Rwandan lawmakers have voted to hold a referendum on proposed changes to the constitution that would allow President Paul Kagame to extend his 15 years in power.
The vote was backed by 24 of 24 Senators, making it 100% in support, and in the Parliament by 79 out of 80 – 98.75%.
At least 3.7 million Rwandans petitioned the legislature to amend the charter, Speaker of Parliament Donatille Mukabalisa said Tuesday in the capital, Kigali. Also hundreds of them queued at the Parliamentary Building Tuesday morning to listen to presidential term limits.
“It is only legitimate that we look into the demands of the people,” Mukabalisa said ahead of the vote.
Kagame has been in power since 2000 after he led a rebel army that ended the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which about 800,000 people were killed.
Presidential elections are scheduled for 2017.
The momentum for the change had been building. Speaking at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, in early June, Rwanda’s Finance Minister Claver Gatete said
Rwandan voters want Kagame to serve a third term and had the power to change the constitution to make this happen.
“The president has not said he wanted a third term, the president has made it very clear that he will follow the law,” Gatete said in an interview at WEF Africa.
Rwanda has a $7.5 billion economy that relies on exports of crops including coffee for most of its foreign-exchange revenue. Starbucks Corp., the world’s largest coffee-shop operator, plans to double its purchases of the country’s output.
Rwanda is estimating that foreign direct investment will jump threefold to $1.2 billion this year as fears of Ebola disease, which deterred business travelers last year, wane, the state-run development board said recently.
“The year has started well and the momentum is promising to achieve our own target,” Francis Gatare, chief executive officer of the Rwanda Development Board, said in an interview on in the capital, Kigali. The East African nation received $390 million in foreign investment last year.
A combination of the global economic slowdown and the impact of the Ebola outbreak “scared some business travellers from exploring opportunities” last year, Gatare said.
Rwanda sold $400 million of Eurobonds for the first time in April 2013 and plans to sell new debt to fund infrastructure programs, including a new international airport, according to the government.
Rwanda registered $65.1 million new investment projects from January through March this year compared with $51.9 million a year earlier, according to Gatera. The investments went into mining, quarrying and manufacturing, he said.
Cloud in horizon
It waits to be seen if a constitutional amendment will calm, or fray, investor nerves.
The cloud on the horizon has been the political future of the man credited with driving reforms: President Paul Kagame.
“The general sentiment is bullish. But as we advance towards 2016-2017 the issue becomes the Kagame succession and how investors respond to that,” Julians Amboko, a research analyst at StratLink Africa Ltd., said from Nairobi in April. “There’s a bit of uncertainty as to whether he will run for office again or not and investors will assume guarded and cautious positions.”
Rwanda was ranked 46th in the world this year by the World Bank’s Doing Business survey, the third-best in sub-Saharan Africa and ahead of Kenya and Nigeria
“The country’s business-friendly policies and favorable regulatory environment make Rwanda an attractive entry point” into East Africa, Jacques Nel, an economist at NKC Independent Economists, based in Paarl, South Africa, said by e-mail recently. “The government’s current economic strategy has the clear priority of removing impediments to private-sector development.”
While Kagame has been credited with putting pro-investor policies in place, he’s been criticised by groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International for stifling opposition. His government has denied accusations it backed Congolese insurgents.
Parties that have tried to challenge the RPF “have been got rid of one-by-one,” Carina Tertsakian, a London-based senior researcher for Rwanda and Burundi at Human Rights Watch, said by phone.
“It’s actually very, very difficult for opposition parties to function in a meaningful way,” she said. “In reality, the situation in Rwanda cannot be described as democracy in the true sense of the term.”
Still, with an election two years away, the prospect of changing the country’s constitution to allow for a third Kagame term may be “a good thing” for the stability it offers to the coffee-producing country, according to NKC’s Nel.
NKC saw possible replacements for Kagame, should he in the end not run, as Defence Minister James Kabarebe and Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, he said.
“Both have Mr Kagame’s authoritarian instincts without his constructive vision,” Nel said. “We see another five years with him at the helm as a positive thing.”
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