Having been formed by exiles and refugees in 1987, Rwanda’s Patriotic Front (RPF) last week celebrated its Silver Jubilee (25 years). Our Reporter who was in Kigali, witnessing the festivities for almost two weeks, critically observed certain things which make RPF a unique party. We hereby present her observations in form of its secrets:
With exception of Obote’s UPC in Uganda, RPF is perhaps one of the few parties in East African Community bloc which openly do business. Leaders like Gen Paul Kagame and foreign affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo defend RPF’s conspicuous presence on business scene on grounds this was out of necessity imposed by Rwanda’s unique circumstances.
Kagame says that as of 1994 when RPF took over, both private and public enterprises had collapsed yet the state had to function. RPF, which had been fundraising when still a rebel force and doing business here and there, had to fill the vacuum. However, caution had to be exercised later as things normalized whereby Kagame ensures RPF companies don’t do much business with government, which they control.
This mitigates against conflict of interest. Its therefore not surprising as part of 25 year celebration, Kagame commissioned $10m worth construction works to erect the party’s permanent headquarter complex which will also have rentable space for further income generation. Critics though, like Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa and Col Patrick Karegyeya, have accused Kagame of personalizing RPF-owned businesses. RPF could easily be the richest party in East Africa.
18 v. 25 years
Majority people look at RPF in terms of the 18 years (counting from 1994) it has been in power but in actual sense the party, that was initially an underground movement comprising Tutsi refugees and exiles in Uganda, commenced in 1987, only one year after NRA’s very revolutionary war in which Tutsi refugees aided, had taken power.
RPF evolved from Rwanda’s Patriotic Army (RPA) whose revolutionary orientation necessitated formation of a party or political wing called RPF. As of 1994, RPA had 18,000 soldiers but one year later it had grown to 50,000 due to reconciliation processes which integrated some of the ex-FAR soldiers of Habyarimana they had fought against.
RPF observes strict code of discipline consolidated by its coherent structure. At the apex is a National Executive Committee (NEC) below which is a Political Bureau which supervises branches at provincial, district, sector and cell levels. It also has an elaborate network in academic and other institutions for recruitment purposes.
This structure also provides for an inbuilt espionage network whereby dissent will easily be identified and pacified. Subordinates are strictly required to obey their superiors and this level of discipline, according to Kagame, is what makes RPF strong and exemplary to majority Rwandans.
Kagame admits initially the Hutus were skeptical having been indoctrinated to think RPF was a Tutsi party which an anti-Rwanda agenda. But continuous ideological orientation demystified this and made Hutus realize RPF deserved a chance on the strength of its ideology regardless of its founders’ ethnic background.
In the end, Hutu and Tutsi have equal chance to rise to positions in RPF whose pioneer President Pasteur Bizimungu was actually a Tutsi deputized by Kagame. Some of RPF founders include Gen Fred Rwegyema, Col Alexis Kanyarengwe, Maj. Peter Muyingana, Aloysia Inyumba and Modesta Rutabayiru-all of them deceased. Those still living include Tito Rutaremara, Bosco Mugengana, Portais Musoni, Innocent Rugogwe, Micheal Rugema, Eulade Bwitare, Joseph Karemera, Rumongi, Zeno Mutimura, Karenzi Theoneste and Connie Akayezu.
Unlike in Uganda where the “winner takes it all politics reigns,” in Rwanda there is mandatory power-sharing as a mechanism to enable even smaller parties to gradually grow.
The national constitution demands that the leading party (even if it scoops 99% in elections) can’t have more than 50% ministers in cabinet. The other parties (10 of them including Victoria Ingabire’s Union Democratic Forces or FDU) produce the remaining ministers. The constitution further provides that the Speaker of Parliament must come from the small parties, not the one which wins elections.
The current Speaker is female (independent) and the two male deputies are from smaller parties. Kagame says whereas this constrains smaller parties from overtly criticizing a government they are part of, it’s also critical for smaller party leaders to have capacity building. In practice some of them become overwhelmed (or do we say over excited?) and become part of RPF.
The good example is internal affairs minister Sheikh Musa Fazil Harerimana (leader of PDI/Idealist Democratic Party) who has been crusading for constitutional reforms to lift term limits so that Kagame, whose second and last term expires in 2017, rules for life. Gratefully, he has since been rebuked and denounced by senior RPF leaders like party chairman Kagame and vice chairman Christopher Bazivamo.
The two leaders say RPF made the constitution and won’t accept temptations to dilute it as if the ruling party can’t find someone else equally visionary like Kagame. RPF Convention will meet in late 2015 or early 2016 to choose Kagame successor.
Pan Africanist party
Like many long ruling parties in Africa, RPF espouses Pan-Africanist ideals as seen in the long list of comrades from other liberation movements in Africa in Amahoro stadium whenever the RPF anniversary is to be celebrated.
This year’s attracted Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, CCM’s Mama Maria Nyerere, new Ethiopian Premier and delegations from ruling parties in Mozambique, Lesotho, Burundi and Eritrea. Louise Mushikiwabo, who despite maintaining not being RPF member is favored to succeed President Kagame, says it’s the desire to pursue Pan-Africanist obligations that Rwanda willingly deployed its soldiers, under the auspices and AU and UN, to pacify Darfur and even DR Congo where their role has since been misunderstood resulting into an indicting report by the so-called Panel of UN Experts.
Kagame dreams of a day when RPF will be Africa’s most admired exemplary party in the league of South Africa’s ANC. It’s perhaps because of this Pan-Africanist orientation that RPF perceives things as if majority of its enemies are none Africans. Judging from Louise Mushikiwabo’s recent media interviews, its clear most of RPF’s angry rhetoric has been directed at the UN and generally western powers. RPF officially wonders why Steve Hege, who Louise Mushikiwabo claims to be in bed with FDLR/Interhamwe based in DR Congo with intent to destabilize Rwanda, was appointed to head the UN Panel of Experts who authored the recent report faulting Rwanda for funding M23 rebels fighting Kabila’s government in Kinshasa.
RPF has leagues for these two groups but its leaders despise demands that the old guard should suddenly hand over power to the youth, just like that. Far from it-Kagame prefers that any potential leaders from these two groups spontaneously emerge through being generally guided and mentored by current leadership. He is an example having emerged from the circumstances of his day rather than his destiny being decided in a conference sitting just to get a youth to lead the party.
Kagame after 2017
After quitting the presidency in 2017, Kagame will most likely remain RPF Chairman like Muwalimu Julius Nyerere did in Tanzania for some time. This will give him leverage to guide and monitor his successor at very close range. It’s also true the RPF strong man will remain thickly involved in running the military for purposes of continued security given the fact that security in the great lakes region in which Rwanda is located remains fragile.
Report By Hope Muhairwe