Why Rwandans Will Kiss A Frog To Keep Kagame In Power

On August 21, 2006, Rwanda’s Capital, Kigali woke up to a paralysis. Kigali City Council authorities and the National Police had resolved that over 2500 motor taxis be banned from the city, indefinitely.

Reasons were that they had caused a lot of deaths and injuries through accidents and that were facilitating robbery and causing insecurity.

The decision, since police was involved, was effected immediately. There was no single motorcycle on the street by the end of the day.

Each operator was losing at least Frw7, 000 a day. The association of motor taxi operators, ASSETAMORWA, confirmed the economy was losing over Rwf175 million in ten days or Rwf6.4 billion annually, about 50% of (Rwf13 billion) Rwanda’s budget for the agriculture sector that same year.

Motor Taxi transport is affordable and most used form of transport across the country.
Motor Taxi transport is affordable and most used form of transport across the country.

The outcome of banning the motorcycle became disastrous. City authorities could not contain the pressure. Police ratings hit the bottom point. It was an obvious time bomb.

Thousands of households had been affected directly. Even transport in the city had been badly affected.

City authorities tried to deploy public buses (ONATRACOM), but it did not help at all. It eventually became a national crisis. The government learnt that the consequences would not be manageable.

Authorities shamelessly stood their ground until President Paul Kagame threw in the towel. He ordered that the ban be lifted and tasked authorities to find a harmonious mechanism by which motor taxis would operate.

Today, the industry employs 78,000 members directly and generates $1 billion (Rwf750 billion) or 40% of the national budget.

Household income of cooperative members have since increased that some of them own masons, have savings and invested in profitable ventures.

President Kagame delivers his remarks at the Cooperatives “Meet the President event on the Cooperative Day in Kigali, July 12, 2014
President Kagame speaking to thousands of members of the Rwanda Cooperatives during the Cooperative Day in Kigali, July 12, 2014

“Losing President Kagame is the worst mistake we can ever make,” says Celestin Ntaganzwa, the President of FERWACOTAMO, an umbrella organization for 240 motor taxi cooperative, who was then a motor taxi operator, before transcending to this powerful job.

“He rescued us from the misery, we will do whatever it takes to keep him in power,”

In July 2004, the Rwanda Cooperative agency, of which FERWACOTAMO belongs to, politely confronted President Kagame requesting him to establish a bank exclusively for thousands of its 4,000 cooperatives, including farmers, drivers, teachers, and others, to access loans at low interest rates because banks charge them up to 20%.

Kagame ordered the trade minister, Francois Kanimba,that the bank established immediately. KT Press has learnt that an investor is being negotiated to open the bank before end of 2015.

In appreciation, the umbrella of cooperatives, has collected thousands of signatures demanding parliament to amend the constitution and allow Kagame to seek re-election in 2017. However, the constitution prohibits anyone to run for more than two terms.

Now, similarly, thousands of students across the country have also delivered about 30,000 petitions demanding for the same. However, students have a more special case to consider.

For a years, it would take 90 days for a student to receive their approved loan. Basically, the finance ministry would deposit scholarship funds to the Central Bank, which would later be transferred to the education ministry’s account and then transferred to respective college accounts and finally onto students accounts.

With this lengthy process, students would receive their tuition almost at the end of the academic term, which the education minister, Silas Lwakabamba told KT Press that, “some losses were also involved.”

But that is not all. To acquire a student loan was as difficult as squeezing a horse through a needle’s eye.

Local authorities had failed to effectively categories students according to their economic status, which was the primary criteria for one to access a loan.

Corruption and incompetencies were perfect definitions in the workings of the student scholarship scheme.

Every time President Kagame visited universities during his citizen outreach program, students would literary cry like babies begging him to find a lasting solution.

On April 12, 2015, while addressing over 4,000 students at the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, a representative of the students broke the same egg.

President Kagame frowned, turned to Education Minister, Silas Lwakabamba, and ordered him to deal with the matter for once and for all.

A law has now been signed and students will no longer apply for loans from the ministry, but rather through the Rwanda Development Bank (BRD).

A student, with a guarantor, will sign a contract with the bank for tuition fees, living allowances, research, and travel allowances for those studying abroad, at an interest rate of 11%.

Upon getting employment, beneficiaries will pay the money within 15 years.

This, students say, is a gift from God. The best way they can show appreciation for the relief, they say, is to support any effort to have Kagame remain their President.

That’s not all. On May 22, 2015, representatives of over a quarter a million youths across the country, walked into Parliament with boxes packed with 250,000 handwritten letters instructing lawmakers to amend the constitution and give leeway to vote in President Kagame come 2017.

Again, question is, what has he done for them?

KT Press has managed to identify a few including this: Since 2005, over 400 households across the country, especially the poor, have at least one student who is a beneficiary of Kagame’s Presidential Scholarship program that sponsors selected students, on intellectual merit, to study from Western Universities mostly in USA.

On July 23, 2010, Jean Leon Iragena 24, one of the 411 beneficiaries, received a phone call from the Rwanda Education Board officials informing him that he had been awarded the Presidential Scholarship to study in USA.

He has graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics and Quantitative Economics. The 411 scholarships are worth over US$100m. Iragena told KT Press that his scholarship at Millsaps College was worth $200,000 (Frw136 million).

According to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR), aggregated household expenditure for 2014 was 74% the GDP (Rwf5,389 billion). It therefore means that Iragena’s scholarship would have fed 113, 333 Rwandans in 2014.

Aloys Zunguzungu, who grew up in an orphanage, after losing all his parents during the 1994 genocide against, has graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, and has established an NGO called Rwandans4water. He has installed 70 boreholes serving 350,000 families with access to clean water.

“His work is exceptional,” Gilbert Rumanzi, a resident of Nyagihanga sector in Gatsibo District told KT Press.

The beneficiaries have no better payback to President Kagame except for demanding that he remains the President.

But critics wont be barged. Rene Mugenzi, a Rwandan rights activists living in London, has told The Daily Mail of UK that the petitions are “stage-managed” by Kagame’s ruling party, the RPF. That all those signed petitions are being forced down everyone’s throat.

We asked Damien Mugabo, of the Rwanda Cooperative Agency. He responded to this writer with laughter.

“When the City Council and the Police banned us from the streets and denied us a living and employment, it was only President Kagame who rescued us, we cannot be the kind of people to be forced to petition for his stay.”

Meanwhile, other observes say this is an initiative of a few elites imposing it on the rural folks to allow what they describe as Kagame’s grip on power.

Ironically, for every description the critics paint on this movement, majority of the Rwandans KT Press has interviewed have a corresponding counter description.

For example, what the critics say is the grip on power, Rwandans call it “responsible leadership.”

What they call dictatorship, Rwandans call it “no nonsense”. And what they call undemocratic leadership, Rwandans define it as “Western rhetoric”, actually others say it is “imposed foreign culture”.

For instance, Pierre Iradukunda, who runs a small shop in Rwamagana, about an hour drive away from Kigali, barely speaks an English or French word. He cant even write his names properly, but he has his own definition of democracy. Narrow as it might sound, he says, democracy is the “freedom to vote whoever I want without any obstacle.”

Such a definition, even critics concur, fits in the ongoing constitutional amendment campaign, or locally termed as “Third Term Project”.

Iradukunda wonders why, in the first place, were Rwandans subjected to a term limit arrangement. But he worries not. “I am going to join the campaign to change that arrangement,” he said.

Iradukunda is a reflection of what millions of other Rwandans across the country are doing, pushing for amendment of constitution.

It is a serious development cooking. The Parliament is now under unbearable pressure. The number of petitions is overwhelming.

By press time, the number of collected petitions had exceeded four million, almost over 40% of the population, and equivalent to about 70% of the voters.

This, technically, is a finished ‘deal’. It is so insurmountable that the parliament cannot over ride such a number of petitions. The chances of any maneuver against it are as slim as a razor blade.

On April, 2, 2015, President was asked to say “yes or no” to whether he is going to run for the third time.

He gave an emphatic no, but was quick to say that he would reconsider his no when he is convinced beyond reasonable doubt.

The parliament and senate has set between June 5 and August 4 to debate on the constitutional amendment as demanded by the petitioners.

Suppose a motion is voted in the favour of the amendment, Kagame will remain with no choice, but to change his mind.

On May 16, 2015, students at the University of Rwanda lined up to address their grievances to President Kagame. They demanded he finds a solution to the scholarship scheme
On May 16, 2015, students at the University of Rwanda lined up to address their grievances to President Kagame. They demanded he finds a solution to the scholarship scheme
Youths delivering signed letters at the parliament
Youths delivering signed letters at the parliament
On May, 23, 2015, while, meeting Rwandan youths in Texas, President Kagame said he will continue investing millions of dollars in scholarships for the youths
On May, 23, 2015, while, meeting over 700 Rwandan youths in Texas, President Kagame said he will continue investing millions of dollars in scholarships for the youths
Kagame enjoys massive support especially in the countryside
Kagame enjoys massive support especially in the countryside

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