By Mugabe Robert
Rwandans on Saturday 25th May woke up to the news that President Paul Kagame had replaced two senior ruling party Rwandan Patriotic Front [RPF] officials in the cabinet. Protais Musoni and Tharcisse Karugarama were replaced by Mugabo Ford and Justice Johnstone Busingye respectively as Cabinet affairs and Justice Ministers in the mid night reshuffle that also saw several ambassadors recalled.
While there is nothing unusual about the President changing cabinet members, the particular sacking of Justice Minister and Attorney General Karugarama came a few days after the UK Guardian newspaper published a long article in which the President Kagame and Karugarama seemed to be at loggerheads over the transition in 2017 when President Kagame’s final elected term expires. The Guardian journalist wrote:
“… Others, including Kagame’s own justice minister, believe it is essential for Kagame to step down in 2017 in order to maintain the primacy of the rule of law.
Kagame has been equivocal in the past, but greets the news of his justice minister’s views with belligerence. “Why don’t you tell him to step down himself? All those years he’s been there, he’s not the only one who can be the justice minister,” he says. “In the end we should come to a view that serves us all. But in the first place I wonder why it becomes the subject of heated debate.”
It is almost unheard of for a public disagreement on any issue between President Kagame and any person who works for him. Actually there are reports that in internal RPF meetings, Karugarama has made it clear that the Constitution should be respected as it is so as to set a national precedent. This was well in line with President Kagame’s own stated position in the many interviews with the media following with his re-election in 2010.
However, the absence of any moves towards anointing a successor and the clear ambivalence in recent interviews has convinced many that President Kagame is set to seek another mandate in 2017.
Since President Kagame called an extraordinary meeting of the RPF politiburo and assigned members to come up with a transition formula that guaranteed both change and continuity, and later appointed a panel to look into the who transition issue, a tendency in support of a continued Kagame presidency well beyond 2017 is emerging dominant with reports that the necessary machinery is being assembled to make it possible.
The big question is how the Rwandan Patriotic Front [RPF] will handle itself in the crucial period towards 2017 whether there is a transition to another president or Kagame seeks a third term. The likelihood that members may disagree and some loudly so remains possible, but analysts expect Kagame’s wish to prevail in whichever case given his grip over the state, party and crucially military and security apparatus. The reshuffle could be a message to those who have views contrary to the boss’ to keep to themselves and tow the party line when it emerges.
While social media is filled with speculation that the transition issue is reason for Karugarama’s sacking since he was regarded as competent and was many times one of the government’s spokespeople, his legal brain was significant in Rwanda jurisprudence.
For the case of Protais Musoni, he is said to have long asked to retire from demanding government jobs though it’s not yet clear if his removal from cabinet at this particular time is in fulfillment of this or he was sacked.
However, the recalling of several ambassadors may be to provide space for the former ministers to serve as ambassadors. It has happened before for President Kagame to send sacked ministers to diplomatic postings.
With the death of Aloisea Inyumba last year and now Musoni and Karugarama out of cabinet, President Kagame is the only person involved in the founding of the RPF who is surviving in the cabinet, and of course because he picks it.
Both Karugarama and Musoni played important roles in the creation and running of the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity [RANU] that became the RPF Inkotanyi in 1987. Karugarama was among the seven people present at his brother, Anthony Karugahe’s house at Lenana School in Nairobi in June 1979 at the founding of RANU. He was thereafter sent to Uganda to set up a branch of RANU that recruited some of the most influential people in the RPF liberation war.
Musoni became RANU Secretary General in 1983 and remained in that post until December 1987 when RANU transformed RPF in Kampala and was general coordinator during the RPF war. Musoni has long been a leading RPF ideologue alongside the likes of Tito Rutaremara. Protais Musoni is currently serving in RPF as a commissioner for discipline.
The RPF is expected to hold an electing congress in December 2013 and it is expected that long serving powerful Secretary General François Ngarambe and Vice Chairman Bazivamo Christopher will be replaced. While several names are being touted around, it is for certain that the transition politics will inform who will become Secretary General and others who will occupy positions on the Executive committee.
Political observers in Kigali say that the September parliamentary elections will also produce Deputies that are more likely to back Constitutional amendments enabling the third term.