Party leaders who don’t aspire for highest office are ordinary jobseekers

Last week, a researcher sought my views on Rwanda’s political system how it works, the role of political parties and the third term debate.

At some point, my interviewer revealingly informed me that he had talked to a number of political party leaders who told him that they were not only supporting amending the constitution to delete presidential term limits but were also in support of a third term for President Paul Kagame.

So, “why are leaders from other parties keen to promote a third term other than what would be in their interest?” he wanted to know.

This question is even more pertinent for two critical reasons. First, by their very nature, political parties are supposed to be power seekers and vote maximisers with their primary objective being to gain State power and get the chance to implement their ideas — in the form of policies.

This means that the job of any serious party leader should be to aspire and work to gain State power and form a government — so as to recreate their nations in their own ideas.

Further, the question is relevant considering that, so far, President Kagame hasn’t publicly asked for anyone’s support — including that of party leaders! So ,why promote the candidature of someone from a different party, and one who hasn’t asked for it?

In response, I informed my interviewer that, broadly, only such leaders would know the exact reasons behind their actions, with the rest of us speculating.

I told him that, first, it’s possible he had talked to the leaders of the political parties that are in coalition with the ruling RPF and that these would naturally have an interest in the continued leadership of President Kagame.

Secondly, I added, as individuals it’s also possible that the leaders he talked to are in support of the President because they genuinely believe him to offer exemplary leadership. And lastly, it’s possible that some parties might have agreed that, in the medium term, the country is best served under continued Kagame stewardship.

Nonetheless, while it’s the right of every individual, including party leaders, to support this or that leader or this or that policy, on deeper reflection, I think we would miss the point understanding party leaders’ abdication of their responsibility to aspire for one day to form a government to be a consequence-informed leadership.

Instead, it’s my considered view that, while there might be some party leaders who have taken a deliberate decision to support the constitutional amendment because they believe it to be in the interest of the country, I believe most do so because they are ordinary jobseekers rather than individuals interested in ever winning the popular vote to form a government.

In fact, the researcher’s question reminded me of an interview I had in 2012 with the leader of one of the political parties in the country who bluntly told me that he was not only uninterested in ever becoming president but wouldn’t manage if he did!

This means that most political party leaders’ feeble leadership goes beyond the third term debate to include a general lack of policies or ideology.

Broadly, this is also a consequence of the fact that most so-called opposition political parties not only lack an ideological base to guide their decisions but were also formed without vigorous internalisation of the problems the country faced and the solutions they demanded.

In fact, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to note that most of our political parties are a result of a cut-and-paste exercise rather than a consequence of deeper reflection or ideological belief.

As a result, such political parties are mere vehicles for their leaders and their close associates to negotiate jobs rather than being platforms for aancing certain policies or the leaders aspiring to lead the country towards a certain worliew.

Otherwise, serious political party leaders— whether in a majoritarian or consensual political system — aspire for the highest office in the land so they can help their parties to implement its policies only those with no internalised worliew promote competing ones.

Dr Christopher Kayumba, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism, the University of Rwanda, and managing consultant at MGC Consult. E-mail: Twitter: @CKayumba