On July 28, Alphonsine Mugorewera 53, a resident of Ngoma district, Eastern province, learnt that legislators would visit her village for consultations on amendment of constitution.
She left her home accompanied by her three children and a cow. She matched to Mugesera sector offices where hundreds of other residents had gathered to meet the legislators.
“I came with my children to show everyone how healthy we are. We consider Kagame a sole source of our wealth,” she said amidst applause from the audience.
Legislators are on a three-week consultations tour of the country since July 20, seeking concrete views of citizens on amendment of the constitution especially on the presidential term limits.
About 4 million Rwandans have signed petitions and submitted them to parliament seeking amendment of article 101 that provides for only two 7-years non-renewable term limits for any incumbent.
Once the parliament amends the constitution, Kagame will have leeway to run for a third term.
Mugorewera said milk from the cows saved her three children from severe malnutrition.
Mugorewera, a widow, said that she was at the sector to petition parliament to amend the constitution to allow Kagame “to lead us for another term. We want Kagame to keep saving more poor Rwandans,” she pleaded.
Presenting bride price
Amazingly, Mugorewera is not the only one pulling off such stunts. Many more have done so. And others carry cans of milk or farm produce.
But the move has put MPs in a dilemma.
The sacrifice and enthusiasm with which people match with cows to the meeting places is a clear signal that Rwandans are determined to do whatever it takes to make their case heard and understood.
“Kagame has performed duties beyond being a president…he puts himself in our shoes,” said Olivier Nkera, from Gisagara district in southern Rwanda, showing off a gestating cow.
“He has given us milk. We can’t dream of seeing him abandoning us,” he added.
Why this pressure?
Sometime in 2006, President Kagame summoned members of his government to discuss a proposal of giving a heifer to every poor Rwandan, as a new mechanism to curb malnutrition in children and improve household incomes.
Kagame’s idea was not welcomed by members of his government, on grounds that it would not work.
Senator Joseph Karemera was one of Kagame’s cabinet ministers then. He recalls the resistance by his colleagues to the idea. But that is history. Kagame convinced everyone how it would work.
Today, 203,000 families have been given cows. The beneficiaries have also passed on young ones to other needy families, as part of boosting the program, according to agriculture ministry.
“The program is transforming rural livelihoods and addressing poverty alleviation in Rwanda. The model is simple, the impact is great,” said Andrew Kagabo the program’s coordinator.
“One Cow brings nutrition, sustenance and employment, providing a stable income for a family and is a source of soil nutrients through manure to assist small scale cropping activity,” he added.
As more poor Rwandans wait for Kagame’s offer, government says it will have offered cows to 350,000 families by 2017.
The program has created a strong bond between Kagame and ordinary Rwandans.
While appearing before MPs in Ruhango district, Southern Rwanda, 86-year-old Vianney Kabagema broke down into tears.
“I have lived under many regimes in this country, but I haven’t seen a leader like Kagame,” he said.
“When I returned back home from exile, I had nothing…I didn’t even have a cow, but Kagame gave it to me. I now enjoy milk like any other Rwandan,” he said.
It is unlikely such a bond will easily break, considering the destination Rwandans have to ensure the constitution addresses their demands.
If not, many, including Mugorewera, might as well match with thousands of their cows into the parliament.