader in the world will face the Trump-effect. 2017 will be Donald Trump’s first as the president of the most powerful country in the world, and nobody knows his plans on the Great Lakes region in general and Rwanda in particular.
A review of RPF manifesto reveals that despite banking on a strong economic track record, President Kagame will have to explain to the voters why his government has failed to revamp the minimum wage (SMIG) to align it with the times, despite this objective being in both the 2003 and 2010 RFF manifesto.
Other tough questions would be on the promotion of national hospitals so as to reduce the number of people seeking costly treatment outside the country, which is to be expected to also feature on the 2017 manifesto.