Is Kagame repeating Mugabe’s mistake?

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. – John Dalberg-Acton.

Time and time again, African leaders have made promises they never intended to keep and this has slowed the continent’s progress in many ways. For many who only see the achievements of President Paul Kagame in Rwanda — a country that has transformed post-genocide into one of the fast-developing nations in Africa — there is nothing better than having him continue leading the East African nation to economic prosperity, but for others who believe in term limits and holding leaders to their words, Kagame has made a big mistake by electing to run for election in 2017. He had in 2011 promised to step down at the end of his second term in office. Opinions are divided about the president’s decision, but it brings back a familiar question: Why do African leaders cling to power?

Kagame like Mugabe

Some analysts have likened Kagame to Zimbabwe’s long-serving leader Robert Mugabe who has been president of Zimbabwe since 1987. The nonagenarian was once loved (maybe still loved) by all Zimbabweans due to his great vision for his country but as he stayed too long in power, his focus on the country’s future became a focus on his future in power. Everything became more about him than about the country. Although Zimbabwe has not seen the best of times economically in recent times, Uncle Bob may run again in 2018. Just like the bright start to Mugabe’s reign, Kagame has done well in Rwanda. Under him, Rwanda’s economy has grown rapidly, with per-capita GDP estimated at $1,592 in 2013 (it was $567 in 2000) and annual growth averaging 8 percent per year between 2004 and 2010. Kagame, whose economic policy is based on liberalising the economy hopes to lead the country to achieve middle income country status by 2020. The country’s impressive growth has endeared Kagame to the hearts of many and may explain why only 10 Rwandans, according to the Parliament, objected to the amendment of the country’s constitution to extend the president’s rule. But many critics of the president’s decision believes his clampdown on the opposition has given him a free pass.

Clampdown on opposition

Kagame has been accused of political repression by several human rights groups, with frequent reports of stifling of opposition and  alleged pursuit of dissidents in exile.

Opposition leader Boniface Twagirimana had in 2012 likened Kagame to Mugabe and had predicted that the constitution would be amended to allow the president remain in power.

“Maybe they will change the constitution so he can continue. I think he would like to rule for 20, 30, 50 years like Robert Mugabe,” local news platform The Rwandan quoted Twagiramana to have said.

“President Kagame is a dictator. He’s operating like he’s still in the forest as a rebel. He’s not a president for the whole country, only RPF members. He doesn’t want to open the political space to allow freedom of expression,” the United Democratic Forces vice president said at the time. He was arrested on Dec. 4, 2015 by the Rwandan police. He was alleged to have been arrested for speaking against the ‘manipulation of the Constitution’ to allow Kagame continue in power. However, the Rawanda National Police said he was arrested after they suspected his involvement in criminal activities, but was allowed to go home after a brief interrogation. To Kagame’s critics, the development laid credence to what they have always said about the president.

Those who do not like Kagame in Rwanda seems to be a minority as a referendum on a const Choose from the most used tagsitutional amendment allowing the president to run for up to three more terms passed in most parts of the country with 98 percent voting yes to change the constitution. But like Kagame, Mugabe remains very popular in Zimbabwe despite the continued deterioration of the country’s economy.

Like Mugabe, Kagame does not appreciate external interference

The United States expressed deep disappointed that President Paul Kagame announced his intention to run for a third term in office. According to the world power, with his decision, Kagame ignores an historic opportunity to reinforce and solidify the democratic institutions the Rwandan people have for more than 20 years laboured so hard to establish.

Kagame had earlier been urged by the U.S. not to run for the third time, a plea he ignored. He also has a reply to the recent statement about his decision.

“So,…’diappointing?’ as a people and a leader/choices?? Uhhm …it hurts!!! I promise we don’t intend to disappoint..esp ourselves!!!” Kagame wrote on Twitter on Monday.

One thing Mugabe, who Kagame is being likened to these days, is known for is his strong response to western criticisms.

The U.S. notes that efforts by incumbents to change rules to stay in power weaken democratic institutions. But Kagame is not concerned. He is enjoying a good run — economic progress and people’s goodwill — and would like to continue his rule. Kagame may not know it, but power is starting to corrupt him. By choosing to run for re-election, the president has shown that he only has faith in his own ability to lead the country and he thinks Rwanda is all about him. He has also shown that he has little faith in the ability of the institutions he has built over the years to function without him. Now, he has the support of his people, but what happens in the next 10 years? What will be his legacy? Will he be remembered as the leader who built Rwanda or one who clung to power too long that the people wanted him out?

Like Mugabe, Kagame is amassing absolute power and he is fast believing no one can lead Rwanda the way he does. He needs to be reminded that “…absolute power corrupts absolutely”.